The Chicago Cubs, who are about to clinch their first title of any kind since 1945 (in this case the NL East), probably are also going to provide the National League with its 1984 Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winners. The former would be second baseman Ryne Sandberg, the latter pitcher Rick Sutcliffe.
Sandberg, whose steadiness in the field and effortless pivot on the double play remind oldtimers of Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer, can also play the William Tell Overture with his bat. In fact, Ryne has a chance to become the first player in baseball history to finish a season with 200 hits, 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, and 20 stolen bases.
Sutcliffe, who was 4-5 and had a horrendous 5.15 earned-run average when Cleveland traded him to Chicago on June 13, has since won 13 consecutive games for the Cubs and 15 of 16 overall. Rick has all the pitches, including two fast balls, a wicked curve, and a changeup that can only be timed with a metronome. He is also an intimidator who often moves opposing hitters off the plate by throwing at their feet.
But best of all from a Chicago standpoint is the commanding success Rick has had against the Cubs' chief rivals in the NL East (New York and Philadelphia), beating them a total of five times.
Until Sutcliffe joined Chicago, he was known mainly for being named NL Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1979 and for a king-size temper tantrum that erupted two seasons later in Manager Tommy Lasorda's office. Rick, who had been left off the Dodgers' 1981 playoff roster after a poor year, eliminated his frustration by making a shambles of Lasorda's office furniture.
Over in the American League, the MVP race appears wide open. High on nearly everyone's list are relief pitcher Willie Hernandez and shortstop Alan Trammell of the Tigers, first baseman Kent Hrbek of the Twins; first baseman Eddie Murray of the Orioles; and outfielder Dave Winfield and first baseman Don Mattingly of the Yankees.
In an example of baseball's often peculiar approaches to individual awards, while Hernandez is a very strong MVP candidate, his chances of also winning the American League's Cy Young trophy are considered questionable. In the minds of many voter, that award has already been reserved for bullpen ace Dan Quisenberry of the Kansas City Royals. The fact that Quisenberry is probably going to exceed his own record of 45 savesdespite pitching for a team whose overall personnel is well below that of the Tigers has given him a kind of built-in edge.
Reggie moves into elite company
Reggie Jackson joined some elite company this week when he smashed the 500th home run of his illustrious career. In the entire history of baseball only 12 other players have reached the milestone - Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Willie McCovey, Eddie Mathews, Ernie Banks, and Mel Ott.
Jackson's blast, No. 22 of the current season for the California Angels' designated hitter, came against southpaw Bud Black of the Kansas City Royals at Anaheim Stadium. Ironically, Reggie's skyrocket into the right field terrace came on the 17th anniversary of his first major league home run, also in the same park. At that time he was a rookie outfielder wearing a Kansas City uniform.
Horner says game is tougher than it looks; When the Atlanta Braves lost hard-hitting third baseman Bob Horner for the season prior to the mid-July All-Star break with a wrist injury, Manager Joe Torre turned Horner into his Eye-in-the-Sky. Bob now sits in the press box during every Braves game with a walkie-talkie and tells Torre how to position his infielders and outfielders against rival teams.
''From up there, baseball looks like an easy game,'' Horner explained. ''You don't notice the bad hops, the line-drives that twist and turn en route to the outfielder, or the force with which a catcher sometimes gets hit with foul tips. If I didn't know better, I'd say that anybody could play this game.''
Asked if he'd learned anything that might help his already robust hitting in future years, Horner replied, ''Well, from watching I think I've picked up some patterns from opposing pitchers that I might not have been aware of before. But I won't really know until I start all over again next year.'' There is speculation that Ken Oberkfell will remain at third base for the Braves next season, with Horner moving to first base and Chris Chambliss going elsewhere via the trade route.