About those predictions? Now, it's time to confess

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This forum is often used for predictions. Many predictions. Hundreds of predictions. It is time, therefore, to examine the record, to own up to what was written here on April 25, 1995, the day before the Orioles' season began.

Prediction on the division winners: Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego, Seattle, Cleveland and (ahem) the Orioles.

Confession: Didn't take a brain surgeon to pick the Braves, Reds and Indians. Plus, fourth place was predicted for the Red Sox.

Excuse: Who would've guessed that Sid Fernandez wouldn't come through with his usual 18-20 victories?

Prediction on AL Cy Young Award: 1. David Cone; 2. Mike Mussina; 3. John Wetteland; 4. Randy Johnson; 5. Jason Bere.

Confession: Included Bere because I thought it would be cool to note an up-and-comer.

Excuse: Who would've guessed Cone would've played for such a crummy team for three months?

Prediction on AL MVP: 1. Kenny Lofton; 2. Ken Griffey; 3. David Cone; 4. Frank Thomas; 5. Albert Belle.

Confession: Mo Vaughn was listed as the fourth-best first baseman -- in the AL East.

Excuse: Who picks a member of the Red Sox to win anything?

Prediction on NL MVP: 1. Greg Maddux; 2. Moises Alou; 3. Fred McGriff; 4. Barry Bonds; 5. Jeff Bagwell.

Confession: Got a chance with Maddux, but not even close with Alou and Bagwell.

Excuse: Who would've guessed the Alous wouldn't get along?

Prediction on NL Cy Young Award: 1. Maddux; 2. Jose Rijo; 3. Andy Benes; 4. Doug Drabek; 5. Steve Avery.

Confession: Only complete dolts didn't pick Maddux.

Excuse: Benes, Drabek and Avery were typos. No kidding. Seriously.

Prediction on the most underrated player in the majors: Montreal's Wil Cordero.

Confession: He's so underrated that the Expos are thinking about releasing him in December.

Prediction on managers who could fall asleep in the dugout a week straight and they still would be on solid ground: 1. Jim Leyland; 2. Tom Lasorda; 3. Tony La Russa.

Confession: Wrote this knowing that Lasorda actually does fall asleep in the dugout.

Prediction on five teams on the decline: 1. Royals; 2. Giants; 3. Astros; 4. Athletics; 5. Expos.

Confession: Royals, Astros and Athletics all competed for wild-card bid. Then again, maybe that's a sign a team is in decline.

Prediction on three most boring teams: Pirates, Brewers, Twins.

Confession: Right on the money.

The ballot's in the mail

This writer's Most Valuable Player ballot tumbled into one of those blue curbside mailboxes yesterday morning, and these are the contents. With explanations.

1. Mo Vaughn, Boston. Tough call between him and Albert Belle. The Cleveland left fielder has better numbers -- 50 homers in a 144-game season is amazing -- but the award goes to the most valuable player. Had Belle had a mediocre season, Cleveland still would have won the AL Central. Without Vaughn's awesome contributions, however, the Red Sox would have fallen apart in the early weeks, when Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco and Aaron Sele were hurt. Vaughn and shortstop John Valentin have been Boston's only constants.

2. Belle. Incredible season.

3. Edgar Martinez, Seattle. When Griffey broke his wrist, silent Edgar stepped up. One of baseball's best right-handed hitters for average in his generation.

4. Randy Johnson, Seattle. He'll win the Cy Young Award. And all year, when he has pitched, the Mariners have won. Without him they wouldn't make the playoffs, and without him the future of baseball in Seattle may have been lost for sure.

5. Frank Thomas, Chicago. Continues to put up the numbers, even though there's no help in the White Sox's lineup behind him.

6. Jose Mesa, Cleveland. The big question about the Indians going into this year was whether they would have a suitable closer. Safe to say the answer is yes.

7. Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles. Can you imagine what the Orioles' season would've been like without the consistent contributions of Palmeiro and Mussina. Yeesh.

8. Jay Buhner, Seattle. An awesome offensive season, and he's having a terrific year in the outfield as well. Maybe he did deserve all the money the Mariners gave him last fall.

