IN 2006, I took flak from Phillies fans for saying Ryan Howard, who hit .313 with 58 home runs and 149 RBI, should not have been the National League's Most Valuable Player, because the Phillies failed to make the playoffs.
I would have given it to Albert Pujols, who hit .331 with 49 home runs and 137 RBI, while leading the St. Louis Cardinals to the NL Central crown and eventually the World Series title.
In an interesting twist, Pujols and Howard could find themselves in reverse positions this season.
Despite Pujols' overall numbers of .354 with 34 home runs and 104 RBI, the Cardinals would need a major miracle to make the playoffs.
Howard, who enters this weekend's series at Florida with a major league-leading 45 home runs and 138 RBI, clearly has the run-production numbers to be the MVP.
And with the Phillies in the thick of the fight for both the National League East and wild card, he certainly would meet the "team-success" criterion if the Phillies make the playoffs.
The biggest hole in the argument for Howard is the hole in his swing, which has him on pace to eclipse his own major league record of 199 strikeouts in a season.
With his batting average at .248, Howard needs to raise his average 22 points to avoid having the lowest batting average ever for a MVP - Roger Maris had a .269 average in 1961, but hit a then-record 61 home runs that season.
I would ignore both average and strikeouts. Howard's run production trumps both of those negatives.
If the Phillies make the playoffs, I would give Howard the edge, despite Pujols' superior overall qualities.
I've always thought an MVP award should be based largely on team success. It's why I still think the most ridiculous MVP ever awarded was to Alex Rodriguez in 2003, when despite his eye-popping statistics, the Texas Rangers finished in last place in the American League West.
The MVP doesn't always have to be the best player from the best team, but he at least should be the most important player from a playoff team.
In that sense, no player has been more important to a likely NL playoff team than Ramirez. When Los Angeles acquired Ramirez at the trade deadline in a three-way deal with the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Dodgers were a .500 team.
After yesterday afternoon's victory over Pittsburgh, the Dodgers improved to 80-73 and held a four-game lead in the NL West, pending the outcome of the late Arizona-San Francisco game.
If the Phillies make the playoffs, they will do so undoubtedly in large part by riding the broad shoulders of Howard, who has been a beast in September, hitting .379 with eight home runs and 24 RBI.
But that doesn't match Ramirez' "wow" factor in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were 54-54 when he arrived on July 31. Since then, they have gone 26-19 and taken control of the division.
In 45 games with Los Angeles, Ramirez is hitting .390, with 14 home runs and 44 RBI. He has 64 hits in 164 at-bats, and has scored 31 runs.
If Ramirez had played the entire season in Los Angeles and the Dodgers were an apparent division winner, I'd venture that his 173 hits, 34 home runs and 112 RBI would make him the clear NL MVP favorite.
Considering the Dodgers' season didn't truly start until Ramirez arrived, I don't see why his limited time in Tinseltown should exclude him from being the MVP.
In 2005, Howard was named NL Rookie of the Year despite playing only 88 games. That award is about statistics, and being with the Phillies only half a season obviously didn't hurt him.
The MVP is more of an impact award: It's about what your team would be if you were not there.
We have seen the Dodgers with and without Ramirez. We have seen that no player has had a more dramatic impact on a top National League team.
That's what makes him the MVP. *
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