AL MVP Gonzalez rooting for Sosa
By Jaime Aron
The skinny guys with the big swings from the 1987 Gastonia Rangers sure have come a long way.
Juan Gonzalez was named the AL MVP for the second time in three years on Wednesday, and Sammy Sosa, Gonzalez's long-ago teammate and still a good friend, was expected to take home the NL honor Thursday.
Gonzalez is the first native Latin American player with two MVPs, and this could be the first time Latin players sweep the award in both leagues. Gonzalez is from Puerto Rico and Sosa from the Dominican Republic.
"Absolutely, it would be a special moment for all Latin America for both players to win the MVP award in the same year," Gonzalez said in a conference call from San Juan.
Gonzalez began the year on a monster RBI pace, driving in 101 by the All-Star break to join Hank Greenberg as the only players to crack the century mark by the season's traditional midpoint.
While most of the country tracked Mark McGwire and Sosa pursuing Roger Maris' mark of 60 homers, Texas fans followed Gonzalez's pursuit of Hack Wilson's record of 190 RBIs in 1930.
But after reaching 116 RBIs in 105 games, Gonzalez injured his hamstring, and his production tailed off. He still finished with 157, the most in the AL since Boston teammates Ted Williams and Vern Stephens had 159 in 1949. Sosa, however, drove in 158 to lead the majors.
Gonzalez admitted he really wanted the record.
"I was disappointed a little bit because when I drove in the first 101 in the first half, I had a great chance," he said.
Gonzalez came into this season determined to put up huge numbers. He worked out with a trainer all offseason and stated his biggest goal was 162 -- games played. He ended at 154, his most since 1992, while hitting .318 with 45 homers and an AL-best 50 doubles.
"The key for this year was staying healthy, playing 154 games," Gonzalez said. "When I'm healthy, I'm putting (up) the best numbers I can."
A healthy Gonzalez also bodes well for the Rangers. They won their second AL West title this season, the other coming in '96 when Gonzalez won his first MVP.
"What would we have done without him? Our story would have been totally different," Texas manager Johnny Oates said.
Gonzalez won the 1996 award 290-287 over Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez, a margin he called "too tight." This time, he received 21 first-place votes and seven seconds in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America to comfortably top Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, 357-232.
"It feels more exciting now," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez is the 22nd player to receive multiple MVPs. The only other active players in that elite group are San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds, a three-time winner, and Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas.
"I am real excited (to win) my second time," Gonzalez said. "When you work hard, you see the result."
Gonzalez's victory earned him a $250,000 bonus. Also cashing in were Garciaparra ($75,000) and Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez ($50,000), who finished 10th.
As for the '87 Gastonia club, they went 58-52 in the Class A South Atlantic League.
Gonzalez, then 17, hit a team-high 14 homers while batting .265. Sosa, then 18, hit 11 homers and batted .279. Both made the majors with the Rangers in 1989, although Sosa was dealt to the Chicago White Sox that summer.