THE BEST AND WORST OUR MIDSEASON AWARDS GO TO THE PLAYERS, MANAGERS AND TEAMS THAT HAVE ALREADY MADE THIS A YEAR TO REMEMBER

July 14, 1996

At the All-Star break, the two players who were the most
valuable in their respective leagues were born on the same day,
May 27, 1968; won MVP awards in the same year, 1994; play the
same position, first base; and have put their teams in
contention in their respective Central divisions. Frank Thomas
of the White Sox led the American League in RBIs (85), was
fourth in batting (.349), was tied for seventh in homers (23)
and was playing improved defense for a team that was making an
unexpected run at the Indians. Jeff Bagwell of the Astros also
ranked in the top 10 in the Triple Crown categories (.312, 22
homers, 74 RBIs), and Houston was in a virtual first-place tie
with the Cardinals (page 66). If Thomas and Bagwell, in fact, go
on to win their second MVP trophies at the end of this season,
they'll join Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella (1951 and '55) as
tandems who twice won the award in the same year.

Here's a look at the highlights, the lowlights, some other
heroes and the goats of the first half.

CY YOUNG

AL: Andy Pettitte, Yankees. First in the league in wins (13) and
sixth in ERA (3.81), he became the staff ace after David Cone
was sidelined by surgery to repair an aneurysm in his right
shoulder.

NL: John Smoltz, Braves. He faded right before the break, losing
his last three starts, but he was still the league leader in
wins (14) and strikeouts (149).

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

AL: Derek Jeter, Yankees. He hit .277 and played terrific
shortstop (only eight errors) for the East leaders.

NL: Jason Kendall, Pirates. He made the All-Star team with a
.294 average and solid defense behind the plate.

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

AL: Joe Torre, Yankees. Despite getting only six starts from
Cone, he had New York six games up in the East. Torre used his
bullpen brilliantly and steered a surprisingly calm ship.

NL: Felipe Alou, Expos. His team had the lowest payroll in the
game ($15.4 million) but the second-best record in the league
(49-38).

WACKIEST GAME

On June 30, at Coors Field (where else?), the Rockies scored two
runs in the last of the ninth to beat the Dodgers, 16-15. The
teams scored in 14 of their 18 turns at bat, tying a major
league record. There were seven lead changes, 38 hits (10 of
them home runs) and 10 stolen bases. Colorado's Eric Young had
six steals, equaling a big league record. The game lasted 4:20,
which made it the longest nine-inning game in National League
history. "Welcome to Arena baseball," said Rockies reliever
Steve Reed, who gave up one run in two innings. "The only thing
it didn't have was a triple play and a fight. It was over about
eight different times. Someone told me afterward that I was the
only pitcher in the game to retire six hitters in a row. I said,
'Does that make me player of the game?'"

BEST FIRST INNING

In a July 5 game in Oakland, the A's (13 runs) and the Angels
(three) produced the highest-scoring first inning in major
league history. Oakland designated hitter Matt Stairs, who came
into the game with three RBIs in 11 games, tied the major league
record for RBIs in an inning, with six.

MOST DRAMATIC HOMER

On May 17 Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles hit a game-ending grand
slam off the Mariners' Norm Charlton to give Baltimore a 14-13
victory. According to the Society for American Baseball Research
(SABR), Hoiles is only the fourth player in history to hit a
game-ending grand slam on a 3-2 pitch with two outs and his team
trailing by three runs; the others were the Braves' Del Crandall
in 1955, the Cardinals' Roger Freed in '79 (in the 11th inning)
and the Tigers' Alan Trammell in '88. Hoiles said afterward, "I
did that many times in my backyard as a kid." Hoiles's parents,
who were watching the game on TV, went to bed after their son
struck out in the eighth inning with the Orioles trailing 11-10.
"Some friends called them in the morning to tell them the
news," Hoiles said. "I called them and asked, 'Why did you give
up on me?'"

BEST HOME RUN HITTER

Orioles centerfielder Brady Anderson led the majors with 30
homers--nine more than his previous high for an entire season.
His national popularity is on the rise. Meet the Press called
last week to invite him to be a guest on the show. "What, did
Boris Yeltsin cancel?" asked Anderson.

BEST JUICED-BALL NOTES

Thirty-nine American League players were on track to drive in
100 runs; the league record is 18 players, in 1936. The A's (137
homers) and the Mariners (134) were on pace to top the '61
Yankees' big league record for homers in a season (240).

WORST GAME BY A CATCHER

The Astros' Jerry Goff had six passed balls in a 7-6 loss in
Montreal on May 12. That tied a record set by Cincinnati's Rube
Vickers in 1902 and matched by Texas's Geno Petralli in 1987,
both of whom had good excuses. Vickers was a pitcher being used
at catcher, and Petralli was catching knuckleballer Charlie
Hough. Goff's passed balls came in just 3 1/3 innings on pitches
from three pitchers, none a knuckleballer.

WORST INJURY

Twins pitcher Rick Aguilera hurt his right wrist carrying his
wife's luggage.

WORST PITCHER

There were many, many candidates for this award, but the winner
was the Angels' Jim Abbott. He was 1-11 with a 7.60 ERA in 90
innings. The highest ERA in a season (162 innings minimum) was
7.71 by Leo Sweetland of the 1930 Phillies.

MOST HEADS-UP PLAY

On April 9 in Houston, in the 10th inning of a 1-1 game, the
Giants' Barry Bonds was on first base, Steve Decker was on third
and Matt Williams was at the plate. Astros pitcher Todd Jones
threw a ball to the screen behind home plate, but Decker did not
attempt to score. Bonds went halfway to second, then realized
that if he left first base open, Williams surely would be
intentionally walked. So Bonds ran back to first, beating the
throw with a slide. Williams followed with a two-run double. The
Giants won 3-1.

MOST BONEHEADED PLAY

In the sixth inning of an April 5 game in Chicago, Dodgers
outfielder Todd Hollandsworth forgot how many outs there were.
He caught a fly ball hit by the Cubs' Brian Dorsett, put his
head down and headed for the dugout. By the time he realized
there were only two outs, it was too late to prevent base runner
Sammy Sosa, who had already tagged up at second base and rounded
third, from scoring.

BIGGEST OVERACHIEVERS

Milwaukee Brewers. Before the season they appeared destined for
100 losses, but at the break they were 43-43 and ranked third in
the league in runs scored--thanks in large part to leftfielder
Greg Vaughn (24 homers, 75 RBIs).

BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVERS

California Angels. They were easily the best team in the Cactus
League and appeared to have put their epic collapse of 1995
behind them. Instead, they were 43-45 at the break, 8 1/2 games
behind the Rangers, and showing no signs of fight.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO In a year of offensive explosions, the Big Hurt has made the biggest noise in the American League. [Frank Thomas] COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO Abbott has struggled mightily for the fallen Angels. [Jim Abbott]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)