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A-Rod notches fourth Aaron Award

A-Rod notches fourth Aaron Award

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez's terrific season may soon open a pathway to even greater riches, as the Yankees prepare a lucrative contract extension for the All-Star third baseman.

Yet the Yankees aren't the only ones who are finding time to appreciate Rodriguez's 2007 campaign, in which he led the Major Leagues in home runs, RBIs and runs scored.

Rodriguez received 24 percent of the American League vote and secured his fourth Hank Aaron Award on Sunday, with the presentation taking place at Colorado's Coors Field before Game 4 of the World Series.

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Rodriguez -- who also was honored with the award in 2001, 2002 and 2003 -- was unable to attend because of prior commitments, said Commissioner Bud Selig.

The 32-year-old Rodriguez set career highs with 143 runs scored and 156 RBIs while batting .314 and slugging 54 home runs for the Yankees, helping his club overcome early stumbles out of the gate to finish with 94 victories on its way to the AL Wild Card.

The performance put Rodriguez in select company in baseball history. Since RBIs became an official category in 1920, only three other players (and none within the last 50 years) have compiled a season with the outright Major League lead in home runs, RBIs and runs scored, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Their names? Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.

Aaron said on Sunday that of all his achievements during a stellar 23-year playing career in Milwaukee and Atlanta, the numbers he remains proudest of are his runs scored and RBI totals.

"I wouldn't say the home runs, I wouldn't say the batting average," Aaron said. "I would say the runs batted in and the runs scored, because those are the two things that win ballgames. You can hit home runs, you can hit home runs with nobody on base, you can touch home plate with nobody on base, but the most important thing is batted-in runs, especially when you have runners in scoring position."

Rodriguez, who spoke often in 2007 about the importance of team play and doing little things to help the Yankees win games, would agree.

The Hank Aaron Award, presented by Sharp, was introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, and honors the most outstanding offensive performer in each league. This is the first year that Sharp AQUOS, the official high-definition television of Major League Baseball, has been the presenting sponsor of the award.

The Milwaukee Brewers' Prince Fielder secured the National League's Aaron honors after clubbing 50 home runs and leading the Senior Circuit with a .618 slugging percentage. Fielder attended the presentation at Coors Field.

"He carried his ballclub all year, and he is a young man, to be honest with you," Aaron said. "He's young. So when you see someone who has the credentials that he had and do the things that he did this past year, you have to say that he is on his way to being part of the Cooperstown brigade."

Rodriguez's entry into that class has long been a foregone conclusion. Widely considered the likeliest candidate to someday trump Aaron's lifetime career home runs mark of 755, Rodriguez became the youngest player to hit 500 home runs in August.

He is already connected to Aaron in terms of their shared power-hitting consistency. When Rodriguez hit his 40th home run -- on Aug. 20, off the Angels' Chris Bootcheck -- he tied Aaron, Barry Bonds and Harmon Killebrew in having hit 40 or more home runs in eight seasons, the quartet sharing honors of the second-most in Major League history.

The only player to better the mark is Ruth, who hit 40 or more home runs in 11 seasons.

"I think that home runs will always have a special place in baseball's heart," Aaron said. "When someone hits a home run, it's just something that is magic about it. I mean, it will always be there.

"... But I think that if you talk to teams and team owners and teams that win championships, and things like that, it's the ballclub that does the complete things, like runs batted in, bunt with guys on first base, do little things, field ground balls and things like that. That's the most important thing."

Rodriguez's season ended with a fizzle, as he homered just once and drove in only one run in the Yankees' four-game AL Division Series loss to Cleveland, but the biggest bangs of the offseason are yet to come.

While Rodriguez has been enjoying the praises of an individually rewarding season -- he's the overwhelming favorite to receive Most Valuable Player honors on Nov. 19 -- the Yankees are prepared to look forward to 2008.

Already knowing that they will report to Spring Training with a new manager, having parted ways with Joe Torre earlier this month, the Yankees envision hitting the playing fields of Tampa with Rodriguez entrenched as their starting third baseman.

The Yankees are readying to meet soon with Rodriguez and his agent, Scott Boras, to discuss a potential multi-year contract extension that will give the 10-time All-Star a raise over the $81 million he is due to receive over the final three years of his contract.

Rodriguez holds a clause that allows him to opt out of that deal and become a free agent, and the Yankees have publicly stated that if he opts out, they will not pursue him.

Bryan Hoch 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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