After overcoming COVID, Atlanta's Freeman wins NL MVP

Associated PressAtlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, here celebrating a home run, won the National League MVP on Thursday. Freeman missed the start of the season due to COVID-19.

NEW YORK — Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman easily won the National League MVP award Thursday, topping off a trying year that saw him become so ill with COVID-19 he prayed “please don’t take me.”

Chicago White Sox slugger José Abreu earned the AL MVP, a reward for powering his team back into the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Freeman got 28 of the 30 first-place ballots in voting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts got the other two firsts to finish second and San Diego third baseman Manny Machado was third.

In a season affected from spring training to the World Series by the pandemic, perhaps it was fitting the final major award of the year went to someone infected by the virus.

Three weeks before the delayed opening day in late July, Freeman’s body temperature spiked at 104.5 degrees and he lost his sense of taste and smell. At one point, he recalled, he said a little prayer because “I wasn’t ready.”

“I got off to such a slow start,” Freeman said on the MLB Network after Dale Murphy, a two-time NL MVP with the Braves, announced the winner. “I just didn’t know when I would get my legs back.”

The 31-year-old Freeman quickly found his footing, batting .341 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs while playing all 60 games. A powerful lefty batter with the ability to spray the ball all over the field, he led the majors in hitting 23 doubles and scoring 51 runs.

Boosted by the four-time All-Star, the Braves won the NL East and came within one win of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1999.

Freeman is the sixth different player in Braves franchise history to be the NL MVP. Chipper Jones most recently took the honor in 1999 — Freeman wears a tattered Braves T-shirt under his uniform that was passed down to him from Jones.

Betts was bidding to join Frank Robinson as the only players to win the MVP in both leagues. The 28-year-old outfielder earned the AL honor in 2018 while leading Boston to the World Series title.

The 33-year-old Abreu batted .317 with 19 home runs, connecting six times in a three-game series against the Cubs in late August. That barrage of longballs at Wrigley Field was part of his 22-game hitting streak, the longest in the majors this year.

Abreu was the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year and is a three-time All-Star. He became the fourth different White Sox player to win the AL MVP, joining Frank Thomas (1993-94), Dick Allen (1972) and Nellie Fox (1959).

Abreu was the third Cuban-born player to be an MVP, along with Jose Canseco and Zoilo Versalles.

This was the first time since Ryan Howard and Justin Morneau that a pair of first basemen won the MVPs.

Freeman got a $185,185 bonus and Abreu received $37,037 for winning in contract bonuses prorated because of the shortened season.

This will be the first time in more than 75 years the MVP trophies don’t carry the name and likeness of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner.

In an Associated Press story in late June, former MVPs Barry Larkin, Terry Pendleton and Mike Schmidt said they favored pulling Landis’ name off future plaques because of concerns over his handling of Black players.

BBWAA members overwhelmingly voted in October to remove any mention of Landis from the MVP trophy and the award won’t be named for anyone this year.

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