I have to send in an American League Most Valuable Player ballot tomorrow, and after spending hours talking to players, executives and other writers the past month, I've only figured out this much: There is no right answer.
Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson thinks Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez should win, hands down. Rafael Palmeiro: Boston first baseman Mo Vaughn, no question. Bobby Bonilla would pick Juan Gonzalez of the Texas Rangers. Others have mentioned Cleveland slugger Albert Belle ("If you guys don't vote for him this year," said one player, "we'll all know it's a personal vendetta.")
New York Post writer Joel Sherman offers a compelling case for Yankees middle reliever Mariano Rivera as a top-five pick because of his dominance. Ken Griffey is averaging about an RBI per game. Frank Thomas is having a typical Frank Thomas season. Nobody makes as much of an impact on defense as Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Oakland first baseman Mark McGwire leads the majors with 52 homers, in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
And what do you do with the Orioles? Anderson is second in the league in extra-base hits. Palmeiro ranks fourth in RBIs. Roberto Alomar carried the team for more than three months, Bonilla has carried the Orioles since late July, when the O's began their run for the postseason. Should those four rank among the top 10 players in the AL, the 10 most valuable players?
There are no right answers. A month ago, I was sure I would vote Ivan Rodriguez in the top 10. A month ago, I wouldn't have considered McGwire. But the leaders change quickly, swapping positions like a pack of stock cars drafting closely together.
My final top-10 list is below. If you like Gonzalez, Vaughn or Belle, you've got a great case. But somebody's got to be first:
1. Alex Rodriguez, Seattle
He went into the final weekend leading the AL in batting, in runs, in extra-base hits. He's second in hits, first in total bases, and batting second for a team that doesn't have a true leadoff hitter, Rodriguez is going to finish with more than 125 RBIs. In addition, he's a shortstop -- a good shortstop -- and he plays very hard, which means a lot on this ballot.
2. Mo Vaughn, Boston
The Red Sox started terribly, but Vaughn kept his focus, kept driving in runs. Jose Canseco got hurt, Mike Stanley got hurt, John Valentin got hurt -- all the support players around Vaughn -- but he continued to produce runs. Last week, he became the first player since Jim Rice in 1978 to hit 40 or more homers and collect 200 hits in a single season. He'll finish in the top five in RBIs and top 10 in batting average.
3. Juan Gonzalez, Texas
Will Clark isn't a real power hitter anymore, Mickey Tettleton has struggled this season, and if Gonzalez hadn't carried the offensive load in the middle months of this season, the Rangers wouldn't be in the postseason for the first time ever.
4. Albert Belle, Cleveland
He's the best offensive player on the best team in the AL, and he was leading the league in RBIs going into the final weekend.
5. Kenny Lofton, Cleveland
Lofton is an exceptional defensive player, and he's leading the league in stolen bases.
6. Ivan Rodriguez, Texas
He's had a good offensive season, approaching 200 hits, and no defensive player makes more of an impact. He has the best throwing arm in the game, keeping runners from even getting decent leads.
7. Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles
He's been the most consistent member of the Orioles' offense this year. Anderson got a case of alleged appendicitis, Alomar slumped in August, Bonilla didn't like being the DH. Palmeiro drove in runs all year.
8. Ken Griffey, Seattle
Alex Rodriguez says he can't be the MVP of the league, because he isn't even the MVP of his team. Griffey is, Rodriguez insists.
9. Brady Anderson, Orioles
He's second in the league in extra-base hits, and drove in more than 100 runs despite hitting either first or second all year.
10. Mark McGwire, Oakland
The game's best, biggest and baddest slugger, and he's not ranked among the top 10 in RBIs. Suffers from his surroundings.
The NL MVP: 1. Ken Caminiti, San Diego. 2. Mike Piazza, Los Angeles. 3. Ellis Burks, Colorado.
The NL Cy Young Award: 1. John Smoltz, Atlanta. 2. Kevin Brown, Florida. 3. Trevor Hoffman, San Diego.
AL Rookie of the Year: Derek Jeter, Yankees.
NL Rookie of the Year: Todd Hollandsworth, Dodgers.
AL Manager of the Year: Johnny Oates, Texas.
NL Manager of the Year: Bobby Cox, Atlanta.
Orioles eye draftees
The Orioles will be among those teams bidding for three top draftees declared free agents by Major League Baseball last week. First baseman Travis Lee, picked second overall in the June draft by Minnesota, pitcher John Patterson (No. 5, by Montreal), and pitcher Matt White (No. 7, by San Francisco) are available because the teams that selected them didn't tender them contracts within 15 days of the draft.
