MVP culminates Pendleton's own last-to-first battle

November 21, 1991|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Evening Sun Staff

The player who led the Atlanta Braves' last-to-first season completed a similar journey of his own yesterday, as Terry Pendleton won the National League's Most Valuable Player Award in the closest election in 12 years.

Pendleton, 31, the league batting champion, squeezed past 1990 winner Barry Bonds of the Pittsburgh Pirates, 274 points to 259, in a race that produced the smallest winning margin since Keith Hernandez of St. Louis and Willie Stargell of the Pirates each received 216 votes in 1979.

Many baseball people thought Pendleton's talents were seriously declining after he batted .230 with 58 RBIs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1990. But Pendleton joined the Braves as a free agent and went on to hit .319 with 22 home runs and 86 RBIs.

"He was the anchor of our team," said Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz. "Day after day, he went out there, not always completely healthy, and he always played well and showed leadership on and off the field. He was everything I hoped for and more."

After Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken won his second MVP title a day earlier, Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers blasted the voters, who made him the runner-up for the second straight year.

But Bonds was complimentary of Ripken and Pendleton.

In a conference call with the Pittsburgh media from Sweden, where he is visiting his in-laws, Bonds said: "In the American League, in my mind, it was an easy choice, as easy as adding two and two and getting four. Nobody had the impact that Cal Ripken did.

"It was a different story in our league. I think you can look at Terry and myself and say we both made a great impact. It was a matter of who the writers wanted to vote for.

"I'll just set a goal to win back-to-back MVPs at another time in my career." Bonds was seeking to become the first repeat winner since the Braves' Dale Murphy in 1982-83.

In balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America (two from each NL city), Pendleton garnered 12 first-place votes, 10 seconds and two thirds. Bonds polled 10 for first, 10 for second, one for third and three for fourth. Bonds' free-agent teammate, Bobby Bonilla, collected a first-place vote and finished a distant third with 191 points.

Pendleton signed a four-year, $10.2 million contract with the Braves as a free agent and his resurgence coincided with the team's climb from last to first place in the West Division.

"I never dreamed about winning the National League MVP award," he said. "I dreamed about winning it in the playoffs or World Series, but anybody could win it in a short series. What I really wanted this year was a world championship ring. That's what I show up at spring training every year for.

"If we had finished second, I don't think I'd be standing here now. I'll say we've come a long way in a short time."

Pendleton earned a $100,000 bonus for winning the award and said it may spark signing interest in other veteran free agents. "There are some guys who can still play this game if given the opportunity," he said.

Bonds batted .292 with 25 homers and 116 RBIs and had 13 outfield assists. He is expected to win a Gold Glove and was one of the big reasons the Pirates repeated as champions in the NL East.

"I don't want to be quoted that I'm hacked off," said Bonds. "Terry's a good athlete and the Braves were the story in baseball. But I don't know what I didn't do.

"The organization has a lot more things to worry about than I do about winning MVP. It has to decide if it's going to keep us together."

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