'Advice' from Pujols helped Howard along the way

Folks in Missouri were naturally conflicted over the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player race -- and this was without the emotional burden of Michael J. Fox popping up in television ads every five minutes trying to influence the vote.

Cardinals fans, so accustomed to marveling at Albert Pujols each summer, had a stake in watching the baseball writers reward his all-around game with a second straight MVP award. And St. Louis, the town where Ryan Howard was born and raised, took lots of civic pride in his accomplishments with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Howard got a clue how deeply his 58-homer, 149-RBI season resonated with the home folks when he returned to St. Louis in October and caught a couple of World Series games at Busch Stadium.