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The Toast of '98
Here's to the folks who distinguished themselves this season
By Mark Bechtel
Posted: Wed September 30, 1998
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 inningsthe best ratio in the majors since 1995and 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.)
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 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 6.36.
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 only.
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 stuffnot to mention his 12-4 record and 3.13 ERAwowed 'em in the Bronx.
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 daysonce 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, 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 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 firstand onlymajor 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."
Issue date: October 5, 1998
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