After four seasons of finishing in second to fourth place in the race for the National League's Most Valuable Player Award, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman and All Star Albert Pujols (hitting it out of the park, at left) finally received the honor today. Garnering 18 out 32 first places votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Pujols beat out Atlanta's star outfielder Andruw Jones, who'd hit 51 home runs, a career high, and driven in 128 baserunners, and Chicago Cubs' first baseman Derrek Lee, whose .335 batting average (at one point in the season hovering about .370) led the league. Despite suffering from plantar fascitis all season and batting in a lineup that suffered the loss of key personnel throughout the season, Pujols posted a .330 average (2nd), hit 41 home runs (3rd), drove in 117 runs (2nd) and scored 129 runs (1st), swiped 16 bases (to lead the Cardinals), and hit .340 with men in scoring position, all of which were key in returning the Cardinals to the post-season (though a pitching collapse preventing them from reaching the World Series again).
Pujols (at right with his 4-year-old son Albert Jr.) is only 25 years old and has already made his mark as one of the great batters of all time. If he stays healthy and even moderately approaches the level of his first five years, he will go to the Hall of Fame. His tally for his half decade in the major leagues is as follows:
Year ... Average ... RBI ... HR ... MVP voting rank
2005 ... .330 ... 117 ... 41 ... 1
2004 ... .331 ... 123 ... 46 ... 3
2003 ... .359 ... 124 ... 43 ... 2
2002 ... .314 ... 127 ... 34 ... 2
2001 ... .329 ... 130 ... 37 ... 4
This is as good or better than 95% of the live-ball area Hall of Famers, and to think that this Dominican gem struggled to make the cut on several teams down in DR and was drafted after numerous other players whose names have been long been forgotten.
Last week, Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, who nearly retired after unsuccessful arm surgery, was named the National League's Cy Young Award winner, the highest prize given to a pitcher. Carpenter, who barely won over Florida's spectacular young pitcher Dontrelle Willis, posted a 21-5 record with a 2.83 ERA and 213 strikeouts. He was the only Cardinals pitcher to win all his playoff games, and will be central to any postseason hopes they have over the next few years.
A recent issue of ESPN: The Magazine (with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant on the cover) has an interesting article on NBA basketball players Orlando Magic guard Steve Francis (at left, being embraced by Mobley) and the Los Angeles Clipper's Cuttino Mobley. The two are so close that there have been rumors that they...are lovers. In fact, when Mobley was traded from the Magic last year, Francis had a breakdown of sorts. As the AP reported back then
But Francis took the departure of his backcourt partner hard.
"I can't put it into words," he said. "Playing with a guy, living with a guy, just knowing that every day when I wake up that's something I can count on, that I'm going to be in practice or in a game with Cuttino.
"Him not being here is going to be tough for me. I don't know what I'm going to wake up for."
Alrighty then. I don't know that I've ever heard any professional athlete describe the trade of a "friend" in such dramatic terms ("I don't konw what I'm going to wake up for") especially given that no one died (well, someone might as well have) and these two are multimillionaires who can easily fly back and forth to see each other. Francis continued:
"They messed up something that started so good, man," said Francis, an All-Star the past three seasons. "I don't feel there was a need to break something up just because he was going to be a free agent and you don't want to pay him at the end of the season.
"You should have known that when you traded for him, so you should have made that decision then."
"He's been with Cuttino for six or seven years now, and so it's like losing someone close to you," [Coach] Davis said. "It's a very emotional time for Steve, and I understand that."
"You don't wait 30 minutes before a game to tell a guy he's traded," Francis said. "The way you handle relationships, for me, is going to change the way that I approach the game, more businesslike than anything."
The ESPN article delves in a bit deeper, talking about how very close these two, handsome young things (cf. at right, all up on each others' backs) were:
"In Philly they got their first furs together. In Atlanta they bought belts by the fistfull, two of each because each knew if he liked something, then the other would too. Once they went to LA and had lunch at the oh-so-trendy Ivy, staying for more than three hours."
"'People would get upset because we were just off to ourselves,' Mobley says, cracking into a pitying smile. 'There's even people who said, "They're gay." Definitely heard that one. On the radio, on the Internet. They don't realize that when you can hug a guy, and say I love him and he's my brother, that's not gay. That's just being a man. We're just two guys who really understand each other."
Yeah, okay, just good friends. But it seems a bit clearer why Francis was so distraught when his buddy got traded away. (Commuting is a b*tch, I can testify.)
According to the ESPN article, although these two paragons of ultraclose, straight male friendship no longer get to hang out on and off the court all the time, they're still very close. Very close. In fact, their constant phone chatting annoys Francis's girlfriend. Oh well. More power to them (and there's even a cute couples shot them with Francis's infant son); super-close straight male friendship hasn't had such high profile exemplars since the 19th century.
(BTW, Bernie and Rod both explore Johnny Gill's weak and homophobic on-air denials about his "relationship" with Eddie Murphy and the allegedly "doctored" photos showing the two very attractive "brothers" together. Personally, I say who cares, though I also have to ask, wouldn't it help Johnny Gill's career at this point if he came out?)
Today marks the anniversary of Booker T. Washington's death in 1915. Here's the New York Times's obituary on the "foremost teacher and leader of the negro race." Here's his National Monument page. Here's his Wikipedia biography. Here's the website of the Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, for which he served as the first, dynamic president. And here's the Tuskegee Legends page, which features him, George W. Carver, and the famous Tuskegee Airmen, among others.