AND WHAT A YEAR IT WAS
Baseball is in trouble, huh? It's boring, the games are too long, and no one is watching, right? Wrong. This has been one of the most dramatic, unpredictable, bizarre and hilarious seasons in history.
The Phillies are on their way to becoming the third team in this century to go from last place to first in one year, while the A's arc threatening to become the second team to go from first to sole possession of last. The Giants lit up Candlestick, but the Braves blew by them eight weeks after their stadium caught fire on July 20. The Rockies, who set several major league attendance records, and their expansion brethren, the Marlins, appear certain to avoid last-place finishes and 100-loss seasons, but the Mets.... Was their 1962 expansion team really worse than these guys, who had lost 102 games at week's end?
This was also a year of important individual accomplishments. Dave Winfield got his 3,000th hit; Carlton Fisk set the record for most games caught in a career (2,226); Lee Smith became the alltime save leader; Mark Whiten of the Cardinals tied big league marks with four homers and 12 RBIs in one game; Mariner Chris Bosio, Yankee Jim Abbott and Astro Darryl Kile pitched no-hitters; and Anthony Young of the Mets ran his string of consecutive losses, dating back to 1992, to a major league record 27.
It was a season filled with events that made no sense—which made it all the more interesting. The Orioles' Jamie Moyer had more wins than the Red Sox' Roger Clemens; the Indians had eight pitchers with lower ERAs than that of the A's Dennis Eckersley; the Braves' Terry Pendleton inexplicably walked off the field in the middle of a game; Yankee owner George Steinbrenner didn't fire anyone important, but Met Vince Coleman fired a firecracker into a crowd of people and was charged with a felony.
In 1993 fans said goodbye to Fisk, Nolan Ryan and George Brett—three certain first-ballot Hall of Famers—as well as to Cleveland Stadium and Arlington Stadium. And we'll say farewell to this season with our annual picks for baseball's biggest awards and a few special citations of our own. (All statistics are through Sunday's games.)
American League MVP. Frank Thomas, White Sox. He led the league in RBIs (126), was third in slugging (.606), third in home runs (41) and tied for sixth in hitting (.316), and he was at his best in the second half when Chicago pulled away to the American League West title.
National League MVP. Barry Bonds, Giants. Bonds was a tough call over the Phillies' Lenny Dykstra, but he led the league in homers (44), slugging percentage (.683, highest in the league since Stan Musial's .702 in 1948) and on-base average (.462). He was second in runs (122) and third in RBIs (114), had 28 stolen bases, played brilliant defense, batted .356 with runners in scoring position and hit .372 with 18 homers when batting from the seventh inning on. He went 13 straight games without an RBI when San Francisco collapsed in September, but had it not been for him, the Giants wouldn't have led the National League West for a day, let alone four months.
American League Cy Young. Randy Johnson, Mariners. Sure, he had only the 10th-best ERA in the league and didn't win a game in July, but he went 18-8 and was the most dominant pitcher in the game. He had 14 double-figure strikeout games en route to becoming the first lefty to whiff 300 since Steve Carlton in 1972; and he held batters to a .200 average, lowest among the league's starters.
National League Cy Young. Greg Maddux, Braves. He led the league in ERA (2.42) and innings (253), and was fourth in wins (19). Best of all, he was 11-1 in the second half of the season, when the Braves got hot. Consistent? The highest ERA Maddux had in any one month was 3.17. If he wins the award, Maddux will become the first pitcher to win back-to-back Cy Youngs for different teams.
American League Rookie of the Year. Tim Salmon, Angels. He batted .283 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs before he broke his left ring finger on Sept. 15 and missed the rest of the season. Still, he is sure to win the league's triple crown for rookies—the first time that has happened in the American League since Reggie Jackson did it in 1968.
National League Rookie of the Year. Mike Piazza, Dodgers. As the first rookie catcher to hit 30 home runs and Los Angeles's leader in homers (32), RBIs (102) and batting (.312), he should be a unanimous choice.
American League Manager of the Year. Gene Lamont, White Sox. With a roster full of diverse and explosive personalities, celebrities and rehabs, this was the hardest team to manage in 1993. But Lamont quietly kept his players on course toward the West division title.
National League Manager of the Year. Jim Fregosi, Phillies. His taking Philadelphia from last to first is reason enough for Fregosi to get the award. His best move: letting the members of this "team of degenerates," as pitcher Larry Andersen calls the Phillies, be themselves, thereby not robbing them of their intensity and personalities.
American League Comeback Player of the Year. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox. Bo knows miracles, but Guillen missed almost all of 1992 with a knee injury and came back to hit .280 and spearhead the Chicago defense.
National League Comeback Player of the Year. Andres Galarraga, Rockies. He led the league in hitting (.379) after batting .243 and nearly being ignored in the free-agent market in 1992.
Best Free-Agent Signing. Paul Molitor, Blue Jays. At 37, he hit .332 with 107 RBIs and 203 hits for the American League's best team. Toronto's Dave Stewart, a 13-year veteran, says he has never seen a player more determined and prepared to do what it takes to win than Molitor.
Biggest Free-Agent Flop. Greg Swindell, Astros. After signing a four-year, $17 million contract, he went 11-13 with a 4.37 ERA and was the worst of Houston's five starters.
Most Lopsided Trade. The Padres' sending first baseman Fred McGriff to the Braves for three minor leaguers, outfielders Melvin Nieves and Vince Moore and pitcher Donnie Elliott, on July 18. Since McGriff joined the lineup, the Braves have gone 47-15 and made up 10½ games in the standings. Nieves has promise, but obviously he's not ready: During a stretch in September, he struck out 12 times in 14 at bats.
