Who's Most Valuable?
This is an article from the Sept. 28, 1992 issue
The race for the National League MVP award promises to be one of the closest ever. Padre third baseman Gary Sheffield, who at week's end still had an excellent chance of winning the Triple Crown, is probably the favorite, and Pirate left-fielder Barry Bonds is picking up supporters down the stretch. But don't count out Brave third baseman Terry Pendleton, who could become baseball's first back-to-back MVP winner since another Brave, Dale Murphy, won in 1982 and '83.
"[Pendleton's] my MVP; he's had a better year this year," says Atlanta hitting coach Clarence Jones. "He has brought us back in games so many times. He's gotten so many big hits." Even one Pirate, who asked to remain anonymous rather than risk Bonds's wrath, says, "I'd pick Pendleton. He does more than anyone to win—leading in the clubhouse and directing the team on the field."
For his part, Pendleton says it's an honor just to be considered for the award. "I still can't grasp that I won the MVP last season," he says. Who can? After seven years with the Cardinals, in which he averaged six homers and 63 RBIs and batted .259, Pendleton signed with Atlanta in December 1990 and proceeded to hit a league-high .319, with 22 homers and 86 RBIs, in '91. He became the first player to raise his average as many as 80 points and improve his homer total by 15 or more in one year. Afterward, the Elias Sports Bureau determined that the odds of Pendleton's having that kind of season were nearly 40,000 to 1.
"I wish I'd taken them up on that because I knew, if I was healthy, I could have that kind of year," says Pendleton. "This spring I told some reporters that I thought I could have a better year this year. They were thinking, Yeah, right."
But he has. Through Sunday, Pendleton was hitting .305 and had 21 homers and 100 RBIs. These numbers are even more impressive considering that Pendleton is so unselfish at the plate. "If I had a choice of hitting .299 or .302 but not move runners along," he says, "I'd take .299."
Still, it's tempting to vote for Sheffield, given the brilliant season he has had, but consider two things: 1) He hits in the best spot in any batting order in the majors—behind four-lime batting champ Tony Gwynn and in front of slugger Fred McGriff—and 2) San Diego was 12 games out of first place at week's end. Given the latter fact, many voters are looking with new interest at Bonds, whose Pirates were leading the National League East by six games. His offensive statistics are fabulous: Through Sunday he had a .315 average, 30 homers, 94 RBIs, 101 runs and 37 steals, all in only 435 at bats. "He's the best leftfielder I've ever seen," says Reds' manager Lou Piniella. Bonds also was leading the league in slugging and on-base percentage, and perhaps most impressive, his league-leading 31 intentional walks shows that he has had no protection behind him for much of the season.
One of the great September pastimes is trying to project how players who were called up after the Ail-Star break will fare in a full season the following year. A few who have joined teams in the second half of this season—including Pirate pitcher Tim Wakefield, and outfielder Tim Salmon and infielder Damion Easley of the Angels—appear to have won starting jobs for '93. However, the most intriguing latecomer is Brewer pitcher Cal Eldred.
A 24-year-old righthander, Eldred has been spectacular since he was called up from Triple A Denver on July 15. Through Sunday he was 9-1 with a 1.51 ERA in 11 starts. Eldred had pitched 77‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings, and 70 of them were scoreless. "It's like something I've never seen," said Milwaukee infielder Paul Molitor after Eldred defeated the Orioles 3-1 on Sept. 13. "In the seventh inning he wasn't even sweating. He's strong, he knocks guys off the plate, and he never panics."
When Eldred made his first trip to Toronto's SkyDome in late August, he looked around the stadium and said, "There are more things to do in here than in my hometown." That would be Urbana, Iowa. "About 600 people live there, a real metropolis," says Eldred. "There's no stoplight. Half the town is family. The other half you're related to somehow. When I go back in the off-season, I won't be Cal Eldred, big league player. I'll be Cal Eldred, the little kid who grew up here. Just ordinary Cal."
Given his success, you have to wonder where the Brewers, who at week's end were in second place in the American League East, four games behind the Blue Jays, would be if Eldred had been with them all season.
Olson Gets Bounced Again
The Braves suffered a big blow last Friday when catcher Greg Olson was lost for the year with a fractured right fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle. He suffered the injury in a crushing but clean collision at the plate with Ken Caminiti of the Astros. "It was a catcher's nightmare," said Olson, who did the Tomahawk Chop to let the fans know he was O.K. as he was carried off on a stretcher. "I knew there was going to be a play. I had an eighth of a second. I turned around and got smoked."
Olson, you might remember, was knocked head-over-heels on a hard slide by the Twins' Dan Gladden in the 1991 World Series. "He slid into me and I went over," says Olson, "but it made the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. That's fun. But this one was tough."
Olson was an important factor in Atlanta's pennant drive last year, catching 32 straight regular-season games from Sept. 1 to Oct. 5 and then all but one inning in the postseason. He is a team leader and a terrific handler of pitchers. His replacement is Damon Berryhill, who went 4 for 4 in his first start after Olson's injury. Berryhill is a decent player, but he's not Olson. Worse yet, Atlanta now doesn't have an experienced backup.
How bad have things been going for the pitiful Mariners, losers of 14 straight until they finally won last Saturday? In nine innings of work on Sept. 16, Randy Johnson allowed only one hit and one walk and struck out 15 but still didn't win. Seattle lost 2-1 to the Angels in 13 innings.... The Yankees' Triple A Columbus team finished the season with International League leaders in six major categories: batting (J.T. Snow, .313), homers (Hensley Meulens, 26), RBIs (Meulens, 100), stolen bases (Mike Humphreys, 37), ERA (Sam Militello, 2.29) and saves (Mike Draper, a Triple A-record 37).
Between The Lines
Three's the Charm
On Sunday the Phillies' Mickey Morandini executed the ninth unassisted triple play in baseball history and the first since Washington Senator shortstop Ron Hansen had one in 1968. Moreover, Morandini became the first second baseman to pull off the feat in a regular-season game. (Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganss turned the trick in the '20 World Series.) After making a diving catch of a liner hit by Pirate Jeff King on a 3-2 pitch, Morandini stepped on second to double up Andy Van Slyke and then tagged out Barry Bonds, who had been running from first. There have been only four unassisted triple plays in the National League, and Pittsburgh's stadium announcer Art McKennan, 84, has witnessed three of them.
By the Numbers
•At week's end Met pitcher Anthony Young had lost 13 straight decisions this year. Since 1948 the only other NL pitchers to have lost that many in a row were also Mets: Roger Craig (18 straight in '63) and Craig Anderson (16 in '62).