Flanagan is prime 'Comeback' choice, but meaty qualification questions remain


Mike Flanagan's bullpen mates, led by campaign manager Mark Williamson, are upset that the veteran lefthander is getting slighted in consideration for "Comeback of the Year" honors.

There have been some interesting questions asked. For instance:

Can you qualify by coming back from a drug rehab program (Steve Howe)?

Does it count if you come back from Japan (Bill Gullickson was there in 1988 and 89)?

How far did you previously have to go in order to make a comeback?

When Alan Trammell won the award a few years ago, after what had been perceived as an offseason by his standards, the Tigers shortstop said: "Thanks, but I didn't think I was that bad last year."

There actually isn't an official "Comeback of the Year" award in baseball, but several media organizations annually issue such recognition. Based on the evidence, Wiliamson and friends are right -- Flanagan should be a leading candidate.

With a 2.24 earned run average (1.49 in his last 31 games) in 92 1/3 innings while starting a new career in the bullpen, Flanagan has strong credentials. "Who's made a better comeback than he has?" asks Williamson. "He deserves it more than anybody else."

A 2-5 record is the only blemish on Flanagan's resume, and that's more indicative of a long reliever pitching for a losing team than his effectiveness. Howe has pitched barely more than half as many innings as Flanagan.

And Jose Guzman and Bill Wegman, two prominent nominations, lack what should be the most important qualification. Neither ever got far enough to make a comeback. They are below .500 career pitchers, Guzman's best prior record being 14-14, Wegman's 12-11, both in 1987.

By contrast Flanagan is a former Cy Young Award winner who won 15 or more games six times and was 23-9 in 1979. He has previously been to a plateau worthy of coming back to -- and has made the trip after being released, sitting out most of last year and making the transition from starter to reliever.

And besides, Flanagan is also making a comeback from another country -- returning to Baltimore for Memorial Stadium's final season after getting his walking papers in Toronto.

* THE MOTHER OF '91 BASEBALL STATS: You find the logic to explain this one. The National League has just completed its inter-division play (remember they play an unbalanced schedule) and the Eastern Division finished two games over .500 against the West. One more loss by the East and the two divisions would've had an even split.

Here's the fun part: The Montreal Expos, last in the East with the second worst record in the league (ahead of Houston), were 43-29 against the six Western Division teams. The Pittsburgh Pirates (40-32) were the only other East team with a winning record against the West. The Expos are 18-49 against teams in their own division.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering -- in the American League, the Western Division has a 63-game edge on the Eastern Division, with 21 games left against Toronto.

* BUECHELE LEAVES AL WITH RECORD: Besides being eligible for postseason play, Steve Buechele had another reason to be pleased about his trade from Texas to Pittsburgh.

At the time of the trade, Buechele was leading all American League third basemen with a .991 fielding percentage (three errors in 329 total chances). Since he had played 111 games, 11 more than needed to qualify, Buechele establishes an American League record while playing out the season in the National League.

Milwaukee's Don Money set the previous record (.989) in 1974.

* TRIVIA TIME: Just a couple of small items.

When Bret Saberhagen pitched his no-hitter this year, he joined some exclusive company. Only two other pitchers have ever pitched a no-no, won a Cy Young Award and been named World Series MVP.

The other two were Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. And the Sandy man figures in the other tidbit as well.

When Montreal's Dennis Martinez (how come he never won a comeback award?) faced Cincinnati's Tom Browning recently, it was the first matchup of perfect game pitchers since Koufax pitched against Jim Bunning in 1966.

* THIS 'N THAT: In case you hadn't noticed, California's Jim Abbott has become a very viable Cy Young candidate . . . The Angels recently ran off a string of four 1-0 victories in a span of 16 games, during which they doubled their shutout total to 10.

Bob Zupcic, brought up from Triple-A Pawtucket, already has a special place in Red Sox history. He's last on the all-time alphabetical list, replacing Bill Zuber .

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