All for one: Unanimous MVP Award winners

November 17th, 2023

It takes an unbelievable season to be a unanimous MVP in Major League Baseball. That properly explains what Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuña Jr. accomplished in 2023. On Thursday, they were rewarded for their otherworldly performances with something we’ve never seen in MLB before: A unanimous MVP winner in each league.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) has been voting on the current version of the American and National League MVP Awards since 1931, and yet just 21 players have won unanimously.

Let’s take a look at those who have pulled it off, starting with Ohtani, who is the first player to do it twice.

2023 AL: Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Runner-up: Corey Seager, Rangers
Even though he missed the season’s final month due to oblique and elbow injuries, Ohtani’s second MVP campaign outshined his amazing 2021 campaign. He posted career highs -- and led the AL -- at the plate in on-base percentage (.412), slugging percentage (.654), total bases (325) and OPS+ (184). He had a higher strikeout rate on the mound (31.5%) and more bWAR overall (10.0).

2023 NL: Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves
Runner-up: Mookie Betts, Dodgers
Acuña led MLB in a bunch of categories, but two numbers grabbed the headlines: 41 home runs and 73 RBIs. Prior to this season, no player had ever recorded a 40-homer, 50-steal season, much less go 40-70. Betts compiled slightly more bWAR (8.3 to 8.2), but the unprecedented nature of Acuña’s season made him the unanimous choice.

2021 AL: Shohei Ohtani, Angels
Runner-up: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
The year Ohtani truly became the two-way superstar we know today. This season was Ohtani’s first full season on both the mound and at the plate. Guerrero was in the hunt for the AL Triple Crown until late in the season, but he was no match for the Los Angeles Angels star.

2015 NL: Bryce Harper, Nationals
Runner-up: Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs
Harper debuted in 2012, but he didn’t truly arrive until his monster 2015 season. At 22 years old, Harper slashed a Barry Bonds-esque .330/.460/.649, leading the league in both on-base and slugging percentage. With this one remarkable season, it seemed that Harper had lived up to all the hype that had followed him since high school.

2014 AL: Mike Trout, Angels
Runner-up: Victor Martinez, Tigers
Trout’s 2014 season isn’t even a top-three season of his, WAR-wise, but there was one big difference that helped him pull off this rare feat: The Angels made the playoffs. Trout, 23, was the fifth-youngest MVP ever and youngest to win unanimously at the time until Bryce Harper beat him out by a few months a year later.

2009 NL: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Runner-up: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Pujols’ 2009 MVP award was the third and final of his storied career. In a decade full of amazing seasons, 2009 was perhaps his best. Pujols slashed .327/.443/.658 and popped a league-leading 47 home runs, helping lead the Cardinals to the NL Central title.

2002 NL: Barry Bonds, Giants
Runner-up: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Bonds’ 73 home run 2001 season will be most remembered by history, but his 2002 season was arguably better. Bonds slashed .370/.582/.799, leading baseball in all three categories, and posted a 268 OPS+, which was, somehow, higher than his record-breaking 2001 season (259). The all-time home run king carried the Giants all the way to the World Series, where they fell to the Angels.

1997 AL: Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners
Runner-up: Tino Martinez, Yankees
In perhaps the best season of his career, Griffey led the league in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, runs and total bases. At the time, Griffey became just the sixth player in baseball history to put up a season with 55+ home runs, 125+ RBIs and 125+ runs. And oh yeah, he won the Gold Glove manning center field for Seattle.

1996 NL: Ken Caminiti, Padres
Runner-up: Mike Piazza, Dodgers
Remarkably, 1996 was the only season Caminiti appeared on an MVP ballot. And he won the award unanimously. Caminiti also took home the Gold Glove at the hot corner and helped lead the San Diego Padres to just their second-ever National League West title.

1994 NL: Jeff Bagwell, Astros
Runner-up: Matt Williams, Giants
Bagwell was on-pace for one of the greatest years in baseball history during the strike-shortened 1994 season. In just 110 games, he hit 39 home runs and knocked in 116 runs. If you prorate his numbers over a 162-game slate, Bagwell would have finished with 57 home runs, 171 RBIs and a .368 batting average.

