Three times in my four seasons covering baseball did I get to vote for the American League's Most Valuable Player. All three times, the person I voted first ended up winning the award. In two of those years, the choice was pretty simple.
It was the 2006 award that reminds me of the Miguel Cabrera versus Mike Trout debate.
Ballots for awards are always due on the final day of the season, and in '06, while sitting in Angel Stadium's press box, I finally came to a decision.
For weeks, the clear-cut winner was Derek Jeter. The Yankees had the best record in the AL, and Jeter was enjoying a renaissance of a season when many had started labeling his career as being in the twilight portion.
However, the scrappy Twins started making a run and clinched the division on the final day of the season. Helping to lead the team's charge was Justin Morneau.
He finished the season hitting .321 with a .934 OPS, 34 home runs, 130 RBI, 97 runs scored and 37 doubles. Those weren't the best numbers in any category in the AL, but they were the best across the board.
Jeter, meanwhile, hit .343 with a .900 OPS, 118 runs scored, 14 home runs, 97 RBI, 34 stolen bases and a WAR of 5.4, compared to Morneau's 4.0.
Near the end of a season, you can get caught up in the hype of a pennant race. It's fun, it's a joy of covering the game and it's human nature. The last time that the Yankees seemed to be in a pennant race that year was in May. Jeter continued churning out stats in a stacked lineup and was largely overshadowed by players like Morneau, Jermaine Dye and Frank Thomas, who were helping to lead their teams to the postseason (or in Dye's case, close to it).
In the weeks leading up to my ballot's deadline, I had Jeter all the way...much like many probably had Mike Trout leading through mid-September.
But as the Twins kept winning—like the Tigers were this year—with Morneau hitting in the middle of the offense, it became easier and easier to swing my stance to the Twins first baseman. When Minnesota won the Central on the final day of the year and finished just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the league, it seemed that Morneau was the obvious choice.
The same way Cabrera seems like the obvious choice now with the Triple Crown and a playoff berth locked up.
I remember listing my top 15 players on a piece of paper and writing pros and cons about them. I had an Excel spreadsheet of players' stats and accomplishments because the MVP is a 10-person ballot, unlike the Cy Young (five, previously three) and the Rookie of the Year (three).
Sure, you can slant numbers to look any way you'd like in favor of someone you're arguing for, and the 2006 vote was very close. Morneau finished with 15 first-place votes and 320 total points. Jeter finished with 12 first-place votes and 306 total points.
Was my Justin Morneau vote the difference-maker? Not specifically, but you could argue that the 14 points I could have awarded to Jeter versus the nine points I could have awarded to Morneau would have made the vote closer, but it wouldn't have caused a change in who put the trophy on his mantle. Morneau would have finished with 315 points and Jeter would have had 311 (voting breakdown by the BBWAA is here).
I just wonder if any writers will go back and think on the Trout versus Cabrera debate a few years from now and wonder if they did the right thing. Or, with Cabrera's late push, if the voting will actually be as close as people make it out to be.
Either way, it always makes for good argument. That's why there are columns and talk radio shows discussing MVP awards as early as June. It was an agonizing decision for me, one I wish I could have had back. Nonetheless, you live with what you do. I know that Jeter will be OK with all of his rings and his future spot in Cooperstown.
I just want to know, based on these results, who voted Johan Santana first and Travis Hafner second?
I found my email to the BBWAA from Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006 at 3:18 pm and this is how it read:
Here is my AL MVP ballot:
1. Justin Morneau, Minnesota
2. Derek Jeter, New York
3. David Ortiz, Boston
4. Joe Mauer, Minnesota
5. Frank Thomas, Oakland
6. Johan Santana, Minnesota
7. Jermaine Dye, Chicago
8. Carlos Guillen, Detroit
9. Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles
10. Grady Sizemore, Cleveland
Riverside Press-Enterprise Angels beat writer
It was not that far off the actual awards order from that year. Look here for the official results.
Matt Hurst is the founder and editor of Throwback Attack. To read more, visit throwbackattack.net