Howard beats out Pujols to win NL MVP award

Updated: November 22, 2006, 1:05 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Ryan Howard had a season that defied convention, one that made him only the second player voted Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in consecutive years.

"I heard sophomore jinx this, sophomore jinx that," he said after beating out 2005 NL MVP Albert Pujols for the award Monday. "I just prepared myself in spring training to go out and perform, stick with my game plan and have fun."

Crasnick's take
Jerry Crasnick
Fans from Missouri had mixed feelings when St. Louis native Ryan Howard beat out Cardinals great Albert Pujols for MVP.

Pujols may have hurt himself, however, by helping the young slugger.

• For more Crasnick, Click here.

After leading the major leagues in home runs and RBI, Howard received 20 first-place votes and 12 seconds for 388 points in balloting by a panel of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Pujols got 12 firsts, 19 seconds and one third for 347 points.

Cal Ripken Jr. (1982 and 1983) is the only other player to follow a Rookie of the Year award with an MVP the following year. Two players won both in the same year: Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001).

"It's definitely a relief. It's a good birthday present," said Howard, who turned 27 Sunday.

Howard had 58 homers -- the most in the majors since Barry Bonds hit a record 73 in 2001 -- and 149 RBI while batting .313. He set Phillies records for home runs and RBI, producing the highest totals in those categories in big league history for a second-year player. Twenty-three of Howard's homers put the Phillies ahead and five tied games. The Phillies went 32-18 when he homered.

Howard's End
Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard had a magical season for the Phillies and was rewarded Monday with his first NL MVP Award. Howard is the fourth Phillies player to win the award and first since Mike Schmidt in 1986.
• Fun fact: He's the third player to win the MVP award and Home Run Derby in the same season. Cal Ripken Jr. (1991) and Andre Dawson (1987) are the others.

Phillies MVPs, All-time
Ryan Howard 2006
Mike Schmidt 1980, '81, '86
Jim Konstanty 1950
Chuck Klein 1932

Howard didn't make it to the major leagues for good until July 1, 2005, when Jim Thome went on the disabled list. He batted .288 for the Phillies in 2005 with 22 homers and 63 RBI in 321 at-bats.

"It's been a fun ride," Howard said. "You can't really just sit there and kind of dwell on what's gone on in the past and all that kind of stuff and what's going to happen as far as being traded or what my future was with the Phillies. The only thing I could have done was just go out and play and let everything else just kind of sort itself out."

Howard won the All-Star Home Run Derby and in June connected off the Yankees' Mike Mussina for the first homer to reach the third deck in the three-year history of Citizens Bank Park, a drive estimated at 461 feet.

"I didn't think it was humanly possible to do something like that," Howard said.

He may have been helped by Philadelphia's surprising second-half push. He hit .355 with 30 homers and 78 RBI in the second half as the Phillies fell three wins short of the NL wild-card berth.

"People were talking about the trades that were made, how we were kind of written off," he said.

Pujols, who hit .331 with 49 homers and 137 RBI, defeated Atlanta's Andruw Jones 378-351 in last year's voting after finishing second in 2002 and 2003. Stan Musial and Ted Williams (four times each) are the only players to finish second more often than Pujols, who matched three-time AL MVP Mickey Mantle with three second-place finishes.

2006 NL MVP Voting
Player 1st 2nd 3rd Pts
Ryan Howard, Phillies 20 12 -- 388
Albert Pujols, Cardinals 12 19 1 347
Lance Berkman, Astros -- -- 21 230
Carlos Beltran, Mets -- 1 5 211
Miguel Cabrera, Marlins -- -- 2 170
Alfonso Soriano, Nats -- -- 1 106
Jose Reyes, Mets -- -- 1 98
Chase Utley, Phillies -- -- -- 98
David Wright, Mets -- -- 1 70
Trevor Hoffman, Padres -- -- -- 46
Scoring: 14 points for first place, nine for second, eight for third and on down to one for 10th.
Others receiving votes: Andruw Jones (29), Carlos Delgado (23), Nomar Garciaparra (18), Rafael Furcal (11), Garrett Atkins (10), Matt Holliday (10), Aramis Ramirez (5), Freddy Sanchez (5), Chris Carpenter (4), Chipper Jones (3), Mike Cameron (2), Jimmy Rollins (2), Bronson Arroyo (1), Jason Bay (1).

Pujols was third in the NL in batting average behind Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez and Florida's Miguel Cabrera, and second to Howard in homers and RBI.

"To be able to be in that kind of company and just being able to compete with a guy like Albert is, I guess, a feat in itself and it's an honor because of what he's done," Howard said.

Howard, who lives in Wildwood, Mo., works out at the same facility in the St. Louis area that Pujols uses during the offseason. The two occasionally are there at the same time.

"Just kind of watching to see what he does and his technique and everything like that, trying to learn from watching him," Howard said. "It's been fun. Any questions that I've had, he'd answer for me or give me some advice here and there."

Houston's Lance Berkman was third with 230 points, followed by the New York Mets' Carlos Beltran (211), Cabrera (170) and Washington's Alfonso Soriano (106) -- who agreed to a $136 million, eight-year contract with the Chicago Cubs on Monday.

Pujols gets a $100,000 bonus for finishing second, Berkman $250,000 for placing third and Beltran $200,000 for fourth.

Not being eligible for arbitration, Howard made just $355,000 this year. That will change, and he could get even better.

"I'm always working on everything. That's just me," he said. "Offense. Defense. Speed. Agility. I'm always working on everything to try to get as close to perfect as possible. I'll be working on that forever."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press