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THE TWENTY-EIGHTH ANNUAL MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL BOTTOM-OF-THE HEAP AWARDS

© Al Yellon, 2004



NICE GUYS FINISH LAST AWARD
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Arizona 51-111
AMERICAN LEAUE: Kansas City 58-104


Whoo, boy, the Diamondbacks were terrible this year. They had to win two of their last three games at home against a contender, the Padres, to avoid becoming only the second team since the 1962 Mets (last year's Tigers) to not win even fifty games during the year.

They had a fourteen-game losing streak just before and after the All-Star break. Then they won four of their next nine games, not so great, and after that lost nine more in a row.

When they fired Bob Brenly they were 29-50. After they lost on September 9 they were 42-101, a record of 13-51 under Al Pedrique. Gee, that managerial change worked wonders, didn't it? Pedrique wound up with a record of 22-61 (.265), one of the worst managerial percentages ever for someone who managed that many games.

The Diamondbacks think they can contend in 2005. Good luck.

The Royals became only the second team, after the 1985-86-87 Cleveland Indians, to lose 100 games, have a winning record the following year, and then lose 100 games in the year after that. This doesn't bode well for Kansas City, either. It took that Indians team seven more years before they had another winning record.

DAL MAXVILL MEMORIAL BATTING AWARD
(Lowest Batting Average, Minimum 502 Plate Appearances)
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Mike Cameron, New York, 114-for-493, .231
AMERICAN LEAGUE: Bobby Crosby, Oakland, 130-for-545, .239


Life After The Heap: Last year's NL winner, Pat Burrell, had a decent comeback year, raising his average from .209 to .257 and his RBI count from 64 to 84.

Cameron never did hit much for average, and Shea Stadium is a lousy ballpark for batting average, so this might have been expected. He did hit 30 homers, 26.3% of all his hits.

Bobby Crosby, you lucky guy. You can add this award to Bob Buhl Award you won last year for going 0-for-12, and the AL Rookie-of-the-Year Award you're probably going to win sometime in November. Now seriously, which awards carry more prestige?

RICK STELMASZEK MEMORIAL BATTING AWARD
(Lowest Batting Average, Minimum 50 At-Bats)
NATIONAL LEAGUE: John Vander Wal, Cincinnati, 6-for-51, .118 (20 strikeouts)
AMERICAN LEAGUE: Ken Huckaby, Texas, 7-for-50, .140


Vander Wal was once one of the best pinch-hitters in baseball, and the Reds signed him in the off-season, hoping he'd do the same. But Vander Wal had a bizarre snow-shoveling injury (why are guys like this out shoveling snow in the winter anyway), and didn't play till mid-July, and then, not very well.

Huckaby's main claim to fame in his baseball career is that his knee was the one that was in the way of Derek Jeter's face on Opening Day in Toronto in 2003, on a tag play at third base, causing Jeter to miss about forty games last season. Nice going.

BOB BUHL MEMORIAL BATTING AWARD
(Most At-Bats, No Hits, Excluding Pitchers)
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Josh Labandeira, Montreal, 0-for-14
AMERICAN LEAGUE: Felix Escalona, New York, 0-for-8


The only regret we have about Labandeira's career is that it won't be in Montreal, where the PA announcer could have had great fun with his name (that's the guy who used to yell, "John BOCCA-BELLLLLLLLLA", when that catcher from the early 70's came up to bat).

This just wasn't the Yankees' year. In addition to Escalona, Homer Bush went 0-for-7 for New York this season.

DOOLEY WOMACK MEMORIAL PITCHING AWARD
(Highest ERA, Minimum 162 Innings Pitched)
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Shawn Estes, Colorado, 202 IP, 131 ER, 5.84
NL, Nice Try: Jose Acevedo, Cincinnati, 157.2 IP, 104 ER, 5.94
AMERICAN LEAGUE: Sidney Ponson, Baltimore, 215.2 IP, 5.30


The NL award was a lock before the season even started. Estes, who built a palatial house in Paradise Valley, Arizona that was featured in the local paper's real estate section during spring training, had had ERA's over 5.00 three times in his career before 2004, including the last two seasons. So put a guy like this in the thin air in Denver, and what else would you expect? Sure, he won 15 games -- how could you not, for a team that scored 833 runs, fourth in the league. If Estes remains with the Rockies, I'd expect him to win this award again next year.

