Gonzalez won by only three points over Seattle Mariner shortstop Alex Rodriguez in the closest voting for the award since Roger Maris edged New York Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle by the same margin in 1960.
Gonzalez received 11 first-place votes and 290 points in voting by members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. Rodriguez had 10 firsts and 287 points.
Gonzalez could have been helped by a mistake.
John Hickey of the Oakland Tribune voted Gonzalez first and Rodriguez seventh on the 10-place ballot, awarding the winner 14 points and Rodriguez four points. Asked about his ballot, Hickey first told New York Newsday that he thought he had voted Rodriguez second, later explained how he had dropped the shortstop from fifth to seventh and eventually said, "I'm surprised I voted him [Rodriguez] that low."
"You know, Alex Rodriguez is a wonderful young player," Gonzalez said during a conference call. "Everybody talked about how Alex was the No. 1 contender all year. I'm so proud of myself. Thank you everyone there in the U.S.A. And thank you to everyone in Puerto Rico.
"Thank you for a wonderful moment in my life."
Gonzalez is the fourth Puerto Rican native to win an MVP award, joining Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1966, Orlando Cepeda of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967 and Willie Hernandez of the Detroit Tigers in 1984.
It's the second postseason award won by Texas. Johnny Oates tied Joe Torre, who led the Yankees to a victory in the World Series, in voting for the AL manager of the year. The Yankees defeated the Rangers in their best-of-five division playoff series.
Gonzalez batted .314 with 47 home runs and 144 runs batted in. He was second in the league in RBIs and fifth in homers despite spending most of May and June on the disabled list because of a torn left quadriceps muscle.
He rebounded from the injury to lead the Rangers to their first playoff appearance in 25 years in Texas. The Rangers finished with a franchise-record 90 victories and won the AL West title by four games over Seattle.
"It was a great baseball season," Gonzalez said. "I sacrificed myself for the team to win. It was very important."
Rodriguez, 21, won the AL batting title with a .358 average, hit 36 homers and added 54 doubles and 123 RBIs in his first full season in the majors.
Belle, who finished second to Vaughn in 1995, had another tremendous season in leading the Cleveland Indians to their second consecutive Central Division title.
He batted .311, hit 48 homers and had 148 RBIs, falling short in a bid to become the first player to hit 50 homers with 150 RBIs since Jimmie Foxx in 1938.
Belle's poor relationship with baseball writers might have hurt him in the voting for the second consecutive season. He finished second to Vaughn in 1995, despite hitting 50 homers in a strike-shortened season.
"There was great competition all year," said Gonzalez, who receives a $250,000 bonus for winning the award. "A lot of guys had great numbers. [Mark] McGwire, Rodriguez, Griffey, Belle--all had great numbers. It's very exciting to win."
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Player, Team 1st 2nd 3rd Total Juan Gonzalez, Texas 11 7 5 290 Alex Rodriguez, Seattle 10 10 4 287 Albert Belle, Cleveland 2 8 10 228 Ken Griffey, Seattle 4 1 2 188 Mo Vaughn, Boston 0 1 3 184 Rafael Palmeiro, Baltimore 0 0 2 104 Mark McGwire, Oakland 0 0 2 100 Frank Thomas, Chicago 0 0 0 88 Brady Anderson, Baltimore 0 0 0 53 Ivan Rodriguez, Texas 1 0 0 52
13 CLOSEST BASEBALL MVP CONTESTS
Year, League Winner Second Voting 1979, NL Willie Stargell and 216-216 Keith Hernandez 1947, AL Joe DiMaggio Ted Williams 202-201 1944, NL Marty Marion Bill Nicholson 190-189 1937, NL Joe Medwick Gabby Hartnett 70-68 1934, AL Mickey Cochrane Charlie Gehringer 67-65 1996, AL Juan Gonzalez Alex Rodriguez 220-217 1960, AL Roger Maris Mickey Mantle 225-222 1944, AL Hal Newhouser Dizzy Trout 236-232 1961, AL Roger Maris Mickey Mantle 202-198 1937, AL Charlie Gehringer Joe DiMaggio 78-74 1955, NL Roy Campanella Duke Snider 226-221 1962, NL Maury Wills Willie Mays 209-202 1936, NL Carl Hubbell Dizzy Dean 60-53