THE TOAST OF '98
Here's to the folks who distinguished themselves this season
If there was one thing voters weren't confused about at the
All-Star break, it was whom to back in the National League Cy
Young race. The real question was whether to rename the award in
Greg Maddux's honor. With a 12-2 record and a microscopic 1.54
ERA in early July, the Braves righthander appeared to have a lock
on an unprecedented fifth Cy Young. Since then, however, Maddux
has been mortal: 6-7 with a 3.18 ERA.
Meanwhile, several other starters have done passable
impersonations of vintage Maddux, most notably Atlanta teammates
Tom Glavine (20-6, 2.47) and John Smoltz (17-3, 2.90), the
Padres' Kevin Brown (18-7, 2.38, 257 strikeouts) and the Mets'
Al Leiter (17-6, 2.47). Nevertheless, we're going to the
bullpen, picking righthanded closer Trevor Hoffman of San Diego.
For the season, the pitcher with the game's nastiest changeup
converted 53 of 54 save opportunities, anchoring the bullpen for
a team that hasn't lost a game it led after eight innings since
July 24, 1996. Hoffman became just the fourth man to save 50
games in a season and the first to do so with just one blown
save. He allowed 7.8 base runners per nine innings--the best
ratio in the majors since 1995--and if the sun isn't still
shining when you face him, you might as well stay in the dugout.
In 50 1/3 innings of nocturnal pitching, Hoffman allowed one
earned run, for an ERA of 0.18. Not too shabby for a guy who was
drafted as a shortstop by the Reds in '89.
Here are the rest of our award winners. (All statistics are
through the end of the regular season.)
AMERICAN LEAGUE CY YOUNG Roger Clemens, Blue Jays. Looks as if
the Rocket, not Maddux, will become the first to win five Cy
Youngs. Entering September, he was one of four strong
candidates, along with the Red Sox' Pedro Martinez (who finished
19-7, 2.89, 251 strikeouts) and Yankees teammates David Wells
(18-4, 3.49, perfect game) and David Cone (20-7, 3.55). But in
the season's final month, Martinez was 1-3 with a 4.15 ERA, Cone
was 2-3, and Wells (left) went 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA. Clemens,
meanwhile, stretched his winning streak to 15--his last loss was
on May 29--and wrapped up the league's pitching Triple Crown
with 20 wins (tied with Cone and Texas's Rick Helling), a 2.65
ERA and 271 strikeouts. The 36-year-old Clemens thus became the
first American League pitcher to lead the circuit in all three
categories in consecutive seasons since Lefty Grove of the A's
did it in 1930 and '31.
MORGANNA AWARD (BUST OF THE YEAR) Jay Bell, Diamondbacks.
Thirty-four million bucks over five years should buy something
better than a .251 average and 66 RBIs. Bell (right) noses out
last year's biggest bust, righthander Jaime Navarro, who, in the
second year of a $20 million contract with the White Sox, upped
his losses from 14 last season to 16 and his ERA from 5.79 to
BAYWATCH AWARD (GROUP BUST OF THE YEAR) The Tigers. Huge
improvement last year raised '98 hopes a little too high in
Motown. But no way should this team (65-97) be as bad as the
Devil Rays (63-99).
AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox. Singling out any
one Yankee is impossible. Their best hitter, Bernie Williams,
missed 31 straight games in June and July with a bad knee, and
the Bombers didn't miss a beat, going 21-10 without him. Good?
Yes. Invaluable? Not on that team. On the other hand, playing
for sub-.500 teams rules out league home run king Ken Griffey
Jr. of the Mariners (56) and Triple Crown threat Albert Belle of
the White Sox (.328, 49 homers, 152 RBIs). That leaves
Garciaparra and the Rangers' Juan Gonzalez.
Each has a strong case. Gonzalez drove in a league-high 157 runs
and hit .368 over the final two months to raise his average to
.318. Garciaparra finished with a .323 average, 35 home runs and
122 RBIs, and actually hit more homers and drove in more runs in
the second half of the season than Gonzalez (22 homers and 66
RBIs to 19 and 56). Boston wasn't the same team without him. In
the 16 games Garciaparra missed with a shoulder injury in May,
the Red Sox scored 3.81 runs a game and hit .253, compared with
5.58 runs and a .283 average the rest of the year. What clinches
it for the 25-year-old Garciaparra are his defense, his joie de
game and his versatility. He had more than 140 at bats in the
leadoff spot, in the number 3 hole and at cleanup, and he hit
better than .300 in all three roles.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP Sammy Sosa, Cubs. Forget for a moment Mark
McGwire's dramatic assault on Roger Maris's record and all the
goodwill Big Mac generated for the game, and consider this: On
May 10, Sosa had seven homers and 21 RBIs, and the Cubs were
19-17. In the team's 126 games after that, he hit 59 homers and
drove in 137 runs, and his team went 70-56 to send the wild-card
race into a one-game playoff. McGwire's Cardinals, on the other
hand, were never more than two games over .500 from May 31 to
Sept. 21. Moises Alou (.312, 38 homers, 124 RBIs) of the Astros
and Greg Vaughn (.272, 50 homers, 119 RBIs) of the Padres are
also more deserving than McGwire because without them their
teams probably would not have won their divisions.
