NEW YORK, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- After taking the major leagues by storm and
captivating two nations, Japanese sensation Ichiro Suzuki fittingly has become only the second rookie to win a Most Valuable Player Award.
In a close election for the American League honor, the leadoff hitter who ignited the Seattle Mariners offense and won a Gold Glove for his play in right field Tuesday beat Oakland Athletics slugger Jason Giambi, last year's winner, by eight points.
Suzuki received 11-of-28 first-place votes and 289 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.Giambi had eight first-place votes and 281 points.
The first Japanese position player to earn a spot on a major league roster, Suzuki joins 1975 American League winner Fred Lynn of the Boston Red Sox as the only players voted MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season.
"I'm very pleased for Ichiro," said Seattle's Lou Piniella, who was honored as the AL Manager of the Year last week."It's a well deserved reward for the season he had. He did a great job for our team both at the top of the order and in the outfield."
The eight-point differential tied for the sixth tightest election in the 70-year history of American League voting.It equaled that of the 1995 vote when Boston first baseman Mo Vaughn defeated Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle.
Second baseman Bret Boone, Suzuki's teammate, had seven first-place votes and finished third with 259 points.Second baseman Roberto Alomar of the Indians received the other two first-place votes and was fourth with 165 points followed by
teammate Juan Gonzalez.
At age 28 and with seven batting titles in the Japanese League, Suzuki said he was a "little embarrassed" to win rookie honors after being presented with that award last week. However, he
makes no apologies for winning the MVP.
"It is a great honor to win this award, especially when so many players had such great years, including my teammate Bret Boone,"
Suzuki said through an interpreter.
Suzuki's 242 hits -- the most by any player in 71 years -- broke Shoeless Joe Jackson's AL rookie record of 233 for the Cleveland Indians in 1911. He led the majors with a .350 batting average
and 56 stolen bases and ranked second in the league with 127 runs scored. Suzuki was just the second rookie to win a batting title, following Tony Oliva in 1964.
Put in the unenviable position of having to help offset the loss of superstar Alex Rodriguez, all Suzuki did was help lead Seattle to the most wins (116) in the history of the game. He batted a major league-best .445 with runners in scoring
Suzuki is the second Mariner to win the MVP award, joining Ken Griffey Jr., who captured the honor in 1997.
On the day he legally can begin negotiations with any other team as a free agent, Giambi will have to settle for being the close runnerup to Suzuki.
The 30-year-old Giambi was attempting to become the first back-to-back MVP since Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox in 1993 and 1994.
The first baseman enjoyed another dominant season for the wild card champions, batting .342 with 39 homers and 120 RBI. He led the AL in walks (129), on-base percentage (.477) and doubles (47) and was tied for the league lead in extra-base hits with 87.
Also a free agent, Boone picked the right time to have a career year, hitting .331 with 37 homers and a league-high 141 RBI. He helped replace the punch that Seattle lost when Rodriguez left
via free agency last December.
Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers and finished sixth in the MVP voting despite playing with a last-place team that was never in contention. The multi-dimensional shortstop led the AL with 52 homers and 133 runs. He drove in 135 runs, played in every game and became only the fourth player ever to have 200 hits and 50 homers in a single season.
In 1996, Rodriguez lost the MVP voting by three points to Gonzalez.
Alomar, Gonzalez and first baseman Jim Thome all contributed to
the Indians regaining the top spot in the AL Central. Thome was seventh overall in the voting.
Alomar hit .336 with 20 homers and 100 RBI for the AL Central champions. He also scored 113 runs and stole 30 bases while playing his usual spectacular defense.
Gonzalez, who is also a free agent, had a great initial season with the Indians, batting .325 with 35 homers and 140 RBI in 140 games. He more than offset the loss of free agent slugger Manny
Thome took advantage of Alomar always being on base, batting .291 with 49 homers and 124 RBI. He did all that damage while
drawing 111 walks, resulting in an on-base percentage of .416.
Twenty-six players received votes.
In the National League, first baseman Keith Hernandez of the St. Louis Cardinals and Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates tied for the MVP honor in 1979.