Beginning at noon tomorrow, interested teams can start the bidding process, which, in the cases of Lee and White, probably will exceed $2 million. Lee reportedly turned down an offer of $2.15 million from the Twins, and his stock is high because he was generally considered to be the best player for the U.S. Olympic team this summer. Some teams rated White, a prep star from nearby Waynesboro, Pa., as the best player in the draft, but were scared off by his association with agent Scott Boras. Matt's father, George White, reportedly turned down a $1.625 million offer from the Giants and sent San Francisco a non-negotiable demand for $2.6 million, plus a four-year guaranteed major-league contract for $2.1 million. The Expos' last offer to White supposedly was for $1.35 million, with White asking for $1.8 million.
The Orioles have made cursory contact with all three, and will probably make bids. Lee makes some sense; at about the time he would be ready to play in the majors, Palmeiro would be in the last year of his contract. White played for the Oriolelanders, an amateur team organized by area scout Jim Gilbert, but it's probably no coincidence the Orioles don't have any Boras clients on their team. It's not Gillick's style to start guaranteeing high school players jobs in the major leagues.
Keeping tabs on Minor
The Orioles are closely monitoring the basketball career of Ryan Minor, who played rookie ball for the Orioles last summer. Philadelphia drafted Minor with the third pick of the second round in the June NBA draft, but for one reason or another, he's fallen out of favor with the 76ers.
Philadelphia has signed other free-agent forwards, given Minor's agent permission to pursue trades with other teams, and offered him only a non-guaranteed, $220,000 one-year deal. The Orioles, who sent a letter to the 76ers outlining Minor's contractual obligations to the O's, could step in and attempt to figure out a way to lure Minor into baseball for good. Money, money, money.
Dodgers keep Russell
The Dodgers intend to keep Bill Russell as manager for next year. "We have made no official announcement," said general manager Fred Claire, "but you know how I feel about him. I think he's done a very good job."
Texas right-hander John Burkett surpassed 215 innings for this season, so a '96 option worth $3.55 million kicks in automatically. The Rangers won't be looking for much in the way of starting pitching this off-season, with Burkett, Ken Hill and Bobby Witt already under contract.
Colorado manager Don Baylor would vote for Caminiti as the MVP. "He's the type of guy who gets in the face of a teammate when he needs it," said Baylor. "That's part of an MVP to me. Albert Belle didn't fit that criteria. He may have been the stats guy, but there's more to it than that."
Same old story
Last week, Belle showed up teammate Kevin Seitzer during a victory over Kansas City. Seitzer was at second when Belle ripped a liner to left. Not sure if Belle's liner would be caught, Seitzer paused, and stopped at third when the ball fell in.
Belle gestured at Seitzer, apparently upset Seitzer didn't score and add an RBI to Belle's total. When Belle later returned to the dugout, he brushed by teammates trying to congratulate him, Seitzer among them.
"Seitzer did exactly the right thing," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. "If Albert wanted him to score, he should have hit the ball over the left fielder's head. I didn't see him gesture."
On the way out?
The Houston Astros probably won't bring back outfielder Derek Bell or pitcher Doug Drabek, as they try to reduce their payroll.
Cubs first baseman Mark Grace has the option of getting out of his contract, and he wants Chicago to bring back center fielder Brian McRae for next year. McRae will be a free agent.
Yankees general manager Bob Watson acknowledged this week that he'll probably be fired if New York loses the grievance it filed over the trade for Milwaukee. The Yankees are contending they got damaged goods in pitcher Graeme Lloyd and Pat Listach, even though general managers from two other teams say the Brewers willingly offered medical reports on both players. Of course, this is yet another situation when there's an appearance of a conflict of interest with Brewers owner and acting commissioner Bud Selig.
By the numbers
Billy Ashley hit his fifth pinch-hit homer Wednesday, tying a Los Angeles record and leaving him one short of the Dodgers' franchise record of six, set by Johnny Frederick in 1932.
The Rangers' bullpen is generally in better shape than many believe. During their past 43 games, the relievers have combined for a 3.35 ERA.
Incredibly, Frank Thomas has the four highest single-season home run totals posted by any White Sox player -- 41 in 1993, 40 in 1995 and 1996, and 38 in 1994.
From Sept. 15-25, the Braves' starters combined to go 8-0, allowing 19 earned runs in 69 innings (2.48 ERA). They're ready for the postseason.
Milwaukee is 1-72 when trailing after eight innings.
Marquis Grissom became the first Brave to reach 200 hits since Ralph Garr in 1974.
The Dodgers' Todd Hollandsworth is probably going to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award (.293, 12 homers), but Florida shortstop Edgar Renteria deserves some support. He has the second-highest fielding percentage among NL shortstops (.979), behind Pittsburgh's Jay Bell (.988). In 69 games since the All-Star break, Renteria is batting .338 with four homers, 23 RBIs and 14 steals in 15 attempts.
California has used a major-league record 29 pitchers this year.
Pub Date: 9/29/96