Baseball's 1982 awards stir less controversy than usual

In a departure from most previous years, baseball's major 1982 individual awards produced practically no argument or dissent. Robin Yount was a shoo-in, of course, for American League Most Valuable Player honors. And the other top winners - National League MVP Dale Murphy and Cy Young Award recipients Pete Vuckovich and Steve Carlton - were also solid choices who won out handily.

The only controversy worthy of the name, in fact, revolved around the American League MVP voting - and the question wasn't whether Yount should have won the award, but rather why he wasn't a unanimous selection.

The hard-hitting Milwaukee shortstop was such an obvious choice that all through the last weeks of the season, the playoffs, and the World Series, he was regularly referred to as the MVP. Everyone knew he would win the award after leading the Brewers to the pennant with his bat, his glove, and his fiery overall play. Indeed it was difficult to see how any voter could make him less than No. 1 on the ballot.

Playing outstanding defense at a position where any sort of hitting is considered gravy, Yount was a big cog in the offense as well, just missing the batting title with a .331 average while smashing 29 home runs and driving in 114 runs.

That was good enough to earn Robin 27 of the 28 first place votes cast by two designated baseball writers from each league city as he rolled up an overwhelming victory. Eddie Murray of Baltimore was a distant second, with Doug DeCinces of California, Hal McRae of Kansas City, and Cecil Cooper of Milwaukee rounding out the top five.

Amazingly, however, the writer who snubbed Yount passed over all of these next most popular candidates too, giving his vote to California slugger Reggie Jackson, who finished sixth in the overall balloting. And in perhaps an even more mind-boggling move, he didn't even put Yount second, consigning the Brewer star to fourth place on his ballot.

The writer, Jim Golla of the Toronto Globe & Mail, told United Press International that he felt Jackson deserved the honor because of his ability to carry a team the entire season and to lift himself up to the occasion in the stretch, making the other players around him that much better as well.

Everyone else, though, seemed to notice that Yount did these very same things while outhitting Jackson by more than 50 points, playing in more games, performing better in the field, stealing more bases, and even outslugging him in almost every category, including doubles, triples, extra base hits, and RBIs, with Reggie on top only in home runs, 39-29.

If it's any consolation to Yount, there's a precedent for this sort of thing; in fact even as strange as Golla's slighting of him seems, it pales by comparison to what happened in 1967. Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown that year, batting .326 with 44 homers and 121 RBIs, playing spectacularly in the field, and hitting over .400 down the stretch while leading Boston to it's ''Impossible Dream'' pennant. If ever there seemed a cinch for unanimous selection, he was it - but he was passed over by one writer in favor of Minnesota Twins' sparkplug Cesar Tovar, who helped his club by playing several positions but hit only .267 with virtually no power and finished tied for seventh in the overall balloting.

The vote for Tovar caused such a furor that Max Nichols of the Minneapolis Star stepped forward and identified himself as the writer who hadn't put Yaz first (such information was not routinely available then). The feeling against his vote ran so high that at the next meeting of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) there was even a motion made to censure Nichols, but it was defeated 22-1.

There have been many other controversies over the years, of course - not only on questions of unanimous election but in terms of who should have won. This year, though, the answers to the latter question all seemed pretty clear.

Murphy, who hit .281 with 36 homers and 109 RBIs and played an outstanding center field in leading Atlanta to a division title, easily outdistanced runnerup Lonnie Smith of St. Louis for NL MVP honors. Los Angeles outfielder Pedro Guerrero was third and Montreal first baseman Al Oliver fourth, while the only other player to receive first-place votes was St. Louis relief ace Bruce Sutter.

Vuckovich, the Brewers' 18-game winning workhorse, had no serious opposition for the AL Cy Young Award, finishing far ahead of Baltimore's Jim Palmer, with Kansas City relief ace Dan Quisenberry third and Toronto's Dave Stieb fourth.

Carlton, even though his team didn't win anything this season, was an even more overwhelming winner in capturing the NL Cy Young Award for a record fourth time. It's hard to argue against the ace Philadelphia left-hander, whose 23-11 record made him the major leagues' only 20-game winner, but the onesidedness of his election seems surprising in view of the many other outstanding contenders. Surely a case can be made for Montreal's Steve Rogers (19-8), who had a better winning percentage and who led the league in earned run average with 2.40 compared to Carlton's 3.10. And how about Sutter, whose nine wins and 36 saves led the Cardinals to the pennant, and who was the top pitcher in the MVP balloting? Or Phil Niekro, the veteran knuckleballer whose 17 victories and ability to come through in big games carried Atlanta to a divison title? That looks like a close race to me, but Carlton got 20 of the 24 first place votes for a runaway triumph, with Rogers second, 1981 winner Fernando Valenzuela of Los Angeles (19-13) third, Sutter fourth, and Niekro only fifth.

Another surprisingly lopsided election was that for AL Rookie-of-the-Year. he race was between Baltimore's Cal Ripken, Jr., who hit 28 homers, drove in 93 runs, and did a solid defensive job at both third base and shortstop, and Minnesota's Kent Hrbek, who played a less important role defensively at first base but who outhit Ripken .301 to .264 and had similar power stats (23 homers, 92 RBIs). On paper it looked like a virtual tossup, but it turned out to be no contest, with Ripken garnering 24 of the 28 first place votes to win easily.

The NL rookie voting looked close and was, with Los Angeles' Steve Sax edging out fellow second baseman Johnny Ray of Pittsburgh largely on the basis of his greater speed (49 stolen bases) and virtually identical batting statistics.

There is no BBWAA Manager-of-the-Year voting, so the more or less ''official'' versions are the two wire service polls -- which also, of course, frequently produce disagreements.

Harvey Kuenn, who led Milwaukee to the pennant, was the AL Manager-of-the-Year in both polls. Obviously it's hard to argue with this selection, for although the Brewers were among the pre-season favorites, they were floundering when Kuenn took over in midseason and came on strongly under his guidance to reach the World Series. But one can also make a strong case for Earl Weaver, who led his Baltimore Orioles to the brink of one more title in his managerial swan song, or for my own choice, Ralph Houk, who somehow managed to keep a Boston team with virtualy no dependable starting pitching in the race almost all the way.

This year's National League race was also a close one, with Whitey Herzog of St. Louis, Joe Torre of Atlanta, and Frank Robinson of San Francisco the leading contenders. Torre got the nod from The Associated Press for leading his unheralded Braves to the West Division title, and Robinson was picked by UPI for keeping his even more unsung Giants in the race until the final weekend. That left Herzog an also-ran in both polls, but Whitey, of course, can laugh all the way to Busch Stadium next April when they raise the National League and world championship pennants.

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