10/20/2003 2:25 PM ET
Pujols earns Sporting News award
Third baseman takes home Player of the Year honors
ST. LOUIS -- Over the course of his third Major League season, Albert Pujols etched his name alongside some of the game's all-time greats. His 43 homers gave him 114 for his career, tying Ralph Kiner for the most in any player's first three years. His 30-game hitting streak tied Stan Musial for the second longest in team history, behind only Rogers Hornsby's 33-gamer.
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Now he's taking his place on another list of the greats, as the recipient of the Major League Player of the Year Award from The Sporting News. The honor was first bestowed in 1936 to Carl Hubbell, and has also gone to Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Musial and Willie Mays.
The 2001 honoree, Barry Bonds, is Pujols' top rival for NL MVP honors. Alex Rodriguez was the 2002 winner. Pujols is the seventh Cardinals player to win the award, but the first since Lou Brock in 1974. Joining Pujols on the magazine's postseason NL All-Star team were two other Cardinals, Edgar Renteria and Scott Rolen.
"I just heard the last time a Cardinal player won, it was like 30 years ago," Pujols said at a news conference at Busch Stadium on Monday. "It's an honor to receive this award. ... It's one of those awards that you're never gonna forget about. You take it home, you share it with your family.
The numbers for Pujols this season were simply staggering. He won the National League batting title, hitting .359 -- the first right-handed hitter to lead the NL in batting average since 1993. He smoked 43 homers and 51 doubles, drove in 124 runs and scored 137. Pujols posted a .439 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage and led the NL with 212 hits.
Every one of those numbers ranked in the top five in the NL, and Pujols led the league in runs, hits and doubles to go along with average. Oh, and he was named the NL's Player of the Month twice.
"When you have some time to think about what you have done, and what I've done the last three years in this game,
all you can do is laugh. It's unbelievable."
-- Albert Pujols
"When you have some time to think about what you have done, and what I've done the last three years in this game, all you can do is laugh," he said. "It's unbelievable."
Still, MVP honors will be hard for Pujols to come by. Over the past five years, nine of the 10 MVP winners in the two leagues have played on playoff teams. The only exception was Bonds -- in his 70-homer 2001 season.
"MVP, it takes a lot," he said. "You have to take your team to the playoffs. Look at Alex Rodriguez. He should be the MVP every year with the numbers that he has. But too bad he's been on a team that hasn't made the playoffs the last three years.
"But I don't think about MVP. You know what I think about? What can I do to help my team win and get to the World Series? That's my goal, to get to the World Series and win some championships. All these awards are great, but it's gonna be great if I win a World Series ring. Having a ring on my hand I think is gonna be more important than all these awards."
With or without an MVP award, though, this was undeniably the 23-year-old's coming-out season. And that was hard to do, considering he was the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year in 2001 and finished second in MVP balloting in 2002.
But this was the year that people really noticed. A late online balloting rush secured him his first starting job in the All-Star Game, and Pujols wowed the crowds at U.S. Cellular Field with an amazing display in the Home Run Derby.
"We're very proud of what he's done and what he's accomplished and we know this is just the first of several awards that he'll earn in his career," said general manager Walt Jocketty. "Of course, our goal is like Albert's. The individual awards are all nice and important, but the No. 1 goal is to get this team back in the playoffs again and back hopefully to the World Series."
Maybe he'll win MVP honors next month. Maybe he won't. But every year, the Cards' slugger gets noticed a little more, and this is far from the last major honor he will receive.
Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League
Baseball or its clubs.