You are not going to persuade me that Barry Bonds is not the most valuable player in the National League -- or in all of baseball, for that matter. So don't even try. Let me tell you something about Barry Bonds: His numbers are absurd. Give him his hardware -- this will be MVP award No. 7 for him -- and start debating something else more worthwhile, like whether he's the greatest player ever.
Bonds's MVP selection will not be unanimous, of course -- partly because Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and others make compelling cases, and partly because most writers don't care for Bonds's personality.
Someone will knock Bonds's defense, and justifiably so. In his later years, left field is just a place he stands around when his San Francisco Giants aren't batting. And someone will point out that Beltre's Los Angeles Dodgers edged out Bonds's Giants in the NL West.
But nobody, including Beltre, carried his team as far on his own shoulders as Bonds did. And that's the purest definition of "most valuable."
Let's just throw a few numbers out there:
A .610 on-base percentage (which would be the highest in history). An .815 slugging percentage (surpassed only by Ruth and Bonds himself). Forty-five homers with only 41 strikeouts. And enough walks (231) that, as ESPN.com's Jayson Stark recently pointed out, even if he did not have a single base hit this season, his on-base percentage would still be around .375 -- good enough to put him in the top 20 in the NL.
That, friends, is ridiculous. My NL MVP ballot:
1.Bonds. 2. Beltre. 3. Edmonds.
Now let's argue something worth arguing about.
I'm not buying the argument that Boston's Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz cancel each other out, as if one's valuable-ness was made less by the other's presence. Take either one of them away, and the Red Sox don't win the wild card. If I have to choose between them, I'll take Ramirez, since he plays the field (and has even contributed some fabulous plays in left) and has the edge over Ortiz in homers, batting average and slugging.
I also don't buy the argument that New York's Gary Sheffield has carried the Yankees' offense by himself. They have already set a franchise record with 241 home runs. Somebody besides Sheffield must be hitting them.
A final word about Miguel Tejada: The Orioles' incomparable shortstop was the best player in the league this year, without a doubt. Were there not a handful of deserving players on contending teams, I could justify voting for him. If you're an Orioles fan, thank your lucky stars you have him for five more years.
1. Ramirez. 2. Sheffield. 3. Vladimir Guerrero, Anaheim.
NL Cy Young
This one comes down to one question: How much do wins and losses matter?
My answer: They are not the ultimate criterion, but they do matter. A very good pitcher once told me that a great pitcher can tell when he is going to be locked in a low-scoring game, and raise his game accordingly.
The question is pertinent because Arizona's Randy Johnson (16-14) would win the Cy Young Award, hands down, if he had notched a few more wins and suffered fewer losses -- which is to say, had the Diamondbacks scored him a few more runs.
You know what this means -- an unprecedented seventh Cy Young for Roger Clemens. As amazing in his own way as Bonds, the Rocket went 4-0 with a 2.57 ERA in September, as the Astros battled for the wild card. Fittingly, Clemens is scheduled to start Houston's finale today on three days' rest in an attempt to clinch a playoff spot.
1. Clemens. 2. Johnson. 3. Carl Pavano, Florida.
AL Cy Young
Hopefully my selection of Ramirez for the MVP will get you Red Sox whiners (you know who are) off my back -- because as good as Curt Schilling has been this season (leading the league with 21 wins and a .778 winning percentage), he was quite clearly the second-best pitcher in the league.
The scariest thing about Minnesota's Johan Santana is not his 2.61 ERA, his .192 opponents' batting average, his 13-0 record since the all-star break or his 265-to-54 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. The scariest thing is that he's only 25.
1. Santana. 2. Schilling. 3. Mariano Rivera, New York.
NL Rookie of the Year
Guess who used to have Jason Bay, the Pittsburgh Pirates' 26-year-old rookie sensation? That's right, our as-yet-unnamed Washington ballclub.
The Montreal Expos drafted Bay in the 22nd round in 2000, but then-general manager Omar Minaya traded him and another prospect to the New York Mets during spring training 2002 for the magnificent Lou Collier, who wound up amassing 11 at-bats for the Expos.
Bay has compiled 26 homers and 82 RBI despite not playing until May 7 because of shoulder surgery, and his .554 slugging percentage would rank 11th in the league (ahead of Adam Dunn and Carlos Beltran, among others) if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
1. Bay. 2. Khalil Greene, San Diego. 3. Matt Holliday, Colorado.
AL Rookie of the Year
The Oakland Athletics let Tejada walk away over the winter, in part, because they believed Bobby Crosby was ready to take over shortstop. While Crosby is certainly no Tejada (in fact, no other shortstop in the game compares to Tejada these days), he has put up 22 homers, third-most ever by a rookie shortstop.
Orioles right-hander Daniel Cabrera jumped from Class A last year to the majors this May, and has posted an impressive 12-8 record, good enough to earn some consideration in an otherwise weak year for rookies.
1. Crosby. 2. Cabrera. 3. Shingo Takatsu, Chicago.
NL Manager of the Year
Back when the Atlanta Braves could run Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz out there three out of every five games, there was a perception that all Bobby Cox had to do was sit back and watch the wins pile up. It wasn't true then, and it certainly isn't true now, with Maddux and Glavine gone and Smoltz now a closer.
Cox lost Maddux, Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez over the winter, then lost Marcus Giles, Chipper Jones and Horacio Ramirez to injuries for long stretches, yet still guided the Braves to their 13th straight division titles.
It's an injustice that Cox has only one manager of the year award to show for 12 straight titles. Let's make it two.
1. Cox. 2. Phil Garner, Houston. 3. Tony La Russa, St. Louis.
AL Manager of the Year
Texas Rangers skipper Buck Showalter lost 85 homers from last season's lineup over the winter (in the form of Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro), then was saddled with a pitching staff so fragile and so lacking in stoppers that he has had to run 16 different starting pitchers to the mound this season.
Despite that, Showalter kept the Rangers in contention until the final week of the season.
It's not easy to vote against Anaheim's Mike Scioscia, who has been without Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus, Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon for long stretches this season, yet still has the Angels poised for a playoff spot.
1. Showalter. 2. Scioscia. 3. Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota.