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In Belle-Vaughn MVP race, the P was personality

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If you believe that personality was a major factor in the AL MVP voting announced last week, you are absolutely correct.

If you believe that part of the reason Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn won the voting is that he's a good guy, you are absolutely correct.

If you believe that a major reason Cleveland Indians left fielder Albert Belle lost is that he's a jerk, you are absolutely correct.

I know this, because I voted in the AL MVP balloting and picked Vaughn first and Belle second, and part of my rationale was based on personality.

If I or any one of the other 11 writers who chose Vaughn over Belle had reversed this decision, Belle would've been Most Valuable Player.

Belle, who hit 50 homers in 143 games, was furious at the outcome. Tough. The guy's a terrific hitter who offers most other humans nothing but vigilant disrespect, and in the end, it cost him -- as it should. This was my thinking Oct. 2, the day I turned in my ballot.

If you picked on final numbers, and final numbers alone, Belle would've won easily. He hit 52 doubles and 50 homers, becoming the first player to hit more than 50 doubles and 50 homers in a single season, and drove in 126 runs. Vaughn hit 39 homers and drove in 126 runs, with 28 doubles and a batting average (.300) 17 points lower than Belle's.

But the award is for the most valuable player. That's different from the player of the year. Most valuable player. The player most valuable to his team.

Without Vaughn, the Red Sox would not have won the AL East. He and shortstop John Valentin carried Boston through a season when the Red Sox were dealing with injuries to pitchers Roger Clemens and Aaron Sele and designated hitter Jose Canseco. Vaughn was the heart and soul of the Red Sox, who surprised almost everyone by qualifying for the playoffs.

Had Belle suffered through a subpar year, the Indians still would've won the AL Central by 15-20 games. Through the first four months of the year, in fact, Belle was having a very good year -- not a great year, a very good year -- and the Indians had all but clinched the division. Through July 31, Belle had 19 homers and 64 RBIs, on pace for a 30-homer, 100-RBI season. A very good year.

Then he exploded, as the Indians swept through the final two months of the season. Belle blasted 14 homers in August, 17 in September. Thirty-one homers in 62 days, a marvelous feat. Incredible numbers.

Vaughn, then, meant more to his team, and Belle had superior stats. A tough choice (particularly when you throw Seattle DH Edgar Martinez into the mix), a close call. You could justify a decision for either slugger.

But one of the written criteria in deciding a winner is general contribution to the game. Character. In my ballot, this proved to be the tiebreaker.

Vaughn was a public relations asset for baseball, in a year, after the strike, when the game needed as much public relations as possible. Vaughn is heavily active in community work in and around Boston; he held his news conference Thursday at the youth center he funded.

He arguably is the first black athlete wholly embraced by the city of Boston, a place where even Celtics legend Bill Russell and former Red Sox star Jim Rice complained of ill treatment.

Conversely, Belle arguably is the game's worst citizen. He was once suspended for hurling a baseball at a fan seated in the stands, and he has long been noted for his obscenity-laced tirades at reporters guilty of nothing more than entering his line of vision.

For no apparent reason, Belle cussed out NBC reporter Hannah Storm during the World Series, using the foulest of terms, and it took him four full days to apologize -- and only then after being nudged by Major League Baseball and the Indians. Besides the pitching of the Atlanta Braves, no story received more attention. Nice timing.

Earlier this year, a local candy company decided it would produce an Albert Belle bar, and arranged a news conference to announce its new product. Belle is so arrogant that he didn't even show after saying he would, and later claimed he had been too tired. Pathetic.

All things being equal -- and they were between Vaughn and Belle -- this had to be a factor. One guy's a model person, the other nothing more than a selfish, nasty, angry man who happens to hit a lot of homers.

All summer, we who love baseball talked about how much Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak was doing to help the sport through troubled times. For this very reason, I placed Ripken 10th on my ballot.

Following the same logic, shouldn't those who served the game be rewarded, when they can be rewarded? Like Mo Vaughn? He represents the best in baseball, in the way he carries himself.

At the same time, shouldn't those who would do damage to the game with their actions be taken to task? Like Albert Belle? He represents the worst in baseball, in the way he carries himself.

And Belle paid the price.

