"We have two great hitters in Major League Baseball this year who won this award," Commissioner Bud Selig said at a news conference before the game. "The Hank Aaron Award, which is presented to the most outstanding offensive performers in the American and National Leagues, was introduced in 1999. Hank, I'd like to thank you once again for joining us in presenting this award. Aramis and Kevin, both of you had outstanding seasons in your respective leagues."
The Hank Aaron Award was created and introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record of 714, and at that time, it was the first new major award introduced by MLB in more than 25 years.
Past winners of the Hank Aaron Award include: Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa (1999); Carlos Delgado and Todd Helton (2000); Rodriguez and Barry Bonds (2001, '02); Rodriguez and Albert Pujols ('03); Manny Ramirez and Bonds ('04); David Ortiz and Andruw Jones ('05); Derek Jeter and Ryan Howard ('06); and Rodriguez and Fielder ('07).
Aaron's record of 755 homers stood until 2007, when it was eclipsed by former Giants slugger Bonds, who sits at 762 home runs after not playing this past season.
Aaron began his illustrious career with the Braves in Milwaukee and ended it 23 years later in 1976 with the Brewers when Selig was the team's owner. He surpassed Ruth's record on April 8, 1974, as a member of the Atlanta Braves, hitting the record-breaking shot into the left-field bullpen at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Aaron, who is the only player in Major League history to amass more than 700 homers, 2,000 RBIs (2,297), 2,000 runs (2,174) and 3,000 hits (3,771), said the two award winners this year best exemplify the team traits that made him a great player.
Neither led their respective leagues this year in home runs. Aaron led the NL four times and was an All-Star 23 times.
"These guys have demonstrated that they can play the game of baseball the way it's meant to be played," Aaron said about the award winners. "The most home runs I ever hit in a season were 47 [in 1971]. And that was it. No more. And I just want to say, really, I offer my congratulations to the two of them. And believe me that it just takes teamwork, and I'm sure that things are going to work out fine for them."
Ramirez hit .289 with 97 runs scored, a career-high 44 doubles, 27 home runs, a club-high 111 RBIs, a career-best .380 on-base percentage and a .518 slugging percentage.
It was the sixth season of 100 or more RBIs in Aramis Ramirez's career. The native of the Dominican Republic now has six straight seasons, and seven overall, with 25 or more home runs. Eleven of his 27 homers gave the Cubs the lead.
In close and late situations, the 30-year-old batted .423 (30-for-71) with nine home runs and 29 RBIs. Ramirez collected 27 RBIs and 20 runs scored in 27 games in August, and he posted 56 RBIs in Chicago's final 69 games of the season.
Named an All-Star for the second time in his career, Ramirez was one of five Cubs players with 20 or more home runs, marking only the third time in franchise history that the feat has been accomplished.
Ramirez said his contributions so far to baseball pale in comparison to Aaron.
"I can never compare myself to a guy like Hank Aaron," Ramirez said. "I mean his numbers and those 23 All-Star Games. I'm only 21 behind. But I'm just honored having that award and sitting right next to him."
Youkilis set career highs with a .312 batting average to rank sixth in the AL, 168 hits, 43 doubles, and club-high totals of 29 home runs and 115 RBIs, good for fourth in the AL.
He averaged an RBI per every 4.7 at-bats, the best ratio in the AL, and also batted .374 with runners in scoring position. His .569 slugging percentage ranked third in the AL, his 76 extra-base hits were fourth and his .390 on-base percentage was sixth.
The versatile corner infielder collected 16 home runs and 62 RBIs in his final 61 games of the 2008 regular season. The 29-year-old Youkilis posted at least 15 RBIs in each month this season, highlighted by an August in which he had a .351 batting average, six home runs and 24 RBIs.
A first-time All-Star in 2008, Youkilis started at first base in the Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium.
"Well, I don't think I can ever compare myself to Hank Aaron in any way," Youkilis said. "I'll never see myself in that level. So to win this award, I don't know, I'm a little humbled by it. But it's great just to be able to have an award that's named after somebody that exemplified so much in this game and has brought so much history to this game. It's an honor just to be named in the same sentence. So for me, I'm thrilled."