St. Louis Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein and Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge have been named the Holiday Inn Look Again Players of the Year for the National League and American League, respectively. Voting took place for the inaugural awards exclusively on MLB.com throughout last month.
Eckstein beat out utilityman Chris Burke of the Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann, Milwaukee Brewers reliever Brian Shouse, Chicago Cubs utilityman John Mabry, outfielder Eric Byrnes of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, San Francisco Giants utilityman Mark Sweeney, third baseman Wes Helms of the Florida Marlins, New York Mets second baseman Jose Valentin, Washington Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson, San Diego Padres right-hander Woody Williams, outfielder Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander John Grabow, Cincinnati Reds utilityman Ryan Freel and third baseman Garrett Atkins of the Colorado Rockies.
If intangibles were a quantifiable statistic, Eckstein would surely rank among the league leaders in that category.
Playing through numerous injuries, the diminutive Eckstein delivered a giant performance in the Fall Classic, finishing 8-for-12 with three doubles, three runs scored and four RBIs en route to World Series MVP honors in St. Louis' five-game victory over the Tigers. He emerged as the leading man in the Cardinals' 5-4 win in Game 4, smacking three two-out doubles, including the game-winner in the bottom of the eighth.
"Whenever David is playing, there is absolutely no doubt that our club responds to how hard he plays and how committed he is to doing whatever the team needs," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after his squad's World Series-clinching win. "I mean, he is a wonderful leader on and off the field, and not just quietly, but he can also be very vocal. And believe me, he's more than just guts, he's a very good player."
Inge, meanwhile, got the nod by edging out Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim corner infielder Robb Quinlan, center fielder Mark Kotsay of the Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Reed Johnson, Tampa Bay Devil Rays utilityman Ty Wigginton, Cleveland Indians right-hander Jake Westbrook, second baseman Brian Roberts of the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners southpaw Jake Woods, Texas Rangers utilityman Mark DeRosa, corner infielder Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, outfielder Jason Tyner of the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox third baseman Joe Crede and New York Yankees reliever Scott Proctor.
In spite of his pedestrian stature, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Inge was hardly ordinary in 2006 -- both at the plate and on the field.
Without much fanfare, the scrappy veteran slammed 27 home runs and led all third basemen in range factor (3.45), zone rating (0.825) and assists (398), helping Detroit boast the most efficient defensive unit in the AL.
"I might be biased and get a lot of arguments," Tigers manager Jim Leyland told the Detroit Free Press in early August, "but I don't know anybody that throws it better than Brandon Inge."
The shocking playoff runs of Inge's Tigers and Eckstein's Cardinals should have come as no surprise.
After all, it's no coincidence that many best supporting actors have been attached to Oscar-winning films. And it isn't dumb luck that the year's top role players came from the season's World Series opponents.