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Brett races clock for .400

Will George Brett hit .400? Even if he does, will he get in enough plate appearances to qualify officially? These are just two of many questions still unanswered as a baseball season filled with more than its share of close races and memorable individual achievements draws to a close.

Brett, whose average reached .407 in late August, was down to .396 on Sept. 6 when a hand injury sidelined him for nine games.He returned Wednesday night and went 2-for-5, maintaining his average.

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Obviously, the first order of business for the Kansas City third baseman is to lift that mark the necessary few points. Because he missed several other games due to a pair of earlier injuries, however. Brett also finds himself in a race with the calendar to get in the 502 plate appearances neccessary to qualify for a batting title.

After Wednesday night's game, his total stood at 452 -- meaning he would have to play in most of the Royals' 16 remaining games to reach the required figure. Should he fail to do so, the rules permit the necessary at bats to be charged against his statistics, and if his average is still the highest in the league he wins the title anyway. With Milwaukee's Cecil Cooper a distant second at .355, it appears fairly certain that this is what would happen.

The stickier question concerns the coveted .400 figure which no major leaguer has attained since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. What happens if Brett winds up at .400 or better with fewer than 502 appearances, and the extra at bats required for the batting title put him under the magic mark? Is he officially a .400 hitter?

Logically, I'm afraid the answer is no. The whole idea behind these minimum requirements is to assure that official recognition go only to regular players. There's plenty of leeway for missing a substantial number of games, but beyond that a player just doesn't make it. And once you start making exceptions, where do you stop? Suppose next year somebody comes up 440 times and hits .420? Etc.

That's just my opinion, though. The answer that counts is up to baseball's 12- member Official Records Committee, which has begun pondering the situation and has indicated it hopes to make an official ruling by the middle of next week. MVP, Cy Young debates

Despite Brett's fantastic season it is by no means certain that he will win his league's Most Valuable Player Award. He's obviously one of the leading contenders for this honor, which usually goes to a player on a division winner, or at least a top contender, but you can get strong arguments for several others. One, of course, is Reggie Jackson, whose slugging and team leadership have carried the Yankies most of the season. There is also support for New York's super reliever Goose Gossage, and lately there has been talk about still another Yankee -- catcher Rick Cerone.

If Brett should miss out, by the way, there's precedent for it: Williams was beaten out by Joe DiMaggio for the honor in 1941. In fact, no .400 hitter has ever been the MVP -- but that's sort of a trick bit of trivia, because the award wasn't originated until 1931, while the last .400 hitter prior to Williams was Bill Terry in 1930.

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This year's AL Cy Young Award voting also poses some tough choices. Should it be Steve Stone (23-7), who almost certainly will be the league's top winner and whose pitching has kept Baltimore in the race? How about Mike Norris, who already has won 20 games with a much weaker Oakland club. And then there's Gossage. Relievers don't win this award too often, but if he's good enough to merit MVP consideration he can hardly be ignored here.

All of which makes one wonder if it isn't time to separate these awards into East and West divisions rather than keep bypasing so many outstanding candidates each year. The argument against this is that it would water down the awards -- but I wonder how true that really is. There used to be one award for each eight teams, while now there is just one for 14 in the American League and one for 12 in the NL. So the fact is that if it were broken down by divisions, the ratio would be a lot closer to the original than it is now. Pennant races still hot

The Royals have already clinched the AL West title, while the Yankees hold a commanding, if not yet decisive, lead in the East. But both National League races look more and more as though they will go right down to the wire.

It's been neck-and-neck for weeks between Montreal and Philadelphia in the East and Los Angeles and Houston in the West. The respective defending champions, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, have been hanging in there, but time is running out now, and it looks as though it's between the top two in each race. If so, no Hollywood script writer could have fashioned a better schedule, for believe it or not, the season ends on the weekend of Oct. 3, 4, and 5 with the Phillies playing at Montreal and the Astros in Dodger Stadium. Who could ask for anything more?

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