Zimmerman finishes a close second

Zimmerman finishes second in rookie honors

WASHINGTON -- Nationals assistant general manager Bob Boone was at a loss for words when he was informed that third baseman Ryan Zimmerman did not win the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award in the National League on Monday.

"In my mind, he is the Rookie of the Year. Look at the season he had," Boone said.

Zimmerman, 22, was everything the Nationals hoped he would be in 2006. He played sparkling defense and was the team's top run producer, but it wasn't enough. Zimmerman finished a close second to Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who won the award by four points.

Zimmerman hit .287 with 20 home runs and 110 RBIs, which led all rookies. He also played a sparkling third base that reminded many of Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen. He made only 15 errors, 11 fewer than Ramirez made at shortstop.

Ramirez, 21, who batted .292 with 46 doubles, 11 triples, 17 home runs, 59 RBIs and 51 stolen bases, placed first on 14 of 32 ballots cast by two writers in each league city, second on 11 and third on two for 105 points, based on the 5-3-1 tabulation system. Zimmerman appeared on more overall ballots than Ramirez, 29-27, but finished with 101 points based on 10 first-place votes, 16 seconds and three thirds.

It was the closest election in the NL since the current system was adopted in 1980. The previous closest came in 1982, when the Dodgers' Steve Sax edged the Pirates' Johnny Ray, 63-57, in a race between second basemen. Prior to 1980, writers voted for one player.

During his conference call, Ramirez praised Zimmerman.

"He's a great player," Ramirez said. "He can hit and he plays for the team. He is a good example."

Zimmerman, who was in Washington preparing for a press conference in case he had won the award, said that he wasn't surprised that he didn't win. He pointed out that the National League had a lot of talented rookies in 2006, from Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla to Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder.

"With all the rookies, we knew anybody could win the award," Zimmerman said via a phone interview. "If this was any other year, it's usually a lock on who wins the award. Ramirez is a good player. He is fast and had a good batting average.

Opinions vary as to why Zimmerman finished second to Ramirez. Writer Joe Capozzi, who covers the Marlins for the Palm Beach Post, didn't have a vote, but felt that Ramirez deserved the honor because he flourished with a bunch of rookies surrounding him.

"Ramirez did more than what was expected of him," Capozzi said. "The only veteran that was surrounding him was Miguel Cabrera. Zimmerman had veteran people surrounding him, like Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano."

Nationals right fielder Austin Kearns said that Zimmerman should have been named Rookie of the Year, but wasn't surprised it went to Ramirez because of the media exposure the Marlins received during the season.

"There were so many good rookies, but the Marlins were in the heat of a [Wild Card] race for most of the season," Kearns said. "[Zimmerman] was productive, and he knocked in over 100 runs. ... He batted third in the order, and for a rookie that's amazing. He goes about his business."

Zimmerman didn't have any expectations in regard to the kind of offensive numbers he would put up this past season. He was more worried about his defense than anything. He came into the National League with the potential to be as good as Robinson, Rolen and Schmidt at the hot corner.

"I knew I was pretty good defensively, but being in my first full pro season, I had so much to learn," said Zimmerman, who was drafted in 2005.

He learned really fast. So productive was Zimmerman that he is now entrenched in the third spot in the batting order. This comes after former manager Frank Robinson tried putting veterans Soriano, Johnson and Jose Vidro at the spot. But none of those players delivered in the clutch.

"I had a good year, and that's all that matters. I would have liked to have won the award, but I want to win each year," Zimmerman said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.