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December 06, 2001

Most Valuable Players
By Dan Patrick

With the division and wild-card races all but decided in the American League, it's time to take a look at who's the Most Valuable Player. There are lots of good candidates, but two players stand out to me. For 2001, I really think we have to consider the Most Valuable Players.

Bret Boone
This year, Seattle's Bret Boone set the single-season home run mark for AL second basemen.
Last year's winner, Jason Giambi, has had another good year. But with Oakland's remarkable second half, and Boston's second-half dive, the A's have run away with the fourth playoff spot. Giambi won the award with his heroic September last year, but this year he hasn't had to do that.

The Cleveland Indians boast three remarkable players in Jim Thome, Juan Gonzalez and Roberto Alomar. All three are among the league leaders in many offensive categories. Thome will finish with a career high in home runs and Gonzalez is making everyone forget he ever had one at-bat in Detroit. And Alomar is Alomar. But, again, Cleveland has been comfortable for a while in the Central Division, and these Indians are a bit like recent Yankees teams: lots of stars sharing of the load. No one really stands out because the overall level of play is so high.

So, to me, the MVP candidates are in Seattle: Bret Boone and Ichiro Suzuki. Unlike the Yankees, Indians and A's, the Mariners have been comfortable in their division since about May 5. The team is having an outstanding and possibly record-setting year. The starters and bullpen have been great. Edgar Martinez has been wonderful. Mark McLemore has played everywhere and contributed. Mike Cameron has done the impossible -- not by "replacing" Ken Griffey Jr. but by making the case that the Mariners don't have any problems in center field since the departure of the best player in team history.

After losing -- in this order -- Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez in the last three years, the Mariners are having the best season in team history. How do you lose three Hall of Famers and get better? To me, it all starts with the top of the order in Suzuki and Boone. When A-Rod left, Seattle's offense lost a premier offensive force.

Realistically, you were looking at two guys to replace his numbers; the Mariners probably would have been happy if two guys stepped up and did that. Well, one guy did: Brett Boone. He is having the greatest offensive season by a second baseman in American League history. He has done it all year -- and that's important. He didn't just get hot in June.

Boone has been remarkable. A-Rod took away a consistent RBI bat and Boone replaced it. Right now he's at 35 home runs and 129 RBI, with a .327 batting average. Amazing.

Ichiro Suzuki
Ichiro is MVP and Rookie of the Year.
Ichiro, meanwhile, has been nothing short of astounding. He came here with a big buildup, a 27-year-old hitter with seven Japanese league batting titles. But he has lived up to the billing. He leads the AL in hitting (.349) and is nearly unstoppable with runners in scoring position. He has 47 stolen bases.

Ichiro is also a legitimate Gold Glove defensive player who has displayed one of the best arms in baseball. True, he does not walk enough and his on-base percentage could be higher, but that is nitpicking. He has energized that whole team since the first game of the year, at the plate and in the field.

Along with Bret Boone, Ichiro Suzuki has led the Seattle Mariners to the best season in baseball this year. Don't pick between them for MVP. Don't split this vote. Give it to both of them. Without their production, the Mariners would still be good -- but they wouldn't be looking at a season of historic dimension.

We gave out co-MVP awards in the National League in 1979 to two first basemen, Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell. Let's make some more history and give the award to two teammates who have had outstanding seasons in leading their team to remarkable heights.

The best way to honor this remarkable Seattle team would be to honor these two remarkable teammates.

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