11/17/08 7:38 PM EST
Crowning achievement: Pujols NL MVP
Cards star becomes first Dominican player to win two such awards
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Albert Pujols' magnificent season earned him his second NL Most Valuable Player Award. Pujols' 369 points bested the 308 points garnered by Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, who beat him out by a narrow margin to win the 2006 MVP.
Pujols has finished in the top 10 in the voting in every one of his eight Major League seasons, and has been fourth or better seven times. He is the 11th player to win two NL MVP Awards, and he's one of three active players with a pair of MVPs. Additionally, Pujols became the third player, along with Sammy Sosa in 1998 and Rod Carew in 1977, to win the MVP and the Roberto Clemente Award in the same year.
"I have to thank my teammates," Pujols said at a news conference at Busch Stadium on Monday afternoon. "Obviously this is not an award that you win by yourself. My teammates were involved every day, day in and day out, supporting me, getting on base and driving me in. These kinds of numbers, you can't do it by yourself."
One of those teammates, Ryan Ludwick, even garnered some MVP consideration himself. Ludwick finished 16th in the balloting with 17 points. He was named on seven ballots out of 32.
Pujols received 18 first-place votes, 10 seconds, two thirds, a fourth and a seventh. He was the only player named on every ballot. He is the first Dominican player to be named MVP twice.
"I couldn't believe [that]," Pujols said. "There are so many great [Dominican] players. There was one that was in the vote: Manny Ramirez. He's just a great player, great hitter. Being the first one, I was excited. Hopefully I won't be the last. Hopefully there will be many more players, not just from the Dominican Republic, but from Latin America."
As baseball waited to hear the results of the ballot, the discussion centered on the definition of "most valuable." Some argued that because Pujols' Cardinals did not make the postseason, he could not be the most valuable player in the league. It was the only possible case against Pujols, who was indisputably his league's best hitter and who plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base.
|2008 NL MVP Award Voting|
|Albert Pujols, STL||18||10||2||1||1||369|
|Ryan Howard, PHI||12||8||6||1||1||2||1||308|
|Ryan Braun, MIL||2||3||5||5||2||2||3||2||1||139|
|Manny Ramirez, LAD||2||4||7||2||3||2||1||2||138|
|Lance Berkman, HOU||2||4||4||1||3||3||4||1||1||126|
|CC Sabathia, MIL||4||5||1||2||2||3||1||2||121|
|David Wright, NYM||2||1||4||3||3||2||5||2||1||115|
|Brad Lidge, PHI||2||2||4||3||2||3||1||2||104|
|Carlos Delgado, NYM||5||1||2||5||2||3||96|
|Aramis Ramirez, CHC||2||4||1||1||4||3||1||66|
|Hanley Ramirez, FLA||2||2||2||1||2||2||5||55|
|Chipper Jones, ATL||1||2||4||1||2||2||44|
|Geovany Soto, CHC||3||1||3||1||41|
|Johan Santana, NYM||1||1||1||1||2||1||30|
|Chase Utley, PHI||1||1||1||1||3||2||30|
|Ryan Ludwick, STL||1||2||3||1||17|
|Brandon Webb, ARI||2||1||14|
|Adrian Gonzalez, SD||1||1||1||4||13|
|Matt Holliday, COL||1||1||1||1||13|
|Prince Fielder, MIL||1||1||1||1||11|
|Derrek Lee, CHC||1||1||10|
|Carlos Beltran, NYM||1||1||1||10|
|Tim Lincecum, SF||1||1||2||9|
|Jose Reyes, NYM||1||3|
|Jose Valverde, HOU||1||3|
|Stephen Drew, ARI||1||2|
|Nate McLouth, PIT||1||1|
Pujols had already been recognized with virtually every other major individual award for which he was eligible. He was named National League or Major League player of the year by the Sporting News, the MLB Players Association and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, as well as NL MVP in Baseball Prospectus' Internet Baseball Awards.
In the end, the Baseball Writers' Association of America joined the chorus, choosing not to penalize Pujols for his team's fourth-place finish. In fact, it's possible that quite the opposite happened -- that Pujols was rewarded for the Cardinals' place in the standings.
Though St. Louis ended the season 11 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central, the club exceeded many preseason expectations with an 86-win season. And much of the credit must go to Pujols.
"You can look at this year, and the success he had is not only found in his numbers," said general manager John Mozeliak. "It's also recognized what he does off the field. His leadership, and what he brings to this organization, is so special."
It was by some measures the slugger's best season. He hit .357, two points shy of his career high, and set new personal bests with a .462 on-base percentage, a 1.115 OPS and 104 walks. He slugged .653, nearly 30 points better than his career average, cranking 37 homers and 44 doubles. Pujols drove in 116 runs, scored 100 and struck out just 54 times.
"I would say this year was the best because of the consistency that I had from Day One all the way to the end of the season," Pujols said. "I was really patient at the plate."
It was not only a supremely productive season for Pujols, it was a consistent one as well. He never hit lower than .302 in any month, never had an OBP lower than .413 and never slugged below .558. He came on especially strong in the second half, batting .366 and slugging .706 after the All-Star break. Pujols finished seven points behind Chipper Jones in the race for the NL batting title.
Only four players -- Barry Bonds, Roy Campanella, Stan Musial and Mike Schmidt -- have been the NL MVP three or more times. Musial had been the only Cardinal to win the award at least twice.
In the history of the award, 13 Cardinals have won a combined 16 times. In addition to Pujols and Musial, Willie McGee, Keith Hernandez, Joe Torre, Bob Gibson, Orlando Cepeda, Ken Boyer, Marty Marion, Mort Cooper, Joe Medwick, Dizzy Dean and Frankie Frisch all garnered MVP honors.