The votes have been tallied, and the people's choice for Top Pick '09
has been made abundantly clear: Cardinals first baseman
is fantasy's No. 1 for this season.
Pujols ran away with the two-man final race, capturing 58 percent of the vote to Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez's 42 percent. The all-world power-hitter built up an early lead that proved impossible to surmount, maintaining a healthy advantage over his younger counterpart for the duration of the week-long run-off.
The race didn't appear nearly as cut and dry at the close of the Top Pick primary round, as Pujols and Hanley were virtually deadlocked with a respective 31 and 30 percent of the original 10-man pool's votes.
The two superstars were clearly in a class all their own, despite the fact that their competition -- Mets third baseman David Wright, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, Indians outfielder
Grady Sizemore, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and Phillies first baseman Ryan
Howard -- presented plenty of top-tier talent.
That Pujols and Hanley so easily trounced this star-studded field seemed to forebode a truly heated battle when the two were pitted head to head in the contest's final round.
In fact, if there were a favorite heading into the two-man race, it may actually have been Hanley, whose youth and five-category prowess seemed to give him a slight edge over the veteran Pujols. The vast majority of MLB.com's fantasy experts concurred with this logic, as eight of 10 Roundtable participants gave Hanley the nod.
Hanley's campaign staff did its best to reinforce this line of thinking, pressing voters to consider the need for a balanced approach when making a final decision:
"In these tumultuous times," mused Hanley's campaign ad, "don't you need someone who promotes balance? For your Fantasy No. 1, you need someone with vision ... 30/30 vision."
The 25-year-old speedster made a similar point in a raucous debate with his elder nemesis, preaching vision as the cornerstone of his Top Pick platform.
Ultimately, though, the fans weren't persuaded by Hanley's pitch, nor by the overwhelming support thrown his way by MLB.com's gurus. Perhaps the general population felt it just couldn't relate to Hanley's message, or that his lack of experience rendered him untrustworthy.
More likely, though, the people were won over by the prospect of bolstering their fantasy squads with the most elite power hitter of the past decade. Voters clearly remembered the facts: In each of the eight seasons since his 2001 big league debut, Pujols has delivered at least 30 homers, 100 RBIs and a .300 average, constructing a resume that is truly unparalleled across the game.
It wasn't merely the slugger's consistency that helped him to emerge as the Top Pick frontrunner, though. Pujols' advisors played to the short memories of fantasy owners by reinforcing their candidate's most recent accolades, describing his '08 accomplishments in a campaign ad that has since gained widespread publicity:
"Instead of thinking five tools, simply think three letters: M ... V ... P."
Those three letters proved more than sufficient to compel the baseball masses, who came out in droves to support the sweet-swinging 29-year-old. There was little doubt about the general sentiment when all was said and done in the final round; Pujols was a force to be reckoned with, capping off the first ever Top Pick race with a victory that will not soon be forgotten.
Of course, Pujols is only the first in what is sure to be a long and storied line of Top Pick winners. While the Cardinals slugger set a mighty precedent, a slew of fantasy studs will undoubtedly emerge to bring honor to the title in years to come.
So who might take the baton from Pujols? Will '09 runners-up like Wright, Braun and Cabrera climb the rankings? Will up-and-coming youngsters like Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler and Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp break into the conversation? Who will take the fantasy world by surprise?
These are only a few of the questions that will arise as the '09 campaign takes shape. For the moment, though, there is only one question that should resonate with fans across the nation:
Will the Top Pick fall your way in '09?