Juan Gonzalez of the Texas Rangers won the American League’s most-valuable-player award Wednesday, the first half of a possible MVP sweep by Latin American players.
Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs is expected to receive the National League award today, although Mark McGwire, the St. Louis Cardinal first baseman, might have generated a strong enough campaign pitch with his remarkable total of 70 home runs and victory over Sosa in the home run race that highlighted the 1998 season.
“I’m praying for Sammy,” Gonzalez, who is from Puerto Rico, said in a conference call Wednesday. Sosa is from the Dominican Republic.
“It would be a great honor for Latin America to win both awards. Mark McGwire set an amazing record with 70 home runs, but the Cubs reached the playoffs because of Sammy.”
The Rangers won the AL West title largely because of Gonzalez, who batted .318 with 45 homers and 157 runs batted in, the most in the AL since Ted Williams and Vern Stephens each had 159 for the Boston Red Sox in 1949.
Gonzalez, who also won the award in 1996 and will receive a $250,000 bonus, said he was “in heaven” over winning a second time. He said the division title was the highlight of his season and that the 157 RBIs were a close second.
“It’s been a lot of years since anyone drove in more than 150 runs,” he said, referring to the 49 years in the AL. Andres Galarraga, then of the Colorado Rockies, drove in 150 in the NL in 1996.
Gonzalez was the first choice of 21 of the 28 voting members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. He was second on the other seven ballots, accumulating 357 points.
Nomar Garciaparra, the Boston shortstop, received five first-place votes, seven seconds and seven thirds and had 232 points, finishing second, which was worth a $75,000 bonus.
Derek Jeter, the New York Yankee shortstop and one of four members of the World Series champions to receive votes, had two firsts, six seconds and three thirds, finishing third with 180 points. Boston first baseman Mo Vaughn and Seattle Mariner center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. tied for fourth.
While McGwire and Sosa were staging their stirring home run race in the NL, Gonzalez challenged for a time the 1930 RBI pace of Hack Wilson, who set the major league record with 190.
Gonzalez had 101 at the all-star break--Hank Greenberg with 103 in 1935 is the only other player to have more than 100 in midseason--and 116 in his first 105 games before falling off the pace.
Asked Wednesday if he could break the record, Gonzalez said, “it’s not impossible. I just need to stay healthy and work hard.”
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1998 AL MVP
AL MVP WINNERS: BY PLAYER
Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle: 3
Hank Greenberg, Hal Newhouser, Ted Williams, Roger Maris, Robin Young, Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Thomas, Juan Gonzalez: 2
New York: 18
Boston, Phil./Oakland: 9
Milwaukee, Minnesota: 3
Cleveland, Texas: 2
Angels, K.C., Sea., Tor.: 1
Researched by HOUSTON MITCHELL / Los Angeles Times