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No sure things for major awards

Published September 28, 2003

Most of the time, it's nothing more than a formality.

Pick a season award - American League MVP, National League Rookie of the Year - and the winner usually can be picked in August.

But not this year. For the first time in recent memory, there areno locks for any of the season awards.

Each category, it seems, is a tossup.

Is Hideki Matsui a rookie? Can you even name an NL rookie? Should Alfonso Soriano win the AL MVP or should he even be considered in the top 10? Who is the NL Manager of the Year when no unexpected team won a division?

In some categories there are dozens of worthy candidates. In other categories, there really aren't any.

But in no one category is there total, unquestionable agreement.

So let the arguments begin as we select our awards for the 2003 major-league season:

AL MVP: This has been an unusual season in the AL in that the teams headed for the postseason really haven't had one dominant player.

The A's win because of pitching. The Twins are a team in every sense of the word. The Yankees lineup is full of stars and their best player, Derek Jeter, missed too much time early in the season to put up MVP numbers. The Red Sox had eight players drive in 80 runs, showing how balanced that lineup is.

So since a player on a contender isn't really a consideration, the choice is the best player having the best season. That's Texas' Alex Rodriguez, who might be in the prime of the best career in history.

Heading into the weekend, he led the league in homers and runs and was second in RBIs. And he plays a tough position: shortstop.

Winner: Rodriguez. Runners-up: Boston's Nomar Garciaparra, Toronto's Carlos Delgado.

NL MVP: Unlike the AL, the NL's top teams have clear-cut superstars having monster seasons.

Based on numbers alone, the choice would be St. Louis' Albert Pujols. He is going to win the batting title and made a serious run at the Triple Crown. But the vote here goes to San Francisco's Barry Bonds. Not only did he put up big numbers himself, he did it with a broken heart while saying goodbye to his father, Bobby, who died last month after a long battle with cancer.

Winner: Bonds. Runners-up: Pujols, Atlanta's Gary Sheffield.

AL CY YOUNG: The thought all along here was the award should go to Chicago's Esteban Loaiza over Toronto's Roy Halladay because Loaiza was pitching in the heat of a pennant race, while Halladay simply could go out and throw in games that meant little.

The White Sox faded, though, partly because Loaiza lost a couple of key games down the stretch.

We're tempted to go with the Yankees' Andy Pettitte, who goes unnoticed until the season is over and then you realize he has won 20. Halladay's numbers, though, are just too good.

Winner: Halladay. Runners-up: Pettitte, Loaiza.

NL CY YOUNG: No one starter stands out. Atlanta's Russ Ortiz will be the only 20-game winner, but he isn't in the top 10 in ERA. San Francisco's Jason Schmidt goes down as the ERA champ, while Chicago's Kerry Wood led the league in strikeouts with a decent ERA, but he didn't win enough games.

Because saves can be a deceiving and, often, meaningless statistic because of the way relievers are used in today's game, we tend to shy away from closers as Cy Young candidates. But whether saves are a big deal or not, this is a big deal: Los Angeles Eric Gagne didn't blow one save all season. Not one.

Winner: Gagne. Runners-up: Schmidt, Ortiz.

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: All this debate between the Yankees' Matsui and Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli and here's what we say: What about Kansas City's Angel Berroa?

He plays the toughest position (shortstop) of the three and his numbers are comparable to Baldelli's. He came into the weekend with a higher average than Baldelli, as well as more homers and runs. If it came down to one or the other, flip a coin.

But it doesn't come down to one or the other. No, Matsui really isn't a rookie in the truest sense of the word, but the rules are the rules and Major League Baseball says Matsui is a rookie. His numbers, particularly his 100 RBIs, clearly make him the most dominant first-year player.

Winner: Matsui. Runners-up: Berroa, Baldelli.

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Florida pitcher Dontrelle Willis has dominated the attention, but he might not even be the best rookie pitcher. In fact, two Arizona pitchers might be better: reliever Oscar Villarreal has the best ERA among rookie pitchers and pitched in more than half of Arizona's games; and Brandon Webb is second to Villarreal in ERA and opponents are hitting nearly 40 points lower against Webb than Willis.

Offensively, Milwaukee's Scott Podsednik has had the best rookie season, but he suffers from Baldelli Disease. That's playing for last-place team no one pays attention to.

Winner: Webb. Runners-up: Willis, Villarreal.

AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Maybe Tampa Bay's Lou Piniella deserves it for surviving this season in relatively good spirits.

Sure, the Yankees have more money than Kellogg's has Corn Flakes, but don't underestimate the job done by Joe Torre with injuries nearly crippling his team in the first half and owner George Steinbrenner breathing down his neck.

There are plenty of guys to chose from. We like Boston's Grady Little, Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire and Oakland's Ken Macha.

But Kansas City's Tony Pena took a team that lost 100 last season and was expected to lose that many this season, and he kept it in the race most of the season.

Winner: Pena. Runners-up: Torre, Gardenhire.

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: None of the division winners is a surprise so it's difficult to say any manager of that group did an outstanding job.

But San Francisco's Felipe Alou had the toughest chore of the group, coming into a successful team and replacing a very popular Dusty Baker.

The Marlins' Jack McKeon, though, took over what many believed was a mediocre team headed for a less-than-mediocre season and somehow guided it to the playoffs. Rarely can a manager have THAT kind of effect on a team, but McKeon literally turned the Marlins around.

Winner: McKeon. Runners-up: Alou, Atlanta's Bobby Cox.

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