Jeff Bagwell improved in almost every way in 1994 except one - he still couldn't figure how to finish the year with a healthy left hand.

Bagwell, who blossomed into one of baseball's best sluggers this season, was honored Wednesday as major league player of the year by The Associated Press.Bagwell batted .368 with 39 home runs and a major league-leading 116 RBIs for the Houston Astros. Last month, he became just the third unanimous MVP in NL history.

The 26-year-old first baseman had an 18-game hitting streak when his left hand was broken when he was hit by a pitch from San Diego's Andy Benes on Aug. 10, two days before the players' strike. The injury was expected to sideline him from three to five weeks.

In 1993, when he hit .320 with 20 home runs, his season ended Sept. 12 when he broke another bone in his left hand when he was hit by a pitch from Philadelphia's Ben Rivera.

"I'm becoming an all-pro at breaking my hand," Bagwell said. "I seem to learn things the hard way, but now I'm having a pad put on my batting glove so hopefully this won't happen again."

Bagwell received 31 votes in a nationwide poll of 58 sports writers and broadcasters for the AP award. Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, a two-time AL MVP, was runner-up with 16 votes and San Francisco's Matt Williams, who led the majors with 43 home runs, was third with three.

Bagwell set Astros records for home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits despite his shortened season of 110 games. His .368 average also was the best in Houston history.

Bagwell led the majors in slugging percentage (.750), led the NL in runs (104) and was second in the league in batting.

He finished second in the NL home runs after hitting a total of 38 in his previous two years. He did it despite playing half of his games in the Astrodome, one of baseball's worst parks for power.

Bagwell, born in Boston, was drafted by the Red Sox in June 1989 and was the Eastern League MVP in 1990 for Double-A New Britain. But on Aug. 31, 1990, the Red Sox traded him to Houston for reliever Larry Andersen in a deal designed to boost Boston's pennant push.