The race for American League Most Valuable Player has rekindled an age-old debate in baseball: Can a player on a losing team really be that valuable?
There's little argument that Texas' Alex Rodriguez is the best player in the AL. He leads the majors in home runs (57) and RBIs (140), is hitting .301 and has committed only 10 errors at shortstop.
Those remarkable accomplishments even prompted Oakland's Eric Chavez and Randy Velarde to side with A-Rod's candidacy over teammate Miguel Tejada's.
But Rodriguez's exploits have come for a last-place team that hasn't played a meaningful game since April.
MVP winners on losing teams aren't unprecedented. Ernie Banks won in 1958 and '59 for the sixth-place Chicago Cubs. Another Cubs player, Andre Dawson, beat out the competition despite playing on a last-place team in 1987.
Cal Ripken won the award in 1991 for the sixth-place Baltimore Orioles. But those years all lacked one element that this year's AL has: other worthy candidates.
This year, there's Tejada and New York's powerful duo of Jason Giambi and Alfonso Soriano.
But while Giambi and Soriano complement each other, they also detract from the other's candidacy.
Tejada doesn't have that benefit. His remarkable flair for dramatic hits has put him alongside Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter as one of the game's top shortstops.
Tejada had back-to-back game-ending hits during Oakland's AL record 20-game winning streak that vaulted the A's into first place in the AL West.
He added another against the Angels later in September and hit a game-tying homer in the ninth inning Thursday against Seattle's Kazuhiro Sasaki to help clinch the division.
Tejada replaced Giambi as Oakland's No. 3 hitter and helped lead the A's to a second straight 100-win season. Tejada is batting .305 with 32 homers, 127 RBIs and makes breathtaking plays at shortstop.
So the pick here is Tejada.
Here's a look at the other awards:
NL MVP: Barry Bonds. Simply the best player in baseball -- and no one is even close. He is hitting .370 and is going to win his first batting title at age 38. He's walked a record 196 times and hit 45 homers. Bonds' .582 on-base percentage will shatter Ted Williams' record of .553 in 1941. The difference between Bonds' on-base percentage and second-place Manny Ramirez's is more than the difference between Ramirez and Randall Simon, who is 124th. The difference between Bonds' slugging percentage and No. 2 Jim Thome is the same as the difference between Thome and Soriano, who's 19th.
AL Cy Young: Pedro Martinez. Even when he's not at his most overpowering, Martinez is still the best pitcher in the league -- narrowly edging out teammate Derek Lowe and Oakland's Barry Zito. The trio is 1-2-3 in wins and ERA with Zito topping the victories list, Martinez leading in ERA and Lowe coming in second in each. Martinez, coming off a shoulder injury, still was able to make 30 starts.
NL Cy Young: Randy Johnson. At the end of July, this award looked like it was locked up for Curt Schilling, Johnson's Arizona teammate. But the season lasts six months and Johnson excelled over the final two and deserves to win his fourth straight Cy Young Award. Johnson leads the majors in wins (24) and strikeouts (334) and is tops in the NL with a 2.32 ERA -- more than three-quarters of a run lower than Schilling. The two aces shared the World Series MVP last year, but Johnson shouldn't have to share this award.
AL Rookie: Eric Hinske. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi didn't leave his job as assistant GM in Oakland empty-handed. One of his first duties with the Blue Jays was acquiring Hinske in a deal for closer Billy Koch. Hinske has made his boss look good, hitting .278 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs as one of the top third basemen in the AL.
NL Rookie: Jason Jennings. Despite tailing off late in the season, Jennings put together one of the best seasons ever for a Colorado pitcher. After making perhaps the greatest major league debut ever at the end of last season -- becoming the first player to homer and pitch a shutout in his first game -- Jennings has carried it over to his first full year. He is 16-8 with a 4.52 ERA despite pitching in hitter-friendly Coors Field. His success at altitude gives him the edge over Atlanta's Damian Moss and Cincinnati's Austin Kearns.
AL Manager: Mike Scioscia. Few picked the Angels to contend this year in a division that returned a pair of 100-win teams in Oakland and Seattle. But Scioscia has guided a team without a superstar to the best season in franchise history and Anaheim's first playoff berth since 1986. Art Howe deserves mention for leading Oakland to the playoffs despite offseason defections, and Ron Gardenhire won the AL Central in his debut season for Minnesota.
NL Manager: Jim Tracy. The best decision Tracy made was giving the closer's job in spring training to untested Eric Gagne, who responded with more than 50 saves. The Dodgers don't really have a star other than slugger Shawn Green, but Tracy put together an effective platoon in center field (Dave Roberts and Marquis Grissom) and kept his team in contention until the final weekend of the season despite rampant injuries to his pitching staff.
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