10/22/2003 8:49 PM ET
Pujols, A-Rod win Aaron award
Hank Aaron on MLB.com Radio
MIAMI -- It's a safe bet that Commissioner Bud Selig and his support staff have met just about everyone affiliated with Major League Baseball past and present. But put Henry Aaron in the room and even those who are used to the pomp and circumstance surrounding baseball's biggest events -- like the World Series, for instance -- light up like a Christmas tree.
Those involved with the presentation of the 2003 Hank Aaron Award presented by Century 21 on Wednesday at Pro Player Stadium were all smiles as baseball's all-time home run king introduced this year's recipients -- St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Albert Pujols and Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez.
The award was introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. As the first major award to be introduced in more than 30 years, the Hank Aaron Award recognizes the best overall hitter in each league in a single season.
"It was an honor to name the award after (Aaron) because, in my judgement, and I'm somewhat partial because I saw him play so often, he was the greatest player of our generation," said Selig, who watched Aaron's first and last Major League games in person. "More importantly ... he's one of the nicest human beings I've ever known. So this award stands for a lot of things. It stands for not only his momentous feats on the field, but the kind of person and human being he's been off the field."
This is Pujols' first Hank Aaron Award, while Rodriguez has won it three consecutive times, dating back to 2001.
"I think of this award as being what we call, 'The Year of the Complete Ballplayer," Aaron said. "The player that has done the most not only for his team, but has done most to help his team win baseball games. Not only for home runs, runs batted in and batting average, but also in the clubhouse."
Pujols was on hand to receive his award in person and was honored during a pregame ceremony on the field. Rodriguez, unable to attend due to a prior engagment, spoke during a press conference via telephone.
"I want to thank Hank Aaron for the intensity he has for this game and this award," Pujols said. "I always admired him, always looked up to him. Hank Aaron, you're talking about the all-time leader. I wish in my career I can get at least half of the home runs he hit."
Added Rodriguez: "Any time you get mentioned with Mr. Hank Aaron, it's the ultimate compliment, not only as a hitter, but obviously, the great ballplayer that he was, and very much overlooked on the other side of hitting the baseball."
Pujols is the only player in Major League history to bat .300 or better with at least 30 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBI in his first three Major League seasons. In 2003, he led all Major League players in batting average (.359) and also enjoyed a 30-game hitting streak, the longest of the season.
Pujols led the National League with 212 hits and 63 multi-hit games, and ranked among the top 10 with 43 home runs, 124 RBIs, a .439 on-base percentage, a .667 slugging percentage and a .374 average with runners in scoring position.
This season, Rodriguez became one of only three players in MLB history to hit 40 or more home runs in at least six straight seasons. This year, he led the American League with 47 home runs, 124 runs scored and a .600 slugging percentage. He was among the League leaders with 112 RBIs, 364 total bases, 83 extra-base hits, a .396 on-base percentage and 87 walks.
Since the award's inception in 1999, the voting process has changed dramatically. In '99, winners were determined by assigning a pre-determined number of points for each hit, home run and RBI.
From 2000-2002, play-by-play broadcasters and color analysts from club radio and television rightsholders voted for the winners. But this season, fan balloting on MLB.com and Century21.com comprised 30 percent of the overall vote, while votes from the club play-by-play broadcasters accounted for the remaining 70 percent.
Past award winners include Manny Ramirez (1999) and Carlos Delgado (2000) in the American League, while the National League Hank Aaron awards went to Sammy Sosa (1999), Todd Helton (2000) and Barry Bonds (2001-02).
Asked if this award might lead to another honor -- a.k.a. NL Most Valuable Player, Pujols responded: "I'm still young in this career. Hopefully, I'll get an opportunity in the future. But there's a lot of players that had great years. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't change he way I approach the game and the way I respect the game. It isn't going to change anything in the future."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com