Walt Weiss hated his label as a rookie all season. Now, the slick-fielding shortstop has something to show for it.
Weiss followed in the sizable footsteps of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire on Wednesday in becoming the Oakland Athletics' third straight winner of the American League Rookie of the Year award.It's an honor the 24-year-old Weiss never gave a thought to in spring training. After all, he reasoned, Canseco had hit 33 home runs and McGwire 49 in their first seasons.
"I really didn't think about being rookie of the year early in the season," said Weiss, standing next to life-size cutouts of the two A's sluggers at the Oakland Coliseum. "I was saying `If they are the standards for rookie of the year, I ain't got a prayer."'
As it turned out, he was the answer to the prayers of A's executives. They had gambled last December that he was good enough to justify trading away Alfredo Griffin in the deal that landed pitcher Bob Welch from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He anchored the best fielding team in Oakland history - the A's fielding percentage of .983 was third best in the majors - and had a streak of 58 straight errorless games in the second half of the season. He also hit .281 over the final two months to finish at .250 with three homers and 39 runs batted in, and had some spectacular plays and a game-winning hit in the playoff sweep of Boston.
"With all the good things he's done this season, sometimes I forget he's just a rookie," veteran third baseman Carney Lansford said at the end of the A's AL pennant-winning season. "He sure doesn't play like a rookie, he plays like a 10-year veteran."
Weiss was a runaway winner in the voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He received 103 points and 17 first-place votes from a panel of 28 writers, two from each AL city.
Right-handed pitcher Bryan Harvey of the California Angels was second with 49 points, one ahead of infielder Jody Reed of the Boston Red Sox. Right-hander Don August of Milwaukee was a distant fourth, followed by outfielder Dave Gallagher of Chicago and right-hander Melido Perez of the White Sox.
"This is really the first individual honor I've had of any sort, so it's something special," Weiss said. "I won an award in Little League, so there won't be much competition with this in my trophy case."
The award made the A's the only AL team ever to have three consecutive winners since the inception of the award in 1949. In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers had four in a row from 1979-82 with Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Howe, Fernando Valenzuela and Steve Sax.
Oakland also is only the second team since the start of divisional play in 1969 to have won a pennant with a rookie playing shortstop all season. The Cincinnati Reds were the first with Dave Concepcion in 1970.
"He has gone through pressure that neither Canseco nor McGwire had to go through," said A's general manager Sandy Alderson. "Weiss knew from the first week last December that a lot would turn on what he did.
"In my opinion he was the key to our season," Alderson said. "He was the one who made our trade for Bob Welch possible."
A native of Suffern, N.Y., where he still lives, the 6-foot, 175-pound Weiss was the A's No. 1 pick in the June 1985 draft after attending the University of North Carolina. He moved up to Class AA Huntsville in 1986 and last year hit .285 there, .263 at Class AAA Tacoma and .462 in 16 games with Oakland.