A player's second year has traditionally been considered much tougher than the first. Opponents make adjustments, so often the hot-shot rookie of one season finds the going much more difficult the second. In the case of Howard, however, he just got better, a whole lot better.
For that reason, there was no surprise that the Phillies' slugging first baseman walked off with two of the major Players Choice Awards presented today on BaseballChannel.TV, available exclusively on MLBPLAYERS.com and MLB.com and voted on by Major League players themselves.
Each Players Choice Award winner will designate a charity to receive a grant ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 from the Players Trust, a non-profit foundation created and administered by the players.
Howard, who had already won the Hank Aaron Award as the National League's top hitter and is a candidate for the NL Most Valuable Player Award, being handed out later this month, won Players Choice Awards as the Overall Player of the Year and the NL Outstanding Position Player.
He was the Major League leader in home runs (58), runs batted in (149) and total bases, and was the driving force that kept the Phillies in the Wild Card race until the next-to-last day of the regular season. Howard's home run total set a franchise record, breaking Mike Schmidt's previous mark by 10, and equaled Jimmie Foxx's output for the Athletics in 1932 for the most by a player on a Philadelphia club.
Another slugging first baseman, the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, a finalist in both previous categories with Howard, won the prestigious Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award as the player who best combines on-field performance with community service.
Pujols, who hit .331 with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs and led the league in batting with runners in scoring position (.397), established the Pujols Family Foundation, which is dedicated to the love, care and development of people with Down Syndrome. The cause is close to the hearts of Albert and his wife, Deidre, because their daughter Isabella has Down Syndrome.
For the second consecutive year, Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter was chosen as the NL Outstanding Pitcher. Carpenter had a 15-8 record with a 3.09 ERA, second in the league only to the Astros' Roy Oswalt (2.98).
The NL Outstanding Rookie was Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla, whose 27 home runs broke a first-year record for second basemen that had stood since 1938, when the Yankees' Joe Gordon hit 24. Uggla, who hit .282 with 105 runs scored and 90 driven in, was the first Rule 5 Draft pick to play in the Major League All-Star Game in the year following the draft.
Nomar Garciaparra, playing a new position (first base) and with a new team (Dodgers), was named NL Comeback Player. Garciaparra hit .303 with 20 home runs and 93 RBIs in 122 games, his highest total in three years.
In the American League, White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye won the AL Outstanding Position Player Award. Dye hit .315 with 44 home runs and 120 RBIs. His batting average with runners in scoring position was .351. He knocked in 52 runs in Chicago's last 57 games, and finished the season with an OPS of 1.006.
Twins left-hander Johan Santana had a dominant year on the mound and was an easy choice for AL Outstanding Pitcher. Santana was the league leader in ERA (2.77), strikeouts (245), starts (34) and innings (233 2/3), and tied the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang for the most victories (19). Opponents hit .216 off Santana, the lowest average against a starting pitcher in the league.
Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander, who was also a finalist in the AL Outstanding Pitcher category, won instead as the AL Outstanding Rookie. Verlander had a 17-9 record with a 3.63 ERA for a Detroit team that reached the World Series for the first time in 22 years.
The AL Comeback Player Award went to Athletics designated hitter Frank Thomas, an essential ingredient on the team that won the AL West title and swept the Twins in the Division Series but couldn't get past the Tigers and into the World Series. After missing 216 games combined over the previous two years with the White Sox, Thomas returned to his "Big Hurt" ways with 39 home runs and 114 RBIs while batting .270. His 32 go-ahead RBIs ranked third in the AL, and 19 of his home runs gave Oakland a lead in games.
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com and MLBPLAYERS.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.