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'80 baseball laurels were predictable -- mostly

Baseball's major 1980 individual awards produced no surprises, and not even much controversy compared with those of many others years, but one can still stir up an argument here and there -- especially in the case of the American League Cy Young Award voting.

This was the only close contest among the top awards, with three oustanding contenders in Baltimore's 25-game winner Steve stone, Oakland ace Mike Norris, and New York relief star Rich Gossage. Stone edged Norris in the voting, with Gossage a fairly distant third, but partisans of each man can make a very strong case for their candidate.

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Personally, I would have preferred Norris, whose 22-9 record, 2.54 earned-run average, and 24 complete games for a much weaker team impressed me more than Stone's marks of 25-7, 3.23, and only nine complete outings for the pennant-contending Orioles.

Gossage's backers also have some strong arguments. The Goose was 6-2, with 33 saves and a 2.27 ERA, and was tremendous down the stretch when the Yankees needed him most. He did far better than either Stone or Norris in the Most Valuable Player voting, so if he was the best pitcher there, doesn't it follow that he was the best pitcher -- period?

Apparently not, which isn't really surprising, since "MVP" has always been a difficult term to define. Furthermore, 25 is a magic number of victories for a pitcher, and Stone's efforts also contributed to a gallant pennant fight, albeit an unsuccessful one.

In the end, the duel was between Stone and Norris. Each got 13 first-place votes, but STeve pulled more second- and third-place support to edge his rival in total points, 100 to 91. Gossage got the two other first-place votes in the balloting by 28 baseball writers and had 37 1/2 points overall.

EVerything else was pretty much cut and dried, with Philadelphia slugger Mike Schmidt a unanimous National League MVP, teammate Steve Carlton just missing the same 100 percent acclaim in easily winning his third NL Cy Young Award, and George Brett scoring a landslide victory in the American League MVP voting.

Brett's selection was a foregone conclusion by the time of the voting, but not so for most of the season. Even while he was threaening to become the first player in nearly 40 years to hit .400, opinion was divided between George and Reggie Jackson, whose booming bat was carrying the Yankees toward a division championship. There was precedent, too: When Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, he was beaten out by the Yankees' Joe DiMaggio for MVP honors.

Jackson cooled off in September, though, and it was Gossage who became the dominant Yankee, while some people thought that for the season as a whole, catcher Rick Cerone was really the most valuable New York player. All three wound up with first-place votes, but even without such a split among Yankee supporters, the writers could hardly have denied Brett's fabulous season -- a . 390 batting average, highest since Williams's big year, plus 24 home runs, 118 RBIs, and the fiery leadership that carried Kansas City to its first World Series appearance.

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George was a comfortable winner, with 17 of the 28 first-place votes and 335 points, while Jackson edged Gossage for second place.

There was less room for argument in the NL, as evidenced by the voting, though at least in Schmidt's case things weren't always as sure-fire during the season as they now seem in retrospect. It may be hard to believe in view of Mike's 48 home runs, 121 RBIs, and unanimous selection, but as late as the last week of the campaign some people were talking up Gary Carter, Montreal's standout catcher and 100-RBI man, as a possibility if the Expos could beat out the Phillies for the East Division title.

They didn't, of course, and instead Schmidt cemented his case with clutch home runs in Philadelphia's two title-clinching final-weekend victories at Montreal. So Mike became only the second unanimous MVP in NL history, sharing that honor with 1967 winner Orlando Cepeda. Meanwhile, just as in another election this fall, Carter wound up a distant second in the balloting.

Actually, Schmidt probably would have won in any event -- at least he certainly deserved to -- but we'll never know for sure.

The one honor on which there was never any question was Carlton's Cy Young Award. In fact, the most surprising thing in all this business was the lone first-place vote for Jerry Reuss, which denied Steve the unanimous acclaim his teammate Schmidt received. Reuss had a fine year for Los Angeles (18-6, 2.58 ERA), but it's hard to believe anyone could have picked him over Carlton, who led his team to the world championship with a 24-9 record, a 2.34 ERA, 304 innings pitched, 286 strikeouts, and a tremendous ability to win the clutch games time and again.

By adding this to his 1972 and 1977 awards, Steve tied fellow National Leaguers Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver and the American League's Jim Palmer for top career honors.

The two rookie awards, announced this week to complete the month-long series of major postseason honors voted by the Base-ball Writers' Association of America, show that once again there were several fine first-year players but none with what you would call superduper qualifications. Not since the mid-1970 s, in fact, when Fred Lynn and Jim Rice led the Boston Red Sox to a pennant in ' 75 and Mark Fidrych exploded upon the scene with his great pitching and colorful antics for Detroit the very next year, has there been a rookie in either league of that stripe.

The NL winner was Dodger reliever Steve Howe, whose 7-9 record, 17 saves, and 2.65 ERA enabled him to beat out Montreal pitcher Bill Gullickson and Philadelphia outfielder Lonnie Smith.

In the AL, the clear winner was Cleveland outfielder Joe Charboneau, who not only gained a reputation for his clowning antics off the field but did pretty well at the plate, with 23 homers and 87 RBIs. Boston second baseman Dave Stapleton was a distant second, with Minnesota pitcher Doug Corbett third.

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