In a vote that became a referendum on the very nature of the award, Oakland Athletics shortstop Miguel Tejada easily outdistanced Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez yesterday and was named the American League's most valuable player.

Tejada, who hit 34 homers and drove in 131 runs for the AL West champions, received 21 of the 28 first-place votes cast in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Rodriguez received five first-place votes and finished a distant runner-up, while New York Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano received the other two first-place votes and finished third.

"It's unbelievable," said Tejada, who took part in a conference call with reporters from the presidential palace of his native Dominican Republic, where he was to be feted with a reception last night. "I don't think there can be anyone on the earth more happy than I am right now."

In handing the award to Tejada, the majority of voters made a literal interpretation of the word "valuable," rewarding Tejada for his ample contributions to a team that won 103 games before losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Although Rodriguez, in posting arguably the greatest season in history by a shortstop, had substantially better numbers than Tejada -- leading the majors with 57 homers and 142 RBI, while playing Gold Glove-quality defense -- he played for a last-place team that did not play a meaningful game after May.

"Statistically, Alex had the best year," said Evan Grant, who covers the Rangers for the Dallas Morning News, but who voted for Tejada. "But if two guys are close in some regards, I tend to lean towards the guy who did it in a pennant race."

"I was surprised" Rodriguez didn't win, Tejada said, "because he put up the numbers. I'd been thinking the whole way he was going to win the MVP. I was surprised today when I won. . . . I know one of these years he is going to win three or four MVPs in a row."

Tejada, 26, anchored the A's offense this season from the No. 3 spot in the batting order, previously held by Jason Giambi, who defected to the New York Yankees last winter.

Tejada's most memorable performances came in back-to-back games near the end of the A's American League-record 20-game winning streak, when he hit a game-winning three-run homer and a game-winning, bases-loaded single, both in the ninth inning.

For the last two years, Tejada had been on the verge of turning the American League's famed triumvirate of great young shortstops -- Rodriguez, New York's Derek Jeter and Boston's Nomar Garciaparra -- into a quartet. However, in becoming the first of the group to win an MVP award, by one measure he has surpassed them all.

Tejada became the third Dominican player to win an MVP award, joining Toronto's George Bell in 1987 and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs in 1998.

Just to make his way to the presidential palace yesterday from his home town of Bani, Tejada had to endure a massive traffic jam created by well-wishers.

"The people stopped me in the street," he said. "Everybody knows me and said hello. All the people of my country, they deserve it."

Miguel Tejada said he was surprised he beat out Rangers' Alex Rodriguez, a fellow shortstop who had better offensive stats.