PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard's smooth left-handed power stroke drew favorable comparisons to Willie Stargell this season. Howard can now be mentioned in the same sentence with another Hall of Famer, Hank Aaron. The Phillies slugger and New York Yankee Derek Jeter were the respective winners of the 2006 Hank Aaron Award presented by Century 21, given to the best offensive player in each league. They were presented with the hardware before Game 4 of the World Series. The winners were presented with the hardware before Game 4 of the World Series.
"I want to say thank you to Century 21 and to everyone who made the vote, to Hank Aaron," Howard said. "It's been a pleasure this season. It was a blast. Hopefully, [there will be] many more to come." Since 1999, the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, Major League Baseball has recognized the best offensive performer in each league. Past recipients include Barry Bonds (three times), Alex Rodriguez (three times), Manny Ramirez (twice), Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Sammy Sosa and Carlos Delgado. Last year's winners, selected during balloting during the regular season's final month on MLB.com, were Boston's David Ortiz and Atlanta's Andruw Jones. Each team selected one nominee and those players were then trimmed to six finalists per league. During the final phase of voting, fans cast more than 250,000 votes online. In winning his first Aaron Award, Howard received 25,349 votes. For Howard, a strong National League MVP candidate, it was special for him to accept the honor before a crowd in his native St. Louis. "With what he's done in the game and with what he's gone through, he's a role model for me," Howard said of Aaron earlier this season when he was nominated for the award. Following up a breakout half-season that earned NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2005, the lefty hit .313 in 2006, led the Majors with 58 homers and 149 RBIs, played in his first All-Star Game and won the Home Run Derby. On Aug. 31, the slugger smashed his 49th homer of the season, breaking Mike Schmidt's Phillies record set in 1980. That long ball also marked the most homers in history by a second-year player. "To win an award named after the great Hank Aaron is a wonderful achievement, and I congratulate Ryan and Derek for the spectacular seasons they had in 2006," Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. "They are truly deserving of this prestigious award." Howard fell two homers short of becoming the sixth player ever to hit 60 in a season. He hit just two homers in his final 21 games, in large part because pitchers either intentionally walked him or barely threw him a strike. The big guy received 31 intentional walks since the All-Star Break. In a dangerous lineup that also featured Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell, Howard was the man in big spots. He batted .290 in close and late situations, and clubbed 29 of his homers with at least one man on base. He provided many thrills this season for the Citizens Bank Park faithful. He became the first player to hit a ball over the batter's eye in center -- estimated to be a 496-foot blast -- and he also became the first player to hit a ball into the third deck, a feat he did off Mike Mussina of the Yankees. While Aaron's 755 homers is the all-time record, he never hit 58 in a season. In congratulating the 2006 winners, Aaron said the award is more than just about offense. "Century 21 has given me an opportunity to sit up here, to present you two with the award that I think that demonstrates not only the home runs but other things that you do on the field," he said. "Runs batted in, runs scored, slugging percentages and then after you take the uniform off, of course, it's what you do for other people, once the game is over with. "I'm extremely proud of the fact that the Commissioner, Century 21 and all the people who have voted for this award, that I'm sitting here today to give this award to two of the players that I think have exemplified what I think Major League Baseball is all about."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.