Third baseman Ken Caminiti, who overcame a series of injuries to lead the San Diego Padres into the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, became the fourth unanimous winner of the National League's most-valuable-player award on Wednesday.
Dodger catcher Mike Piazza was a distant second in the voting by a 28-member committee of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.
Caminiti, who batted .326 and set Padre records with 40 home runs, 130 runs batted in and a .621 slugging percentage, garnered 392 points, based on 14 for first, nine for second, eight for third and down to one for 10th.
Piazza, who batted .336 with 36 homers and 105 RBIs while playing despite damaged knee cartilage, received 18 second-place votes and 237 points, including a sixth-place vote on one ballot.
Ellis Burks of the Colorado Rockies, who batted .344 and hit 40 homers, finished third with 186 points.
In a statement released through the Dodgers, Piazza said:
"Ken Caminiti is a deserving winner of the National League's most-valuable-player award, and I congratulate him.
"Offensively and defensively, we dueled down the stretch as our teams did, and I'm sure not for the last time."
The Padres defeated the Dodgers for the Western Division title on the last day of the regular season.
Caminiti, who also won a second consecutive Gold Glove, hit 23 homers and drove in 61 runs during the last two months. He led the league in batting (.360), home runs (28) and RBIs (81) after the All-Star break.
"What Cammy did for this club was more than just numbers," General Manager Kevin Towers said. "He was a real presence, leading by example and playing through more than just aches and pains.
"There were points in the season when he literally carried the club."
The most severe of the injuries was a torn left rotator cuff, suffered in May. Caminiti had surgery after the Padres were defeated in the division series by the St. Louis Cardinals and may not be ready for the start of the season, although no one is counting him out.
"They say I'm moving better than scheduled," he said at a news conference in Houston, his home. "They're trying to slow me down, but . . . I don't need them slowing me down. I want to start the season."
In some ways, Caminiti said, the shoulder injury may have contributed to his offensive success, forcing him to make better use of his lower body. His tenacity was best displayed during an August series in Monterrey, Mexico, when suffering from a stomach virus and dehydration, he insisted doctors disconnect the intravenous fluid, then got off the trainer's table and hit two homers in an 8-0 victory over the New York Mets.
Of the MVP award, he said: "I'm excited, but I don't play for the awards. I play to do the best I can. I consider myself a player who can help his team win, but I never felt I could put up the type numbers that an MVP does. I remember when [former Houston teammate] Jeff Bagwell won the MVP [in 1994] and he'd tell me he couldn't believe what was happening and I'd look at him and say, 'Hey, man, you're doing it, that's all.'
"That's the same way it was with me this year. I got on my knees every night and said a prayer that I could play [despite the shoulder injury], but my attitude is that if I can get to the park, I'm going to play."
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Voting for the 1996 National League Most Valuable Player Award, with first-, second- and third-place votes and total points based on a 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis:
Player, Team 1st 2nd 3rd Tot Caminiti, San Diego 28 -- -- 392 Piazza, Dodgers -- 18 7 237 Burks, Colorado -- 5 4 186 Jones, Atlanta -- 2 7 158 Bonds, San Francisco -- -- 4 132 Galarraga, Colorado -- 1 2 112 Sheffield, Florida -- 1 2 112 Jordan, St. Louis -- 1 1 69 Bagwell, Houston -- -- -- 59 Finley, San Diego -- -- -- 38