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The players club

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By Mark Vasto

It’s the end of the year, and as sports fans we know what that means: It’s time to take a look back at the great plays and the players that made them, lest we forget. This week we profile the two great American pastimes and their players of the year.

Football: Cam Newton

In a pass-happy league, Cam Newton has put more smiles on more faces than any of the Research Triangle bean counters would care to count. Newton brought a lot of promise to Carolina and the Panthers — a Heisman pedigree and a BCS championship will do that. Whether or not the Panthers win the Super Bowl, barring an epic choke on Newton’s part in the big game, it’s safe to say that 2015 was the year that Newton put it all together for the Panthers … flirting with perfection along the way. Spectacular as the double-threat quarterback has been, he’s still put up the same numbers we’re used to seeing out of him, and they closely mirror every statistical benchmark we like to see in a quarterback here at the A Sporting View’s palatial headquarters: Does he account for at least 30 touchdowns per season (passing plus rushing)? Pass for at least 3,000 yards? Have a completion percentage of 60 percent or more? Throw more touchdowns than interceptions? Start at least 10 games? Average more than 4 yards per carry? Newton’s answer on all accounts has always been a resounding yes. That’s your MVP, that’s the player of the year — the guy you didn’t want to face.

Baseball: The Kansas City Royals

Leave it to Kansas City to enter the season as the favorite to win the World Series while simultaneously being considered the underdogs. That’s Kansas City in a nutshell. It’s a great town with the best steak in the country, zero traffic, pretty fountains and probably more soccer fans per capita than any other city. Fans don’t throw a mean tailgate, they throw a friendly tailgate. Kansas City may not do a lot of things, but the things it does, it does right.

It’s cliche to give an individual award to an entire team, but I can’t ever recall a team quite like these Royals. They lost a great DH in Billy Butler in the offseason, and they signed a better one in Kendrys Morales. In a game that stresses on-base percentage and starting pitching, these guys advanced runners by simply making contact, won games with the middle-relief corps and defense.

And it was a total team effort. Ned Yost provided consistent, albeit at times bizarre, management. None of the starters won more than 13 games. Their regular closer wasn’t lights-out dominant with an ERA hovering around the 4.00 mark. Only one player had more than 100 RBIs, and nobody hit over .300 or reached 30 home runs. Yet the same cast of characters that battled Madison Baumgardner last fall would not be denied this time around, and names like Moustakis, Morales, Cain, Perez and Hosmer join the pantheon of greats. Kansas City, you done made good.

Mark Vasto is a veteran sportswriter who lives in New Jersey.

(c) 2015 King Features Synd., Inc.