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In the warm-up circle for Rookies of the Year

The only thing I know for sure about voting for Rookie of the Year in the National and American Leagues is that five minutes after you've mailed your ballot, someone in baseball whose opinion you value will disagree with your selections.

Nevertheless, the way I see it there are four genuine candidates this season in both leagues, plus several others who, because of late starts, probably won't get the recognition they deserve.

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Perhaps the four leading rookies in the American League are outfielder Joe Charboneau of the Cleveland Indians; second baseman Damaso Garcia of the Toronto Blye Jays; starting pitcher Britt Burns of the Chicago White Sox; and bullpen ace Doug Corbett of the Minnesota Twins.

In the National League there is strong support for relief pitcher Steve Howe of the Los Angeles Dodgers; pitcher Bill Gullickson of the Montreal Expos; and outfielder Lonnie Smith of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Charboneau, with 20 homers and a truckload of runs batted in, has outstanding offensive credentials. Jose's reputation as a character, including the dubious talent of being able to open most bottle caps with his teeth and other circus-related feats, has not been lost on the nation's magazine and newspaper writers.

What could hurt Charboneau's chances is just an average glove in the field, a throwing arm that would not necessarily embarrass Venus, and too many games as the Indians' designated hitter.

Damaso Garcia, whom theBlue Jays got out of the New York Yankees organization in a trade, is so good in the field that most Toronto pitchers want to take him to lunch. But most voters are apt to ignore a mid-.280s batting average if it isn't accompanied by a lot of extra base hits and runs batted in.

Britt Burns of the White Sox has a shot at being No. 1, party because of a low earned-run average and a possibility of 14 or 15 victories, but mostly because he has managed to do this with a team that is more than 20 games under the .500 mark.

Doug Corbett is a low-ball pitcher who leads the Twins' bullpen staff in sabes with 17 and for most of the season has kept his earned-run average under two per game. But because Minnesota is a win-one, lose-two team, Corbett and his excellent control have been largely ignored by the press.

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In the National League the Dodgers wouldn't even be in their division race if it weren't for Steve Howe, who has saved 17 games out of the bullpen, won 6, and maintained one of the best earned-run averages in the league.

Howe, without much of a breaking pitch, has done it mostly with a fast ball and superb control. Over the second half of the season, he has probably been LA's most valuable player.

The was second baseman Ron Oester has played in the field for the Reds, he could put handcuffs on lightning. This kid has the best pair of hands to come into baseball in a long time, and he has also stayed around .275 with the bat.

Look for Cincinnati to shift Oester to shortstop in a few years when Dave Concepcion retires. He has that kind of arm. The fact that Ron plays every day , and Howe doesn't, will probably carry a lot of weight with most voters.

Bill Gullickson, who set a major league record for a rookie on Sept. 17 by striking out 18 Chicago Clubs, is the best thing that has happened to the Montreal Expos since they signed Dick Williams as manager.

If the Expos should win their division against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Gullickson's contribution will rank with anyone's one the team. Despite the fact that Bill says he is not a strikeout pitcher, he had 20 in seven innings as early as his Pony League days.

Lonnie Smith is a line-drive hitter who so far this season has set the table for Philadelphia sluggers Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski. Smith seldom strikes out, has consistently hit around .300, and can play the outfield with anybody. But a lack of power, plus the fact that he doesn't play regularly, may hurt him.

One rookie who probably won't get as many votes as he deserves (because he was recalled after the season strated), but has played extremely well, is second baseman Dave Stapleton of the Boston Red Sox.

Regarded chiefly as a utility infielder, Stapleton seems to have found a natural home at second base, gets rid of the ball quickly on teh double play, and has consistenly kept his batting average above the .300 mark.

The feeling here is that Howe gets Roookie of the Year in the NL if the Dodgers win their division; Oester if the Reds win; with Gullickson having an outside chance.

In the american League, it's show-biz Joe Charboneau -- his quick bat, his new hobby (rug hooking), and a desire after the season to work with handicapped children.

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