9. Tim Wakefield, Boston. Pure and simple, he saved the Red Sox's pitching staff. He may be having his troubles now, and he may be terrible in the postseason.

10. Cal Ripken, Orioles. He meant more to baseball this year, in the aftermath of the strike, than any other player has meant to the sport in almost half a century. Here's hoping that the owners and players association don't destroy the momentum created by Ripken and an interesting season; hopefully, they'll get a deal done before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report in February.

Smith as GM has ups, downs

Should the Orioles decide to replace Roland Hemond, Randy Smith, who turned in his resignation as the Padres' general manager last Tuesday, becomes the front-runner to be the next GM. What is interesting is that Smith is leaving San Diego because of a poor relationship with former Orioles president Larry Lucchino -- who was involved in the hiring of Hemond before the 1988 season.

The Padres say publicly that Lucchino and Smith are trying to work things out, but privately, San Diego sources say there is no chance Smith will take back his letter of resignation. Their problems are rooted in a conflict of personality: Lucchino, as CEO, is deliberate in his actions, and he likes to take control. Smith moves quickly and wants autonomy in his job. Oil and water.

Smith, the youngest general manager in major-league history when he took over the Padres at the age of 29 in 1993, likely will interview with the Detroit Tigers, and officials with other clubs have talked about taking him on in a lesser capacity, such as scouting director or assistant GM.

The Orioles figure to be an attractive opportunity to him, if offered. The Tigers don't have many resources, and they won't until they open their new stadium. The Orioles always will have a chance to be competitive because of the Camden Yards cash flow.

But there could be some issues to resolve. First and foremost, the chain of command. Smith wanted a degree of autonomy in San Diego, and when he felt he wasn't getting it, he resigned. Would he want any adjustments, then, to the Orioles' fragmented baseball operations? The scouting department, for instance, has not answered directly to Hemond in cases of contract negotiations; rather, scouting director Gary Nickels has taken his cues from club counsel.

Nickels will be in the second year of a three-year contract in 1996. Smith is close with Padres scouting director Kevin Towers, who also may leave that organization. What would Smith want to do with Nickels?

Farm director Syd Thrift never has worked with Smith; on the other hand, Smith has come to rely on San Diego assistant general manager Steve Lubratich, who oversees the Padres' minor-league system. What would happen to Thrift if Smith replaces Hemond?

Around the horn

* Houston second baseman Craig Biggio, a potential free agent who is expected to hear from the Orioles in the off-season, has been hit by 22 pitches this year.

"You see him with his shirt off," said Astros manager Terry Collins, "and it looks like he's been hit by a truck. He has bruises everywhere. He's sore and tired, but he never says a word. He won't come out of the lineup. You run out of things to say about a guy like Craig. He only knows one way to play, and that's all-out."

* Oakland pitching coach Dave Duncan, on the possibility that La Russa will leave the Athletics and pursue another job (with the Orioles?): "I've got to believe it's a decision he'll have made before the end of the season. But I don't know." La Russa may seek guarantees from Oakland's ownership that it will try to keep a competitive team on the field.

* Supposedly, Chicago owner Jerry Reinsdorf is focused on getting La Russa as the next White Sox manager.

* There's a good chance the Braves will allow first baseman Fred McGriff to become a free agent and move Ryan Klesko from left field to first -- an easy way to slash the payroll. The Padres are expected to bid on McGriff, traded to Atlanta by Smith in 1993.

* Florida will bid on pitcher Dwight Gooden when his suspension for substance abuse is over. Gooden is the uncle of Marlins slugger Gary Sheffield, who is pushing hard for the move.

* Dennis Eckersley is leaning toward returning for one more season. "I'm too feisty," he said. "I need a mission. I'm just projecting, but I can see myself starting to work out in the off-season. I can see myself churning, getting ready to get back to pitching."

* Texas general manager Doug Melvin made a number of moves last off-season to improve the Rangers, but his hands will be tied this time. The Rangers already have $17.275 million committed to five players, and may have another $13 million obligated to Ivan Rodriguez, Dean Palmer, Kenny Rogers and Otis Nixon. With a $34 million budget, they'll have just $4 million to pay the remaining 16 players.

* To cut their payroll, the Angels are mulling over the possibility of dealing Lee Smith and his $2 million salary, because setup man Troy Percival is ready to be the closer.

