ARLINGTON -- Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays joined Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds as the only players to repeat as Hank Aaron Award winners, accepting his trophy Monday along with National League recipient Matt Kemp of the Dodgers in a ceremony before Game 5 of the World Series.
The awards for outstanding offensive performers, established in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record, each went to a slugger who led his league in homers during this regular season. Bautista topped the Majors with 43, and Kemp led the NL with 39.
"There were a lot of players this year who had very productive seasons, but Jose and Matt stood out," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "I congratulate [them] on being this year's recipients of the 2011 Hank Aaron Award, named for one of the true pillars of our game. Jose has repeated as the American League winner after another brilliant season at the plate, leading Major League Baseball in home runs, slugging and walks. Matt enjoyed an extraordinary year, vying for the National League Triple Crown in the season's final days and stealing 40 bases on the year.
"The best is yet to come for both of these young men. I look forward to watching Jose and Matt continue to emulate Hank's example in the years ahead."
Hammerin' Hank was unable to travel for his annual appearance at this World Series event. Selig said Aaron underwent knee replacement surgery and is OK but cannot travel at this time. The Hall of Famer said in a statement:
"It is a real privilege to have my name on the award that recognizes the most outstanding offensive performer in each league. I want to congratulate Jose and Matt on their fantastic seasons and express my gratitude to the Hall of Famers and fans who helped select this year's winners."
Fans voted for the award on MLB.com, and for the second straight year, a special panel of Hall of Fame players led by Aaron joined fans in voting. The Hall of Fame panel included two new members personally selected by Aaron: Roberto Alomar and Joe Morgan. They joined panelists from last year, including Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Willie McCovey, Billy Williams and Robin Yount. That panel was comprised of some of the greatest offensive players of all time who combined for 23,536 hits, 11,445 RBIs and 2,800 home runs.
Bautista, who won the AL award last year with 54 homers, dropped by 11 homers in 2011 but still finished with two more than Curtis Granderson of the Yankees. Bautista batted a career-best .302, drove in 103 runs and led the Majors with a .608 slugging percentage and 132 walks. He ranked second in the Majors with a .447 on-base percentage and sixth in the AL both with 105 runs and 312 total bases.
"It's a great honor to receive this award. Like I said last year, Mr. Aaron represents the epitome of consistency throughout a Major League career, and he managed to do that while hitting a lot of home runs," Bautista said. "I can only hope to follow in his footsteps, not only as a baseball player but also as a human being. The things he has done off the field are remarkable. He's a person I look up to when I look back at athletes of the past century."
The Dominican native became just the fifth player in Major League history to record at least 40 homers, 130 walks and nine steals in the same season, and the first American Leaguer to do so since Babe Ruth in 1930. In addition, the two-time AL All-Star was the only player in the Majors to record at least 40 homers, 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 100 walks with a .600 slugging percentage, doing so for the second straight season. Bautista reached base safely in 136 of his 149 games played in 2011.
Dating back to Sept. 1, 2009, Bautista leads the Majors with 107 homers -- 22 more than Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, who ranks second during that span. Not bad for someone who some critics thought might have been a one-hit wonder in 2010.
"More satisfying to me was just being able to get on the field on a daily basis and get out there with my teammates and contribute, try to help the team win games," Bautista said. "It's not really my goal to prove anybody wrong or show anything to the critics."
Bautista was asked if he also should win the AL MVP Award, and he prompted laughter in the room when he said unabashedly: "Well, of course I do. If I didn't, then I would not be a person that would like myself a lot. ... I've got my fingers crossed." He said he has no problems with a pitcher being a candidate for that award, acknowledging Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
"I am extremely happy for Jose," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "He has established himself as a premier player in this league, and it's a testament to his hard work and desire. His accomplishments over the past two seasons have put him in an elite category and I congratulate him on his performance."
When Selig read off Kemp's stats during the presentation, he then said softly to Kemp: "Not much more you can do."
Kemp made one of the best Triple Crown bids in recent years, falling just short. In addition to leading the NL in homers and RBIs (126), he finished third in batting behind Jose Reyes and Ryan Braun, at .324. Kemp also led the NL in runs (115) and total bases (353). The 2011 NL All-Star also finished among league leaders in multihit games (57, tied for first), hits (195, second), slugging percentage (.586, second), extra-base hits (76, second), stolen bases (40, tied for second), on-base percentage (.399, fourth) and walks (74, tied for eighth).
"This is my first big, big award. For me, it's a great honor, because Mr. Hank Aaron was someone who paved the way for guys like me, and he's been great for baseball on and off the field," Kemp said. "He's a true hero to a lot of people around the world. To follow in his footsteps and to receive this award is great."
He acknowledged a large group of family members seated in the front row, and added, "My family's here, and this is a pretty big day for us."
Kemp became the seventh player in Major League history to finish the season ranked in the top three in homers, batting average, RBIs and stolen bases in his league, joining Hall of Famers Ty Cobb (1907, '09-11), Honus Wagner (1908), George Sisler ('20), Chuck Klein ('32), Willie Mays ('55) and Aaron ('63). In addition, the sixth-round selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft was the first Dodger to lead the NL in home runs and RBIs since Dolph Camilli in 1941, and the first Dodger in history to lead the NL in homers, RBIs and runs scored.
Did Kemp think he had a chance at the Triple Crown in the final week?
"It was a battle between those two for the batting title. I knew it was going to be hard for me, because I knew Braun was hot, I was hot, and Reyes was hot. It was just one of those moments where all three of us were [hitting]. I was down there below, and they were neck-and-neck, and I kind of had a feeling they weren't going to slip, because Braun was locked in and Jose was locked in. I would have had to bang out nine or 10 hits in a row to catch them.
"I'm not saying that's impossible, but it was definitely a hard task. Those two are great hitters, and just to be mentioned in the same category as them this year in batting average is unbelievable."
It was an "unbelievable" year for Kemp and he is definitely holding his breath for the NL MVP Award, decided by baseball writers before the postseason began.
"That would be another great accomplishment for me, that would be something I would look forward to," he said. "I think it's Nov. 22. I got the date circled on my calendar. When that day comes, we'll see what happens. That's a long time to wait for an award like that. I don't know why they have to wait so long. What's going on?"
Past winners of the Hank Aaron Award include: Bautista and Joey Votto (2010); Derek Jeter and Pujols ('09); Aramis Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis ('08); Rodriguez and Prince Fielder ('07); Jeter and Ryan Howard ('06); David Ortiz and Andruw Jones ('05); Manny Ramirez and Bonds ('04); Rodriguez and Pujols ('03); Rodriguez and Bonds ('01-02); Carlos Delgado and Todd Helton ('00); and Ramirez and Sammy Sosa (1999).
No team has been represented with this award more than Toronto, as Delgado also won it in 2000. The Giants, Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees also have been represented three times. It is the first Hank Aaron Award for the Dodgers.
Former Commissioner Peter Ueberroth was sitting in the wings at the ceremony and was acknowledged by Selig. It was a very rare case of two living MLB Commissioners in the same room. Ueberroth was present during the 2009 World Series.