Rodriguez edges Martinez for MVP

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 19, 1999

The Associated Press

ARLINGTON – To many, Ivan Rodriguez didn’t win the American League’s Most Valuable Player award.

Friday, November 19, 1999

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ARLINGTON – To many, Ivan Rodriguez didn’t win the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. Pedro Martinez lost it.

Rodriguez became the first catcher in 23 years to be named his league’s top player, even though he had fewer first-place votes than Martinez.

”I felt confident that I had a shot to be MVP, and it came true,” said Rodriguez, who hit .332 with 35 homers, 113 RBIs, 116 runs and 25 stolen bases for the Texas Rangers. ”I’m so happy for it.”

Martinez, the Boston ace, was doomed by two voters who left him off their ballot, rekindling the debate over whether pitchers deserve to be MVPs.

The con argument is that pitchers have their own award, the Cy Young. Martinez unanimously won it earlier this week.

The pro side points to Martinez’s unanimous victory as proof of his dominance and, thus, his worthiness of being MVP. Nine pitchers have been Cy Young and MVP the same year, most recently Dennis Eckersley in ’92.

”We’re all players,” said Martinez, who led the majors with 23 wins, topped the AL with 313 strikeouts and had a 2.07 ERA that was 1.37 lower than the second-best mark. ”What would they do without us? What would they do without pitching?”

While Puerto Ricans cheered a second straight AL MVP by a native son – the other being Juan Gonzalez, Rodriguez’s teammate until a recent trade – baseball fans in the Dominican Republic felt one of their own got robbed.

”It’s an injustice,” said former San Francisco ace Juan Marichal, the Dominican sports minister and Martinez’s mentor. ”Pedro was the most distinguished player in the big leagues in 1999 and deserved to be Most Valuable Player.”

”It’s regrettable,” said another Dominican star, the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa. ”I was sure that Pedro would win and, in any event, I think Manny Ramirez had more of a chance of defeating him.”

Rodriguez finished with seven first-place votes and 252 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Martinez had eight first-place votes and 239 points. This was only the fourth time that a runner-up had the most first-place votes.

”Because of Pedro’s dominance at his position, I thought he was going to win it,” Rangers manager Johnny Oates said. ”To have Pudge win it, knowing what he meant to our ballclub, this is as excited as I’ve been.”

Rodriguez, who earned a $250,000 bonus for winning, said he would have picked himself first, Martinez second and Cleveland second baseman Roberto Alomar third. He agreed that pitchers should be eligible.

”The guys I competed with, they all had dream seasons,” Rodriguez said. ”But that’s baseball.”

Martinez would’ve won had George King of the New York Post or La Velle Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune picked him first, or if both listed Martinez fourth or higher. Instead, they both omitted his name.

”I feel a pitcher should just not be an MVP,” Neal said. ”To win that award, it should be someone who’s out there every day battling for his team. It’s nothing personal against Pedro.”

King was on vacation in the Caribbean and could not be reached.

Ramirez, whose 165 RBIs were the most since 1938, tied for third with Cleveland teammate Roberto Alomar.

”Unfortunately, I think they probably played off each other,” Indians general manager John Hart said.

Rangers designated hitter Rafael Palmeiro was fifth, followed by shortstops Derek Jeter of the Yankees and Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra.

Rodriguez became the first catcher with 20 homers and 20 steals in the same year, and the first AL backstop to have 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs in the same season.

”He’s done something that’s never been done in the history of baseball for a catcher and you also have to recognize that,” Martinez said.

Rodriguez, who picked up the nickname Pudge as a 19-year-old rookie, is widely regarded as the best defensive catcher of his generation. The MVP award solidifies his spot among the best to ever play by the position.

The list of MVP catchers includes Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson, Elston Howard, Mickey Cochrane, Roy Campanella, Ernie Lombardi and Gabby Hartnett. All but Munson and Howard are in the Hall of Fame.

”That means a lot,” Rodriguez said. ”I respect those guys a lot. To be compared to them is something special.”

The only thing missing from Rodriguez’s resume is a championship. Texas won the AL West in three of the last four seasons, but has yet to get out of the first round.

”They’re going to put a good team together to go to the playoffs next season,” Rodriguez said. ”Probably next year is going to be the year.”