The Year in Review
The wild final weekend in the National League West race (previous page) capped a strange, sensational, streaky and sometimes stupid season in baseball. As a counterpoint to the Braves' and Twins' last-to-first flip-flops, the Reds had the lowest winning percentage ever for a defending world champion (.457). Jose Canseco excited more fans by visiting Madonna's apartment than he did by hitting 44 homers. And for the first time ever, a manager was sued by an umpire: Lou Piniella of the Reds was hit with a lawsuit after he ripped Gary Darling over a disputed home run.
The tone for the season may have been set on Opening Day when replacement umpires were needed because of a labor dispute with the regular umps. Calling balls and strikes in Toronto was John Higgins, a chef, who described the historic occasion as going "from dinner plate to home plate." On that day, who would have thought that six months later: A's second baseman Mike Gallego would have more home runs (12) than the Yankees' Don Mattingly (nine), the Red Sox's Mike Greenwell (nine) and the Royals' George Brett (10); Pirate catcher Mike LaValliere would have more triples (two) than the Reds' Eric Davis (none); the first 19-game winner in the American League would have been Detroit's Bill Gullickson; White Sox infield smurfs Ozzie Guillen and Craig Grebeck would have hit grand slams, giving them each one more in their careers than Glenn Davis or Kevin Mitchell, neither of whom has hit one; minor league outfielder Rodney McCray would have made highlight-film history by running through an outfield wall; nine managers would have been fired, the last being the Yankees' Stump Merrill, who got the ax on Monday; the Blue Jays would have drawn more than four million fans and Montreal would have drawn less than one million; Cleveland outfielder Chris James would have had nine RBIs in one game in May and then have knocked in only that many in the season's final three months; the Mets' David Cone would have tied a National League record by striking out 19 batters in a game on the season's final day, and that only Cone, Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden would have more K's in a game than Indians pitcher Doug Jones, who had 13 on Sept. 17; or that Giants outfielder Willie McGee and Mets outfielder Vince Coleman would have shared Coleman's glove, Little League style, for one game. And, said San Francisco catcher Terry Kennedy, "It was a blue glove to boot. They should be beheaded."
It was that kind of year—one that was worthy of a lot of awards for both its highs and lows.
The Jimmy Piersall Award
To Reds reliever Rob Dibble for a truly tempestuous season. He was suspended for intentionally throwing a pitch at Houston's Eric Yelding. He was suspended a second time for throwing a ball into the centerfield stands and hitting a schoolteacher in the arm. He was fined for intentionally throwing at and hitting a base runner, the Cubs' Doug Dascenzo, who had laid down a successful squeeze bunt against him. Dibble finally promised to get counseling for his wayward temper, but not before blaming most of his troubles on the media.
Runner-up: Indians outfielder Albert Belle, who intentionally hit a fan with a thrown ball at Cleveland Stadium after the fan had invited Belle, a recovering alcoholic, to a keg party.
Injury of the Year
The "Jacuzzi-tusion" suffered by Padres reliever Larry Andersen while stepping into his hot tub carrying two glasses of juice. He slipped and, as he tried to steady himself, pulled a muscle in the upper left side of his chest and was sidelined for a week.
Runner-up: The punctured right thumb of A's pitcher Eric Show. Show stabbed the finger with a toothpick, it became infected, and he had to go on the 15-day disabled list.
Best Line by a Pitching Coach
The comment of the Astros' Bob Cluck, who, upon visiting the mound after pitcher Mark Portugal served up three straight homers, which prompted three straight fireworks displays in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, told Portugal: "I just wanted to give the guy a chance to reload his cannon."
The Phil Linz Award for Most Memorable Bus Ride
To Mariners catcher Dave Valle, who fell asleep on the team bus on the way to the airport, slept through the team's disembarkation and missed the flight to Texas.
The Mario Mendoza Medal
Also to Valle, whose hitting was so bad that a Seattle bar called Swannies used his batting average as the price for drinks every Tuesday night—$1.52 when he was hitting .152, and so on. Valle finished the season with a .194 average, but because he played in more than 130 games, incentive clauses in his contract kicked in that will pay him an extra $500,000 this year and an additional $500,000 in 1992.
