ST. LOUIS -- This wasn't an announcement. It was a coronation. Then again, a case could be made that the entire 2009 season fit that description for Albert Pujols.
Long since established as one of baseball's great players, Pujols emerged as the game's dominant figure in 2009. On Tuesday, the Baseball Writers' Association of America once again recognized him as such, naming Pujols the National League Most Valuable Player in a unanimous decision.
Pujols received all 32 first-place votes, good for 448 ballot points. Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez garnered 15 second-place votes and 233 points. First baseman Ryan Howard of the Phillies was a close third with 217 points. He was followed by Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
"It's an award you give to one person, but I believe if it wouldn't have been for the help my teammates have given me for the past year, I wouldn't be standing up here," Pujols said. "I always say, if I could split this award and give a piece to every single player that had an impact with this organization, I would do that."
It's the second straight year that Pujols has won the award, and the third time overall. He is the 10th player in history to win three MVPs, and the fifth to win it three times in the National League. He is the 12th player to win back-to-back MVP awards. The last was Barry Bonds, who won it four straight years from 2001-04.
"When you think about the year we had, to have it end in this fashion is really quite remarkable," general manager John Mozeliak said. "It's historic what he's achieved and we're very fortunate to be a part of that."
Every three-time MVP who is eligible for Hall of Fame enshrinement has been elected to the Hall. Alex Rodriguez and Bonds have not come up for election yet. Now Pujols makes 10, and he's building his Cooperstown case every year.
"There's three things that as a professional athlete you want," Pujols said. "You want to get to the big leagues, and I accomplished that. Winning a World Series ring, I got that. And then getting to the Hall of Fame. That's everybody's dream. Every athlete, they want to be up there in the Hall of Fame, mentioned with the greatest players to ever play this game."
The award puts Pujols on a level with a number of the game's greats, but in St. Louis, a third MVP has a special resonance. Stan Musial is the only other Cardinals player with three MVP awards, and with every year, Pujols inches a little closer to Musial's place as the greatest Cardinal ever.
Pujols said that Musial called his foundation to offer congratulations, but that he still needed to return the call.
"He is The Man," Pujols said. "I keep saying that. I hope by the time that I'm done in this game, I can have half the numbers Stan Musial had in his career."
He has time to do it. Pujols still hasn't turned 30 -- that will occur in January. Only one player in history -- Bonds -- has more MVP awards than Pujols, yet the Cardinals superstar is still very much in the heart of his prime.
He may even be getting better. By some measures, 2009 was Pujols' best year at the plate. He batted .327 with a .443 on-base percentage, a .658 slugging percentage, 47 home runs and 135 RBIs. Moreover, he did it for a division champion.
Pujols led the NL in on-base, slugging, homers and runs (124). He ranked second with 45 doubles, third with a career-high 115 walks, third with 135 RBIs and sixth with 186 hits. He won his fifth Silver Slugger Award.
The on-base percentage was the second best of his career, and the slugging was his third-best mark. Pujols won his first NL home run title, he came two RBIs short of a personal best and equaled his own high of 16 stolen bases.
He also put his mark on the season in other ways, starting as far back as Spring Training. Pujols appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in March. He was the face of the 2009 All-Star Game, which took place at his home park. He was the biggest star, though not the winner, of the Home Run Derby.
If any one person is the face of baseball in 2009, Albert Pujols is.
THREE OR MORE MVPs
1990, '92-93, 2001-04
1951, '54, '55
1951, '53, '55
1939, '41, '47
1932, '33, '38
1956, '57, '62
1943, '46, '48
2003, '05, '07
1980, '81, '86
"It probably is going to take a couple of days, and then I'll say wow, I'm in the same place with Stan Musial, Alex Rodriguez, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams," Pujols said. "The greatest players who have played the game. It's pretty special to me to be mentioned with those guys."
On the field, Pujols' value to a division champion was enormous, maybe even more so than was immediately obvious.
He came out swinging, with nine hits and nine RBIs in the season's first week as the Cardinals surged out of the gate with a 6-2 start. The team dealt with numerous injuries in the early months, but Pujols more than anyone else helped keep the Cardinals afloat.
A team that went long stretches without its projected starting third baseman, shortstop, No. 1 starter and No. 3 starter, and changed closers in the season's first week, still kept winning. That was in large part because of Pujols, who finished June with 30 homers.
With their superstar raking, the Cardinals stayed at or near the top of the National League Central, leading the team's front office to make a series of trades that bolstered the roster. The additions of Mark DeRosa, Matt Holliday, Julio Lugo and John Smoltz helped turn a contender into a runaway division winner.
And it's no exaggeration to say that without Pujols, those additions might not have been made. Had the Cardinals not been nine games over .500 in mid-July, it would have been much harder to get to work on a Holliday deal.
The story of the full Cardinals season was a story of many heroes, including Holliday, including starters Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. But no one loomed larger than Pujols.