Colorado Rockies outfielder Larry Walker flirted with a .400 batting average for half of the season and leads the National League in eight offensive categories, but there is concern in Denver that he won't get proper consideration for the NL Most Valuable Player.
"The other day I heard [broadcaster] Tim McCarver say without a doubt this year it should be Mike Piazza," said Rockies manager Don Baylor. "I'm going, 'Why?' He didn't carry that club. They were scuffling a long time. He has less in everything [statistically]."
Going into last night, Walker led the league with a .370 batting average, 43 home runs, 60 multi-hit games, 132 runs, 115 RBIs, 373 total bases and 89 extra-base hits. He ranks among the top 10 in every major offensive category except triples and walks -- even ranking sixth with 31 stolen bases. He is on the way to one of the greatest all-around offensive seasons in history, yet he is not a lock for MVP?
"It's going to be the same B.S.," said teammate Ellis Burks, who finished third in the MVP ballotting last year. "The press with Coors Field and all that. It's unfortunate that voters -- whoever does the voting -- consider Coors Field a joke."
In a perfect world, that would not affect Walker, because his numbers on the road are comparable to his home splits, but the hitter-friendly reputation of Coors Field and the Rockies' so-so performance this year could cost him some votes.
It might seem clear-cut in Colorado, but it's going to be a tough call for the 28 voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America that make up the NL MVP election committee. Just ask former MVP Jeff Bagwell, watching objectively from Houston.
"That's the biggest flip of the coin," Bagwell told reporters recently. "It's so hard to say. Larry has had such a great year, it's unbelievable. It's scary. You're talking about a guy who's going to finish with 400 total bases, 40-plus home runs and more than 30 steals -- and he's a big guy.
"I think he deserves it, but when you look at what Piazza did in August and is doing this month, he's kind of taken over. Plus, he plays in L.A. That helps him a lot."
Maybe not. Two writers vote from every National League city, so there should not be a regional bias. If anything, Walker has gotten the best of the national spotlight because of his early run at a .400 batting average.
The Rockies' third-place finish could be a factor, but there are plenty of past cases in which MVP winners have come from non-competitive teams -- one right here in Baltimore in 1991.
The envelope please
The American League is a little easier to call. Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey is comfortably atop the league rankings in home runs and RBIs and figures to make national headlines with every home run he hits from here on out.
The only other real candidate is New York Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez, who is having an outstanding offensive season but figures to finish well behind the recognized offensive leader of the best offensive team in the American League.
St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire was typically low-key after becoming only the second player in major-league history to hit 50 or more home runs in consecutive seasons (Babe Ruth did it twice, in 1920-21 and 1927-28).
"Things you do in your career probably mean more when you retire," McGwire said. "During your career, there's no reason to sit back and think about what you've done, because the next year you have to work even harder to sustain or keep up with what you've done."
Appropriately, McGwire hit No. 50 this year in the Bay area, and got a standing ovation from the crowd in San Francisco.
The Orioles won't see veteran pitcher John Smiley in either of the coming doubleheaders at Camden Yards, but the Cleveland Indians are hopeful that he'll be able to get in two or three starts before the playoffs.
Smiley has been sidelined for the past couple of weeks with a sore elbow and shoulder, but claims that a recent cortisone shot in the left elbow has put him on the road to a quick and full recovery.
"I had the shot and felt like a new man," Smiley said. "I felt really loose playing catch and I had a lot of juice. I'm excited. It's been tough sitting around."
If all goes well, Smiley will pitch later this week against the Minnesota Twins and could get as many as three starts before the postseason. If he can pitch effectively, the banged-up Indians become a much more formidable opponent for the wild-card Yankees in the Division Series.
Gordon in '98
The Boston Red Sox apparently will not be looking for a bullpen closer this winter, even though they traded Heathcliff Slocumb to the Mariners in July.
Manager Jimy Williams said recently that he has been impressed with the performance of converted starter Tom Gordon and probably will use him in the full-time closer role next year. Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan says Gordon has the potential to be one of the top save guys in the league.