The National League's Most Valuable Player award will be handed out today, and if the sportswriters weren't too drunk when they voted (a 50-50 proposition at best), Albert Pujols ought to be the winner.
But for some reason, the Cardinals, despite being the most successful NL franchise in history, often fall short of the big awards. Chris Carpenter's Cy Young award was the first of the major awards for the Redbirds since Willie McGee in 1985. If Albert Pujols played in New York, they'd have given him DiMaggio's old number and a plaque in the outfield already.
Regardless of the vote, however, there's little doubt that Pujols was the MVP of the league this year. He led his team to its second straight 100 win regular season, despite the fact that, including injuries and personnel moves, they only carried over two regular starters from the previous year. What was the one constant between both of those excellent teams? Albert Pujols.
He's the best player in baseball to never have won the award. His statistics after the first five years of his career exceed the first five years of almost any player in history--including DiMaggio, Williams, and Mays. He's the first player in history to hit over 30 homers in each of his first five seasons. And he's done that without ever hitting below .314. He's driven in over 115 runs every year of his career. He's the only player ever to hit .300 with 30 homers, 100 runs and 100 RBI in each of his first five seasons. Granted, career stats do not apply to the MVP award, but they do at least give us a look at the type of player we're talking about.
His closest competition for the award this year comes from Andruw Jones and Derek Lee. Jones ought not to get serious consideration for first place. He had big homer and RBI totals (51 and 128 respectively). But his batting average was putrid (.263, not even in the league's top 50), his on-base percentage a mediocre .347 (41st in the league), and he won a division title on a team that's won it for the last 15 straight seasons.
Lee presents a more formidable obstacle. His numbers are comparable to Pujols'. He led Pujols by a hit or two in batting average (.335 to .330), and bested him in HR's, 46 to 41. But baseball is about runs, and Pujols drove in 10 more runs, scored 9 more, and had 12 more points of on-base percentage than Jones, all statistics that are at least equally important in run production.
The stats between Lee and Pujols are essentially a wash, taken individually. But Pujols was the only player in the NL (as far as I can tell) to be among the top five in batting average, HR's, RBI, runs scored, and on-base percentage. And he's been the one big constant on two 100 win teams. Without Pujols, the Cardinals may well be a .500 team. Without Lee, the Cubs still probably could have found their way to finishing more than 20 games out of first place and below .500.
If that's not the ultimate measure of value (and it is the Most Valuable Player award), I don't know what is. We'll see what the writers have to say later today.
UPDATE-2:11PM: Pujols wins it, as well he should have. Glad the writers sobered up for a few hours. Suprisingly (to me, at least), Jones actually finished second, and Lee is said to have finished a distant third, according to those who've seen the balloting (to be released shortly).