MILWAUKEE — And now, a dose of tradition to follow a day of debate. Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun — a prolific hitter from a contending team — is the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
Braun beat the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp to become the first Brewer to win a league MVP award since Hall of Famer Robin Yount won for the second time in 1989, when Milwaukee was still an American League franchise.
He received 20 of a possible 32 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, two from each NL city, for a total of 388 points. Kemp received 10 first-place votes and 332 points.
Braun’s teammate, Prince Fielder — currently a free agent — was third with one first-place vote and 229 points. D-backs outfielder Justin Upton garnered 214 points, including one first-place vote, to place fourth. Career Cardinal Albert Pujols, also a free agent, finished fifth.
Braun’s victory reinforced that the most valuable player is usually an everyday player. Twenty-four hours earlier, the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander won the AL MVP Award, the first pitcher so honored since 1992 and the first starting pitcher in a quarter-century.
Braun’s win over Kemp was also an affirmation that team success matters to BBWAA voters in trying to define the meaning of “valuable.” Including Verlander and Braun, 16 of the 24 MVPs since 2000 have come from division winners, 19 have come from teams that made the playoffs and 21 — all but three — have come from teams that finished the season within 2 1/2 games of first place.
Braun fit the bill, leading the Brewers to a franchise-record 96 wins in the regular season and the National League Central crown, their first since moving to the NL in 1998 and first overall since 1982. He hit .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. Kemp batted .324 with 39 homers, 126 RBIs and 40 steals for a Dodgers team that finished 11 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West.
Kemp had the edge in homers, RBIs and steals, and also made 60 more plate appearances than Braun, who led the league in average, slugging percentage (.597) and OPS (.994).
The MVP honor capped a dream season for Braun, who turned 28 last week. He signed a record-setting contract extension in April that can keep him with Milwaukee through at least 2020 and positions Braun to be this generation’s Yount, a player who spent all 20 of his Hall of Fame seasons in one uniform.
“Ryan Braun is going to have a statue outside Miller Park someday,” Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said last week.
Braun has already provided some bronze-worthy moments. He hit the home run that clinched the NL Wild Card in 2008, and another that clinched the NL Central this September. By then, Braun was already the Brewers’ first player with 30 homers and 30 steals since Tommy Harper in 1970.
Braun was voted by fans to start the All-Star Game for the fourth straight season, though a leg injury kept him out. After the season, he won the Silver Slugger Award for the fourth time.
The Brewers have had four league MVPs in 43 seasons as a franchise. Reliever Rollie Fingers won in 1981 and Yount in ’82 and ’89.