Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was often considered baseball's most underrated and underappreciated player. His long-due day of recognition came Thursday.
Freeman was named National League MVP, receiving 28 of 30 first-place votes from BBWAA writers. Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts finished second with two first-place votes. Padres third baseman Manny Machado finished third.
The award appropriately caps off the best season of Freeman's career: He hit .341/.462/.640 with 13 homers, an MLB-leading 23 doubles, 53 RBIs and 51 runs scored while playing in all 60 games. The Braves, with Freeman hitting second or third daily, produced arguably the best offense in franchise history. The 31-year-old also added his usual stellar defense. Freeman was the best player on a team that went 35-25 and won its third consecutive division title.
Beloved former Brave Dale Murphy, the only individual in franchise history to win multiple MVPs, announced the results during a special on MLB Network. Freeman, Betts and Machado each fielded questions for roughly 20 minutes before the announcement.
Freeman is the Braves' sixth MVP. He's the fourth to win the honor since the franchise relocated to Atlanta before the 1966 season. He joins Bob Elliott (1947), Hank Aaron (1957), Murphy (1982, 1983), Terry Pendleton (1991) and Chipper Jones (1999) in Braves immortality.
The MVP award looks even more meaningful in context. When MLB returned from its virus-induced hiatus in early July, most were skeptical even a shortened season could finish. The Braves were especially concerned when Freeman, the face of the organization, tested positive for COVID-19 on July 3 as players reported to summer camps.
That night, Freeman couldn't sleep. He was battling body aches, pains and a fever that peaked at 104.5.
"I said a little prayer that night," Freeman recalled. "I've never been that hot before. My body was really, really hot. So I said, 'Please don't take me.' I wasn't ready. It got a little worrisome that night."
The next morning, Braves manager Brian Snitker informed reporters that Freeman had tested positive and would be out indefinitely. Freeman, meanwhile, was past the worst of his fever. He'd be fever-free July 6 and regained his sense of taste and smell by July 9.
While he wasn't exhibiting symptoms, Freeman couldn't register the back-to-back negative tests needed to rejoin his team. Snitker said the Braves would "need to make a decision soon" about Freeman on July 16, eight days before opening day.