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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Pete Alonso not unanimous, but 100% right pick for Rookie of the Year

New York Mets' Pete Alonso tips his helmet

New York Mets' Pete Alonso tips his helmet to the crowd after he flies out against the Atlanta Braves during the eighth inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke


Pete Alonso’s black cap told the truth, even if the Mets’ newly minted Rookie of the Year refused to go there.

Right across the front, emblazoned in plain white numbers: 100%.

It probably was no coincidence that Alonso chose that particular headwear for Monday night’s announcement on MLB Network. Regardless of any sponsor tie-in, the message echoed what the large majority of viewers had to be anticipating as they watched the broadcast.

Alonso was going to be the unanimous winner. A clean sweep, an all-30-vote-no-brainer for the award, right?

Not quite.

Turns out, Alonso didn’t get that 100%. He got 96.7, as in 29 first-place votes, the lone exception being the ballot cast by The Athletic’s Andy Baggarly, who put the Braves’ Mike Soroka in the top spot, followed by Alonso and the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr.

Alonso won in a landslide, as he should have. So why does that one dissenting vote bother the army of Alonso backers out there? Hard to say. It just does. There’s something about falling one short of the unanimous title, of missing that universal mandate. Almost like being robbed of one tiny morsel of joy.

But in no way should that one vote sour the celebration. Knowing Alonso and the perfectionist he is, I’m betting that he’ll think about not getting all 30.

As for Monday night, however, Alonso didn’t blink when asked if he was surprised about falling short of unanimous.

“No, I wasn’t expecting anything like that,” he said. “I mean, I just won the award. It doesn’t matter if it’s unanimous or not. It’s still such a blessing. And to just have that title is unbelievable. So whether it’s unanimous or not to me doesn’t matter.”

Usually insightful, very often goofy and always genuine, Alonso typically hits the appropriate notes. This time he went on to praise Soroka’s “sinker from hell” and compared the energetic Tatis to a “Coke bottle when you shake it up and put Mentos in it.”

Alonso knows he beat out two very good rookies for the award. To harp on that one rebellious ballot would be disrespectful to the competition.

“Those guys are incredible ballplayers,” he said. “Absolutely they should have some votes.”

Still, count me among the overwhelming majority. I’m stunned Alonso didn’t get all 30. Earlier Monday night, a few minutes before the Alonso reveal, the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez was named the unanimous winner of the American League award, and he didn’t make history on the scale of Alonso.

Say whatever you like about MLB’s Titlelist-caliber baseballs this season, but Alonso was the lone player to hit 53 home runs in edging the Yankees’ Aaron Judge for the all-time rookie record. He also was the only rookie to ever lead the majors outright in homers. Mark McGwire tied Andre Dawson when each hit 49 in 1987.

Such a historic feat, in my mind, was reason enough to go with Alonso. For a sport that worships the almighty long ball, Alonso not only was a 24-year-old deity in Flushing but captured the imagination of fandom throughout both leagues.

As a thrilling aside, Alonso’s dramatic Derby showdown with Vlad Guerrero Jr. (tied for sixth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting) was a highlight of the season, even as an All-Star week exhibition.

And in the final analysis, 29 BBWAA voters agreed with me. For us, it seemed like an easy choice. But we also can take a minute to recognize a different perspective, the one provided by The Athletic’s Baggarly, as a valid, well-researched vote in favor of the spectacular Soroka, who left his own indelible imprint on 2019.

Baggarly wrote a column to explain his ballot, obviously sensing the backlash that would follow, which is the responsible course of action when entrusted to vote on these awards.

Just as Alonso was lauded for smashing home runs, Baggarly credited Soroka for his unrivaled ability to prevent them in this Atomic Age, allowing homers on only 6.5 percent of his fly balls (10.9 being MLB average) and merely 0.7 homers per nine innings (half the 1.4 average). Both were tops in the majors.

For the armchair analysts out there, Baggarly also mentioned that Soroka was ninth in Win Probability Added (3.7) as compared with Alonso (17th at 3.5) — a number to measure overall game impact — and also beat him in Wins Above Average, 4.2 to 2.9.

To me, that’s way overthinking this process. But this was Baggarly’s ballot, and he presented a defensible case.

“I didn’t vote for Soroka to generate controversy,” Baggarly said in an email. “I honestly voted my conscience after much thought and study . . . [Alonso] had a tremendous, historic season and deserves to be celebrated.”

At least he got the last part right. We can all agree on that.

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