Fans broke tradition with their vote for Jeter. In his best individual season since 1999, the Yankees captain batted .343 in falling just short of the American League batting title won by Minnesota's Joe Mauer. Jeter stole a career-high 34 bases, hit 14 homers, had 214 hits, scored 118 runs, drove in 97 more and provided an important offensive consistency to a team that wound up with its ninth consecutive American League East title.
"I sort of feel out of place," Jeter said to the amusement of all attendees. "With Hank Aaron, the first thing that comes to mind is home runs. Ryan Howard the same thing. So when people said what award I was going to win, I stuck my chest out, and I said, 'You know, the Hank Aaron Award. What do you think?'"
When asked later by reporters if he would be surprised should the AL MVP Award go his way as well instead of to expected competitor David Ortiz of the rival Red Sox, Jeter said, "I'm surprised I'm here right now."
There were two phases of fan balloting at MLB.com toward the end of the regular season. In the first phase, fans voted on a ballot that included one representative from each of the 30 clubs, as chosen by Major League Baseball. The fans' vote decided which six players in each league would move on to the final vote. Fans then were asked to choose one player per league from those six.
Since 1999, the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Ruth's all-time home run record, Major League Baseball has recognized the best offensive performer from each league with this award. Andruw Jones of the Braves and Ortiz won the awards last year. Past recipients include Barry Bonds (three times), Alex Rodriguez (three times), Manny Ramirez (twice), Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Sammy Sosa and Carlos Delgado.
As is now customary before the fourth game of a World Series, commissioner Bud Selig and baseball's all-time home run king sat at the head table with the two winners. Selig first discussed the importance of the award and the legacy of its namesake. The commissioner announced the two winners with their season details, and Aaron gave his thoughts to each winner about the magnitude of what they have done and an occasional lesson on the importance of their roles as award-winners.
"Hank Aaron and I have had a very special relationship which goes back to 1958," Selig said. "We just replayed some highlights from the 1957 season, and Hank hit a home run, for the benefit of the Milwaukee Braves. Obviously he broke the most cherished record in American sports, but he's also, more importantly, he's one of the nicest human beings that I've ever known. ... So this award has great meaning. Hank's contribution to the sport is legendary. And the thing you always notice about him, he always carries himself with great dignity and class through controversies, through a lot of things. He's just the person I remember 50 years ago."
Howard received 33 percent (25,349 votes) of all National League fan votes on a ballot that included Pujols of the Cardinals, David Wright of the Mets, Alfonso Soriano of the Nationals, Nomar Garciaparra of the Dodgers and Lance Berkman of the Astros.
Following up a 2005 NL Rookie of the Year campaign, Howard -- who attended high school in St. Louis and still has a home here -- provided one highlight after another at the plate and helped the Phillies contend for the Wild Card until the final weekend of the regular season. One of those highlights occurred on Aug. 31 in Washington, where Howard's blast to center field was his 49th homer of the year, passing the record Schmidt established in 1980.
"This is a tremendous night for me, because I think about when I first broke into baseball many, many years ago, and seeing how you have decided to carry that torch a little bit further, not only as a ballplayer, but as a complete player," Aaron said, first addressing Howard. "Like the commissioner said, I think most of us have to realize that we owe much more than just hitting home runs on the field, we owe a lot to our kids, we owe a lot to our fellow man, and you do have a tremendous duty to continue to do your job as far as baseball on and off the field."
Jeter received 37 percent (29,275 votes) of the AL votes on a ballot that included Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels, Travis Hafner of the Indians, Paul Konerko of the White Sox and Justin Morneau of the Twins.
"If you look to my right, Derek Jeter, to me, has demonstrated that he is not only a man that the Yankees can depend on winning a championship year in and year out, but he has carried this a little bit further because he has done so many great things off the field," Aaron continued.
He turned to Jeter and said, "I have never heard a bad thing about you, other than from some pitcher that said you hit a 3-and-0 pitch out of the ballpark with the bases loaded.
"Seriously, I think this award means much more than just presenting an award to two great players. I think that you, more than anybody, have realized that what you do on the field means little of nothing to what you do off the field. And you have carried yourself that way."
On the field, Jeter's 14 homers obviously were a drop in the bucket when compared to those of the other five sluggers, but that's not what fans focused on. This also was about baserunning, a key figure in an increased number of Yankees hit-and-run attempts, and hitting the ball the other way through an open hole at second base.
"The season was fun, huh?" Jeter said to Howard during his acceptance speech. Then Jeter said in deference to the all-time home run king beside him, "What can you say about Mr. Aaron? In '99, we had the All-Star Game in Boston, and that was the first time I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Aaron. And the thing that stuck out with me, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'I was looking for you.'"
Jeter then turned to Aaron and said: "I don't know if you remember the story. He wanted to say hello. 'You were looking for me?'
"What he stands for, like the Commissioner said, not only on the field but away from the field, how he carries himself, he's second to none. This award, I thank everyone that voted for me."
When this award was introduced in 1999, it marked the first time a major award had been introduced by Major League Baseball in more than 25 years. It now has become standard operating procedure during the Fall Classic, always a moving scene to see the man who slugged 755 long balls imparting his thoughts and sharing the spotlight with today's offensive superstars. It's become a great tradition, and MLB.com users were the key players in deciding which Major Leaguers were invited to the table.
"I haven't had the privilege to know Ryan as well as I've known Derek," Selig said, "but what Hank said I'm sure is true about Ryan -- Derek Jeter is the kind of player, frankly, that makes you proud to be the commissioner of baseball."