ARLINGTON -- It was the Year of the Pitcher, but it also was the year in which Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays and Joey Votto of the Reds put up dazzling offensive numbers that were worthy of the 2010 Hank Aaron Award. It was the best of both worlds.
"Baseball is back where it should be," said the award's namesake on Sunday as he presented both players with that high honor for best offensive performances in the regular season in the American and National leagues. "Earn what you're supposed to earn, rather than people starting to talk about other things. And the overall pitching was very good, too.
"The game is still where it was 20 years ago. When you see young players like this who won the award, we can rest assured that the game is still in great hands."
Aaron and Commissioner Bud Selig made the annual major presentation before Game 4 of the Giants-Rangers World Series at Rangers Ballpark. Voting took place at MLB.com and the 30 club sites starting on Oct. 5, and for the first time a special panel of Hall of Famers, led by Aaron, joined fans in voting. He personally selected the panel, comprised of offensive legends Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn, Billy Williams and Robin Yount.
"It's a special honor to win an award for offense that's not only voted on by fans but also by Hall of Fame players," Selig said. "Many people called 2010 the Year of the Pitcher. There were a lot of reasons. However, in the Year of the Pitcher, these two young men put together outstanding offensive seasons."
Bautista beat a field of AL contenders that included batting champion Josh Hamilton of the Rangers and RBI king Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers. Bautista took advantage of regular playing time in the Toronto outfield and belted a club-record 54 home runs, becoming only the 26th player in baseball history to top the 50-homer plateau in a single season, and the 14th to top 50 homers with at least 100 walks.
Jose Bautista broke Davey Johnson's record for the biggest increase in home runs over the previous season
Courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau
"This means a lot, knowing all the things Mr. Aaron had to go through to be so successful in his career," Bautista said as he sat next to the man who withstood racial hatred and broke Babe Ruth's legendary record and finished with 755 home runs. "It's a great honor to sit here and be put on the list of recipients of this award. There are a lot of great names on that list. I'm just really happy and excited to be here."
Votto made a serious run at the NL Triple Crown, and in the process led Cincinnati back to the postseason for the first time in 15 years. He was second in the NL with a .324 batting average and third in homers (37) and RBIs (113). The 27-year-old, who was selected for the All-Star Game via the Sprint All-Star Online Final Vote, led the league in OPS (1.024) and is considered a leading contender for the NL MVP Award, which will be bestowed on Nov. 22.
"This is the first award that I've won in my career, and you know, if it's the last one, what a great honor," Votto said. "You know, I was voted into the All Star Game by the fans, and this is another fan award, so that means a tremendous amount to me. I'm really a big fan of the game and especially the history of the game, so to have been picked by Hall of Famers, players I looked up to and read about, that means a lot to me, also."
The Hank Aaron Award was introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Ruth's all-time home run record of 714. At that time, it was the first major award introduced by Major League Baseball in more than 25 years.
Bautista and Votto join this list of winners: Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols (2009); Aramis Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis (2008); Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder (2007); Jeter and Ryan Howard (2006); David Ortiz and Andruw Jones (2005); Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds (2004); Rodriguez and Pujols (2003); Rodriguez and Bonds (2001-02); Carlos Delgado and Todd Helton (2000); and Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa (1999).
The first question for Bautista at the news conference was: How did you hit 54 home runs in the Year of the Pitcher?
"Well, I think it was a combination of a lot of things," he said. "I got the opportunity to play every day. I've got to thank the Toronto Blue Jays for that. And then I made a lot of adjustments. I changed my approach to hitting. I became more aggressive, and I also kind of tweaked the way I prepare myself. I start my swing on my load earlier, on the pitcher's delivery, and that allowed me to attack the baseball more. Also getting moved to the three-hole in that lineup with fast guys in front of me and guys that would drive me in allowed me to have a successful season."
Votto made sure Aaron knew how much he appreciated the history of this award, mentioning that a certain person in his Reds clubhouse drilled it into his head. Dusty Baker, after all, was on deck for the Braves when Aaron hammered No. 715 to pass Ruth in 1974.
"You know, Dusty Baker is my manager, and he played with Henry Aaron, and to have heard some of the stories, good stories, all good stories [laughter], and to know that I'm receiving an award with his name on it, I know Dusty is going to be proud," Votto said. "But I'm very proud to receive this award, and thank you very much."
Votto added: "I will say, I expect to get better in the future. I will continue to work hard. I will not settle and I am not satisfied."
Aaron has been through a Year of the Pitcher before. In 1968, Bob Gibson had a record 1.12 ERA and Denny McLain won 31 games. MLB took steps after that season to give hitters more of an advantage.
"I played in an era when they raised the mound and made the curveball a little bit deader for pitchers," Aaron said. "But then it's hard to judge, because the pitchers they were helping were [Sandy] Koufax, who didn't need any help, Gibson, who didn't need any help, [Juan] Marichal, who didn't need any help. That was the year that they had all these low earned run averages."
Aaron also said he was glad to see the Rangers and Giants in this year's World Series, continuing a recent tradition of competitive balance in the game. "This is good for baseball," he said.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Follow @MLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.