Quality fills ballot box for AL MVP

ON BASEBALL

September 29, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

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 AL Cy Young Award: 1. Pat Hentgen, Toronto. 2. Andy Pettitte, Yankees. 3. Rivera, Yankees.

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.

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