DETROIT -- Twice a year Sparky Anderson is at his best - near the end of spring training, and again during the final days of the season.
The veteran manager of the Detroit Tigers is seldom caught without an opinion any time in between, but his early prognostications and late reflections are usually his best.
And this year has been no different than any other. Anderson earned some points by jumping on the Orioles' bandwagon back in March, when he said they would be the surprise team in the American League's Eastern Division.
Now, with only a handful of games left, the white-haired wizard has stepped forth with some sweeping observations -- ranging from the AL's MVP to the impending shift in power among the four divisions in the major leagues.
"If I had a vote, I'll tell you who I'd vote for -- and it will surprise you," said Anderson, who introduced the subject of Most Valuable Player in the American League.
When he was reminded that two months ago he said "if Baltimore wins, [Brady] Anderson is the MVP hands down," Sparky acknowledged the statement. "But, I've changed my mind [in the past two months]," he said.
"Now, I would vote for the center fielder [Mike Devereaux]. You want to know why? Because nobody drives in 105 runs batting second. Nobody.
"I've been managing 23 years, and I've never seen anything close to that. Do you know what that translates to batting fourth? It translates to about 150-160 [RBI]," said Sparky.
Even allowing for slight exaggeration, a natural phenomenon, and the fact that Devereaux briefly hit third or fifth, Anderson didn't waver in his assessment of Devereaux. "Nobody's done more for his club than that guy," said Anderson.
The Detroit manager had another surprise pick for the AL Cy Young Award. "I know the numbers don't support it, but I give the Cy Young to Jack Morris," he said.
"He doesn't have a pretty ERA, but what he's done is what he does best -- win," Anderson said of his former ace. "If Toronto doesn't get Morris and [Dave] Winfield this year, they don't win -- they would've finished behind Milwaukee and Baltimore. Morris gave that staff what it needed -- wins and a lot of innings."
That much said, Anderson admitted he didn't think either Devereaux or Morris would win the AL's highest individual awards. "The vote will be split up, and Eck [Oakland's Dennis Eckersley] will probably win them both," he said.
Without making any postseason predictions, Anderson cited the overall improvement in the AL East. "By 1993, this will be the most dominant division in baseball.
"The improvement was gradual last year, but to tell you the truth, I didn't think it would come this fast," said Anderson.
Last year, the AL East finished a whopping 60 games under .500 against the AL West, but that has changed dramatically this year. Before last night, the AL East was 21 games over .500 -- a shift of 81 games.
Although he didn't anticipate such a drastic shift in power, the turnaround doesn't surprise Anderson, who cites Milwaukee as a prime example. "The rookie shortstop [Pat Listach] has made the biggest difference in their lineup -- the rest of the guys were already there," said Anderson.
"But the difference is the pitching staff," he continued. "Right now I think their five starters [Cal Eldred, Chris Bosio, Bill Wegman, Jaime Navarro and Rickey Bones] are better than anybody's. I'd take that rotation over Atlanta's."
The season-long performances of the Brewers and Orioles, along with the second-half improvement shown by the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees, are what prompt Anderson to predict dominance by the AL East next year.
But that, of course, is without taking into consideration the effects of upcoming expansion and free agency. All of which should set up Sparky nicely for next spring's preseason forecasts.