Sports Briefs

Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2002

Rodriguez selected as union's player of the year

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez was selected player of the year in a vote by members of the players' association and John Smoltz was picked to receive the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award.

Rodriguez, who led the major leagues with 57 homers and 142 RBIs for Texas, also won the AL outstanding player award for the second straight season and fourth time since 1996.

San Francisco's Barry Bonds, who led the NL with a .370 average, 49 homers and a record 198 walks, won the NL outstanding player award.

Smoltz, the Atlanta Braves' closer, was given the Miller award, which goes to a player whose performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement. Smoltz has worked with the Atlanta Food Bank Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and helped found the Kings Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, Ga.

Oakland's Barry Zito (23-5, 2.75 ERA) was the AL's outstanding pitcher, and Arizona's Curt Schilling (23-7, 3.23, 316 strikeouts) was the NL's outstanding pitcher.

Toronto third baseman Eric Hinske (.279, 24 HR, 84 RBIs) was the top AL rookie, and Colorado Jason Jennings (16-8, 4.53 ERA) was the top NL rookie.

Smoltz, who had an NL-record 55 saves, tied for the NL comeback player award with Philadelphia catcher Mike Lieberthal (.279, 15, 52), and Anaheim's Tim Salmon (.286, 22, 88) was the AL comeback player.

Players voted for the awards on Sept. 18.

Vick proclaims himself ready to start

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons proved they could win without Michael Vick. He doesn't want them to make a habit of it.

Vick was back at practice Wednesday, saying his right shoulder feels fine and that he plans to be the starting quarterback against the Carolina Panthers.

''No pain. No pain. It's good,'' Vick said after a two-hour practice at the Falcons' indoor facility. ''There's no doubt I should be able to start.''

Coach Dan Reeves was more guarded in his assessment, saying Vick remains questionable for Sunday's game at the Georgia Dome.

''It's certainly a heck of an improvement over last week,'' Reeves said. ''The real key is how much soreness he has from today. He took a lot of reps.''

If Vick can't start, Doug Johnson would get the assignment for the second week in a row.

Vick landed hard on his non-throwing shoulder when sacked by Simeon Rice in an Oct. 6 loss to Tampa Bay. The AC joint was sprained, forcing Johnson to go the rest of the way at quarterback.

Vick tried to practice a couple of days last week, but the pain was too intense. Johnson got the start in last weekend's game against the New York Giants and performed admirably, going 19-of-25 for 257 yards and a touchdown. He ran for Atlanta's other TD in a 17-10 victory.

Reeves said he'll split the reps between his top two quarterbacks this week, ensuring that Johnson will be ready in case Vick's shoulder worsens.

''It will be interesting to see how Mike does the next two or three days,'' Reeves said. ''I'm encouraged. I didn't think he would be this good.''

While Vick insisted that he felt no pain, Reeves noticed a couple of plays where the quarterback seemed to be favoring his shoulder.

''I know he had pain on one or two throws where he got his body in an awkward position,'' Reeves said. ''But I thought he would have more pain than he did.''

Vick said his only concern is how the shoulder will feel after being hit by some 300-pound lineman. The Falcons won't allow any contact during the week, but the Panthers will certainly come after him hard on Sunday.

''The thing is falling on it and seeing how it's going to react,'' Vick said. ''We'll just have to see. If I happen to get hit and fall on it and have to go out of the game, then you'll see Doug Johnson again.''

Carolina leads the NFL with 25 sacks -- 21 by linemen -- and has allowed just under 264 yards per game, the second-lowest figure in the league.

''I'd say there's a real good chance Mike will get hit on Sunday,'' Reeves said with a nervous grin.

Johnson's performance against the Giants calmed any fears that Atlanta wouldn't be able to move the ball without Vick at quarterback.

Actually, the Falcons opened up the offense for Johnson, throwing more deep passes than they did with Vick.

''He threw the ball up and down the field and gave us some opportunities to make plays,'' Vick said. ''I hope I get some of those play calls this week.''

The Falcons (2-3) were protective of Vick before the injury, giving him mostly short, high-percentage passes to throw.

He has yet to give up an interception but averaged just 146.5 yards passing in his first four games, including the one against Tampa Bay that was cut short.

Of course, Vick is just as dangerous running as he is throwing. He ranks second on the team with 185 yards rushing, averaging 7.4 yards per carry.

Vick doesn't plan to limit that part of that game if he feels good enough to start Sunday.

''That's one thing I won't do,'' he said. ''If I'm out there, I'm going to go 110 percent. I'm not going to hold anything back. If I can't do what I do best, then I am not going to play.''

The Panthers don't expect that to happen.

''We're anticipating Vick will play,'' Carolina coach John Fox said. ''We're fortunate in the sense that we've seen some mobile quarterbacks this season.''

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