The Golden Rèsumè Award
To Jim Eppard, first baseman, Class A Salinas. A former major leaguer, he wins this award not for his stellar stats, but because he played in a league two notches below his talent level in hopes of getting an offer to sign with a Japanese team. (Ten players and the manager on the Salinas team were from Japan.) Eppard didn't get the offer he wanted, but on the final day of the season he played all nine positions. He pitched the fifth inning, and he was credited with the win.
The Get-It-in-Writing Award
To Padres pitcher Steve Rosenberg, who was called up from Triple A Las Vegas on April 11 but was sent back down the next day because he hadn't spent the mandatory 10 days in the minors. "I told them I wouldn't make a big deal out of this mistake as long as they didn't make a big deal the next time I gave up a three-run homer," he said. Rosenberg was recalled to San Diego soon thereafter, whereupon he promptly served up three-run homers in three consecutive relief appearances in a six-day span. After the third homer, Rosenberg was sent back to Las Vegas and never returned to the Padres.
The George M. Steinbrenner Memorial Meddling Medal
To the Steinbrenner-less Yankees, for benching first baseman Don Mattingly for not getting his hair cut. When Mattingly knuckled under after missing one game, the snipped locks were bought for $3,000 at a charity auction by Tom Tumminia, a New York City cop.
Special Achievement Awards
•To Blue Jay outfielder Joe Carter, who became the first player in history to drive in 100 runs for three teams in as many seasons.
•To the Rangers' Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez, 19, who caught 88 games, the most for a teenager since Del Crandall caught 63 for the Boston Braves in 1949.
•To the Tigers' Tony Phillips, who became the first player in history to start at least 10 games at five different positions (counting the outfield as one position).
•To these players, who achieved the reverse triple double (double figures in grounded-into double plays, caught stealing and errors): the Padres' Benito Santiago, the Yankees' Steve Sax, the Royals' Terry Shumpert and the Cardinals' Todd Zeile.
•To the Detroit Tigers, who became only the third team in American League history to lead the league in home runs while finishing last in batting average.
The Glad-to-Be-Working Award
To outfielder Jose Gonzalez, who played for three teams—the Dodgers, Pirates and Indians—despite hitting only .111 (13 for 117) all season. Of all the players who began the season on a major league roster, he was the last to get a hit. It came for his second team, Pittsburgh, on July 7. It was a shot off the centerfield fence, and he was held to a single.
The Nostradamus Award
To myself, as worst prognosticator of the year, for picking the Angels to finish first in the American League West and the Twins to come in last. Those picks should have been reversed.
No.1 IN '91
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Cal Ripken, Orioles: The pick here even though there has never been an American League MVP from a team with a losing record. He was simply the best player in the game this year, hitting .323 with 34 homers, 114 RBIs and fewer than 50 strikeouts. Runner-up: Cecil Fielder, Tigers.
Barry Bonds, Pirates: Coming off an MVP year, with little protection behind him in the lineup, he nonetheless batted .292 with 116 RBIs and led the league in on-base percentage. He also stole 43 bases and was the best leftfielder in the game. Runner-up: Terry Pendleton, Braves.
Roger Clemens, Red Sox: Pitching in a hitter's park, he went 18-10 with a 2.62 ERA, led the league in strikeouts (241) and won the big games. Runner-up: Kevin Tapani, Twins.
Tom Glavine, Braves: Tied for the National League lead in wins, with 20, and had a 2.55 ERA without one significant bad stretch. Runner-up: Lee Smith, Cardinals.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Chuck Knoblauch, Twins: Batted .281, stole 25 bases, struck out only 40 times and played solid second base for a division champion. Runner-up: pitcher Juan Guzman, Blue Jays.
Jeff Bagwell, Astros: Played decent first base and hit .294 with 15 homers and 82 RBIs in the worst hitters' park in the world. Runner-up: first baseman Orlando Merced, Pirates.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Tom Kelly, Twins: Kept Minnesota from getting too low after a 2-9 start and from getting too high after a 15-0 streak in June. Runner-up: Sparky Anderson, Tigers.
Bobby Cox, Braves: Gave up duties as general manager and team won 29 more games than in 1990. Enough said. Runner-up: Joe Torre, Cardinals.