By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
When Ryan Zimmerman received the news yesterday afternoon, his reaction was the same as it might be to a borderline pitch called a strike, or to a scorching liner just out of his reach. Shrug it off, and move on.
"There's no point being mad," Zimmerman said. The result, indeed, was irreversible: Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals' cornerstone of a third baseman, lost out in the race for the National League's rookie of the year award to Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez in the closest vote since the current ballot structure was instituted in 1980.
"It was going to be close," Zimmerman said by phone shortly after receiving the news. "There's a lot of good people. I wasn't really expecting anything. It wasn't like it was worth getting mad or upset or anything. Hanley's a great player, and he had a great year."
In voting by 32 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- two in each NL city -- Ramirez received 14 first-place votes and 105 points, edging out Zimmerman, who received 10 first-place tallies and 101 points. Candidates receive five points for a first-place vote, three for second and one for third. Florida second baseman Dan Uggla finished third with six first-place votes and 55 points, one of six Marlins to appear on at least one ballot. Washington Post writers do not participate in the balloting.
Detroit's Justin Verlander, a flame-throwing right-hander who helped the surprising Detroit Tigers to the American League pennant by going 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA, won the AL award in a landslide over Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon. Verlander received 26 of 28 first-place votes to rack up 133 points, 70 more than Papelbon.
In any other year, any of those names -- Ramirez, Zimmerman, Uggla, Verlander, Papelbon or Minnesota lefty Francisco Liriano -- might have been deemed a worthy winner. The class of 2006 might be remembered fondly over the next decade.
"You can see kind of a turning of the page in the game with all these young guys," Zimmerman said. "It's kind of a fun new thing to watch. Hopefully, having all this new talent around will help the game. That's all we care about. Personal awards are fun. But in the end, if we can help the game and help our teams, that's more important."
Still, the NL race -- which was expected to be close after balloting wrapped up immediately following the season -- was fascinating to break down even afterward. Zimmerman, whose 110 RBI was the fourth-highest total for an NL rookie since the award was first given out in 1947, was completely left off three ballots. Ramirez, whose 119 runs were the most for an NL rookie since Vada Pinson scored 131 in 1959, didn't appear on five ballots.
The race was so close that it might have actually been determined by the fourth-place finisher -- Florida pitcher Josh Johnson, who went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA but didn't pitch after Sept. 12 because of an injury. He appeared on only three ballots, but got two first-place votes. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer cast one of the first-place votes for Johnson, putting Ramirez second and Uggla third in a "close" vote over Zimmerman, he said yesterday.
If either of Johnson's first-place votes had gone to Zimmerman -- or, for that matter, if any of the voters who left him off the ballot completely had placed him first -- Zimmerman could have won.
"I guess having it be so close is the consolation prize," Zimmerman said.
Ramirez had an outstanding season as well. He had a higher average than Zimmerman (.292 to .287), higher slugging and on-base percentages (.480 and .353, respectively, for Ramirez, to .471 and .351 for Zimmerman). His most significant edge, though, came in his 51 stolen bases. Zimmerman barely edged out Ramirez in doubles (47-46) and homers (20-17), and his major offensive advantage came in RBI (110-59).
The two, along with Uggla, developed a respect for each other over the course of the season. Two of Zimmerman's finest moments came against the Marlins, a game-ending homer on July 4 and a game-ending single two days later.
"He's unbelievable," Ramirez said during a teleconference with reporters. "He can make a nice play. He can hit. . . . He [did] not play for him. He play for the team. He's a great guy, and he's an example for other guys. He's going to be a great third baseman."
If Zimmerman had an edge in the voting, it appeared to be on defense. Only three major league shortstops committed more errors than Ramirez's 26. Zimmerman, meantime, was a regular on highlight shows, and his 15 errors and .965 fielding percentage were the exact numbers posted by St. Louis's Scott Rolen, who won the Gold Glove.
As the race heated up in September, players throughout the league, and particularly in the NL East, started to take notice. Uggla set a rookie record for homers by a second baseman with 27, but sputtered to hit .221 in September, his lowest average in any month. Ramirez, meanwhile, hit .352 in September, helping the surprising Marlins stay in the race.
During that month, Ramirez said, Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins approached him before a game and praised both him and Uggla.
"You guys are unbelievable," Ramirez recalled Rollins saying. "You guys can win the rookie of the year, one of you two."
Ramirez responded: "We're not playing for that at all. We want to go to the playoffs our first year in the big leagues."
Zimmerman, too, sounded more concerned about team goals yesterday. He had traveled from his boyhood home in Virginia Beach to the District for a downtown news conference, to be held if he had won. But he insisted the trip wasn't wasted because he needed to start looking for a house to buy. Shrug it off, and move on.
"You can't be mad," Zimmerman said. "Me, Hanley and Uggla -- if it's any other year, there's three hands-down winners. If anything, it's good for the game to have all those young players around."