ST. LOUIS — Albert Pujols was honored as St. Louis baseball man of the year Monday at a dinner also featuring Ryan Howard of the Phillies, the player who beat him out for the NL MVP.
Pujols has been honored as man of the year six straight seasons since his rookie year in 2001, sharing the award this year with manager Tony La Russa and general manager Walt Jocketty in the wake of the team’s first World Series win in 24 years.
Pujols did not attend the 49th annual dinner hosted by the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. After signing autographs on Saturday at the team’s Winter Warmup fan fest, Pujols left for a humanitarian mission to his home in the Dominican Republic sponsored by the Pujols Family Foundation.
At a news conference in the Dominican Republic in late November, Pujols was quoted in Spanish as saying a player who doesn’t lead his team to the postseason doesn’t deserve to win the MVP award. Pujols said Saturday what he said then had been “misunderstood.”
Pujols has often worked out with Howard, who is from suburban Wildwood, the past four seasons and said he was happy for him. Howard led the majors with 58 home runs and 149 RBIs, while Pujols batted .331 with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs despite missing a month with a back injury.
“That’s a kid I really love,” Pujols said. “Winning the MVP last year, I felt it was really great, I worked hard for it.
“I know how hard he worked to get his MVP and the last thing I want to do is ruin his moment.”
Pujols has often said he’d trade individual accomplishments for what the Cardinals did last fall, winning the franchise’s first World Series in 24 years. He’s finished second in the MVP voting three times.
“You’re always hungry for a ring,” Pujols said. “I’ve got one and I want to get another, hopefully this year.
“I tell you guys the numbers will be there but nothing is better than that ring.”
The event featured several players from the 83-win team that caught fire in the postseason, knocking off the favored Padres and Mets before taking out the Detroit Tigers in five games, along with past Cardinals World Series teams from 1982 and 1967. The dinner has been held annually since 1958 and raises thousands of dollars for Cardinals Care, the team’s charitable foundation, as well as other charities and scholarship programs. It’s one of three independent writers’ dinners held each year, along with New York and Boston.
The dinner came six days after Mark McGwire was snubbed in Hall of Fame voting, garnering only 23.5 percent from writers suspicious of steroid use in his first year of eligibility.
“I kind of figured there was going to be a statement made about that situation, so I wasn’t surprised, and I didn’t really have an opinion,” La Russa said Monday. “I like what Tony Gwynn said. You know, this guy belongs in the Hall of Fame and, hopefully, sooner rather than later.”
Jocketty’s trade for McGwire in 1997 is perhaps his best, costing the Cardinals only three marginal players. One year later, McGwire hit 70 home runs to shatter Roger Maris’ 37-year-old record.
“I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised, because I think he had a Hall of Fame career,” Jocketty said. “Hopefully he gets the opportunity to get to the Hall of fame. “He was a great player and demonstrated that while he was here and in Oakland.”
Second baseman Adam Kennedy, one of Cardinals’ free-agent additions, met with McGwire last week at a charity event in California. Kennedy, a teammate of McGwire’s in 1999 with the Cardinals before being traded to the Angels in 2000, said the two did not talk about the Hall of Fame.
“He seemed to be in good spirits,” Kennedy said. “It was a good time. He enjoys living out there and the privacy he has, so he seemed to be doing well.”
Kennedy said McGwire “absolutely” was Hall of Fame material.
“Maybe just from playing with him or knowing the kind of person he is, you expect a little more respect for someone who did the things that he did in his time,” Kennedy said.