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The Unofficial Awards

Sports Illustrated baseball writers Tom Verducci and Jeff Pearlman select winners in some less-than-major awards categories. Click here to check out SI baseball scribe Stephen Cannella's major league "Consolation Prizes".

Best off the bench

Verducci: Dave Hansen, Dodgers. It wasn't just that he set a record for pinch-hit home runs. Hansen also posted a .415 on-base percentage.

Pearlman: Jose Vizcaino, Yankees. Vizcaino isn't a great pinch hitter or, for that matter, a dazzling fielder. But he cured the Chuck Knoblauch blues in New York by emerging as a steady late-inning sub for the wild-armed, Ryan Leaf-esque Chuckie.

Most exciting

Verducci: Vladimir Guerrero, Expos. The guy can hit any pitch -- and he won't just make contact, he'll crush it. No one has a stronger arm in right field, though many are more accurate, and he runs the bases like a thoroughbred. He just keeps getting better and better.

Pearlman: Johnny Damon, Royals. Because nobody watches the Royals, nobody watches Damon. But the guy slides into walls, jumps into the stands, rips his pants, finds pebbles under his skin ... and bats .327 with a league-high 136 runs and 46 stolen bases. Had the Royals been in the pennant race, Damon would have been the AL MVP.

Best player you've never heard of

Verducci: Richard Hidalgo, Astros. Maybe you've heard his name a couple of times, but could you recognize him in his street clothes? Has anyone had a quieter 44-home run, 122-RBI season? It was a breakout year for Hidalgo, though the Astros' miserable first half camouflaged it.

Pearlman: Jeffrey Hammonds, Rockies.

OK, people have heard of Jeffrey Hammonds. But do y'all know how good this dude is? In 122 games, he had 152 hits, 94 runs, a .355 average ... and 106 RBIs. Plus, he covers more ground than Rand McNally.

Most distinctive quirk

Verducci: Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox. His top-tapping in the batter's box. The guy is the first right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio to win back-to-back AL batting titles, but his pre-pitch rituals border on obsessive compulsive.

Pearlman: Albert Belle, Orioles. He has this strange habit of crunching reporters into garbage cans prior to taking the field. He's very superstitious that way.

Best at making his job look easy

Verducci: Andruw Jones, Braves. Think satin is smooth? Barry White's baritone? Jones is silk in spikes.

Pearlman: Mike Bordick, Mets. With Rey Ordonez's season-ending injury, Bordick's talent became very, very noticeable. He makes almost all the plays the Dance-Fever-esque Ordonez does, but without the extra dives, slides, slips and lunges.

Best at making his job look hard

Verducci: Mo Vaughn, Angels. He made 14 errors at first base, was dominated by left-handed pitchers (.202), whiffed 181 times -- the seventh-highest single-season total in baseball history -- and doesn't exactly cut a dashing figure with that expanding physique. Yo, anybody want to pick up the $61 million left over on the next four years of his contract? Don't all jump at once.

Pearlman: Preston Wilson, Marlins. Thanks to Wilson and his -- oy -- 187 strikeouts, never have so many young, wanna-be sluggers picked up football.

Most devastated by being traded

Verducci: Kent Bottenfield. He had a breakthrough year for St. Louis last season, then was dealt in spring training to Anaheim and then gets dumped on Philadelphia. Talk about sliding down the slippery slope. Nothing like pitching for poor teams to decrease your value in the year you're headed to free agency.

Pearlman: Ricky Ledee. He was traded twice this year, once by the Yankees to Cleveland, and once by Cleveland to Texas. The former deal, the one in which he joined the Indians in exchange for David Justice, was the one thathurt. Ledee had been a Yank since age 16; he lived and died with the pinstripes. Getting traded was painful, and he didn't hide the emotion.

Best team player

Verducci: Derek Jeter, Yankees. This guy is a winner. The Yankees have become his team.

Pearlman: Gary Sheffield, Dodgers. The once-selfish Sheff carried the Dodgers on his back. He played hurt, protected Shawn Green from critics and took responsibility for a mediocre season. Had L.A. been a contender, Sheffield would have been a serious NL MVP option.

Best quote

Verducci: Pedro Martinez, Red Sox. He is articulate, funny, sarcastic, smart, insightful and sometimes poignant, such as when he's talking about the love he feels when he's tending to his flower garden.

Pearlman: Tom Glavine, Braves. Well-thought-out comments and intelligent banter make him the king of a very quotable clubhouse.

Most likely to break out next season

Verducci: Barry Zito, A's. Actually, he just might do it this postseason the way Steve Avery did in 1991. The real deal, he and Tim Hudson are the best yet at duplicating the Smoltz-Glavine foundation that began the Braves' championship run.

Pearlman: Barry Zito, A's. This year's Tim Hudson went 7-4 with a 2.71 ERA in 14 starts for Oakland. He's a 22-year-old lefty with a Thor arm and Kissinger maturity. A 20-game winner sooner rather than later.


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