NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For a while, Billy Butler was a reluctant designated hitter, but now, he's acclaimed as the best in the business.
Butler, the Royals' DH, was named the winner of the 2012 Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award on Tuesday. And it wasn't even close. Butler got 80 first-place votes among the 84 ballots cast.
Edwin Encarnacion of the Toronto Blue Jays finished second in the balloting after a 42-home run, 110-RBI season.
Butler is just the second Royals DH to win the award. Hal McRae, credited with establishing the standard for the AL's innovation, was the top DH in 1976, '80 and '82.
"That's humbling, to be mentioned with Hal McRae, the greatest designated hitter in Royals history," Butler said.
It's the first time that Butler has won the award, and he became the fifth player to win the honor in the last five years. Boston's David Ortiz won last year, claiming his sixth award after dominating with five straight from 2003-07. Those who won in the intervening seasons were Texas' Vladimir Guerrero in '10, Toronto's Adam Lind in '09 and Baltimore's Aubrey Huff in '08.
"Ortiz has pretty [much] dominated that spot for the last 10 years or so. He's been hard to match," Butler said. "He had a great season this year, too; I know he got hurt with his Achilles and everything. He really had some great numbers for the amount of games he played, and if he'd have had a full season, it might have been different. He might have been winning it again."
Although signed as a third baseman, Butler switched to the outfield in the Minors and, in fact, played his first Major League game in left field. But he became a first baseman and longed to play that position for the Royals. However, his fate was sealed when, early in the 2011 season, the Royals brought up smooth-fielding prospect Eric Hosmer to play first base.
"I'd be lying if I told you I'm satisfied doing that," Butler said. "But I've embraced it -- I understand what my role is. I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. Every day when I come to the park, I make sure I hopefully put the team in the best position to win a ballgame by preparing myself for what my role is. I think that's what every guy on our roster should do. That's what makes you professional."
This year, Butler was the DH in 138 of his 161 games and in that role was the league leader in numerous categories, including batting average (.315), slugging percentage (.501), doubles (29) and RBIs (93). He also hit 23 of his 29 home runs as a DH. Overall, Butler had 107 RBIs and a .313 average.
The most challenging part of being a DH?
"Just the time between at-bats," Butler said. "Your mental preparation never stops, you can't lose focus at all in that time or you'll backtrack and you'll not be prepared for your next at-bat."
Butler, known as an astute student of hitting and analyzing pitchers, utilizes his time well and is rarely unprepared.
His most memorable hit of the season? That came as a pinch-hitter with no DH being used in an Interleague game.
"That's a no-brainer with the home run in St. Louis against Jason Motte to tie the game in the ninth," Butler said. "That's about as emotional as I've ever been as a player. I'll never forget that, for sure."
The Royals were one strike away from defeat on June 17 when Butler hit his homer, and they later won, 5-3, in the 15th inning.
When the All-Star Game returned to Kauffman Stadium this year for the first time since 1973, Butler was the only Royals player on the AL team. Kansas City baseball writers voted him the Royals Player of the Year for the third time in his six-year career.
Butler also won an AL Silver Slugger Award from Louisville Slugger as a DH this year.
This was the 38th season for the Outstanding DH Award, named for Martinez, the longtime Mariners star, by Commissioner Bud Selig in 2004. Ballots are cast by club beat reporters, broadcasters and AL public relations departments.
"It's just another example of the great year Billy had," manager Ned Yost said. "He's just really starting to come into his own as a force in the American League offensively. As proud as I was of him last year, just for the production that he brought forth, I think he's going to continue to get better and better and produce more and more."