Sometimes you have to adjust your thinking when casting a ballot
Posted: Wednesday September 24, 2003 5:52PM; Updated: Thursday September 25, 2003 12:09PM
I've never understood people who take intractable positions on postseason awards. You've heard the self-defined eligibility rules: a player from a losing team can't be the MVP, a relief pitcher can't be the Cy Young Award winner, a player from the Japanese Leagues can't be the Rookie of the Year, Bobby Cox can't be Manager of the Year ... well, you get the idea. The ballots, however, come with no such restrictions.
There's nothing wrong with having preferences. I, for instance, prefer my MVP to come from a team that makes the postseason -- especially in these tournament-style days when four teams from each league play in October. But here's the problem I had with that preference this year when it came to the American League: I kept waiting for somebody from a playoff-bound team to assert himself in terms of importance to his club and raw performance over the six-month season but not one guy stepped up as the clear favorite.
New York? Jason Giambi faded terribly and the team's best candidate, Jorge Posada, primarily hit sixth -- and, until Giambi went cold, nobody mentioned one word about the Yankees catcher being an MVP.
Boston? Take the roster and throw a dart at it: Nomar Garciaparra (a home-only creation who faded), Manny Ramirez (checked out on his team), Bill Mueller (nice 80-something RBI guy, but no MVP), Trot Nixon (virtual platoon player), David Ortiz (a DH with too few at-bats) and Pedro Martinez (soul of the team, though only every fifth day when healthy) all deserve a look. So how can you give it to one guy on a club with so many candidates of equal value?
Oakland? Miguel Tejada was out to lunch for three months (.298 OBP before the break). Eric Chavez was really the guy who jump-started the Athletics, but he also had a poor first half and is a nonfactor against lefties.
Minnesota? Shannon Stewart played with the team for two months after being acquired from Toronto, had fewer than 70 RBIs and his arm in left is so weak, he couldn't throw out a grandma.
Toss in the near-misses (anybody seen Ichiro or Bret Boone lately?) and the dark horse candidates (the Royals were red hot when Carlos Beltran was hurt or slumping) and there's nobody to get excited about.
I can't say I have real conviction for any of the candidates, even my pick, Alex Rodriguez. He's a kind of default winner. But I'm more comfortable with that than trying to force somebody else in there just for the sake of protocol. And if A-Rod was good enough on a last-place team last year to finish second to a more traditional winner (Tejada), why can't he claim the honor this time around when there is no clear front-runner? Hey, Cal Ripken Jr., Ernie Banks and Andre Dawson won the award while playing for losing teams, and Mike Schmidt did so while playing for a Phillies squad that finished nearly as far removed from first place as this year's Rangers. Picking an MVP from a last-place club is rare -- and it should be rare -- but it can happen.
Think back to 1999, when Ivan Rodriguez won the award even though he didn't have the most first-place votes and was listed as low as seventh on one ballot. It had been 33 years since somebody was named MVP without having received the most first-place votes. This is another one of those strange years. Maybe, given the number of different players who will get first-place votes, it will turn out to be even stranger than we originally thought.
1. Alex Rodriguez, Rangers
Any chance Albert Pujols had of wresting the award from Barry Bonds slipped away with St. Louis' September fade and Pujols' own troubles in big games against the Cubs and Astros. Bonds is the definitive MVP. He makes everyone around him better while putting up historic on-base and slugging percentages. His two walkoff homers against the Braves in late-August were legendary stuff.
1. Barry Bonds, Giants
AL Cy Young Award
Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays was the most dominating pitcher in the league over six months, and the right-hander gets the edge over Pedro Martinez of Boston because of the disparity in innings pitched. Hallday should win the award unanimously, despite his ridiculous ejection last week against Tampa Bay. Esteban Loaiza seemed to have the award in his back pocket for most of the season, but he faded at the end.
1. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays
NL Cy Young Award
The Giants lost only five games this year when Jason Schmidt started, and Mark Prior might have won this award if he hadn't missed three weeks following the All-Star break after injuring his shoulder in a collision with Atlanta second baseman Marcus Giles. (Then again, the DL time did keep Prior fresh and prevented him from running up a dangerous total of innings pitched.) But you can't deny the season of the Dodgers' Eric Gagne. If ever a reliever should win the Cy Young Award, this is the year. How could you ask for more? L.A.'s closer was perfect in save situations, struck out 45 percent of the batters he faced and gave up one hit all year with two outs and runners in scoring position.
1. Eric Gagne, Dodgers
AL Rookie of the Year
Save the "He's Not a Rookie" argument. Hideki Matsui of the Yankees is eligible for the award. His years in Japan did not guarantee he'd be a success in the States. He earned his success by changing countries, culture and language, not to mention stepping it up in competition. One of the top RBI men in the league with a knack for picking up runners, Matsui also showed he was a solid defensive player and good baserunner. Too bad the ballot doesn't have more than three spots, because Frankie Rodriguez of the Angels, Mike MacDougal of the Royals, Jody Gerut of the Indians, Mark Teixeira of the Rangers and Aquilino Lopez of the Blue Jays all deserve a mention.
1. Hideki Matsui, Yankees
NL Rookie of the Year
Brandon Webb of Arizona didn't generate the hype of Florida's Dontrelle Willis, but he did have the better season. Webb threw more innings, struck out more batters, posted a better ERA and held opponents to a lower batting average than Willis. The Diamondbacks right-hander suffered from disastrous run support, though. And don't think "Country" Webb is not fun to watch, either. His sinker may be the nastiest in the game.
1. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
AL Manager of the Year
A Royals coach once counted the number of pitches manager Tony Pena threw in batting practice. The skipper's pitch count hit nearly 500 -- and Pena tosses BP on an almost-daily basis. Pena's enthusiasm and energy helped turn a 100-loss team into a contender that never stopped playing hard down the stretch -- all while juggling an unstable pitching staff.
1. Tony Pena, Royals
NL Manager of the Year
Jack McKeon stepped out of his retirement duties as a grandfather in North Carolina, took over a losing Marlins team with a knack for underachieving, and made it a winner. Rarely do in-season managerial moves provide this kind of jolt -- Boston's Joe Morgan and his Morgan's Magic in 1988 come to mind -- but McKeon was exactly what Florida needed. Give credit, too, to the masterful jobs done by Felipe Alou and Dusty Baker.
1. Jack McKeon, Marlins
The Unofficial Awards
Best off the bench: Jose Vizcaino, Astros. Professional hitter who can fill in at several positions.
Most exciting player: Barry Bonds, Giants. The restrooms are empty at Pac Bell whenever Bonds' at-bats near.
Best player you've never heard of: Richie Sexson, Brewers. The sausages get more attention in Milwaukee.
Most distinctive quirk: Turk Wendell spiking the resin bag after recording an out.
Best at making his job look easy: Eric Gagne, Dodgers. As close to unhittable as anybody has seen in years.
Best at making his job look hard: Danys Baez, Indians. Has a closer ever had a worse year?
Most devastated by being traded: Raul Mondesi, Diamondbacks. Not that he cares, but his reputation as a selfish underachiever took yet another hit when he sulked his way off of the Yankees and out of the postseason
Best team player: Jim Thome, Phillies. He was everything they had hoped for.
Best quote: Billy Beane, Athletics GM. He didn't write Moneyball, but he was the voice behind the bestseller and he's not afraid to challenge the baseball establishment.
Most likely to break out next season: Miguel Cabrera, Marlins. The third baseman/outfielder has a little bit of Vladimir Guerrero in him.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci covers baseball for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com. Check out the Sept. 29, 2003 issue for Verducci's in-depth analysis of all his awards picks and a look at the Most Ridiculous Performances Awards by SI's Daniel G. Habib.