Morneau upsets field in AL MVP race
From Kelly Thesier, reporter for MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Morneau had some stiff competition when it came to earning American League Most Valuable Player honors, and that was just on his team.
But while the Twins had multiple candidates for the league's award, Morneau came out on top Tuesday as he was announced as this year's American League MVP.
Despite many people expecting Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter to win the award, Morneau's breakout season earned him the honor bestowed by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Morneau received 15 first-place votes, eight second-place votes, three third-place votes and two fourth-place votes for a total of 320 points. Jeter, the runner up, received 12 first-place votes, 14 second-place votes and one fourth-place vote for 306 points.
Boston's David Ortiz finished third with 193 votes, and Frank Thomas finished fourth with 174.
All Morneau did in 2006 was to put together one of the best offensive seasons in Twins history. The first baseman hit .321 with 34 home runs, 97 runs scored and 130 RBIs, ranking second only to Ortiz, who led the AL with 137 RBIs. He was the first Twins player to hit 30 or more home runs in a season since 1987, and his 130 RBIs rank second best in team history to Harmon Killebrew's 140 in 1969.
But while it was a career year for the 25-year-old, it didn't begin that way. Coming off the 2005 season, in which he hit just .239 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs, Morneau was on a similar track after the first two months of the 2006 season. A rough road trip on the West Coast at the start of June showcased all that had been going wrong for the both the club and Morneau, but everything soon changed.
After June 8, Morneau had the best batting average in the Majors (.362). In that stretch, Morneau also had the most hits in baseball (145) and the most RBIs in the AL (92). And it doesn't take much to link the Twins' turnaround to Morneau's emergence, as the club was 25-33 through June 7 before going 71-33 the rest of the season, the best record in the Majors during that span.
Morneau's turnaround came after a meeting with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on that West Coast road trip, when the first baseman dedicated himself fully to baseball.
"I think [Morneau] put it best -- you get tired of making outs," Gardenhire said at the time. "You kind of have to figure out what you have to do to get better as a player and a person, and I think he said it best. He was tired of not getting it done."
Morneau certainly proved himself to be among the best in the league, but he wasn't the only Twin to receive votes for the award. Both Joe Mauer (116 votes) and Johan Santana (114 votes) also earned consideration for the prestigious honor.
Mauer made history in 2006, becoming the first American League catcher to win a batting title, as he hit .347 on the year. The 23-year-old was also the youngest batting champion since Alex Rodriguez (21) in 1996.
The consistency that Mauer showed throughout the season was enough to leave most of his teammates in awe, including Morneau.
"I watch Joe and he makes it look so easy," Morneau said earlier this season. "Everybody wants to hit like that. Everyone can kind of learn from the way he hits and his approach, as he doesn't seem to chase too much. Having a guy like that around helps me and everyone else, really."
Santana already earned some postseason hardware, as he was named the AL Cy Young Award winner last week. Santana held the honor of pitching's Triple Crown, as he was tied for the lead in wins (19) and led the league in ERA (2.77) and strikeouts (245).
But while others questioned who should be the MVP -- of either the Twins or the AL -- Santana felt the answer to both questions was simple.
"My money would be on Justin Morneau," Santana said last week. "If you go by the numbers, he has the numbers. And if you go by what he did for our team, it's just amazing."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.