1993 AL: Frank Thomas, White Sox
Runner-up: Paul Molitor, Blue Jays
The first of two straight MVPs, the Big Hurt powered the White Sox to an AL West title by swatting a then-club-record 41 homers, 128 RBIs, 106 runs scored, and 112 walks while hitting .317. He became just the third White Sox player to win MVP in the franchise’s long history.

1988 AL: Jose Canseco, A’s
Runner-up: Mike Greenwell, Red Sox
As the first player ever to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season, voters had no choice but to give Canseco the award. He and Mark McGwire, the “Bash Brothers,” would lead the A's to the first of three straight AL pennants in 1988 before falling to the Dodgers.

1980 NL: Mike Schmidt, Phillies
Runner-up: Gary Carter, Expos
The first of two straight MVPs, Schmidt thoroughly outclassed everyone in the National League. The legendary third baseman hit 13 more home runs and drove in 12 more runs than every other hitter in the Senior Circuit, leaving voters no choice other than to pencil him in as No. 1 on their ballots.

1973 AL: Reggie Jackson, A’s
Runner-up: Jim Palmer, Orioles
Speaking of A’s outfielders and World Series runs, Jackson pulled off his unanimous MVP season in 1973, right in the middle of the franchise’s three-peat. Jackson led the league in home runs (32) and RBIs (117) and could have potentially competed for the Triple Crown if Rod Carew didn’t blow the league out of the water by hitting .350.

1968 AL: Denny McLain, Tigers
Runner-up: Bill Freehan, Tigers
One of two pitchers on this list, McLain was the best of them all during the infamous 1968 Year of the Pitcher. McLain won 31 of his 41 starts and tossed a whopping (and league-leading) 336 innings. He became the first pitcher to win at least 30 games in 34 years. That feat hasn’t been matched since, and perhaps never will.

1967 NL: Orlando Cepeda, Cardinals
Runner-up: Tim McCarver, Cardinals
Cepeda was the driving force and cleanup hitter for a historically great St. Louis Cardinals team that featured a bevy of future Hall of Famers. The Baby Bull led the National League with 111 RBIs, adding 25 home runs and a .325 batting average – both of which ranked in the top 10. To this day, he, Albert Pujols, Frank Robinson and Mike Trout are the only players to win MVP and Rookie of the Year unanimously.

1966 AL: Frank Robinson, Orioles
Runner-up: Brooks Robinson, Orioles
Robinson won the traditional Triple Crown and the slash-stat Triple Crown (BA/OBP/SLG) en route to a runaway AL MVP Award. Robinson’s 1966, his first in Baltimore, was unequivocally the best of his storied Hall of Fame career. The Orioles followed with a four-game sweep of the Dodgers in the World Series.

1956 AL: Mickey Mantle, Yankees
Runner-up: Yogi Berra, Yankees
Not only did he win the MVP unanimously, Mantle’s 1956 was one of the best single seasons in baseball history. To this day, he is one of just 12 players to put up an 11 bWAR season, which Mantle did in 1956 and 1957. With 52 long balls, he became just the eighth player ever to hit 50+ in a season.

1953 AL: Al Rosen, Indians
Runner-up: Yogi Berra, Yankees
Rosen was, by far, the best player in the American League in 1953 and voters rewarded him for it. Rosen recorded 4.3 more wins above replacement than any other position player that season, according to Baseball Reference. He got about as close as you can get to winning the Triple Crown, finishing one point behind Mickey Vernon in the batting average race.

1936 NL: Carl Hubbell, Giants
Runner-up: Dizzy Dean, Cardinals
Hubbell was a ho-hum 10-5 at the All-Star break in 1936, but it was his run in the second half that propelled him to the first unanimous MVP in NL history. Hubbell went 16-0, including 14 complete games and two saves during the final months of the season to finish with a whopping 26-6 record and 2.31 ERA over 304 innings pitched.

1935 AL: Hank Greenberg, Tigers
Runner-up: Wes Ferrell, Red Sox
There have been only 10 seasons in baseball history of 168 or more RBIs, and Greenberg’s 1935 was one of them. Greenberg helped lead the Tigers to their first World Series championship that season but hurt his wrist during the Fall Classic. The injury kept him out for the final four games of the Series and plagued him throughout the next season.