Jose Abreu is a right-handed slugger in the American League, and Freddie Freeman is a left-handed slugger in the National League. Otherwise, the two might as well be the same player.
Both play first base and have made three All-Star teams since 2014, when Abreu joined the Chicago White Sox after defecting from Cuba. Both have played for only one major league team — Freeman for the Atlanta Braves — but have never reached the World Series. Both reside in the same statistical neighborhood: Abreu has a .294 career average and an .870 on-base plus slugging percentage, Freeman .295 and .892.
“That’s who I try to be is that guy you can count on and never have to worry about — and Jose Abreu is that guy for the White Sox,” Freeman said on Thursday. “All you want to do as a big league player is be consistent, and he’s been consistent since the day he got to the big leagues. Ultimate run producer. The year he had is absolutely incredible.”
Freeman’s was similarly dominant, and now he will be linked in history with Abreu as the most valuable players of the 2020 season. Abreu received 21 of 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in the totals announced Thursday, while Freeman collected 28 of 30.
Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians finished as the runner-up in the American League, with D.J. LeMahieu of the Yankees placing third. In the N.L., Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers was second, and Manny Machado of the San Diego Padres was third.
The previous high finish in the award voting for both Abreu and Freeman was fourth place, and they are past the age of most winners. Abreu, 33, and Freeman, 31, become the first players who were over 30 on opening day of their M.V.P. season since the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez in 2007.
Naturally, a season that was truncated to only 60 games because of the coronavirus might have taken less of a physical toll than a normal schedule.
“It feels like 60 games has been 162,” Freeman said in October, as the Braves marched to Game 7 of the N.L. Championship Series before losing to the Dodgers. “But this is all worth it.”
Freeman had especially acute challenges because of his fight with the coronavirus. He tested positive on July 3 after experiencing full-body aching and a fever, which spiked to 104.5 degrees.
“I said a little prayer that night; I’ve never been that hot before,” Freeman later told reporters. “My body was really, really hot. So I said, ‘Please don’t take me.’ I wasn’t ready.”
Freeman recovered in time for the Braves’ July 24 opener but struggled as he built back his strength. Through 13 games, he was hitting .190.
“I was just extremely tired,” Freeman said on Thursday. “It took the wind out of me just walking to the other side of the house.”
Freeman said that he was careful to conserve his energy and that he had mostly stayed inside before games, instead of practicing on the field, for more than half of the season. Feeling strong and hydrated at game time helped him play better than ever, he said.
“At the beginning, I would hop off the bag holding a runner on, and I’d get tired,” Freeman said. “So I had to save my bullets and save how I was feeling. I tried to stay away from batting practice, because we started at the end of July, and Atlanta’s pretty hot at the end of July.”
Freeman wound up with career highs in average (.341), on-base percentage (.462) and slugging percentage (.640) while hitting 13 homers, driving in 53 runs and leading the majors in runs scored (51) and doubles (23).
Abreu had his best season since 2014, when he won the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award after starring in Cuba. He played all 60 games (like Freeman), and batted .317 with 19 homers, a major league-high 60 runs batted in and a career-best .987 O.P.S. Abreu also led the majors in total bases (148) and led the A.L. in slugging (.617) and hits (76).
Emotion poured out of Abreu after the announcement on MLB Network. He bowed his head for a minute or two, sobbed, and even punched himself. He said the award honored his mother, Daisy Correa, who told him in Cuba to pick an unusual uniform number so he would stand out.
“She is why I do every single thing every day, and she’s my motivation,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I respect who she is. This is for her, that I am who I am.”
Abreu led the White Sox to a 35-25 record and their first playoff berth in 12 years. But they lost in the best-of-three first round to the Oakland Athletics and fired Manager Rick Renteria, replacing him with the Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, 76. The team has stuck with La Russa despite the revelation that he was arrested in February and charged with driving under the influence in Arizona.
“I cannot question if Tony’s the right person for this club or not; that’s not my call,” Abreu said. “What I can say is that Ricky was a great manager, he was a great person, he helped me a lot, and I was very honored to be part of a team that he managed. At the same time, I’m really excited to have the chance to play for a manager like Tony LaRussa. I think we have to wait and see how this goes.”
Abreu and Freeman become the first winners of the M.V.P. awards since the baseball writers removed its namesake, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, from the trophy. Landis was Major League Baseball’s first commissioner, from 1920 through 1944, and upheld the notorious color barrier.
Past winners — including Barry Larkin, Terry Pendleton and Mike Schmidt — had endorsed the idea of removing Landis’s name from the award, and the writers then voted to do so. For now, the M.V.P. has no namesake, but Freeman offered an idea.
“It really is time for the name to be removed from the M.V.P. trophy,” Freeman said of Landis. “I’ve been trying to reflect the last couple of days on who would be a great name to put on it, and the guy who won M.V.P.s in the A.L. and the N.L., Frank Robinson, I think would be a perfect name to be on the M.V.P. trophy.”