Acevedo -- this guy couldn't get anyone out most of the season, though he fell 4.1 IP short of qualifying for this award. But on September 29 and 30, he threw three shutout innings combined against the Cubs, sealing their doom. And no, that's not the same Acevedo who gave up the famous home run to Eric Karros for the Cubs against the Yankees on June 7, 2003. That was JUAN Acevedo, who was quickly released by King George after that, and was out of baseball this year.

Sidney Ponson is a knight in his home country of Aruba. That probably explains how he could finesse the one good year of his career, a combined 17-12 with a 3.75 ERA split between Baltimore and San Francisco, into a 3-year, $22.5 million contract.

And this 5.30 ERA reflects a pretty GOOD second half. As late as July 19, his ERA was 6.13.

THE TICKET BACK TO WICHITA AWARD
(Highest ERA, No Minimum Innings Pitched)
AMERICAN LEAGUE: Dave Maurer, Toronto, 1.1 IP, 8 ER, 54.00
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Jared Fernandez, Houston, 1 IP, 6 ER, 45.00
Mike Bynum, San Diego, 0.2 IP, 4 ER, 45.00

There is one line in Maurer's stat page that explains why he is still in the major leagues after pitching in 22 games for three different teams (San Diego, Cleveland, Toronto) in four different seasons with a career ERA of 8.87:

Throws: Left

Fernandez throws knuckleballs, and sometimes knuckleballers do things like this. Without another chance to show what he could do, this sort of stat line results. He walked five in his inning. Not to be outdone, Bynum was this bad in two separate appearances for the Padres. All four baserunners (one hit, three walks) he allowed, scored.

ROGER CRAIG MEMORIAL PITCHING AWARD
(Most Losses, 17 or More Decisions)
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Darrell May, Kansas City, 9-19
AMERICAN LEAGUE: Brandon Webb, Arizona, 7-16


May's manager gets the Chicken-of-the-Year award for pulling him from the rotation and not letting him start the last game of the season, which would have been his turn.

Webb set the Diamondbacks club record for losses, and yes, it's a bit surprising that sixteen losses led the D'backs, who lost 111 games. That is, until you learn that Arizona used twenty-five different pitchers in 2004, including the execrable Edgar Gonzalez, who allowed 72 hits and 18 walks in 49 IP, and went 0-9 with an ERA of 9.32, and that includes a game against the Reds on August 29 in which he took a perfect game into the seventh inning, only to see it blow up in his face with a walk, a single, a double play and then a two-run homer, and Arizona lost 6-2, perhaps a microcosm of their season.

More Diamondback fun, incidentally: Randy Johnson won his 16th game of the year on the second-to-last day of the season. That is the most wins ever for a team that lost 110 or more games.

MATT KEOUGH MEMORIAL PITCHING AWARD
(Fewest Wins, 17 or More Decisions)
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Jose Acevedo, Cincinnati, 5-12
AMERICAN LEAGUE: Ryan Franklin, Seattle, 4-16


This is the second consecutive year that a Reds pitcher has won this award; Danny Graves won it last year and was rewarded by being made the Reds closer, saving 33 games before the All-Star break, before running out of gas and finishing with 41, and also ending the year being shut down due to strep throat.

COMEDOWN PLAYER OF THE YEAR AWARD
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Juan Encarnacion, Los Angeles-Florida (2004: 16 HR, 62 RBI, .236)
(2003: 19 HR, 94 RBI, .270)

AMERICAN LEAGUE: Ryan Franklin, Seattle (2004: 4-16, 4.90 ERA)
(2003: 11-13, 3.57 ERA)


Seattle's kind of the forgotten bad team this year, with the historic bad performances of the Diamondbacks and Royals, and Seattle could have gone from a 90-win season to a 100-loss season, but missed by one game. A main contributor was Franklin, whose .200 winning percentage was by far the worst in baseball.