K. Rogers to sing O's tune

One of the seven candidates interviewed for the Orioles' general manager job said last week that owner Peter Angelos wants to sign one of two marquee pitchers -- Kenny Rogers or David Cone. Rogers likely is a better fit, because he is left-handed and the Orioles need a left-hander for the rotation. But his agent, Scott Boras (also the agent for Kevin Brown and Ben McDonald) said Tuesday night that he believes anyone who signs Rogers had better be prepared to make a major financial commitment, because Texas is intent on keeping him. . . . At the going-away party for former Orioles GM Roland Hemond, assistant GM Frank Robinson delivered the requisite roast. But as he finished, touched by the moment, Robinson added, "Seriously, I love you." Hemond responded, "Well, that's nice, Frank, but you still can't have my Bud Lite." Everyone at the party broke up. . . . Mike Mussina told a friend last week that he hoped he didn't finish second in the AL Cy Young Award balloting. Why? "Because," Mussina said, "then I won't sit around all winter and think about the games I messed up that cost me the award." Mussina finished fifth.

Goodwin has new fan

Mike Easler, hired by the Orioles as a minor-league hitting instructor and a strong candidate to be the major-league hitting coach under new manager Davey Johnson, is working with Orioles outfielder Curtis Goodwin in Arizona. Goodwin finished very poorly in September, angering Orioles coaches with his approach to hitting and what they thought were poor work habits. Even ex-manager Phil Regan, Goodwin's biggest booster the organization, soured on the center fielder, and the conventional wisdom in the organization was that Goodwin would spend most, if not all, of 1996 in the minor leagues. But Goodwin paid his own way and flew to Arizona strictly to work with Easler -- Goodwin is not playing in any league -- and Easler said Friday that he is impressed by his pupil's attitude and ability. . . . Johnson is mulling over the possibility of piecing together a deep bullpen and closing games by committee, rather than anointing one closer. The committee system worked for Johnson in Cincinnati. Nonetheless, the Orioles are expected to talk to potential closers Rick Aguilera, Randy Myers and Jeff Montgomery. . . . The Phillies are thinking about Philadelphia refugees, such as Terry Mulholland, Dave Hollins, Pete Incaviglia and Ricky Jordan, to inject some good, old-fashioned chemistry into their clubhouse. . . . Former Washington Senators first baseman Mike Epstein hung out at the general managers meetings and hoped for a chance to talk to Johnson about becoming the Orioles' next hitting coach.

Dodgers have rookie lock

When Hideo Nomo won the NL Rookie of the Year Award, he became the 15th Dodger to do so. No other franchise has won the award more than seven times. . . . Looks like Walt Weiss is staying with Colorado, leaving the Dodgers to chase after Greg Gagne to fill their hole at shortstop. . . . Houston owner Drayton McLane said the Astros must draw 2.5 million next year, the implicit threat being that the team will move to Northern Virginia if the 2.5 million don't show. The single-season high for the Astros is 2.28 million in 1980. . . . In the wake of their World Series title, the Braves are expected to do an about-face and make a serious effort to retain first baseman Fred McGriff. . . . Bobby Valentine is the new manager at Triple-A Norfolk, an affiliate of the New York Mets. That means that whenever Dallas Green is fired, in one year or 10, you will read Valentine is the leading candidate to replace Green. . . . An Indians executive called Belle with the news of Vaughn's election Thursday. Before the exec could get another sentence out of his mouth, Belle hung up the phone.

By the numbers

* Should Dave Winfield and Andre Dawson retire before next season, then Cal Ripken would go into 1996 ranked second for career RBIs (1,267) among active players.

* No. 1 in career RBIs would be Eddie Murray (1,820), No. 3 Harold Baines (1,261), interesting in that one or the other likely will be the Orioles' designated hitter next year.

* Two of the top five AL pitchers in prompting double plays were members of the Orioles' rotation: No. 3 Scott Erickson (1.2 per nine innings) and No. 5 Kevin Brown (1.1). Cleveland right-hander Orel Hershiser ranked first (1.4).

* The Orioles guessed right with seven pitchouts this year, figuring correctly that a runner was trying to steal. However, only once in those seven successful pitchouts did they actually throw out the runner.

Scouting report on Davey Johnson

* His favorite count, as he directed the Reds, for stealing bases in 1995 was no balls and no strikes.

* He ranked seventh among 14 NL managers in bunt attempts.

* He ranked ninth of 14 in hit-and-run attempts.

* He ordered pitchouts only eight times all year, the least for any major-league manager other than Johnny Oates (3).

* Only once did a pitcher throw more than 120 pitches for Johnson (as opposed to 27 for Phil Regan).

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