Henderson, Bonds get this MVP vote

Baseball

September 28, 1990|By Ken Rosenthal

CLEVELAND -- The envelope, please:

* AL MVP

1. Rickey Henderson.

2. Cecil Fielder.

3. Kelly Gruber.

Last year there was no outstanding candidate, and Robin Yount edged Ruben Sierra. This year each of the top three contenders is worthy of the award, and the choice in large part depends on one's definition of MVP.

As before, the preference here is for a player on a championship team. No question, it's tempting to vote for Fielder, who is one homer shy of becoming the first player since 1977 to hit 50 home runs. But Henderson, the game's best all-around player, has put together his best all-around season.

Batting leadoff, he leads the majors with a .440 on-base percentage. His 28 homers equal the number produced by the Orioles outfielders (not including the traded Phil Bradley). He also leads the AL with 63 steals, and remains one of the game's top leftfielders.

The argument against Henderson is that Oakland probably would win without him, but a player should not be penalized because his team is so good. Fielder, however, suffers because he plays for a sub-.500 team -- albeit a team that has reduced its losses from 107 to 81.

Detroit has scored 733 runs with Fielder, compared to 617 without him last season. That impact can not be ignored, but if Toronto wins the AL East after being 6 1/2 games out Sept. 4, Gruber might replace him as the second name on this ballot.

The Orioles know what a monster Gruber has been in September. He is batting .397 with six homers and 26 RBIs this month, and 17 of his 31 hits have gone for extra bases. But few remember he also carried the club early, hitting 20 of his 30 homers by the All-Star break.

* NL MVP

1. Barry Bonds.

2. Bobby Bonilla.

3. Darryl Strawberry.

The perception is that Bonds and Bonilla are interchangeable in the 1-2 spots. In reality they aren't that close. Bonds might become the first player to bat .300, score 100 runs, drive in 100, hit 30 homers and steal 50 bases. And he's a Gold Glove candidate to boot.

Bonilla, Pittsburgh's cleanup hitter, leads the NL in RBIs (117) and extra-base hits (77), but one reason his numbers are so good is that Bonds bats behind him, enabling him to see more fastballs. Bonds is batting almost .400 with men in scoring position, Bonilla below .300. Enough said.

Of course, all bets are off if the Mets somehow overtake the Pirates in the final week. Strawberry is batting .274 with nine homers and 28 RBIs since Aug. 30. If not the MVP, he should receive an award for Best Salary Drive.

! * AL CY YOUNG

1. Bob Welch.

2. Dave Stewart.

3. Bobby Thigpen.

Welch is the first pitcher since 1972 to win 26 games, and his 3.00 ERA ranks sixth in the league. Those numbers are indisputable, but you have to feel for Stewart, who has won 22 games for the first time, but will be overshadowed for the fourth straight year.

In fact, he probably should rank behind Chicago's Thigpen, the first reliever to earn 55 saves, but however modest, Stewart deserves a break. He leads the majors in starts (35) and innings (258), and is tied for the AL lead in shutouts (four) and complete games (10).

Which Oakland pitcher will start Game 1 of the playoffs? Stewart. Welch deserves the Cy Young, just as Bret Saberhagen, Roger Clemens and Frank Viola did the previous three seasons. But Stewart is always there, always. His value to the A's cannot be overstated.

! * NL CY YOUNG

1. Doug Drabek.

2. Frank Viola.

3. Ramon Martinez.

Not even close. Drabek (21-6, 2.87) is as important to the Pittsburgh pitching staff as Bonds and Bonilla are to the offense. Neal Heaton is the club's second-leading winner with 12. No other Pirate has won more than 10 (six of Zane Smith's 12 victories were for Montreal).

It's conceivable Drabek will be the NL's only 20-game winner. Viola might have made the voting close, but he has blown two-run leads in each of his last two starts. Martinez, the league leader in complete games (11), also is stuck on 19 wins.

* AL MANAGER

1. Jeff Torborg.

2. Tony La Russa.

3. Cito Gaston.

Torborg is this year's Frank Robinson, a manager who made all the right moves while calmly presiding over a near-miracle. The White Sox went from 90-game losers to 90-game winners, and gave the A's more trouble than anyone could have expected.

That said, La Russa is again worthy of the award, which too often goes to the manager who oversees the best turnaround. Anyone who thinks the A's win simply because they have the best talent doesn't know baseball.

La Russa finds a way to motivate his players while keeping their egos in check. That task is far more difficult task than it seems. Just ask Gaston, who rates a third-place vote simply for putting up with the Blue Jays.

* NL MANAGER

1. Jim Leyland.

2. Buck Rodgers.

3. Tom Lasorda.

Has anyone ever managed a pitching staff with more aplomb? Nineteen pitchers have earned victories for Pittsburgh, nine have earned saves. Only once has a Pirates starter worked on three days rest. No reliever has pitched more than two games in a row.

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