In Belle-Vaughn MVP race, the P was personality

On Baseball

November 19, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

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

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