Pujols, Carpenter draw peers' kudos

Pujols, Carpenter draw kudos from peers

ST. LOUIS -- Long known and recognized as one of baseball's finest players, Albert Pujols received what may be his most prestigious honor yet Wednesday, when he received the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award from the MLB Players Association. Joining him as a Players Choice Award winner is Chris Carpenter, named the National League's Outstanding Pitcher.

The Miller Award is given annually to "the player in either league whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement." The Players Choice Awards are voted on by Major League players in September. Pujols was a finalist for the Miller Award in 2005, as well as being named Major League Player of the Year in 2003.

Carpenter is a repeat winner of NL Outstanding Pitcher honors, and it's the third straight year he's brought home Players Choice hardware. In 2004, he was named the Comeback Player of the Year.

"The best compliment we can give him is we've seen him do this the last two or three years over and over again," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He's so strong between the ears that nothing fazes him. He has a great game, he gets ready for the next one. Besides the physical talent he's got a good head, good heart, good guts."

Players from each Major League team selected their team's nominee for the Miller Award. Those nominees were then put to fans, who selected six finalists, and that list was handed over to the players for the final vote. Joining Pujols as finalists were Derek Jeter, 2005 winner Mike Sweeney, Barry Zito, Andruw Jones and Todd Helton.

Pujols is well known for his off-field efforts, establishing the Pujols Family Foundation in 2005. The foundation works to help children in Pujols' native Dominican Republic, as well as kids in the U.S. who have disabilities and Down Syndrome. The latter condition is a major focus of Pujols' efforts, because his daughter, Isabella, has Down Syndrome.

"I can look at my daughter now and I look at her like she is a normal person, like she doesn't have Down Syndrome, so she can do the same things I can do and the same things my little boy can do," Pujols said. "She is my daughter, and that is so special."

Plus, of course, there are the on-field contributions. Pujols is considered a leading candidate for a second straight National League Most Valuable Player award after he hit .331/.431/.671 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with career highs in home runs (49) and RBIs (137).

Carpenter, meanwhile, turned in a second consecutive Cy Young Award-caliber season, though he may fall short of picking up that particular award for a second straight year. He went 15-8 with a 3.09 ERA, 184 strikeouts and 43 walks in 221 2/3 innings.

"We pride ourselves in coming to the park every single day and battle, grind, take one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, and never stop, play hard nine innings, go out and play from the first pitch to the last," Carpenter said. "And as long as you can go home and look at yourself in the mirror, that you did everything you could and played as hard as you can, the outcome doesn't really matter."

Carpenter could easily have had many more wins if not for some lapses in the bullpen and the occasional lack of offensive support. On seven different occasions, he pitched at least six innings, allowed no earned runs or one earned run, and did not receive a win.

That may cost him in Baseball Writers' Association of America voting, but his peers did not hold it against him.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.