Stupidest Play. On April 17 the Orioles had the bases loaded with one out when Mike Devereaux hit a soft liner that Angel centerfielder Chad Curtis trapped. The runner at third, Jeff Tackett, headed home and then returned to third, where he also found Brady Anderson, who had started the play at second, and Chito Martinez, who had been the runner at first. California catcher John Orton tagged all three Orioles, two of whom were called out for an inning-ending double play. "It wouldn't have been the stupidest play until Chito arrived at third," said California third baseman Rene Gonzales. "I think he thought there was a fight, so he ran across the field to get in it."
Biggest Surprise. Mike Stanley, Yankees. A .251 hitter with 24 home runs and 147 RBIs in just over six seasons before 1993, he hit .307 with 26 homers and 82 RBIs. Only four other catchers in American League history have hit .300 with 25 homers.
Biggest Disappointment. Ray Lank-ford, Cardinals. Projected as an MVP candidate entering the season, he hit .246 with seven homers and 44 RBIs.
Best Pitching Performance by a Non-Pitcher. When A's third baseman Kevin Seitzer made his major league pitching debut on May 2, he threw one pitch and was credited with a strikeout against a hitter he never faced. Oakland was trailing 10-2 in the eighth inning when Seitzer was brought in to pitch after A's pitcher Kelly Downs and Indian batter Carlos Martinez were ejected for fighting. Glenallen Hill replaced Martinez with a 2-2 count and took-one pitch down the middle for strike three. But, according to the rules, the strikeout was charged to Martinez. "I couldn't believe I threw a strike," said Seitzer. "I couldn't believe he didn't swing."
Best Line by a Broadcaster. When Pirate outfielder Scott Bullett missed the cutoff man on consecutive plays against the Braves on July 24, Atlanta play-by-play announcer Skip Caray said, "Any more throws like that, and there will be a no-Bullett theory." Two weeks later Bullett was demoted.
Most Memorable Big League Debut. On May 14, Rocky first baseman Jay Gainer became the 12th player in history to hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in the major leagues. "I told the guys at Triple A that I was going to swing at the first pitch and try to hit one out," Gainer said. "But I was joking. No one does that. Afterward, I was thinking, My god, what did I do? It was like I did something I shouldn't have done."
Least Memorable Big League Debut. On Sept. 1, Ranger reliever Darren Oliver's first pitch, to Mike Greenwell, went to the screen, but he was not charged with a wild pitch because Billy Hatcher of the Red Sox stole second base on the play. Then Oliver was told to intentionally walk Greenwell. After doing that, he was taken out of the game. Oliver's stat line: one pitch (deliveries leading to an intentional walk aren't included in the official pitch count) and one walk. Oliver said after the game, "Home plate looked like it was 100 miles away." He hasn't pitched since.
Alfred (Not Sterling) Hitchcock Award. On June 11 several dozen sea gulls invaded Milwaukee's County Stadium and remained around the field for the entire Yankee-Brewer game. "It was hilarious, but it was definitely a challenge to grab the ball, not a bird," said Yankee leftfielder Dion James. In 1987, at the Mets' Shea Stadium, James, then with the Braves, hit a fly ball that killed a bird, but he wound up with a double. "It's amazing no bird got it this time," said James. "I thought for sure I'd go for the record: two birds hit in a career."
Most Obscure Record Broken. When Giant pitcher Jim Deshaies went 0 for 2 against the Astros on Sept. 20, he had 372 career at bats without an extra-base hit, breaking a major league mark set by New York Giant and Boston Brave pitcher Virgil Barnes from 1919 to '28. Before the record at bat, Deshaies said, "I looked up and saw leftfielder Luis Gonzalez playing deep shortstop, centerfielder Steve Finley was right behind second, and rightfielder Kevin Bass was drinking a cup of coffee and talking to some fans in foul territory. They took my hitting lanes away."
Mascot of the Year. In late August manager Tim Flannery of the Padres' Northwest League (Rookie) affiliate in Spokane was ejected from a game, but when his team's mascot, who is part dinosaur and part anteater, passed through the clubhouse between innings, Flannery got an idea. He borrowed the mascot's costume, put it on and went out to the dugout to entertain the 7,000 fans in Indians Stadium, none of whom knew Flannery was now the mascot. He even yelled to his wife, Donna, "Honey, I love you." It wasn't until near the end of the game that his players finally caught on, but they were sworn to secrecy so Flannery wouldn't get suspended by the league. Later, Flannery said he would never pull that stunt again. "I swallowed a hair ball in that thing and about choked to death," he said.
In a season that has been celebrated for the emergence of young stars, leave it to 37-ycar-old Paul Molitor to have what may have been the best season of his illustrious career. With 21 steals and 21 home runs at week's end, Molitor had become the oldest 20-20 club member ever; his teammate Rickey Henderson, 34, became the second-oldest when he hit his 20th home run last week. Of the 11 players who had at least 20 homers and 20 steals this season, Molitor and Henderson were the only two on the far side of 30. Here are the oldest members of the 20-20 club.
AGE REACHED 20-20
Paul Molitor, Blue Jays
37years, 0 months
Rickey Henderson, A 's-Jays
34 years, 8 months
Hank Aaron, Braves
34 years, 6 months
Joe Morgan, Reds
33 years, 11 months
Lonnie Smith, Braves
33 years, 8 months
—STEVE HIRDT, ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU