Putting the ‘V’ in Valuable
Vladimir Guerrero had a suspect back, swapped leagues and still found himself in a pennant race for the first time in his career, even as many of his Angel teammates fell around him.
He left the Montreal Expos, the only organization he’d known, for Southern California, a new owner, and World Series expectations.
The team didn’t live up to those expectations, but that was no fault of Guerrero’s.
On Tuesday afternoon at the Presidential Palace in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, flanked by President Leonel Fernandez and the national sports minister, Guerrero and his countrymen celebrated his being named the American League’s most valuable player.
Jay Payano, the sports minister, who spoke for the president, said, “Everybody is so proud. It is a national holiday.”
Guerrero graciously accepted the award. He received 21 of 28 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America and finished ahead of Gary Sheffield of the New York Yankees (five first-place votes) and fellow Dominicans Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, both of the Boston Red Sox (one each). Another Dominican, Miguel Tejada of the Baltimore Orioles, was fifth.
Pursued by the Dodgers, Guerrero instead signed a five-year, $70-million free-agent contract with the Angels. He then produced his MVP season: a .337 batting average, 39 home runs and 126 RBIs, near the end personally driving the Angels to the West division title.
“God willing,” Guerrero said through an interpreter, “I will continue to do a good job and bring good moments to the country and to the Angels.”
Their season inconsistent because of injuries to Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Troy Percival, Bengie Molina and Adam Kennedy, among others, and the late suspension of Jose Guillen, the Angels overtook the Oakland Athletics in the season’s final days.
It was, in large part, Guerrero’s bat that took them there. He hit 11 home runs and drove in 25 runs after August, including seven home runs and 12 RBIs in his final 10 games. Three games behind on Sept. 24, the Angels won their next five and seven of their next eight to knock the A’s from the playoffs.
In that time, perhaps, Guerrero also overtook Sheffield, Ortiz and Ramirez in the MVP race to become the second Angel to be so honored. Don Baylor was MVP in 1979.
“As time goes on,” Manager Mike Scioscia said of Guerrero’s final weeks, “it becomes more and more special. Not many players can do what he did.... To almost single-handedly carry us to the pennant, it was incredible.”
On Monday, in a room where background merriment threatened to muffle his replies, Guerrero spoke of his comfort in Anaheim, of playing for owner Arte Moreno and Scioscia, and alongside Guillen, Molina and Bartolo Colon. He thanked Angel fans for welcoming him so warmly.
“They truly made me feel more and more like it was a family atmosphere,” he said.
Guerrero played 156 games, answering off-season speculation that his aching back, which limited him to 112 games in 2003, made him a risky signing. He also stole 15 bases in 18 attempts and played well in right field.
When Glaus played only 58 games, Anderson 112, Tim Salmon 60, Darin Erstad 125, and Molina 97, Guerrero pulled them all along. He batted .368 in May and had 30 RBIs, nine in a game against Boston, in June. He had 206 hits, matching his career best, many of them in ballparks he didn’t know and against pitchers with whom he was unfamiliar.
He did it all with a clumsy gait, a shrug and a preference for fastballs, anywhere, any time. His strike zone was all points north of his shoelaces and south of his pine-tar smeared helmet, and yet he struck out only 74 times.
“He had an incredible season,” Scioscia said. “It speaks volumes for the talent Vladimir is and the passion with which he plays the game.
“Vlad’s got such a great temperament. As talented as he is, he’s probably the most unassuming superstar you’ll ever be around.”
Guerrero shared the day with Ramirez, Ortiz and Tejada, mentioning them often in a conference call, and with the people who put the bats and balls in their hands as youths.
“It’s part of what we grow up with,” he said. “It’s in our blood.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The leading players in the American League MVP voting. Four received at least one first-place vote:
*--* PLAYER TEAM 1ST 2ND 3RD T Guerrero Angels 21 5 1 354 Sheffield New York 5 8 9 254 Ramirez Boston 1 14 9 238 Ortiz Boston 1 0 5 174
Where Vladimir Guerrero ranked in various offensive categories in the AL:
*--* CATEGORY STAT RANK Batting Average 337 Third On-Base Percentage 391 Ninth Slugging Percentage 598 Third Hits 206 Third Doubles 39 10th Home Runs 39 Fourth Runs 124 First Runs Batted In 126 Third Extra-Base Hits 80 Third Int. Walks 14 Fourth
Comparing Vladimir Guerrero’s 2004 season with Don Baylor’s MVP season with Angels in 1979:
*--* Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO Avg OB% SLG% Guerrero 612 124 206 39 2 39 126 15 52 74 337 391 598 Baylor 628 120 186 33 3 36 139 22 71 51 296 371 530
Players from major local teams who have won most valuable player awards:
*--* 1962 Maury Wills, Dodgers 1963 Sandy Koufax, Dodgers 1974 Steve Garvey, Dodgers 1979 Don Baylor, Angels 1988 Kirk Gibson, Dodgers 2004 Vladimir Guerrero, Angels BASKETBALL 1975-76 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lakers 1976-77 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lakers 1979-80 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lakers 1986-87 Magic Johnson, Lakers 1988-89 Magic Johnson, Lakers 1989-90 Magic Johnson, Lakers 1999-2000 Shaquille O’Neal, Lakers 2001 Lisa Leslie, Sparks 2004 Lisa Leslie, Sparks HOCKEY 1988-89 Wayne Gretzky, Kings FOOTBALL 1969 Roman Gabriel, L.A. Rams 1985 Marcus Allen, L.A. Raiders SOCCER 2002 Carlos Ruiz, Galaxy