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And now, presenting the Third Annual Golden Schmuck Awards

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The ballots are in the mail for all of the major postseason awards. The votes have been cast for the Most Valuable Player in each league and the two Cy Young Award winners, as well as the managers and rookies of the year. Nothing has been announced yet, but no more debate is necessary. It all has been decided.

The best of the best will be rewarded for their achievements. The best of the rest will be rewarded at contract time. The system works.

But the 1990 headlines were not always dominated by the amazing return of Cecil Fielder, or the record-breaking performance of Bobby Thigpen, or the iron-man endurance streak of Cal Ripken. It was also a year of labor strife and scandal and controversy.

Pete Rose went to jail. George Steinbrenner was forced to give up control of the New York Yankees. Baseball ownership was fined more than $100 million for collusive attempts in 1987 and 1988 to limit salaries and free agent mobility. There was as much bad news as good.

That's why it's time to look back in anger -- to reflect on and recognize some of the more dubious achievements of the season past. That's why it's time to hand out the Third Annual Golden Schmuck Awards, which are distributed each year to the people who make baseball the grating game it is.

The actual awards ceremony will be held later and shown on cable. Cher will show up dressed in something outrageous. Chevy Chase will make a couple of tasteless jokes and do a pratfall. Marlon Brando might even send an Indian princess. No doubt, it will be a gala affair.

This year's trophies even bear a striking resemblance to the Academy Award statuette, featuring a gold-plated figurine of Steinbrenner perched atop a reel of Howard Spira audio tape.

It's no wonder the Oscars and Emmys pale by comparison with the only awards program classy enough to be on a last-name basis. The envelopes, please:

The NLRB Good Conduct Medal: To labor negotiators Chuck O'Connor and Donald Fehr, who emerged from another bitter baseball labor dispute to declare that the negotiations had bred enough mutual respect and trust to leave hope for a less confrontational future. This must have been very comforting to disenchanted baseball fans, many of whom saw long-awaited spring training vacations ruined by a lengthy lockout. Who wants to bet that mutual respect and trust will dissipate just in time for the next labor dispute?

The Stupid Player Trick Trophy: To Boston Red Sox ace Roger Clemens, who bruised his pitching hand punching the clubhouse door Tuesday night after failing to persuade the club to keep the clubhouse closed to the media 30 minutes for a private celebration after the division-deciding game. Clemens' brattish behavior not only showed his disdain for the media (who needed quick access after the game), but also risked an injury that could have damaged seriously his club's chances of winning the playoffs. What he did instead was damage seriously his reputation as a team player, while showing himself to be little more than an overgrown adolescent. Funny how things turn out. The Red Sox ended up clinching the title Wednesday night and " Clemens missed the celebration altogether, because he had to go to Toronto to be ready for a possible playoff.

The Good Horsekeeping Seal of Approval: To Hank Steinbrenner, who resisted his father's attempt to install him as the New York Yankees managing general partner so he could continue to oversee the family horse-racing interests. Hank understandably was reluctant to spend eight months a year in New York City, where his every move would be monitored closely by commissioner Fay Vincent for signs of fatherly interference. He probably also realized that his first name would fit very easily into those screaming tabloid headlines that the New York press have made so famous.

The Sexist Man Alive Award: Though there were many candidates for this macho-coveted award throughout the world of sports, Detroit Tigers pitcher Jack Morris earned special recognition for sexism in baseball when he refused to answer questions from a female sportswriter in the Tigers clubhouse. "I don't talk to people when I'm naked," Morris said, "and I particularly don't talk to women when I'm naked, unless they're on top of me or I'm on top of them." His statement is a little confusing, but what Morris probably meant to say was that he will -- though reluctantly -- talk to men when he's naked without requiring that they be on top of him or he be on top of them at the time.

The Truth of Consequences Award: To former National League umpire Dave Pallone, whose crusade for public acceptance of his homosexuality has included a book ("Behind the Mask"), months on the talk-show circuit and, most recently, an appearance last week on "To Tell the Truth." The show is a revival of one of television's most famous game shows, in which three contestants claim to be the same person. A panel of celebrities quiz them in an attempt to discern which one is actually the real McCoy -- or in this case, Pallone. Of course, he fooled everyone on the panel, which probably should come as no surprise to all the people he fooled in the National League.

The Kirk the Jerk Award: Named after Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson, whose boorish personality has been the stuff of legend since his college football days at Michigan State University, this award could have gone to any number of solid candidates. Gibson ended up winning it himself, however, for a July tirade in manager Tommy Lasorda's office that almost left the Dodgers without a general manager. Gibson stalked GM Fred Claire around the office for several minutes during an angry confrontation over Gibson's public demand to be traded. No trade would be forthcoming, so Gibson can become a free agent and look for a new general manager to pick on.

Nasty Boy of the Year Award: To Cincinnati Reds reliever Rob Dibble, who endeared himself to San Francisco Giants fans this year when he compared them to mutants from a nuclear explosion. This had to come as a great shock to Bay area residents, many of whom were understandably surprised that Dibble could complete an intelligible sentence, much less make reference to a subject as sophisticated as genetics. But it turned out that Dibble has been doing his homework. He spends nearly every Saturday morning in front of the television, studying the effects of nuclear contamination on turtles.

The Epicurean Medal of Merit: To Toronto Blue Jays outfielder George Bell, who refused to talk to reporters after a game in Baltimore because -- yes, he really said this -- there weren't any good places in town to get Mexican food. Though Bell isn't the first person to bemoan the shortage of authentic Mexican cuisine in the Baltimore area (Taco Bell doesn't count), it did not seem to be a legitimate reason to withhold comment on the day's game.

The Home Shopping Club Undistinguished Service Award: To Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and all the other high-profile athletes who have made appearances on the various cable television merchandise shows to hawk authentic baseball memorabilia. The card-show circuit is one thing, but it borders on embarrassing to see Hall of Fame-caliber athletes turned into electronic door-to-door salesmen. Now what was that phone number again?

The Conspicuous Consumption Award: To the California Angels, who spent $16 million to sign Mark Langston even though they already had five solid starting pitchers. Sure, they eventually unloaded Mike Witt in that strange trade that forced them to sign Dave Winfield to an expensive contract extension, but that only increased the expenditure to more than $20 million for a pitcher who ranked among the league's top losers and an outfielder who was coming off a serious back injury. The Angels still are looking for a coherent organizational strategy, as evidenced by the decision this week to put baseball newcomer Richard Brown in charge of the entire operation.

Asleep at the Wheel Award: To New York Mets pitcher David Cone, who was so busy arguing an umpiring decision earlier this season that he held the ball while two runners crossed home plate.

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