Forum Spin Doctor
NEW YORK - Ryan Howard had a season that defied convention, one that made him only the second player voted Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in consecutive years.
"I heard sophomore jinx this, sophomore jinx that," he said after beating out 2005 NL MVP Albert Pujols for the award Monday. "I just prepared myself in spring training to go out and perform, stick with my game plan and have fun."
After leading the major leagues in home runs and RBIs, Howard received 20 first-place votes and 12 seconds for 388 points in balloting by a panel of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Pujols got 12 firsts, 19 seconds and one third for 347 points.
Cal Ripken Jr. (1982 and 1983) is the only other player to follow a Rookie of the Year award with an MVP the following year. Two players won both in the same year: Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001).
"It's definitely a relief. It's a good birthday present," said Howard, who turned 27 Sunday.
Howard had 58 homers - the most in the majors since Barry Bonds hit a record 73 in 2001 - and 149 RBIs while batting .313. He set Phillies records for home runs and RBIs, producing the highest totals in those categories in big league history for a second-year player. Twenty-three of Howard's homers put the Phillies ahead and five tied games. The Phillies went 32-18 when he homered.
Howard didn't make it to the major leagues for good until July 1, 2005, when Jim Thome went on the disabled list. He batted .288 for the Phillies in 2005 with 22 homers and 63 RBIs in 321 at-bats.
"It's been a fun ride," Howard said. "You can't really just sit there and kind of dwell on what's gone on in the past and all that kind of stuff and what's going to happen as far as being traded or what my future was with the Phillies. The only thing I could have done was just go out and play and let everything else just kind of sort itself out."
Howard won the All-Star Home Run Derby and in June connected off the Yankees' Mike Mussina for the first homer to reach the third deck in the three-year history of Citizens Bank Park, a drive estimated at 461 feet.
"I didn't think it was humanly possible to do something like that," Howard said.
He may have been helped by Philadelphia's surprising second-half push. He hit .355 with 30 homers and 78 RBIs in the second half as the Phillies fell three wins short of the NL wild-card berth.
"People were talking about the trades that were made, how we were kind of written off," he said.
Pujols, who hit .331 with 49 homers and 137 RBIs, defeated Atlanta's Andruw Jones 378-351 in last year's voting after finishing second in 2002 and 2003. Stan Musial and Ted Williams (four times each) are the only players to finish second more often than Pujols, who matched three-time AL MVP Mickey Mantle with three second-place finishes.
Pujols was third in the NL in batting average behind Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez and Florida's Miguel Cabrera, and second to Howard in homers and RBIs.
"To be able to be in that kind of company and just being able to compete with a guy like Albert is, I guess, a feat in itself and it's an honor because of what he's done," Howard said.
Howard, who lives in Wildwood, Mo., works out at the same facility in the St. Louis area that Pujols uses during the offseason. The two occasionally are there at the same time.
"Just kind of watching to see what he does and his technique and everything like that, trying to learn from watching him," Howard said. "It's been fun. Any questions that I've had, he'd answer for me or give me some advice here and there."
Houston's Lance Berkman was third with 230 points, followed by the New York Mets' Carlos Beltran (211), Cabrera (170) and Washington's Alfonso Soriano (106) - who agreed to a $136 million, eight-year contract with the Chicago Cubs on Monday.
Pujols gets a $100,000 bonus for finishing second, Berkman $250,000 for placing third and Beltran $200,000 for fourth.
Not being eligible for arbitration, Howard made just $355,000 this year. That will change, and he could get even better.
"I'm always working on everything. That's just me," he said. "Offense. Defense. Speed. Agility. I'm always working on everything to try to get as close to perfect as possible. I'll be working on that forever."