Jones, Ortiz win Aaron Award
Consistency the primary trait exhibited by winners
HOUSTON -- The Hank Aaron Award was presented before Wednesday's Game 4 at the World Series to Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, and once again one of the most special things about this annual presentation for the best offensive season by a player in each league was the sight of the award's namesake seated right between its recipients.
Aaron, baseball's all-time home run king with 755 long balls, was there to help hand out this hardware, which is presented by CENTURY 21 and now a postseason tradition dating back to its inception in 1999. What makes this award so unique from all the other individual awards still to come is not only that fans vote at MLB.com in the final phase to determine where it goes, but also that this living legend is there to speak to the recipients about what he believes the honor represents.
"This award . . . was bestowed upon me many years ago, and I want to thank the Commissioner for doing it in perpetuity," said Aaron, now 71. "The one thing I want to say about this award is that it goes further than just a ballplayer hitting and batting in runs. You look at this award and you say, 'What does it exemplify?' It exemplifies the fact that each one of these players meant so much to his team, not only hitting the home runs or batting in the runs, but simply manufacturing wins for their respective teams. And I, too, want to congratulate each and every one of them."
Aaron specifically highlighted "consistency" as the primary trait of the seasons just turned in by Jones and Ortiz, both of whom are first-time recipients of "The Hammer." Both sluggers led their teams into the playoffs, and although those seasons stopped short after the Division Series, it is hard to imagine where their teams would have been this year without their bats. Both players also are expected to be among the top two or three choices for their respective Most Valuable Player awards to come in November.
Jones, who received 64,415 of the 210,000 fan votes (30 percent of the National League total), led the Majors with a career-high 51 homers and 128 RBIs. The Gold Glove center fielder hit his 50th homer in September, becoming just the 12th player in Major League history to reach the 300-homer plateau before his 30th birthday. His 51 homers broke the Braves' franchise record that had been shared by Aaron and Eddie Matthews, and he was the first Major Leaguer to reach the 50-homer plateau since Jim Thome and Alex Rodriguez each did so in 2002.
"I had a chance, of course, to watch Andruw for many years, and I know what a wonderful year he had last year," said Aaron, senior vice president and assistant to the president with the Braves. "In fact, I was just talking to him just a moment ago and I was applauding him on his consistency in what he did as a ballplayer last year. And he took it upon himself [this season] to carry the Atlanta Braves to their 14th [straight division] championship. When we had some of our star players out for a long period of time, Andruw took it upon himself. In fact, he told a lot of the young players, 'Get on my shoulder and ride me for a moment and I'll carry you home.' And he did that. And in watching him play, I marvel at his consistency."
Jones, the first Braves player to win this award, said, "Winning an award, it's tough. There's a lot of players out there that have great years, and especially the award being named after Hank Aaron. It's special. Every time you go on the field you're trying to help your team. And like Hank Aaron says, it's all about consistency and helping the team get to the point that your team wanted to be in. For me to be consistent this year, and that's what I worked for this last offseason, to be consistent and have everything pay off. And for the fans to see what I did and for them to vote for me to win this award is more special."
Ortiz received 89,809 fan votes, accounting for 42 percent of the American League balloting, in recognition for a spectacular year at the plate. He led the Majors with 148 RBIs, and his 47 homers were the second-most in Red Sox history behind Jimmie Foxx, who hit 50 in 1938. Of those 47 homers, 43 came as a designated hitter, representing the most homers ever by a DH. Ortiz hit 19 homers from the seventh inning on and had 21 game-winning RBIs with a .352 average with runners in scoring position -- growing even further his reputation as a definitive clutch hitter, something Aaron knows well.
"I've been watching him for many years, and David has been the type of player that Boston has always been modeled after," Aaron said. "But the [reason] I liked David is the fact that he came through in so many clutch moments. We all knew the year they dethroned the New York Yankees, what he did in that [2004 AL Championship] Series. And I want to congratulate him for his consistency, also."
Ortiz was asked during the press conference about his penchant for delivering crucial hits from the seventh inning on.
"It might look easy on TV, and there's some guys out there that might make the game look easy, but it's not an easy game to play," Ortiz said. "When you sit down and watch a baseball game it might be like, 'OK, we need a hit. We need a guy to make a pitch in this situation.' And I guess the toughest part about the game is hitting. When you can come through in some kind of situations, people really appreciate it. It takes a lot of concentration and a lot of hard work to get to that level. I guess it's been working the right way for me, and I'm going to want to keep it that way."
The Hank Aaron Award was introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home record (714) and was the first major award introduced by Major League Baseball in more than 30 years. The voting this year was decided in three separate phases. From Aug. 1-31, fans voted at each club's Web site from among three players nominated by the respective club. The leading vote-getter from each club became one of 30 finalists, from which a panel consisting of MLB and MLB.com representatives selected six finalists. Fans did the rest, from Sept. 6-30.
"I am honored to present this award each year," said Commissioner Bud Selig, also seated at the presentation table in the interview room at Minute Maid Park. "Hank and I have been friends for nearly 50 years -- a long time, Hank. And in my opinion, he was the greatest hitter of our generation.
"When we named this award after Hank -- and, obviously, as I said there's a long standing friendship -- it was not only that his career statistics were so magnificent, he broke Babe Ruth's record, that's the obvious part of it. But I have to say today, and these two gentlemen up here, Andruw Jones and David Ortiz, certainly fit the billing. For all the years I've watched (Aaron), he's been a magnificent human being off the field. And that's the great part of this honor."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.