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Tejada Wins Short Battle for MVP

Oakland player's individual numbers might not have matched those of Rodriguez, but he is a clear winner in American League voting.

November 13, 2002|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

The word "valuable" carried a lot more weight than "most" for those choosing the American League's most valuable player.

Though Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez had one of the finest all-around seasons in baseball history, accruing the major league's most home runs and runs batted in, it was Oakland shortstop Miguel Tejada, whose clutch hitting and superb defense helped the Athletics win 103 games and the AL West title, who won MVP honors Tuesday.

Tejada, who hit a career-high .308 with 34 home runs and 131 RBIs and had the AL's longest hitting streak this year at 24 games, received 21 first-place votes from a 28-member panel of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.

The 26-year-old Tejada was second on six ballots and third on one to finish with 356 points, easily outdistancing Rodriguez, who hit .300 with 57 homers and 142 RBIs but finished second with 254 points, including five first-place votes, seven seconds and 11 thirds.

New York Yankee second baseman Alfonso Soriano was third with 234 points, including two first-place votes, and Angel left fielder Garret Anderson was fourth with 184 points, the highest finish for an Angel since Doug DeCinces was third in 1982.

"I'm surprised, because [Rodriguez] had a monster year," Tejada said in a conference call from his native Dominican Republic. "I was thinking the whole way he would win the MVP. I was real surprised when they made the announcement."

Rodriguez, whose 10-year, $252-million contract is the biggest in sports, had a better on-base percentage (.392 to .354), slugging percentage (.623 to .508) and fielding percentage (.987 to .975) than Tejada, but his Rangers finished last in the AL West with a 72-90 record, 31 games behind Oakland.

The only member of a last-place team to win the MVP was Andre Dawson, who led the National League in homers and RBIs for the Chicago Cubs in 1987.

Tejada, on the other hand, helped the Athletics match the Yankees for most wins in the major leagues and led the A's on a 20-game win streak, the longest in the major leagues in 67 years.

Tejada hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning for Oakland's 18th win of the streak and had the game-winning hit, a bases-loaded single, the next day. He hit .375 with runners in scoring position, and his second-half performance (.325, 19 homers, 72 RBIs) helped the A's fend off the Angels and Seattle Mariners in a tight AL West race.

"The person who helps you win the most games should be the MVP," said Ken Macha, promoted from Oakland's bench coach to manager. "The idea is to win games, not just put numbers up. Miguel put numbers up every day for a contending team. Not only that, but he got a ton of huge hits for us. He was most deserving of the award."

An entire country seemed to revel in that award Tuesday, and some 1,000 people attended a reception in Tejada's honor at the Dominican Presidential Palace.

"It's unbelievable," Tejada said. "When I found out, everybody was jumping around. No one could believe it. People were stopping me on the street. Everyone who knows me said, 'There's Miguel.' I don't know if I can count all the members of my family here."

In fact, the conference call with Tejada was delayed an hour and a half because it took so long for him to get to the palace -- Tejada kept getting stopped and congratulated on the way. He is the third Dominican to win an MVP award, following Toronto's George Bell in 1987 and the Cubs' Sammy Sosa in 1998.

"To be mentioned with those guys makes me real happy," Tejada said. "I'm real happy right now. This week, this whole month, will be a happy time for me."

Tejada gets a $100,000 bonus for winning, added to his $3.5-million salary, and Rodriguez gets $200,000 added to his $21-million salary.

Supporters of Rodriguez argue that such phenomenal statistics are more difficult to attain on a losing team, but offense wasn't the Rangers' problem, pitching was.

Rodriguez was surrounded by Rafael Palmeiro (43 homers, 105 RBIs), Ivan Rodriguez (.314, 19 homers, 60 RBIs) and Herbert Perry (22 homers, 77 RBIs), and the Rangers ranked fifth in the AL with 843 runs. But Texas had a 5.15 team earned-run average and gave up 882 runs, ranking 12th in the league in both categories.

"He'll win an MVP one of these years," Tejada said of Rodriguez. "And then he'll win three or four in a row."

Tejada believes Soriano, a fellow Dominican, has the talent to win an MVP award as well. Soriano hit .300 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs and 41 stolen bases to finish ahead of Anderson, who hit .306 with 29 homers and 123 RBIs to lead the World Series-champion Angels to a wild-card berth.

Tejada, Rodriguez, Soriano, Anderson, fifth-place finisher Jason Giambi, who hit .314 with 41 homers and 122 RBIs for the Yankees, and sixth-place finisher Torii Hunter, who hit .289 with 29 homers and 94 RBIs for the Minnesota Twins, were the only players listed on every ballot.

Rounding out the top 10 were Cleveland Indian first baseman Jim Thome (.304, 52 homers, 118 RBIs), Chicago White Sox right fielder Magglio Ordonez (.320, 38 home runs, 135 RBIs), Boston Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez (.349, 33 homers, 107 RBIs) and Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams (.333, 19 homers, 102 RBIs).

In all, 21 players gained mention on the ballot, including Angel shortstop David Eckstein, who was 11th with 24 points, and Angel closer Troy Percival, who was 15th with 12 points.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

By the Numbers

The statistics of the four leading vote-getters for the American League's most-valuable-player award:

*--* Player, Team AB R H HR RBI BA Miguel Tejada, Oakland 662 108 204 34 131 308 Alex Rodriguez, Texas 624 125 187 57 142 300 Alfonso Soriano, New York 696 128 209 39 102 300 Garret Anderson, Angels 638 93 195 29 123 306

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