* San Francisco owner Peter Magowan paid the $1 million bonus to Deion Sanders for finishing out the season, even though he allowed Sanders to leave with a week left to have surgery on his ankle. Magowan continues to insist he wants Sanders back -- which is somewhat confusing. Sanders won't bring extra fans to the park to watch the Giants, he's not a great player and he's a regular source of distraction.

* Cincinnati owner Marge Schott held a champagne party at the Cincinnati zoo to celebrate the Reds' division title, and poured a drink down an elephant's trunk as part of the festivities. "That elephant," said manager Davey Johnson, expected to be terminated by Schott after this year, "has been to her house more than I have."

The envelope, please

If we had a pick in the other awards, these would be our winners:

AL

Cy Young Award: A month ago, maybe Tim Wakefield. A few weeks ago, maybe Jose Mesa. But the way Randy Johnson has responded in his last starts is remarkable. A vote for the Big Unit (Mike Mussina could've had a shot if O's were better).

Rookie of the Year: New York left-hander Andy Pettitte has been integral to the Yankees' late run for the playoffs. Minnesota outfielder Marty Cordova is a close second.

Manager of the Year: Marcel Lachemann? No. He goes down in history with Gene Mauch, Chuck Dressen and Don Zimmer. Mike Hargrove has done a good job keeping the Indians playing hard all year.

NL

Most Valuable Player Award: Since there are no runaway candidates among position players (sorry, Dante Bichette and Mike Piazza), the top pick here is Greg Maddux, who is far better than the next-best pitcher.

Cy Young Award: Ahem. Mr. Maddux. Must be unanimous.

Rookie of the Year: OK, Chipper Jones may have come on strong at the end. But in the season after the great players' strike, Hideo Nomo helped us forget about Don Fehr and Bud Selig. Chalk one up for Nomomania. * In the fourth, fifth and sixth innings this year -- a total of 84 innings -- Atlanta's Greg Maddux has allowed one run. He's averaging 12 1/2 pitches per inning, or about 3 1/2 below the major-league average.

* In his last 10 starts, Chicago's Alex Fernandez is 7-0 with a 1.41 ERA.

* Colorado's ERA on the road is 3.70, the second-best in the major leagues.

* Eddie Murray drove in his 75th run last week, the 19th straight season he has had 75 or more RBIs. That ties Hank Aaron's major-league record.

* Toronto is finishing in last place for the first time since 1982.

* San Diego's Tony Gwynn has hit over .300 for 13 straight seasons, matching Stan Musial's National League record. Gwynn will win his sixth NL batting title today, and only Honus Wagner (8), Rogers Hornsby and Musial (7) have won more.

* Had the Cubs' Frank Castillo retired Bernard Gilkey the other night with two outs in the ninth, he would've been the first to pitch a no-hitter in Wrigley Field since Milt Pappas in 1972.

* Minnesota's left-handed hitters have 14 homers this season, or 25 fewer than Rafael Palmeiro.

* Boston has more postseason experience than any other team in the AL playoffs. Nine players have played in a combined total of 136 postseason games. For New York, 79 games of experience, Cleveland 67 and Seattle 21.

* The 1.14 ERA of Cleveland reliever Jose Mesa is the lowest in Indians history for any pitcher with 60 or more innings.

* Florida outfielder Andre Dawson is planning his 11th surgery, on his right knee, for later this fall. From the My Existence Is The Center Of The Universe department: San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds told reporters the other day that he is thinking about retiring, walking away from the $24.75 million still owed him in the last three years of his contract. (Funny, though ' he never mentioned this to manager Dusty Baker the day before.) Said Bonds: "I realize the money I made has brought more problems than good. This world is jealous of people who succeed. I'm going to sit down with my parents and grandparents after the season and talk to them and maybe talk to the [Giants'] owners and see where I'll go from there." Bonds said he began to feel badly about baseball "when people said the strike was Barry Bonds' fault." First point: No one ever blamed Barry Bonds for the strike (just ask Don Fehr and Bud Selig). Second point: If Bonds told the Giants, a club losing millions of dollars, that he was going to quit, they would be thrilled to escape the financial obligation.

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