Mighty season brings Braun NL MVP Award
Brewers slugger prevails over Kemp; Fielder finishes third
MILWAUKEE -- And now, a dose of tradition to follow a day of debate. Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun -- a prolific hitter from a contending team -- is the National League's Most Valuable Player.Braun outpolled the Dodgers' Matt Kemp to become Milwaukee's first league MVP since Hall of Famer Robin Yount won for the second time in 1989, when the Brewers were still an American League franchise. Braun was nervously waiting on the balcony of his Malibu, Calif., home with his home phone in one hand and his cell in the other, when the happy call finally came Tuesday from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. "It sounds cliché to say that I'm living the dream, but this really is a dream," Braun said. "This is beyond my wildest dreams, to be in this position at this point in my career. I'm proud." Braun received 20 of a possible 32 first-place votes -- two BBWAA members in each NL city cast ballots -- for a total of 388 points. Kemp received 10 first-place votes and 332 points. Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, currently a free agent, finished third with one first-place vote and 229 points, giving the Brewers two players in the top five for the first time since Yount won his first AL MVP Award and Cecil Cooper ran fifth in 1982. D-backs outfielder Justin Upton garnered 214 points, including one first-place vote, to finish fourth. Braun, Kemp, Fielder and Upton were the only players to appear on all 32 ballots. Career Cardinal Albert Pujols, also a free agent, finished fifth, making this the 11th consecutive year in which he has placed in the top 10 of MVP voting. "It's going to take a while to come to terms of what this actually means for me," Braun said. "It's an incredibly prestigious award and a special group of guys to be mentioned with. Whenever you win an award like this, forever next to your name it will say, 'MVP.'" This year's AL MVP was Detroit's Justin Verlander, the first starting pitcher so honored in a quarter century. In the NL, the debate was not about pitchers vs. position players but whether an MVP should come from a winning team. Statistically, Braun and Kemp were nearly dead even, with a nod in most categories to Kemp. But the Brewers won the NL Central, and the Dodgers finished 11 1/2 games out in the NL West. Braun, who traded text messages Tuesday with runner-up Kemp, figures the Brewers' winning ways made the difference. "That's probably the one thing that separates us," Braun said "If you honestly assess our seasons individually, his numbers are probably slightly better than mine. I just feel fortunate to have been on the better team." And that makes a difference to BBWAA voters. Including Verlander and Braun, 16 of the 24 MVPs since 2000 have come from division winners, 19 have come from teams that made the playoffs and 21 -- all but three -- have come from teams that finished the season within 2 1/2 games of first place. Braun fit the bill, leading the Brewers to a franchise-record 96 wins in the regular season and the NL Central crown, their first since moving to the NL in 1998 and Milwaukee's first division title overall since 1982. Braun hit .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. Kemp batted .324 with 39 homers, 126 RBIs and 40 steals for the Dodgers. Kemp had the edge in homers, RBIs and steals, and he also made 60 more plate appearances than Braun, who finished second in the league in average and led NL players in slugging percentage (.597) and OPS (.994). "Let everybody know," Kemp said, "I hold no ill will against Mr. MVP. He's the man, he won the award, nobody should take anything away from him. He had an amazing season. "I'm happy for Braun. I knew it would be close. He had a great season and his team made the playoffs. I'm happy for him. We've got to work harder next year." The MVP honor capped a dream season for Braun, who turned 28 last week. He signed a record-setting contract extension in April that can keep him with Milwaukee through at least 2020 and positions Braun to be this generation's Yount, a player who spent all 20 of his Hall of Fame seasons in one uniform. "Ryan Braun is going to have a statue outside Miller Park someday," Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said last week. Braun has already provided some bronze-worthy moments. He hit the home run that clinched the NL Wild Card in 2008, and another that clinched the NL Central this September. By then, Braun was already the Brewers' first player with 30 homers and 30 steals in a season since Tommy Harper in 1970. Braun was voted by fans to start the All-Star Game for the fourth straight season, though a leg injury kept him out. After the season, he won the Silver Slugger Award for the fourth time. The Brewers have had four league MVPs in 43 seasons as a franchise. Reliever Rollie Fingers won in 1981 and Yount in '82 and '89. Both are in the Hall of Fame, and their numbers hang, retired, at Miller Park. "When I made the commitment to the city of Milwaukee, to the Milwaukee Brewers organization and to this fan base, my intent was to spend my whole career in Milwaukee and one day be mentioned alongside names like Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers. It's a process to get there. I think I need to accomplish more to truly be in that conversation." Braun is the 13th player to win both an NL MVP Award and the NL Rookie of the Year Award, which he was awarded in 2007. That puts him in very good company; the other dual winners are Ryan Howard, Pujols, Jeff Bagwell, Andre Dawson, Johnny Bench, Dick Allen, Pete Rose, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Frank Robinson, Willie Mays and Don Newcombe. "I think it will take a few days to truly grasp what this means," Braun said.
National League Most Valuable Player voting totals