Freddie Freeman and José Abreu choked back tears of joy and spoke of their families when they received the news. In so many ways, they represent the best of Major League Baseball, from their production on the field to their leadership in the clubhouse and selflessness in the community.
Both men put an appropriate finishing touch on their finest seasons Thursday night, capturing Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player Awards in voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
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Freeman won in the National League, Abreu in the AL for seasons in which their teams -- the Braves and White Sox, respectively -- both made the playoffs. Freeman won easily, collecting 28 of 30 first-place votes and 410 total points.
Mookie Betts of the Dodgers finished second in the NL, getting the other two first-place votes and 268 points. Manny Machado of the Padres was third with 221 points.
Abreu’s race was closer, as all three AL finalists received first-place votes. The White Sox first baseman led the way with 21 first-place votes to eight for José Ramírez of the Indians and one for DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees.
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"Oh my goodness,” Freeman, surrounded by family, said on MLB Network. “So many emotions right now. This is absolutely incredible. It's amazing for me to be able to share this with my family, and it's pretty special.”
Abreu, also overcome with emotion, needed several moments to gather himself before speaking through White Sox translator Billy Russo.
"You can’t imagine how I’m feeling,” he said. “I’m just grateful. I’m grateful for every single chance.”
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Abreu pointed to a photo of his grandmother, who died on the day the White Sox played their first postseason game this year, and said, “She was my life.” He also thanked his mom, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and “all the Cuban players who came here before me.”
Abreu is the third Cuban-born MVP, following José Canseco in 1988 and Zoilo Versalles in 1965. He’s the fourth White Sox player to win the award, joining a list that includes Frank Thomas in 1993 and 1994, Dick Allen in 1972 and Nellie Fox in 1959.
“I have to be thankful for a lot of people,” Abreu said. “Nobody does anything by himself. You always have people helping me. For me, it all started with Robin Ventura [his first manager]. He taught me a lot. Same thing with Ricky [Renteria, his manager the last four seasons]. I owe Ricky a lot.
"A lot of teammates have helped me. That’s something I have to acknowledge. I’m very grateful to have the people that I have around me. Because of them, I was able to get to this point.”
Abreu’s seventh season began with the signing of a three-year, $50 million deal to remain in Chicago, and he responded by leading the AL in RBIs for a second straight season. He was second in MLB with 19 home runs and fourth in the AL with a .317 batting average.
Beyond his numbers, Abreu was invaluable as a mentor and confidant to his club’s young stars. His MVP Award will fit nicely in a trophy case that already has the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year Award.
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No player had a more bizarre season than Freeman, who was stricken with COVID-19 on the second day of Summer Camp and sidelined until a couple of days before the start of the regular season.
Freeman remembered being so sick that he barely had the energy to walk from one end of his house to the other. He did not take batting practice on the field for 35 days, saying, “I had to save my bullets.”
At the beginning of the season, Freeman remembered his energy being drained by something as simple as hopping off the first-base bag as a pitch was delivered.
“It impacted me pretty hard,” he said. “It took a couple of weeks to get going, but ultimately it was my best year.”
Freeman was hitting .190 on Aug. 5 but took off soon after that, hitting .384 with 11 homers and an MLB-best 1.220 OPS from Aug. 9 through the end of the regular season.
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Freeman’s 1.102 OPS was the second highest in the Majors, trailing only Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, who had 66 fewer plate appearances. The Braves first baseman led the Majors with 51 runs scored and was second in the NL in batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.462) and slugging percentage (.640) as the Braves won a third straight NL East title.
Freeman’s family, including his parents, were with him when he learned that he was joining the Braves’ exclusive MVP club, which includes Chipper Jones (1999), Terry Pendleton (1991), Dale Murphy (1982 and ‘83), Hank Aaron (1957) and Bob Elliott (1947).
Freeman pointed to his dad, Fred, and reflected on the days when they played catch in the backyard and could barely dream dreams this big. Now, his photo will hang on a wall of the home clubhouse at Truist Park reserved for MVPs.
"You know I’d walk past [those photos] and think that’d be cool to win that one day,” Freeman said. “For me to actually achieve that is still kind of hard to put into words.”
The Braves swept the Reds and Marlins in the first two rounds of postseason play before losing Game 7 of the NL Championship Series to the Dodgers.
"The MVP is amazing,” Freeman said, “but I want that World Series, and hopefully we can do that next year. We’ve got a bunch of hungry guys in that clubhouse that know how to win. It’s exciting, and I’m happy to be part of it.”
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.