Ozzie Smith and Alan Trammell for most valuable players in the National and American leagues. Not Andre Dawson and George Bell, even if they hit 50 home runs each.
Tom Henke and Steve Bedrosian for the Cy Young awards. Yes, even though they're relief pitchers. Please, don't let the awards go to Jimmy Key, Jack Morris, Frank Viola, Roger Clemens, Rick Sutcliffe or Orel Hershiser.
Sparky Anderson and Whitey Herzog should be managers of the year. Not Tom Trebelhorn and Buck Rodgers.
These are baseball's six most prestigious year-end awards. At the moment, it looks as though all six may be given to the wrong people. It's time for some last-minute emergency pleading.
One point stands above the others. All these prizes are fine for friendly debate -- except one. The NL MVP really should be clearcut, but at the moment, isn't. The man who deserves it appears to be running fourth in straw polls of the sportswriters who vote. If Smith of St. Louis isn't MVP, then melt down the award. It's simple. Smith is second to Montreal's Wallach in the NL in runs produced -- 181 to 179. (You didn't know that? You've got company. It's the hidden stat of the year.) And he may be the greatest fielding shortstop in history. His Cardinals won the East.
The former Punch and Judy is batting .306 with 104 runs and an amazing 75 RBI -- without a single homer. His 40 doubles tie for the league lead. Only one man has more hits than his 180. Toss in 43 steals, 90 walks and a gaudy .390 on-base percentage. He does all this while taking enough strikes so Vince Coleman can steal 108 bases. Next case.
Despite his 48 homers and 132 RBI, Dawson seldom steals or walks and has less runs produced (171) than Smith. His Cubs were last. Wallach's fine brief is slightly weaker than Dawson's.
The AL MVP award breaks down along similar lines. Bell has the glitzy numbers with 47 homers and 134 RBI. Also, his 198 runs produced (RBI, plus runs, minus homers) tell the truth -- he's the most feared hitter of '87. But let's look at Trammell again. Not his .341 batting average or 200 hits. Not even the 20 steals or 62 extra-base hits. What counts are those 184 runs produced. He's second in the game to Bell. Trammell has been hotter down the stretch.
Now, the clincher. Trammell is an excellent team man and plays the hardest defensive position (shortstop) superbly. Bell, only a tolerable teammate, plays left field erratically. He lets balls drop. His 11 errors are bad, but more misplays don't show. If the Tigers catch the Blue Jays, shouldn't Trammell get the victor's spoils? If not, might Trammell still not deserve the nod by an inch?
Next, let's dispose of this managerial foolishness. Anderson and Herzog are future Hall of Famers who may be having the best years of their careers. Historic figures in historic form. Anderson took inferior overall talent and an atrocious bullpen and may yet end up in the World Series. Known for being the Captain Hook master of bullpens, he still won nearly 100 games with a disastrous relief staff.
Herzog's Cardinals were an '86 flop, then had big '87 injuries and still held off the New York Mets for six months. The Cardinals were last in runs in '86, yet, with Jack Clark missing 35 starts, were second in runs in the NL this season. Without John Tudor for 20 starts, without Clark at the end, without so much as a 12-game winner, he survived.
The groundswells for Trebelhorn and Rodgers are largely romantic indulgence. Trebelhorn's Brewers had a great start, a big lead yet ended up third. As for Rodgers, his Expos became underdog contenders because of front office decisions as much as his field decisions. It wasn't Rodgers who traded for obscure pitchers or believed so much in rookies that Tim Raines would have been allowed to depart. Give Rodgers a raise. But not an award Herzog ought to own.
In this year of hitters, what about the pitchers? No starter in either league truly distinguished himself. That's why even Hershiser (16-15) has some chance. However, several relievers, especially on division champions, were exceptional. By now we should know that these days, given the choice of a 40-home run slugger, a 20-game winner or a fireman with 40 wins-plus-saves, the reliever is usually the most essential.
This year, no starter in either league is more than 10 games over .500. Only Dave Stewart has won 20. Since '56, the average Cy Young winner has been 15 games over .500. Only two non-20-game winners have ever gotten the award. If any '87 starter wins the award, only one previous Cy Young will have had a record as mediocre: Mike Scott (18-10) in '86.
So, why do we fixate on starters? Only five of 52 previous Cy Young Award winners have been relievers. Never two in one season. Let's kill a bias. Have two this year.
For instance, how can Key win the top award when Henke, on his own staff, has 34 saves, a 2.49 earned run average and one of the best ratios of strikeouts-to-innings in history (128 in 94)? Okay, so Henke's record is 0-6. A winless Cy Young winner sure would be memorable. But relievers aren't supposed to get wins; it usually means they blew a save. Zero is good.
If not Henke, then either Dave Righetti or even high-ERA Jeff Reardon (38 wins-plus-saves) have had better years by relief standards than Clemens or Stewart have had for starters. Reardon was the key to Minnesota's division championship.
The NL case is clearer. Bedrosian has been largely lost in Philadelphia's mediocre season. He's saved 40 games and, rarer, has won-and-saved 42 more games than he's lost. (The record's 47.) It's also hard to ignore Todd Worrell who, with 40 wins-plus-saves for a Cardinals staff with just nine complete games, has done enough to merit a Cy Young. Actually, he might have earned it last year with 45 wins-and-saves. Still, a St. Louis triple crown for Smith-Herzog-Worrell might be taking the patronage theory of rewarding winners too far.
There we have it. For MVP, think shortstops, not juiceball-benefitted sluggers. Don't forget, this is the best era for shortstops in history. For Cy Young, reach for prime relief; we're in the game's golden age of firemen, not starters. When it comes to managers, go for two old classic models. This has been a devious year for misdirection plays on the big awards. But, now that the numbers and standings have settled, there's still time to get it right.