NEW YORK -- Sammy Sosa finally found a way to get ahead of Mark McGwire and stay ahead.
After losing out to McGwire in the historic race for the home run record this past season, Sosa yesterday beat his friendly adversary in the race for National League Most Valuable Player.
The result brought a conclusion to the scintillating competition between the two sluggers that raged throughout the summer and captivated the American public. In their race to break Roger Maris' record of 61 homers, Sosa held only two short-lived leads. McGwire, the St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman, surpassed Maris first and finished with 70 home runs. Sosa, the Chicago Cubs' outfielder, finished with 66.
But Sosa was a one-sided winner in the balloting released yesterday. He received 30 first-place votes and a total of 438 points to 2 -- both from St. Louis writers -- and 272 for McGwire in the voting by a 32-member panel of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Besides being overwhelmingly one-sided, the result helped make history. With Juan Gonzalez of the Texas Rangers having won the American League award a day earlier, it marks the first time Latin American players swept both MVP awards. In the previous 67 years of the Baseball Writers MVP voting, Latin players won eight times.
A native and hero of the Dominican Republic, Sosa is only the third Latino to win the NL award. Roberto Clemente won in 1966 and Orlando Cepeda in 1967. George Bell, who was the American League MVP in 1987, had been the only Dominican to win an MVP award.
The one-sided nature of the vote is not likely to defuse the debate that has raged and will continue to rage over the appropriate choice for the award. McGwire supporters among fans, baseball people and members of the news media believe he was the NL MVP because he passed Maris first and finished with more home runs.
"I would have voted for Mark," Sosa said yesterday. "In my heart, Mark McGwire is still the man."
But Sosa supporters argue that there is a difference between player of the year, which some concede McGwire might have been, and MVP. In other MVP votes, the winner was not necessarily the player with the best statistics.
The voters clearly sided with the Sosa supporters, crediting the Cubs' right fielder for sparking his team to a wild-card finish as the second-place team in the National League Central Division. The Cardinals, McGwire's team, were never in the race despite his unprecedented production.
"To put it in his words, today Sammy is the man," McGwire said in a statement issued by the Cardinals. "He did a great job carrying the Cubbies back to the playoffs."
The Cubs would have joined the Cardinals among the also-rans without Sosa's 66 home runs, major-league-leading 158 RBIs and .308 batting average. McGwire drove in 147 runs, batted .299 and led the majors in walks (162), on-base average (.470) and slugging average (.752).
"It's hard to hit 70 home runs and not win MVP," said Sosa. "I was never so sure to myself that I had it until today."