As much as Ryan Zimmerman would have liked to win the National League's Rookie of the Year award, he had known for some time he wasn't the only worthy candidate.
So when the Washington Nationals third baseman learned yesterday he had lost by four points to Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez in voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, he wasn't distraught by any means.
"It's disappointing because you want to win things like that," he said. "But you can't be disappointed when the guy who wins it has a great year, too."
Ramirez, one of several standout rookies on a surprising Marlins squad, wound up receiving 14 of 32 first-place votes and a total of 105 points. Zimmerman, who some thought had the edge because of his lofty RBI total and sterling defense, received 10 first-place votes and a total of 101 points.
It was the closest NL rookie race since the BBWAA adopted its current voting format (five points for a first-place vote, three for second place, one for third place) in 1980.
Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander ran away with the AL award, earning 26 of 30 first-place votes and 133 total points to beat Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon (63 points) and Minnesota Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano (30).
In a banner year for rookies around the major leagues, the NL was loaded with young stars. The Marlins alone had three of the top four vote-getters (second baseman Dan Uggla finished third, while right-hander Josh Johnson was fourth) and had three other players receive votes.
Florida's depth of talent actually led some to believe Zimmerman would win the award because voters figured to spread their votes out among the various Marlins.
But Uggla, who had 27 homers with 90 RBI and a .282 average, fell into a slump during the season's final few weeks, and that may have pushed teammate Ramirez to the top and past Zimmerman.
Evidence of how wide-open this race was? Ramirez, who hit .292 with 17 homers, 59 RBI, 46 doubles and 51 stolen bases, was left off five of 32 ballots. Zimmerman, who hit .287 with 20 homers, 110 RBI and 47 doubles while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense, was left off three ballots. Had one Ramirez voter chosen Zimmerman instead, the Nationals third baseman would have won the award.
"A lot of people deserved it," Zimmerman said. "If it was any other year, you'd probably have four or five guys that would win it easily. It was just a real good year for young players."
Both top finishers spoke highly of one another.
"He's a great player, a great guy," Ramirez said of Zimmerman during a conference call. "He's unbelievable. He can make a lot of nice plays. He can hit. He's an example for the other guys."
Said Zimmerman of his counterpart: "He can do it all. He's got power, speed. He's one of those special guys. He's going to be a real good player for a long time."
Zimmerman, 22, was in town yesterday for what the Nationals hoped would be a celebratory press conference, but he wasn't dismayed when the club had to cancel the event. The Virginia Beach native instead went house-hunting; he's planning to move here permanently and hopes to one day win something bigger than a Rookie of the Year award.
"Personal awards are great, but in the grand scheme of things, this year is going to help me be a better player and hopefully help me help our team win," he said. "That's the ultimate goal. MVP, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, that stuff's great. But if you ask any athlete, they'd rather not win any of that and be in the playoffs or win a championship."