SPORTS

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October 12, 2001

It's time for baseball's end of year awards

All right: the season has finally come to a close, with what looks to be a bang. National League theatrics have concluded without giving Barry Bonds a chance to disprove the critics who say he folds in the postseason, but he'll get his recognition all the same, when the season's awards are given out. Without any of the usual prefacing, let's get right to it.

Barry Bonds wins the National League MVP. Go ahead and etch it in stone. This man's season defies description. Maybe the best word is Herculean. Titanic, perhaps. Mammoth. Gargantuan. Elephantine. It hardly matters; the bottom line is that Barry Bonds had one of the best seasons in recorded history. Apart from singlehandedly thrusting his lukewarm team into playoff contention, Bonds has been on base more often, hit more home runs, and generally intimidated the opposition more than anyone has in a long, long time. To run the numbers quickly: he finished the season hitting .328, 73 HR, 137 RBI. It doesn't get much better than that; in fact it never really gets that good.

Honorable mention of course goes to Sammy Sosa, whose contribution to the Cubs has frankly been ridiculous. How many times can a man hit over 60 home runs and be ignored? Most baseball historians would probably agree that no player has ever meant so much to one team. In practically any other year, Sosa would be the hands-down favorite for the MVP. Unfortunately for baseball's perennial bridesmaid Sammy, Barry Bonds decided to hit 73 home runs. Maybe next year. It's a shame Sosa can't play in the American League, where the MVP competition is less formidable, even if the race remains tight.

Jason Giambi wins the American League MVP. The American League contest may be less clear, if only because no one has hit 73 home runs. Juan Gonzalez did the impossible in replacing Manny Ramirez in Cleveland, and his accomplishments there are hard to ignore. But the Indians have had great offense for years and Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel continue to undercut Gonzalez's importance to the team. Alex Rodriguez has shown that he might actually have been worth some very serious money, although no one is worth $252 million and the Texas execs should know that. However, the Rangers once again proved that teams without pitching can't win games, and have suggested that Rodriguez can't make a contender out of them.

In spite of what is unequivocally a stupid haircut, Giambi remains the biggest reason for Oakland's second-half surge. His numbers place him among the AL's best (.342-38-120), along with Gonzalez, A-Rod, and Manny Ramirez of Boston. Though Oakland certainly has great pitching, and that pitching was certainly instrumental in their rise to contention, Giambi can't be asked to do everything. He fueled the offense that pulled his team out of the basement.

Randy Johnson wins the National League Cy Young Award. Diamondbacks fans must be having a fit, watching their twin aces duel for this award. Curt Schilling has great stuff, pitches like a champion, and has never killed a bird, but Johnson is just one of a kind. He racks up strikeouts (372 this year, over 80 more than Schilling's second-place total) as if his life depends on it. He throws 100 miles an hour. It's a miracle his arm hasn't fallen off. Schilling is almost certainly Johnson's only legitimate competition, and while it's hard to pick a winner between them, I give Randy extra points for being 6'10" and weighing only nine pounds.

Roger Clemens wins the American League Cy Young Award. Nothing pains a die-hard Red Sox fan more than bestowing honors on Roger Clemens, but it has to be done. In spite of breakout years from Oakland's Mark Mulder and Seattle's Freddy Garcia, Clemens repeatedly proved he could win games. He is just a killing machine. He's like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator movie, before he turned into a pansy good guy. Clemens throws bats at Mike Piazza's legs and baseballs at his head. He slams his fists into buckets of rice to keep his 38-year-old arm strong. That's probably why he accumulated a 20-3 record. He may never have a charming personality like that of Pedro Martinez, or even a soul, but he does have an iron claim to this year's Cy Young Award.

Albert Pujols wins the National League Rookie of the Year. At the beginning of the season, I thought Pujols was a flash in the pan, destined to disappear like so many successful rookies before him, because opposing managers eventually figure out that he can't hit a curveball. Well, it turns out Pujols can hit a curveball, and he eventually hit enough curveballs to get his team into first place in the NL Central. That makes him a great rookie, and even a threat in some less competitive years for MVP consideration. He also played over 30 games at four different positions this year, which is pretty neat.

O.K., last award. Then I'll leave everyone alone.

Ichiro Suzuki wins the American League Rookie of the Year. Of course, Ichiro cheated by playing his “rookie season" after eight sensational years of Japanese baseball, but rules are rules. He's had Rookie of the Year for sure for a couple months now. He's fast, he's got a cool stance, he's got a strong throwing arm. Model citizen. Yeah, and he's a fantastic hitter. Expect him to challenge Nomar Garciaparra for the batting title every year. And expect him to make the Mariners a serious threat for years to come.