Barry Bonds achieved another unprecedented feat yesterday in his march up the list of baseball's all-time greats, winning his fifth National League most valuable player award -- two more than any other player in the history of either league.
The fifth of Bonds's MVP awards was additionally notable by the fact that he won it unanimously for the first time, earning all 32 first-place votes and 448 total points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals was second, and Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros was third.
"I'd rather win the World Series," said Bonds, whose San Francisco Giants lost in seven games to the Anaheim Angels in the Series last month. "But this is great. I'm very excited about it. I'm trying to figure out how a 38-year-old is still playing like this."
After winning three MVP awards in the 1990s -- in 1990 and '92 for the Pittsburgh Pirates and in 1993 in his first season with the Giants -- Bonds has enjoyed a late-career surge that has thrust him to fourth on the all-time home run list.
Bonds has put together arguably the greatest back-to-back seasons in major league history the past two seasons, bashing a record 73 home runs and slugging a record .863 in 2001, then adding his first batting title (.370) and all-time records for walks (198) and on-base percentage (.582) in 2002.
He fell two first-place votes shy of winning unanimously last year -- the other two votes, both cast by Chicago area writers, went to Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa.
"I'm just smarter," Bonds said of his late-career surge. "Last year's MVP could've gone either of three ways. Any of us deserved it. Luis Gonzalez had the best year of his career, and Arizona goes on to win the World Series. Sammy was hitting 60 home runs every year. That was something you wish you could've shared.
"This year, I kind of ran away with it."
Bonds was speaking from Fukuoka, Japan, where he is part of a team of major league all-stars touring the country. He has three homers so far in the series of eight exhibition games, and has captivated the Japanese people with his mammoth long balls and his presence.
More than once, he said, he has been asked about the ever-present smile on his face, quite different than the scowling image often conveyed in the American media.
"They say, 'Barry why are you so nice all the time?' " he said. "I say, 'Because you're around nice people all day [in Japan]. They don't write negative stuff all the time. . . . I think we should take a lesson from the Japanese media."
Bonds's collection of MVP awards dwarfs that of anyone else in his sport. No one but Bonds has won more than three. Babe Ruth, his closest statistical comparison, won only one (though arcane voting rules prevented him from winning others). No one but Bonds has won back-to-back MVP awards twice, and only nine other players have done it even once.
With five MVP awards, Bonds is in the same stratosphere as some of the greatest players in all of sports, such as Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and Wayne Gretzky.
Asked yesterday how it feels to be in such lofty company, Bonds replied firmly:
"I wish I was liked as much as them," said. "That would be nice. I wish I had the same form of respect they have. People really admire their accomplishments and achievements. Everyone has had their ups and downs with the media. I wish mine could be erased and I could be respected as much as them."