Worthy trio wins annual Rays honors

Worthy trio wins annual Rays honors

ST. PETERSBURG -- While Major League Baseball's award season is in full bloom, it is only appropriate that Rays fans be reminded of the players voted as the team award winners in 2009.

Tampa Bay's local chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America votes on three annual awards for the Rays. Those awards are the Paul C. Smith Champion Award, the Outstanding Rookie Award and the Most Valuable Ray.

The Paul C. Smith Award is particularly meaningful to the MLB.com family as well as sportswriters in the Tampa Bay area as Smith was a longtime Bay Area sports journalist. Smith died unexpectedly in 2005 at the age of 46; at the time he covered the Rays for MLB.com. Smith was a father, a friend, a baseball fan, and a consummate professional, which led to the BBWAA attaching his name to the award given to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field.

Carlos Pena was awarded the Paul C. Smith Champion Award for 2009. The Rays first baseman personified everything the award is about. He is the consummate professional and he treats those around him with respect, displaying class and grace in the way he leads his life.

Jeff Niemann won the team's Outstanding Rookie Award.

The 6-foot-9 right-hander went to Spring Training and had to win a competition with Jason Hammel for the fifth spot in the rotation. Not until the day before the Rays were scheduled to open the season at Boston did Niemann find out he had won the competition. Subsequently, Hammel was traded to Colorado.

After getting rocked in his first start of the season in Baltimore, Niemann continued to improve in the starts that followed, including the team's first complete game of the year on June 3 against the Royals when he won, 9-0.

By the end of the season, Niemann had proven himself as a legitimate member of the rotation. Niemann went 13-6 with a 3.94 ERA in 31 games during his rookie campaign.

The Most Valuable Ray Award also had a surprise winner in Ben Zobrist. Zobrist entered the season advertised as the team's "super utility" player. While he did play many different positions, his bat earned him a regular spot in the lineup at any position manager Joe Maddon could find for the 6-foot-3, 200-pound switch-hitter.

Zobrist hit and hustled throughout the 2009 season, making his first All-Star team along the way. By the end of the season, Zobrist had put together what was easily his finest season by hitting .297 with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs.

Here is a list of the past team award winners for the Rays:

BBWAA Paul C. Smith Champion Award

1998 -- John Flaherty, C

1999 -- John Flaherty, C

2000 -- Greg Vaughn, OF

2001 -- Russ Johnson, INF

2002 -- John Flaherty, C

2003 -- Al Martin, OF

2004 -- Tino Martinez, 1B

2005 -- Toby Hall, C

2006 -- Carl Crawford, OF

2007 -- Carlos Pena, 1B

2008 -- Cliff Floyd, DH

2009 -- Carlos Pena, 1B

BBWAA Tampa Bay Chapter -- Outstanding Rookie

1998 -- Rolando Arrojo, RHP

1999 -- Ryan Rupe, RHP

2000 -- Steve Cox, 1B

2001 -- Joe Kennedy, LHP

2002 -- Carl Crawford, OF

2003 -- Rocco Baldelli, OF

2004 -- Jorge Cantu, INF

2005 -- Jonny Gomes, OF

2006 -- James Shields, RHP

2007 -- Delmon Young, OF

2008 -- Evan Longoria, 3B

2009 -- Jeff Niemann, RHP

BBWAA Tampa Bay Chapter -- Most Valuable Rays

1998 -- Quinton McCracken, OF

1999 -- Roberto Hernandez, RHP

2000 -- Gerald Williams, OF

2001 -- Tanyon Sturtze, RHP

2002 -- Randy Winn, OF

2003 -- Aubrey Huff, OF

2004 -- Carl Crawford, OF

2005 -- Jorge Cantu, INF

2006 -- Carl Crawford, OF

2007 -- Carlos Pena, 1B

2008 -- Jason Bartlett, SS

2009 -- Ben Zobrist, INF/OF

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