ST. LOUIS -- Adrian Beltre doesn't like to talk about his chances of being named the Most Valuable Player in the National League, but the gray gym shirt he was wearing for Wednesday's Dodgers workout at Busch Stadium said it all.
"To Adriano: The MVP of the National League. I'm proud of you," read the hand-written inscription on the back, signed by Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda.
It wasn't a boast, just a prognostication as both teams prepared for Game 2 of their National League Division Series on Thursday night with the Cardinals holding a 1-0 lead. But Beltre knows that he has stiff competition: San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds and across the stadium in the other clubhouse, the Cardinals trio of Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds.
"Whoever gets it is going to get it," said Beltre, the 24-year-old third baseman, who had a breakout offensive season with 48 homers, 121 runs batted in, 200 hits, 48 doubles and a .334 batting average in 157 games. "There are five strong guys. It's going to be a tough decision, but I'm going to be happy for one of those guys."
Bonds, of course, needs no introduction. He led the NL in batting average and the Major Leagues in walks, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and OBP (on base, plus slugging percentage), the latter two marks breaking his own MLB records.
Albert Pujols / 1B
Weight: 225 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds were their own wrecking crew at the core of a Cardinals lineup that hit a collective tops in the NL .278 and amassed 214 home runs, second best by one behind the Phillies.
All three hit above .300, with Pujols leading in that category at .331. All three had more than 30 homers, Pujols also leading in that category with 46. And all three topped the 110 RBI mark, Rolen nipping Pujols in that category, 124 to 123.
Bonds and Beltre, of course, don't play in a lineup chocked with those kind of hitters producing around them. But all of them had a major impact on their respective teams.
"It's very safe to say that there are five very legitimate candidates in the National League," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said.
Two members of the Baseball Writers Association of America in each of the 16 NL cities cast their vote for that league's MVP. The ballot has slots for 10 names. Each slot receives a point value with votes heavily weighted at the top from 1 to 10.
And even Walt Jocketty, the Cards' general manager, said the three teammates could easily split the St. Louis MVP vote.
"It's a very tough question," Jocketty said as the Cards took batting practice. "It's pretty hard not to recognize what Barry has done and he's not even pitched to half the time. We didn't even see Beltre until (September). But he's also put together a great year. Our guys, they've all had MVP-type seasons, but they may split the vote and wind up canceling each other out."
That's just what happened to Alex Rodriguez in the 1996 voting for the American League MVP, won by Juan Gonzalez, then of the Texas Rangers.
A-Rod and Ken Griffey Jr. were playing for the Seattle Mariners at the time and both had MVP quality seasons. Griffey and Rodriquez split the vote and A-Rod finished second, losing the MVP to Gonzalez by three points. Griffey finished fourth behind Cleveland's Albert Belle.
The same scenario could occur 1 to 5 this year, with the three Cardinals all splitting the vote.
Adrian Beltre / 3B
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"I think Beltre stacks up with any of them. You know how I feel about that," said Tracy, who has been stumping for Beltre MVP votes during the last few weeks. "From the standpoint of the three Cardinals candidates, there's a real chance from the way people file their ballots that they could cancel each other out. No question."
Beltre, who had two singles and scored a run in Tuesday's 8-3 Dodger loss in Game 1, has done an adequate job staying above the fray, unless his T-shirt is viewed as statement.
On the front of the T-shirt is the embossed inscription that reads, "The Wizard says: Snap it." Meaning, snap your hips as you swing the bat.
Lasorda, a Dodgers vice president and former manager, used to be known as "The Wizard" in a long-ago instructional television show called, the "Baseball Bunch," that included star players such as Cincinnati's Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.
"I want that belly button facing the pitcher," Lasorda said.
Beltre, who hit .240 with 23 homers, 134 hits and 80 RBIs during the 2003 season, has done a lot of snapping lately. So have Edmonds, Pujols and Rolen.
"I don't compare myself to anyone," Beltre said. "They've all had great years. I have a lot of respect for those guys."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.