On Wednesday, October 25, 2006, as fans waited in St. Louis to see if game 4 would be played that night, the Phillies Ryan Howard and Yankees Derek Jeter were inside in a press room at Busch Stadium each representing his league as recipients of the annual Hank Aaron Award. Howard, for the National League by virtue of his Phillies club records; 58 homers and 149 RBIs along with a Phillies club leading .313 batting average and Derek Jeter for his .344 average (2nd in the AL), 118 runs scored, 214 hits, 34 stolen bases, 14 homers and 97 RBIs.
MLB.com’s Mark Newman writes about the history of the Hank Aaron Award;
Since 1999, the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Ruth’s all-time home run record, Major League Baseball has recognized the best offensive performer from each league with this award. Andruw Jones of the Braves and Ortiz won the awards last year. Past recipients include Barry Bonds (three times), Alex Rodriguez (three times), Manny Ramirez (twice), Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Sammy Sosa and Carlos Delgado.
As is now customary before the fourth game of a World Series, commissioner Bud Selig and baseball’s all-time home run king sat at the head table with the two winners.
“Hank Aaron and I have had a very special relationship which goes back to 1958,” Selig said. “We just replayed some highlights from the 1957 season, and Hank hit a home run, for the benefit of the Milwaukee Braves. Obviously he broke the most cherished record in American sports, but he’s also, more importantly, he’s one of the nicest human beings that I’ve ever known. … So this award has great meaning. Hank’s contribution to the sport is legendary. And the thing you always notice about him, he always carries himself with great dignity and class through controversies, through a lot of things. He’s just the person I remember 50 years ago.”
Philly.com sports writer Jim Salisbury writes of the human, personal side of the award presentation to Ryan Howard;
“If someone would have told me I’d be sitting next to Hank Aaron, I’d have said they were crazy,” Howard said a few minutes after the presentation. “It’s an honor to have my name mentioned in the same sentence with his, let alone win an award with his name on it.”
The Hank Aaron Award honors the outstanding offensive player in each league, as determined by fans’ Internet voting. It was established in 1999, on the 25th anniversary of Aaron’s breaking Babe Ruth’s record.
Can’t you still see Aaron putting on that helmet, loosening those powerful wrists in the batter’s box and taking Al Downing deep on April 8, 1974? Ryan Howard wouldn’t be born for five more years, but his dad, Ron, remembered watching it on TV.
His feelings about seeing his son sit next to such an American giant?
“Phenomenal. Unbelievable. It’s quite an honor, it really is,” Ron Howard said with a smile almost as big as his son’s. “Mr. Aaron is a very unique individual.”
The Howards are from the St. Louis area, so they didn’t have to go far for last night’s presentation. If things go well, there could be another big day coming on Nov. 20, when the NL most valuable player is announced.
It’ll be one of two guys: Howard or Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols.
The Phillies slugger is not thinking much about what will happen on Nov. 20. He’s got an all-star trip to Japan coming up in a couple of weeks. And besides…
“The Hank Aaron Award deserves its own special day,” he said.
At one point during last night’s presentation, Aaron looked over at 26-year-old Ryan Howard and seemingly delivered a message. It sounded as if Aaron was talking about being a role model. He should know this: Howard is a good one.
“I think most of us have to realize that we owe [the world] much more than hitting home runs on the field,” Aaron said. “We owe our kids, we owe our fellow man, and you do have a tremendous duty to continue to do your job on and off the field.”
Folks who know Aaron say he always has resented being viewed as just a slugger. Aaron praised Howard for being a complete player.
“This is a tremendous night for me, seeing how you decided to carry the torch, not only as a ballplayer, but a complete player,” Aaron said.
That made Howard light up.
“To have something like that said about me by him,” Howard said, “it’s really a pleasant surprise.”
The last 18 months have been storybook for Howard. We all watched it. He emerged from Jim Thome’s shadow to hit 22 homers in 88 games in 2005. He won the NL rookie-of-the-year Award. This year, he blasted 58 homers, breaking Mike Schmidt’s 26-year-old team record, and drove in 149 runs, both major-league highs.
“It’s starting to sink in,” he said. “I think the season I had opened some eyes. It was a fun ride.”
Larry Fine of Reuters recaps the award presentation to Derek Jeter;
Jeter, sitting next to baseball’s all-time home run leader and young slugger Howard, said, “I sort of feel out of place.”
The Yankees shortstop, who stole 34 bases, hit only 14 homers.
“With Hank Aaron, the first thing that comes to mind is home runs. Ryan Howard the same thing. So when people said what award I was going to win, I stuck my chest out, and I said, ‘You know, the Hank Aaron Award. What do you think?” said Jeter.
“It’s an honor and a privilege for me to be here, and I really appreciate it.”
Hopefully, this winter Ryan Howard will take plenty of batting practice and cut down on his strikeouts, as well as work on his fielding to perfect his 1st base position to live up to the “complete player” status which Hank Aaron conveyed upon him and blast plenty more homers in 2007.