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Fans' turn to pick Aaron Award nominees

Fans' turn to pick Aaron Award nominees

In 1999, the Hank Aaron Award was introduced by Major League Baseball to honor the 25th anniversary of its namesake hitting his 715th home run and passing the immortal Babe Ruth for what then was first place on the all-time list.

Now you can help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the newest piece of major postseason hardware by starting the process of determining which two players should receive this as best overall performers in each league.

The first phase of voting is under way exclusively at MLB.com for the Hank Aaron Award presented by Sharp, with each club having three nominees. This is the seventh consecutive year that fans have had a voice in selecting the award winners, and your responsibility is expanded in the 2009 process.

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Vote through Sept. 15 to determine the club nominee, and then vote in the second phase from Sept. 16-30 to select the winner in each league. The winners will be announced as always before Game 4 at the World Series, a tradition that annually includes Hammerin' Hank himself seated at the podium alongside the offensive stars.

There are even more incentives to vote this time. By voting in the first phase, you will be entered for a chance to win prizes from Sharp, including 46- and 40-inch Aquos LED-TVs and a Blu-ray Disc Player. By voting in Phase 2, you will be entered for a chance to win a trip for four to Game 4 of the 2009 World Series.

Last year's winners were Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis and Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez. There is much more ball to be played this season, but you can start narrowing down the list of finalists now. Do you go with brute-force power? Do you tip your cap to a .400 chase or a single-hitting legend? Will it matter whether the winners were slugging for contenders or is it strictly an individual thing?

American League candidates include such stars as Twins M&M sluggers Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau; Yankees newcomer Mark Teixeira; imminent MLB record-breaker Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners; Evan Longoria of the Rays; breakout slugger Kendry Morales of the Angels; Miguel Cabrera of the Central-leading Tigers; and Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays. Yankees or Red Sox players have won it in this league five years running.

National League candidates include sluggers like apparent MVP front-runner Albert Pujols of the Cardinals; possible 50/30 trailblazer Mark Reynolds of the D-backs; league RBI leader Prince Fielder of the Brewers; league batting leader and MVP candidate Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins; Adrian Gonzalez of the Padres; Raul Ibanez and Chase Utley of the Phillies; and Adam Dunn of the Nationals.

"This award ... was bestowed upon me many years ago, and I want to thank the Commissioner for doing it in perpetuity," Aaron said. "The one thing I want to say about this award is that it goes further than just a ballplayer hitting and batting in runs. You look at this award and you say, 'What does it exemplify?' It exemplifies the fact that each one of these players meant so much to his team, not only hitting the home runs or batting in the runs, but simply manufacturing wins for their respective teams."

Aaron has been consistent in that message every year. His advice to you in voting is to think pretty much like MVP voters think -- except it's only about what happens when these candidates are in the batter's box. Offense only.

"For the last ten years, Major League Baseball has paid tribute to the spectacular career of one of our greatest players, Hank Aaron, through the Sharp presents the Hank Aaron Award," said John Brody, Senior Vice President, Corporate Sales & Marketing, Major League Baseball Properties. "The new voting process will give our fans an even greater voice in selecting the best offensive players of the year."

"We are excited to give fans more involvement in the selection of this award, with the expansion on the voting process for this important honor, said Judah Zeigler, associate vice president, Retail and Consumer Marketing, Sharp Electronics Corporation. "As presenting sponsor of this prestigious award, we look forward to the voting results as we recognize the most outstanding offensive performers in each league."

Past winners of the award include: Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa (1999); Carlos Delgado and Todd Helton (2000); Rodriguez and Barry Bonds (2001, 2002); Rodriguez and Albert Pujols (2003); Manny Ramirez and Bonds (2004); David Ortiz and Andruw Jones (2005); Derek Jeter and Ryan Howard (2006); and Rodriguez and Prince Fielder (2007).

A-Rod is tops on that list with four, followed by Bonds with three and Manny with a pair, but none of those three will be able to pad those totals in 2009. A-Rod, who missed more than the first month of the season, was not nominated by the Yankees, who list Teixeira, Jeter and Robinson Cano as your choices. Manny was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance, and the Dodgers' nominees are Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Casey Blake. Bonds has not played since 2007.

Howard had 30 homers and 91 RBIs through Tuesday's action for the defending World Series champs, but he cannot add a second Aaron Award because the Phillies' third nominee besides Ibanez and Utley is Shane Victorino. You know you are having a great season when you have to leave Howard off your Aaron Award nominee list.

Not coincidentally, perhaps, the other team from the 2008 World Series also had to make a tough omission among its nominee list. The Rays' choices are Longoria, Carl Crawford and Jason Bartlett. That means the player who was leading the AL in home runs through Tuesday, Carlos Pena, will not be considered. Pena was weighted down by a .211 average, and Bartlett has been a steady face among MLB batting leaders.

It will be interesting to see if fans give Ichiro a shot at this award. He is not the first guy you think about when you think of Aaron. But like the Hammer, Ichiro is prone to make some offensive history. Within the next few weeks, the nine-time All-Star should reach the 200-hit mark for the ninth consecutive year -- something never done before in MLB's 133-year history.

Going into Tuesday night's game against the Tigers in Detroit, Ichiro had a MLB-leading 175 hits, putting him on the doorstep of replacing Hall of Famer Willie Keeler at the top of the list for the most consecutive 200-hit seasons. Ichiro and Keeler are tied now.

Also keep an eye on Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval. He just missed out on 2009 All-Star recognition but became something of an Internet sensation during the dramatic Sprint All-Star Final Vote race won on the NL side by Victorino. Maybe Giants fans will pick up their campaigning where they left off then.

"Just to be nominated for an award that carries Hank Aaron's name is a great honor," Angels nominee Torii Hunter said. "He's one of the greatest players -- and men -- to ever play our game. He's what baseball is all about."

So you are entrusted with a major decision here, and take those words into consideration. It is time to celebrate a 10-year anniversary by deciding it all for yourself.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. Lyle Spencer contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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