I don't recall ever taking so much input before voting for a league award. As one of the two Seattle writers involved in the Baseball Writers' Association of America balloting for American League MVP this year, I was torn. To me, there was no clear-cut winner among the teams that made the playoffs.
There was much talk of Juan Gonzalez of Texas, but was he more valuable to the Rangers than catcher Ivan Rodriguez? Not in my mind, especially after he flopped in the big Seattle series. Albert Belle of Cleveland? I think Kenny Lofton made the Indians go. Rafael Palmeiro of Baltimore? I saw him as no more valuable than Brady Anderson, with his freaky home-run output.
Under those circumstances, I concluded that a vote for the Seattle Mariners' Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr. was the way to go. Rodriguez, with his unique and historical season, vs. Griffey, who I think hurts himself by making everything look far easier than it is. Both are outstanding contributors to the game as well as to their team. Both are outstanding in key defensive positions. Both can run and throw. Griffey is an annual Gold Glove winner; Rodriguez deserves to win his first.
(Now, let me digress to recognize the third Mariner I consider MVP material - Jay Buhner - for all the reasons that make Rodriguez and Griffey front-runners. I don't think any Mariner in history has had more big hits or given more to the Seattle cause than Buhner, whose overall recognition is hurt by his lower batting average.)
My choice was put in motion by Rodriguez, whom Griffey calls "Young Buck." He told me for a story in early September, "How can I be MVP of the American League when I'm not even MVP in our own clubhouse?" From there, it seemed that every nuance of the choice between the two, who push each other in subtle and constant ways, leaned toward Griffey.
I voted him MVP this year. The Times' ballot: 1. Griffey; 2. Gonzalez; 3. Alex Rodriguez; 4. Belle; 5. Palmeiro; 6. Mark McGwire, Oakland; 7. Mo Vaughn, Boston; 8. Buhner; 9. Paul Molitor, Minnesota; 10. Ivan Rodriguez.
Cy Young down Pat
Those who voted for the Cy Young Award winner had no clear-cut choice, either. But they did have a specific pool: Pat Hentgen of Toronto, Andy Pettitte of New York, and perhaps Mariano Rivera of New York, the premier set-up reliever who will get MVP votes as well. It comes down to the first two.
Pettitte went 21-8 with a 3.87 earned-run average for a good team. Hentgen went 20-10 with a league-leading 3.22 ERA for a mediocre team. Hentgen led the league with 10 shutouts, to two for Pettitte; opponents hit .241 against Hentgen vs. .277 against Pettitte. The nod goes to Hentgen.
Seattle's Lou Piniella deserves Manager of the Year, but Tom Kelly did admirable work in Minnesota, keeping that team competitive after losing Kirby Puckett and, for much of the season, Rick Aguilera. Joe Torre of the Yankees and Phil Garner of Milwaukee did better jobs than Johnny Oates of Texas, who probably will win.
Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter should win Rookie of the Year, and not because he plays in the media capital. He hit .314, played well and was fifth on that team in runs batted in with 78.
National League picks: MVP, Ken Caminiti of San Diego; Cy Young, John Smoltz, Atlanta; Manager, Tony La Russa, St. Louis; Rookie, Todd Hollandsworth, Los Angeles.
It does not take a commissioner to rule in the Roberto Alomar case. Think what you will about the state of umpiring - and John Hirschbeck, into whose face Alomar spit, is one of the better ones - umpires are the competitive foundation of the game. Alomar crossed a clear line and should have been suspended for at least a month, if not longer, for a cretinous act that was far out of his usual character.
What needs a hearing is the system for appeals. They should be heard within 24 hours. With videotape availability and phone conferences, there is no reason for the ridiculous wait until a player gets to New York - then to have suspensions applied immediately so they benefit mostly the New York-based Yankees and Mets.
Here's the catch
Colorado ownership has increased the club's payroll budget from $38 million to $40 million for next year. Because the Rockies will have trouble luring top pitchers to Coors Field to improve their poor staff, look for them to go hard after catcher Terry Steinbach of Oakland. Minnesota, his home-state team, and St. Louis, with many former Athletics, also will be in the bidding. Boston and Toronto also have to be, to improve thin catching.
Colorado's Ellis Burks hit .344, higher than any other NL player who had the required 502 plate appearances, to earn a batting championship. San Diego's Tony Gwynn, however, wound up with the seventh batting title of his career because of the so-called "0-for clause." Gwynn finished with a .353 batting average and 498 plate appearances. According to baseball rules, if a player falls short of 502, the number of at-bats he is missing are added in as hitless. If he still has a higher average than anyone else, he is the batting champion. Four hitless at-bats would have lowered Gwynn's average to .349, five points more than Burks'.
One of San Francisco General Manager Brian Sabean's first acts in his new job was to contradict stories the Giants will trade Barry Bonds. Sabean said the Giants will listen to offers for the left fielder, but no, Sabean does not expect to trade him. Sabean can expect phone calls. Besides Cincinnati's rumored interest, sources in Miami said the Marlins are considering a run at Bonds to protect Gary Sheffield in their lineup and reunite Bonds with his former manager in Pittsburgh, Jim Leyland.
Griffey Sr. to Reds?
Cincinnati Manager Ray Knight didn't win friends in the coaching fraternity when he had equipment manager Bernie Stowe inform coaches Marc Bombard and Jim Lett that they wouldn't be with the major-league team next year. Ken Griffey Sr., a coach with the Colorado Rockies this year, is expected to be one of Knight's additions. Griffey's contract expires at the end of the month, and the Reds are expected to make the announcement in early November. Griffey also is expected to do promotional work in the front office during the offseason.
Playoff format needs change
There has been talk about changing the first-round playoff format to seven games. At the very least, the 2-3 setup, in which the home advantage doesn't start until Game 3, has to be changed. Not many clubs can work the Mariner miracle of '95. While it presents extra travel trouble, the format has to be at least 2-2-1.
Marlins join Lee lotto
Since meeting three weeks ago in California with first baseman Travis Lee of Olympia and his agent, Jeff Moorad, the Mariners have had more discussions with Moorad about Lee, who refused to sign as Minnesota's first-round draft pick. Word is that Lee wants to remain on the West Coast, but Marlin GM Dave Dombrowski scheduled a visit to Olympia on Friday.
Hargrove in trouble?
In addition to the Marlins hiring Leyland, and the Red Sox, Angels and, apparently, the White Sox in the market, Cleveland could wind up looking for a new manager, too. There is speculation Mike Hargrove could be on shaky ground given his team's problems with Baltimore in the playoffs. He and GM John Hart have a professional relationship but are far from being huge fans of one another. And their wives can't stand each other.
Ranger wives boxed out
A feud erupted Tuesday between Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and the wives of several Ranger players. The wives sat in a private box near Steinbrenner's in Yankee Stadium and began cheering wildly when Texas took the lead on its way to winning the opener. Steinbrenner objected to the wives' behavior and told them to stop cheering. "They were yelling and screaming and wearing cowboy hats," The Boss said. For Game 2 Wednesday, the wives had to sit in the stands.