No one will dispute that Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder has had one of the most surprising and impressive seasons known to baseball, but it won't be particularly surprising if he soon falls victim to the Ruben Sierra Syndrome.
Sierra had the best offensive season in the American League last year, but he came up short when the Most Valuable Player votes were counted, even though his strong performance helped the Texas Rangers go from 21 games under .500 in 1988 to four games over .500 last year.
He fell victim to the wide range of interpretations of the term "Most Valuable," and finished a close second to Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Robin Yount. Had the balloting been simply for Player of the Year, Sierra probably would have won in a walk.
Fielder figures to run into the same trouble, even though he has a chance to be the first AL player since 1961 to hit 50 or more home runs and also leads the major leagues with 127 RBI. The MVP sentiment appears to be running more toward Oakland Athletics outfielder Rickey Henderson, who also has fantastic numbers and happens to play for the team that just won the AL West title for the third consecutive year.
The concept of value, of course, is relative. Fielder is largely responsible for taking a horrible Tigers team and boosting it back toward respectability. His value to that club is unquestioned, but Detroit still is not a legitimate contender.
Henderson arrived in Oakland in mid-1989 and helped the A's win a world championship, but it should not be forgotten that the club won 104 games the year before he showed up. Still, his great all-around performance has carried the A's through some difficult times the past two seasons.
Fielder steadfastly refuses to campaign for himself, but his teammates are not so bashful. They know what a difference he has made in Detroit.
"The guy has done phenomenal things," outfielder Lloyd Moseby said, "and nobody is giving him press saying that he should win it. They talk about him, then always say, 'but Rickey. . .' "
Tigers coach Vada Pinson is even more adamant about it.
"He's an MVP if I've ever seen one," Pinson said. "He's doing this alone. He's gone beyond the Purple Heart. We were in the graveyard last season. Rigor mortis was setting in. He brought us out of the graveyard."
There is a sneaking suspicion among baseball's rank and file that last winter's salary spiral will not carry over into the upcoming contract season.
The theory is that ownership handed out big money to many of the game's most influential players in hopes of eroding support for a tough union stance during the impending labor confrontion.
If this sounds like a bunch of post-collusion paranoia, it probably is, but any sign of disinterest in the free agent market figures to be viewed by the players as proof of a more subtle form of economic manipulation by ownership.
The Seattle Mariners have sold out only two games in club history, and both of them were played this year. The Kingdome was standing room only on Opening Day and was sold out for Fan Appreciation Night last week.
What do those two dates have in common other than the fact that they are the two games each year that figure to be well attended at any park? Both games were attended by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who would be tough to convince that Seattle does not support its baseball team.
K? "Every time I'm here," Vincent said, "they're doing great."
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda was waiting for his luggage outside the team hotel in San Francisco early Thursday morning when a panhandler approached him and asked for some spare change.
Lasorda, who apparently was thinking about the help his team would need to overtake the first-place Cincinnati Reds, didn't miss a beat.
B6 "No," he said. "I'm looking for a handout myself."
Neion Deion, The Final Chapter: When we last left the irrepressible Deion Sanders, he was happily intercepting passes and delivering late hits for the Atlanta Falcons. He probably didn't even notice that his name moved across the transaction wire last week. The New York Yankees recalled him for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release, which means you probably won't be seeing his name around here much anymore. That's too bad, because Sanders not only had some flash, he had the kind of talent that eventually would have made him a great major-league player. Sure, there's still a chance he'll return to baseball, but first he'll have to get out of the NFL in one piece.
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra has had some tough luck the past 10 days, which probably explains why his run at the National League batting title has reached the hopeless stage.