AMERICAN LEAGUE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR Ben Grieve, Athletics. He
suffered a major second-half slide, but he still prevails with a
.288 average, 18 home runs and 89 RBIs. Cuban righthander Rolando
Arrojo (14-12, 3.56) of the Devil Rays merits consideration, but
the 30-year-old veteran of international play is a rookie in name
BEST ROOKIE RIGHTHANDED CUBAN REFUGEE WHO THROWS FROM COUNTLESS
ARM ANGLES AND WHOSE AGE IS IN DISPUTE Would you believe it's a
tie? Arrojo and Orlando Hernandez of the Yankees. Arrojo set the
record for wins by a pitcher on a first-year expansion team,
while El Duque's ebullience and nasty stuff--not to mention his
12-4 record and 3.13 ERA--wowed 'em in the Bronx.
NATIONAL LEAGUE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR Kerry Wood, Cubs (left). In
his fifth major league start, against a good-hitting Astros
lineup, he tied the major league record for strikeouts in a game
by whiffing 20. For an encore he developed into a solid starter
(13-6, 3.40 ERA) and continued to fan hitters at a staggering
rate (12.6 per nine innings) before his overworked arm gave out
and he missed the last four weeks with a sore elbow.
AMERICAN LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR Terry Collins, Angels. Even
though his team missed the playoffs, Collins deserves the award
for keeping injury-riddled Anaheim in the West Division race.
First baseman-outfielder Darin Erstad played with an injured
hamstring; DH Tim Salmon limped through the season on a bad foot;
and lefthander Chuck Finley was struck by batted balls twice in
seven days--once while sitting in the dugout. If Anaheim were a
boxer, it would lead the league in standing eight counts, but
Collins kept his club fighting well into the final round.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR Dusty Baker, Giants. Baker
led a team practically devoid of superstars on a 9-2 tear to
force a playoff for the wild-card spot. The one true stud Baker
does have is Barry Bonds (below, left), who isn't the easiest
guy in the world to manage. In July, Bonds took umbrage at some
innocuous remarks Baker made and said, "You can tell Dusty to
kiss my ass. And you can put it in the paper. You can put it on
a billboard. I don't care." In September he boasted, "There
isn't a person in this locker room who can carry my jock strap."
Still, Baker kept his overachieving team's focus on the field.
OSCAR GAMBLE AWARD FOR WORST HAIR Charles Nagy, Indians. In a
year of bad dye jobs, his was the worst. After Nagy (right)
tried to break a slump by bleaching his hair blond, Cleveland
general manager John Hart mourned the passing of what had once
been one of baseball's best coifs: "I mean, he had this flowing
mane. He looked like he stepped right out of GQ."
AMERICAN LEAGUE COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAr Eric Davis, Orioles.
He's hitting as well (.327, 28 homers, 89 RBIs) a year after
colon-cancer surgery as he did in any of his 12 big league
seasons before the operation. Honorable mention for the Blue
Jays' Jose Canseco (career-best 46 homers plus 107 RBIs) for
resurrecting himself from the cartoon-superhero junk heap.
NATIONAL LEAGUE COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR Greg Vaughn, Padres.
Last year San Diego couldn't give him away. This year he put
together the best offensive season of any Padre ever, picking up
the slack after Ken Caminiti's injury-induced slide.
MARK FUHRMAN AWARD Todd Hundley, Mets. Someone planted an
outfielder's glove on his left hand. As a leftfielder, Hundley
made a hell of a catcher.
BEST STRIKEOUT PERFORMANCE Mark Whiten, Indians (with apologies
to Kerry Wood). In his first--and only--major league inning on the
hill, against Oakland on July 31, Hard-Hittin' struck out the
side to become the only player in major league history with one
inning pitched who got every out with the whiff.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR Gerry Hunsicker, Astros. Getting Moises
Alou before the season gave the team its most consistent stick,
and getting lefthander Randy Johnson (10-1, four shutouts with
Houston) at the trading deadline makes the Astros awfully tough
to beat in a seven-game series.
WORLD'S SCARIEST FRONT OFFICE The Dodgers'. More intrigue than
Melrose Place, and about as much baseball sense.
AL PACINO AWARD The White Sox, for their Dog Day Afternoon
promotion. Dogs were admitted free to the Aug. 15 game against
the Mariners if accompanied by a paying human; 511 pooches
showed. A section of the rightfield bleachers, replete with sod
and fire hydrants, was cordoned off. Why the large canine
turnout? "We're playing better in the second half," said
marketing and broadcasting senior vice president Rob Gallas. "So
obviously the dogs have more interest."