Honoring the very best (and worst) of the first half
We've reached the midpoint of another sensational baseball season. And we know what you're thinking:Has Hank Steinbrenner finished memorizing that rulebook from "the 1800s" yet? If it's Helmet Night, does that mean Manny Ramirez was unable to get his full ticket allotment? And, of course, is it a felony or a misdemeanor to mispronounce Fukudome? Well, even if you weren't actually thinking about any of that, it's still been one of the most stupendous, unpredictable baseball seasons in eons. So grab a lemonade and follow along as we present our midseason awards:
Most Valuable Players
NL MVP of the half year: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Last year, more than half the pitches thrown Pujols' way were in the strike zone. This year, that figure is down to 42 percent. And he's still on pace to hit .350, with 33 homers and a .610 slugging percentage (not to mention 38 intentional walks). That may look like just another standard old year in the life of Sir Albert. But it's not -- because of what he means to an offense that surrounds him largely with reclamation projects and overachievers.
Think it's any accident the Cardinals are 7-10 in games he doesn't start, but 45-32 when he does? Think it's a coincidence that when he was on the disabled list last month, Ryan Ludwick hit .188 and the Cardinals scored two runs or fewer five times in 13 games? There are great cases to be made for Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez and Chipper Jones. But nobody has done more, with less around him, than Pujols.Apologies to: Utley, Ramirez, Jones, Berkman, Dan Uggla, Matt Holliday.
AL MVP of the half year: Ian Kinsler, Rangers
Least Valuable Players
NL LVP of the half year: Andruw Jones, Dodgers
AL LVP of the half year: Richie Sexson, Mariners
One of our general principles in life is not to pick on the unemployed. But considering that this particular unemployed guy will continue to be the 20th-highest-paid player in baseball (at $15.5 million) even though the Mariners just released him, we'll make an exception in Richie Sexson's case. Heck, they may have done this man a favor. Had he kept on going out there, he had a chance to become the first player in history to whiff 150 times without getting to 20 homers or 20 doubles. (He was on pace for 148 SO, 21 HR, 16 2B when the gong sounded.)Sexson also gets extra LVP credit for being the only Mariner to openly defy an edict by his former GM, Bill Bavasi, that all players must stand at their lockers and explain to the media why they'd turned this season into such a debacle. And getting released for "body language" sealed his spot on the LVP medal stand. Sighs of relief for: Edgar Renteria, Jose Vidro, Kenji Johjima, Robinson Cano.
NL Cy Young of the half year: Tim Lincecum, Giants
AL Cy Young of the half year: Mariano Rivera, Yankees
The history of Cy Young voting shows that it's normally a starting pitcher's award. But it's time to make an exception for the greatest pitcher of modern times who has never won any BBWAA award. Yeah, Justin Duchscherer has a photogenic ERA (1.78). Granted, Cliff Lee has a fabulous record (12-2). And you're right, Francisco Rodriguez has more saves. But not only has Mariano Rivera not blown any of his 23 save opportunities, he hadn't even allowed one stinking run in any of those save situations until last weekend.So his ERA this year, when a save is on the line, is an absurd 0.37 (one earned run in 24 1/3 IP). And if he keeps up this pace, that would be the second-lowest save-situation ERA in history by any reliever who saved 30 games or more, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Only Eric Gagne, in his unconscious 2003 season, ever beat that (with 0.32). And whaddayaknow, he won a Cy Young that year. Rivera also has a superhuman 0.64 WHIP and 12.5-1 strikeout-walk ratio this year (50 K's, 4 BB). And the only closer ever to better those numbers -- Dennis Eckersley -- also won a Cy Young. So when a closer is having this historic a season, the starters need just as historic credentials to beat him. And so far, that ain't happening. Apologies to: Duchscherer, Lee, Roy Halladay, Joe Saunders, K-Rod, John Danks.
NL Cy Yuk of the half year: Brett Myers, Phillies
AL Cy Yuk of the half year: Carlos Silva, Mariners
NL Rookie of the half year: Geovany Soto, Cubs
AL Rookie of the half year: Evan Longoria, Rays
Managers of the half year: Tony La Russa (Cardinals), Joe Maddon (Rays)
Injuries of the half year
Box score lines of the half year
Double Trouble division
Mystery Man division
Don't Try This At Home division
Quotes of the half year
• Second prize: From Jay Payton of the Orioles, a team that has lost on 13 straight Sundays, the longest Sunday losing streak by any club since the '78 Mets: "Maybe we need to cut the head off a monkey or something to switch it up. I think it's usually a chicken, but I'm thinking maybe a monkey would work. But that's animal cruelty. I wouldn't do that." (Good thing!)• First prize: From ever-erudite Royals pitcher Brian Bannister, after a game in which it took him 90 pitches to get through three innings: "I like walks about as much as I like high gas prices."
• Third prize: On the inner turmoil of pitcher Matt Garza: "He's kind of like a recovering emotionalist."
• Second prize: On the wild June road trip in which the Rays brawled with the Red Sox and then fought with each other in Texas: "We bonded very nicely on this trip. It was a Kumbaya trip of some sorts." • First prize: On an (ahem) interesting day of umpiring by plate ump James Hoye: "The strike zone was slightly amorphic today."
• Third prize: From David Letterman, on the Pope's trip to New York this spring: "Since the Pope is at Yankee Stadium, he's going to be let Billy Crystal be a bishop for a day."• Second prize: Also from Letterman, also on the Pope's visit to The Stadium: "People are saying it was a great mass. As a matter of fact, afterward the Yankees retired Roman numeral XVI." • First prize: From Jay Leno, on A-Rod's alleged new favorite girl, Madonna: "How old is Madonna? Instead of A-Rod, maybe they should call him AARP-Rod."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.