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Envelopes, please: In these awards, even whiners can be winners

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The 1992 baseball season has gone by in a blur. The Oriole have excelled on the field and at the box office. The new ballpark is an unparalleled success. The fans even woke up briefly on Monday night. What a way to start a new era of baseball in Baltimore.

What better time to pause and reflect. Indeed, what better time for the Fifth Annual Golden Schmuck Awards, which are presented each year for dubious achievement on and off the field.

This is the only major awards program that is prestigious enough to be conducted on a last-name basis. (The Oscars and Emmys would like to be as formal, but Cher keeps showing up with a new tattoo.) This also is the only major awards program that will not include a single Dan Quayle rip, unless Candice Bergen agrees to show up later in the column to deliver it personally.

The eligibility requirements are fairly simple. Anyone connected with baseball in any way at any level is eligible for ridicule, except employees of The Baltimore Sun, members of my immediate family and players or coaches who are so sensitive that they might actually do me bodily harm.

The awards committee was carefully chosen to uphold the highest standards of fairness, objectivity and verbal abuse. Decisions are final. Count your change before you leave the window. Here goes:

The Christopher Columbus Award: To the faction of baseball ownership that opposed the National League realignment plan imposed by former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent. For at least another two years, millions of baseball-loving school children will remain under the assumption that you have to travel thousands of miles east to get to the western cities of Atlanta and Cincinnati.

The realignment decision hastened the end of Vincent's term. The owners were concerned that when he got tired of geography, he might decide to give them a course in economics.

The Black Sox Trophy: To Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who engineered the demise of the commissioner's office as we know it some 73 years after the team he now owns forced the creation of that office.

Suspicion that the White Sox threw the 1919 World Series prompted the game to take sweeping measures to clean up its act, including the creation of an iron-fisted commissioner's office that could act unilaterally to protect the integrity of the game.

Now, it appears, what is in the best interests of baseball will be determined by a vote of the owners, many of whom have proven they cannot even act in their own best interests.

The Fred Flintstone Memorial Cup: To the city of Milwaukee, which delayed construction of a new ballpark for the Brewers when a 400 million-year-old rock formation was discovered on the stadium site. The significance of the find is debatable, but the significance of the delay is not. The Brewers will have to play in 400 million-year-old County Stadium for at least a few more seasons.

"They just found Fred Flintstone's footprints," quipped Milwaukee sportswriter Tom Haudricourt. "The stadium is going to be delayed another two years while they look for Dino."

The Science and Technology Award: To former Detroit Tigers owner Tom Monaghan, who reportedly fired club president Bo Schembechler by fax earlier this season. Monaghan takes his telephone technology seriously, and his original -- if impersonal -- method of dismissal just might be a trend-setter. Rumors abound that AT&T; soon will unveil a new "Reach Out and Fire Someone" advertising campaign.

The How Much Is That Doggy In The Outfield Award: To Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, who banned a reporter from the club's press dining room because he wrote a story in which pitcher Tim Belcher criticized her for letting her dog (Schottzie II) run wild on the field at Riverfront Stadium. Reporter Jerry Krasnick did not go hungry for long. Belcher had several pizzas delivered to the press box to sustain him during the lockout.

The Gordon Gekko Award: To the Orioles, who announced recently that prices will go up on about half of the seats at Camden Yards next year. The club has legitimate concerns about rising costs and dwindling television revenues, but it seemed a little early to pass the cost on to the people who built the new stadium for the team.

To their credit, the Orioles reduced the price of several hundred box seats down the left-field line, even though they provide an excellent view of the Inner Harbor.

The Just Say Yes Award: To the New York Yankees officials who went to bat for relief pitcher Steve Howe after he was arrested on a drug charge. Howe is a troubled young man who deserves our sympathy, but he ran afoul of baseball's anti-drug policy so many times that the credibility of the sport's stand against drug abuse was very much at stake. Vincent was heavy-handed in his handling of the situation, but he acted in the best interests of the game. The Yankees get a few points being loyal to Howe, but they sent the wrong message to the rest of their players and to the community.

The Soldier of Fortune Award: To pitcher Jack Morris, who made so much of going home to play in the Twin Cities, then filed for free agency just days after he helped the Minnesota Twins win the World Series last year. Morris made no bones about being a mercenary. He took the money and ran to the Toronto Blue Jays, who would not be headed to the playoffs without him.

Next year? He's still under contract to the Blue Jays, but it might be too soon to rule out a $20 million deal with the Nippon Ham Fighters.

The Conspicuous Consumption Award: To pitcher Tim Leary, who did what any red-blooded American baseball player would have done when he was accused of scuffing the ball in a game against the Orioles on June 21. He ate the evidence. Leary was caught in a television close-up stuffing something into his mouth as the umpires approached him to check his glove. The Orioles lodged a complaint with the league office, but it was no use. The foreign object was nowhere to be found, and Leary's lips were sealed.

The Conspicuous Consumption Award, Part II: To New York Mets outfielder Bobby Bonilla, who was so happy with his five-year, $29 million contract that he apparently celebrated in every restaurant in Manhattan. Bonilla has ballooned to Michelin Man proportions, but it's OK because this is an expansion year.

The Integrity is Overrated Obelisk: To National League MVP candidate Gary Sheffield, who told reporters early in the year that he screwed up plays intentionally to convince the Milwaukee Brewers to trade him. When his comments sparked some outrage, Sheffield altered the story, saying that he only screwed up one play on purpose, and it was in the minor leagues.

Either way, he should have listened to some ancient wisdom: It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

The Good Housecleaning Seal of Disapproval: To Chicago Cubs general manager Larry Himes, who ran off popular pitcher Rick ** Sutcliffe, traded George Bell and his 100-plus RBI to the Chicago White Sox and recently told Andre Dawson that he should look for a new team to play with next year.

Isn't this the same team that vigorously opposed realignment because of the adverse affect it might have on television revenues? Dumping three of the most popular players on the club isn't exactly going to provide a ratings boost, either.

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