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Morneau upsets field in AL MVP race

Morneau upsets field in AL MVP race

MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Morneau had some stiff competition when it came to earning American League Most Valuable Player honors, and that was just on his team.

But while the Twins had three players finish in the top seven in voting for the award, Morneau came out on top Tuesday as he was announced as this year's American League Most Valuable Player.

Despite many people expecting Derek Jeter to win the award, Morneau's breakout season earned him the honor bestowed by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Morneau edged Jeter by earning 320 points to the shortstop's 306. Morneau received 15 first-place votes while Jeter tallied 12-first-place votes.

It was the 10th-closest AL MVP election in history. The closest was 1947, when Joe DiMaggio beat Ted Williams, 202-201. Last year, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez beat out Boston's David Ortiz, 331-307.

Ortiz finished third in MVP voting with 193 points, followed by Oakland's Frank Thomas (174) and Chicago's Jermaine Dye (156).

"Last night I was even saying, 'I'm not expecting to get it,'" Morneau said. "I might have given myself a 50-50 chance. It was one of those things where I didn't want to set myself up for disappointment if I didn't get it. Just to be mentioned along with those other names is an honor, so I'm pretty excited about it right now."

Twins catcher Joe Mauer was sixth with 116 points while recent AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana finished right behind him in seventh place, with 114 points. Santana was the only player besides Morneau and Jeter to receive a first-place vote.

Morneau certainly made a very strong case for the award, putting together one of the best offensive seasons in Twins history and helping the Twins to earn the AL Central title. The first baseman hit .321 with 34 home runs, 97 runs scored and 130 RBIs, ranking second only to Ortiz, who led the AL with 137 RBIs. He was the first Twins player to hit 30 or more home runs in a season since 1987, and his 130 RBIs rank second best in team history to Harmon Killebrew's 140 in 1969.

But while it was a career year for the 25-year-old, it didn't begin that way. Coming off a 2005 season in which he hit just .239 with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs, Morneau was on a similar track after the first two months of the 2006 season. He was batting .235 with five home runs and 23 RBIs through June 8.

Morneau's turnaround came after a meeting with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire in the midst of a difficult West Coast road trip in early June. Gardenhire told Morneau that he wasn't living up to his potential.

"It woke me up," Morneau said of the conversation. "When we got off that road trip, I was taking early batting practice that next day and felt something in my swing. All of a sudden, something just clicked. I got my confidence going and after that it just kind of took off."

After June 8, Morneau had the best batting average in the Majors (.362). In that stretch, Morneau also had the most hits in baseball (145) and the most RBIs in the AL (92). And it doesn't take much to link the Twins' turnaround to Morneau's emergence, as the club was 25-33 through June 7 before their going 71-33 the rest of the season, the best record in the Majors during that span.

"We ended up having a wonderful season, almost a magical season, with the exception of the three short games in the postseason, and Justin was one of many that allowed us to have that type of season," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said on Tuesday.

"Even with this strong year that Justin had, I know he can get even better. He's still young. He's still learning some of the nuances that veteran-type players have already grasped. He also had a bit of a tough start to the year, as April and May weren't exactly ... up to his capabilities, either. So consequently, I think you could decipher that he has a chance, like Santana, to become even better."

Tuesday's award made Morneau just the fourth Twins player to win an MVP award, joining Rod Carew (1977), Killebrew (1969) and Zoilo Versalles (1965).

Morneau also became just the second Canadian-born player to earn MVP honors, following Colorado's Larry Walker, who captured the award in 1997. Morneau has often been compared to Walker, arguably the best baseball player to hail from Canada.

Morneau's first game in the Majors came against the Rockies back in 2003. It was on that day that he first officially met Walker, who sent over a bat to the Twins first baseman before the game. It was signed, "To Justin, make Canada proud."

And on Thursday, that's exactly what Morneau did. One person he made especially proud was Walker, who called Morneau as the first baseman was driving to the Metrodome for his press conference.

"He just wanted to call and say congrats," Morneau said. "He said he thought he was more excited than I was. He said, "Just wait, it's going to be crazy.'"

Morneau has already been named the parade marshal in the Santa Claus parade in his hometown of New Westminster, B.C. The 25-year-old plans on spending his entire offseason back home in Canada, where he will train with other Major League players such as Adam Loewen, Aaron Guiel and Adam Stern. Morneau's goal is to work hard this offseason and deliver another MVP-caliber season in 2007.

"There are going to be a lot more eyes on me and other teams paying a little more attention," Morneau said. "I have to go out and prove that I can do it again and hopefully build on this year and get better next year."

One other thing that could be on the horizon for Morneau this offseason is a long-term contract with the Twins. Morneau is arbitration eligible for the first time, and with the type of numbers he put up this season, it's clear that it would be in the Twins' best interest to sign him to a multi-year contract. Morneau said he isn't thinking of a deal right now, but he hopes to be with the club for quite some time.

"I love Minnesota, and I'd love to play my whole career here," Morneau said. "We have a great young team and we had a pretty decent year. We have a chance to do it next year and for a lot of years to come, especially with the new stadium coming."

2006 AL MVP Award
Voting results ¬
Player, Club1st2nd3rd4th5th6th7th8th9th10thPoints
Justin Morneau, MIN15832      320
Derek Jeter, NYY1214 1 1    306
David Ortiz, BOS 1115731   193
Frank Thomas, OAK 347741   174
Jermaine Dye, CWS 12657421 156
Joe Mauer, MIN  36125321116
Johan Santana, MIN1 51333113114
Travis Hafner, CLE 1   2473264
Vladimir Guerrero, LAA     2346 46
Carlos Guillen, DET    1 332334
Grady Sizemore, CLE    1 112724
Jim Thome, CWS     13   17
Alex Rodriguez, NYY    1  2 113
Jason Giambi, NYY     1  1 9
Johnny Damon, NYY    1    17
Justin Verlander, DET    1    17
Ichiro Suzuki, SEA     1  1 7
Joe Nathan, MIN     1   16
Manny Ramirez, BOS       1116
Miguel Tejada, BAL        215
Raul Ibanez, SEA       1 14
Robinson Cano, NYY       1  3
Paul Konerko, CWS       1  3
Magglio Ordonez, DET       1  3
Vernon Wells, TOR        113
Carl Crawford, TB        1 2
Mariano Rivera, NYY        1 2
Kenny Rogers, DET        1 2
Chien-Ming Wang, NYY        1 2
Troy Glaus, TOR         11
Gary Matthews Jr., TEX         11
A.J. Pierzynski, CWS         11
Michael Young, TEX         11
Past winners  Complete awards coverage

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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