Encarnacion was a key player for the 2003 World Champion Marlins. But in a salary dump, they sent him to the Dodgers for a PTBNL, who turned out to be a minor leaguer. He quickly went into the dumper for the Dodgers, hitting .235. So, back to Florida it was, where he was even worse: .238 with only 3 homers in 49 games.

THE LEAST VALUABLE PLAYER
NATIONAL LEAGUE: Kyle Farnsworth, Chicago
AMERICAN LEAGUE: Juan Gonzalez, Kansas City


Repeat after me.

Why is Kyle Farnsworth still in the major leagues, after the implosions he had again last year?

The answer is obvious.

Because he can throw a baseball 100 MPH.

Farnsworth's season was a major contributor to the Cubs' collapse. However, I note that his bad years seem to come in even-numbered years:

2000: 2-9, 6.43 ERA

2001: 4-6, 2.74 ERA

2002: 4-6, 7.33 ERA

2003: 3-2, 3.30 ERA

2004: 4-5, 4.72 ERA

So maybe the Cubs ought to hold on to him for one more year. If it's a good one, THEN trade him.

Juan Gonzalez, if nothing else, has to be the dumbest player in baseball history. No, I'm not insulting his ability, just his judgment. He left the Rangers after the 1999 season, hoping for a huge-money deal, and wound up signing with Detroit. Early in 2000, the Tigers reportedly offered him an 8-year, $140-million extension. He turned it down.

Ever since then, his baseball playing has, well, sucked, and his total salaries since then have totalled $38 million, not chump change, to be sure, but his arrogance cost him $100 million. After playing a mediocre 33 games with the Royals this year, he vanished with another injury, and having just turned 35 shortly after the 2004 season ended, I doubt you'll see him again. At one point he seemed a lock to hit 500, or maybe even 600 career homers. If he doesn't play again he finishes with 434, and leaves a legacy of selfishness.

LARRY BIITTNER MEMORIAL NON-PIITCHERS AWARD

Last year, only one non-piitcher took up the banner, Wiki Gonzalez of the Padres.

Major leaguers said, this will not stand, and so no fewer than four position players took to the mound this year, with the following combined pitching line:

IP H R ER BB SO ERA

6 9 6 6 3 5 9.00

Roll call: Dave McCarty (Boston), Robin Ventura (Los Angeles), Todd Zeile (NY Mets), Frank Menechino (Toronto).

McCarty's an interesting case. He came to spring training this year intent on trying out as a pitcher, a la Brooks Kieschnick. The Red Sox didn't use him in that way, except on three occasions, one of which was the last day of the season, where he threw two shutout innings and struck out three.

Personally, I think players like this who have both these abilities ought to be used in that way. Kieschnick is the prime example -- he was primarily a pitcher at the University of Texas, but didn't have another fielding position, hitting mostly as a DH. When drafted by the Cubs, of course they tried to make him into an outfielder, a position he was about as well-suited for as Wendell Kim is as a third-base coach.

The Cubs should have tried him as a pitcher. As a pitcher/pinch-hitter for the Brewers the last two years, he has thrown fairly well (2004, a 3.77 ERA in 43 IP), and contributed as a hitter (2003, .969 OPS in 70 at-bats). In an era of specialization, why not have a guy who can do two things, which helps in keeping your bench flexible?

OK, sermon over.

Todd Zeile had a perfect ERA before this year, having thrown a scoreless inning for the Rockies in 2002. This year, the Mets put him into a game they were losing 14-8 after John Franco had been ejected, and he promptly made it a 19-8 game. Zeile also was a Double-Duty Radcliffe of sorts this year, also catching two games.


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NL CENTRAL
NL EAST
NL WEST
AL CENTRAL
AL EAST
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Take a look at Major League Baseball's official site.
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A quick way to check out today's scores and get live updates is on ESPN's Baseball Scoreboard.
Munsey's Ballpark Page is a beautiful, well organized site with everything you want to know about ballparks.
A terrific online baseball encyclopedia is Baseball-reference.com
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