St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols rarely disappoints the fans and he certainly didn't disappoint those who predicted he would win his third MVP award in 2009.
Pujols hit .327, which is less than his career average of .334, and he got pitched around for two thirds of the season before Matt Holliday arrived to give him some protection. But he still made the most of his chances, hitting 47 homers, 45 doubles and driving in 135 runs despite racking up a career high 44 intentional walks to win the award unanimously -- the first Cardinals player to do so since Orlando Cepeda in 1967.
A few misguided souls claimed that Holliday should have received the award because of the way the Cardinals took off with the division when he arrived. But it was obvious that Pujols carried his team nearly by himself before the cavalry arrived. And if that's not enough, consider that the Dodgers swept the Birds in the playoffs by pitching around Albert and carving up Holliday.
Of course, playoffs don't count in the balloting. But it makes a heck of an illustration of the point that Albert remains the big dog no matter who the Cardinals get to hit behind him.
Cardinals MVPs in history:
2008 Albert Pujols: He hit .357 with 37 homers and 116 RBIs while walking 104 times for a mediocre Cardinals team that finished fourth in the National League Central. In addition to the MVP, he won the NL Player of the Year Award from the MLBPA and was named the Roberto Clemente Award recipient for his support of his community.
2005 Albert Pujols: With a .330 batting average, 40 home runs and 129 RBI's, Pujols won his first MVP Award... Although a lot of people thought he deserved the award in 2003 and 2004 more than the actual winner, Barry Bonds. Pujols led the Birds, along with ace pitcher Chris Carpenter who won the Cy Young Award, to the 2005 National League Championship Series against the Astros. The Birds lost and Pujols remarked that he would rather have a World Series ring than an MVP trophy. He got his wish the following year.
1985 Willie McGee: Usually the MVP is the exclusive territory of sluggers with conspicuous power numbers. But in 1985, Willie Mc Gee managed to hit only 10 homers. But he hurt opponents in so many other ways: Getting on base to the tune of a .353 batting average, getting into scoring position with 56 steals to go with 26 doubles and 18 triples and scoring 114 runs while driving in 82 more. And don't forget he won a Gold Glove in the outfield for covering the vast expanses of the AstroTurfed Busch Stadium outfield. Four Cardinals placed in the top 10 that season in MVP balloting: Tom Herr (5th), John Tudor (8th), Jack Clark (10th) and Vince Coleman (11th).
1979 Keith Hernandez: The Cardinals' smooth fielding first baseman tied with Pittsburgh's slugging first sacker, Willie Stargell. Although they tied with 210 overall points, Hernandez received 10 first place votes to Stargell's four. That was probably due, at least in part, to the fact that Stargell played only 128 games that season. Hernandez hit .344 with only 11 homers. But he scored 116 runs and drove in 104 while winning the Gold Glove Award and emerging as the leader of a St. Louis team on the rise.
1971 Joe Torre: Traded to the Cardinals on the eve of the 1969 season for the very popular Orlando Cepeda, Torre had his work cut out for him. He didn't disappoint with a solid season in 1969 and a breakout year in 1970 when he hit .325 with 21 homers and 100 RBIs. But that was just a warm-up for his eye popping .363 with 24 round trippers and 137 ribbies. He led the NL in both average and RBIs. Torre never came close to that kind of performance again, however, never hitting above .289 again with the Cardinals. In 1974 he was dealt to the Mets.
1968 Bob Gibson: Balloters almost always favor position players over pitchers for the MVP award, and the most common reason is that pitchers have their own award, the Cy Young (Which Gibby also won that season.) But Gibson earned special consideration in 1968 when he had arguably the best season of any pitcher who toed the rubber in the modern era. Gibson had an unbelievable 1.12 ERA with a 22-9 record and 268 strikeouts to sweep the Cy Young Balloting and got 14 first place MVP votes to runner up Pete Rose's six to win the MVP. Curt Flood, Lou Brock and Mike Shannon all finished in the top eight in the balloting. Gibson threw 28 complete games and 13 shutouts.
1967 Orlando Cepeda: His stay in St. Louis was as remarkable as it was brief. A Redbird for only two and a half seasons, Cha-Cha led St. Louis to the World Series twice, winning it once... in 1967. He hit .325 with 25 homers in the expansive new Busch Stadium and drove in 111 runs. Cepeda became the personality of the Viva El Birdos Cardinals of the late 1960s after his arrival from the Giants, before being traded for 1971 MVP Joe Torre. Catcher Tim McCarver finished second in the balloting.
1964 Ken Boyer: He finished in the top 18 in MVP balloting seven times over the course of his career and three times in the top seven. In 1964 he won the whole thing with a .295/24/119 season at the hot corner. Boyer was hitting .315 in mid-August and saw his average sag down the stretch. But his key hits and leadership helped the Cardinals win the pennant on the last day of the season. And, while he only hit .222 in the World Series against the Yankees, his hits were equally as timely as the Birds beat the Bronx bombers.
1948 Stan Musial: He won his last MVP in what most people consider to be his best season. Stan the Man hit .376 to lead the league with 39 (3rd) homers and 131 RBIs (1st) to outdistance the Boston Braves' Johnny Sain for his third MVP Award. He hit 46 doubles (1st) and 18 triples (1st). He also led the league in total bases with 429, first in on base percentage at .450
1946 Stan Musial: With a .365 batting average, 16 home runs and 103 RBIs, Musial led what many consider to be the greatest Cardinals team of all time to the National League pennant and the World Series title.
1943 Stan Musial: In his second full year in the leage, the kid who would become known as Stan the Man had his breakout season with a .357 batting average, 81 extra base hits and 81 runs batted in. In additon to going on to win three times, Musial finished in the top nine in MVP balloting 13 times over his career including four second places.
1942 Mort Cooper: The Cardinals ace beat out teammate Enos Slaughter to win his only MVP. He was a stellar 22-7 with an incredible 1.78 ERA as the St. Louis Swifites started their dynasty of the 1940s. He led the league with 10 shutouts in 22 complete games.
1934 Dizzy Dean: The last National League pitcher to win 30 games, he was 30-7 with a 2.66 ERA for the Gas House Gang world Series winners. He pitched more than 311 innings and struck out 195 in an ERA where it wasn't acceptable to strike out a lot -- even for power hitters.
1928 Jim Bottomley: One of the best in a long line of great Cardinals first sackers... Sunny Jim hit .325 with 31 homers, 42 doubles and 20 triples for the high scoring Cardinals of the late 1920s.
1926 Bob O'Farrell: Rogers Hornsby was the star and the manager. But Bob O'Farrell was the on-field general who led the Cardinals to their first World Series Championship. He hit .293 with only seven homers. But he held together the pitching staff to help the Birds win the pennant and then defeat the Yankees in the Fall Classic.
1925 Rogers Hornsby: The only man who can get his name mentioned in the "who is the greatest Cardinal of all-time?" debate who is not named Musial or Pujols. The Rajah hit .403 in 1925 with 39 homers, 41 doubles and 10 triples.