2020 MLB Player Of The Year: Freddie Freeman
The biggest home run Freddie Freeman hit this season came July 17, one week before Opening Day.
When the Braves held their first team workouts on July 3—the day camps reopened following the pandemic shutdown—they did so without their all-star first baseman and franchise pillar. Freeman had tested positive for COVID-19, adding further uncertainty to a season that many in the industry, including Braves manager Brian Snitker, were skeptical would finish.
Hours before Snitker informed reporters of Freeman’s status on July 4, Freeman was laying in his bed, drenched in sweat and praying for his life. His fever peaked at 104.5 degrees.
“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.”
That evening was the worst of Freeman’s COVID-19 experience. His fever dropped when he woke the next morning. He was finally fever-free on July 6, though he didn’t regain a sense of taste or smell until days later. July 9 was Freeman’s final day feeling symptoms.
Being symptom-free didn’t clear him to rejoin the team, however. He still needed consecutive negative tests to return.
The Braves, preparing for Opening Day on July 24, readied to start without their best player. On July 16, while the Braves still hadn’t ruled Freeman out for the opener, Snitker said they would “need to make a decision soon.”
The next morning around 9:15 a.m., Braves trainer George Poulis called Freeman. “You hit a home run,” he said. Freeman had registered the back-to-back negatives needed to rejoin the team. He went to Emory, a leading research university in Atlanta, and had several tests done before being officially cleared at 1 p.m.
Around 2 p.m., Freeman was at Truist Park working out. The rest of the Braves were off that day, but some of the coaches were available to assist him. Freeman admitted he felt sore after hitting, running and fielding, but he was euphoric to be back with the team.
“This is wonderful,” Freeman said running onto the field. Exactly two weeks after fearing for his life, he was preparing to face reigning Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and the Mets.
“You forget sometimes how much you love this game when it gets taken away from you,” Freeman said. “I really did truly miss it. I was so excited to come to the yard. I got to the field and there’s only a handful of people here because it was an off day, but it felt so amazing.
“. . . Sometimes you get into the everyday thing of just showing up to the field and playing the game and going home, you kind of treat it like a job, but this made me take a step back and realize how much I love this game and how much I miss it.”
Freeman, who hit in every inning during simulated games and the preseason exhibitions against the Marlins to get up to speed, was in the Opening Day lineup. He looked rusty initially, going 8-for-42 (.190) across 13 games, but when it clicked, he never slowed down.
Always Mr. Consistent, Freeman reached the best level of his career. He hit .341/.462/.640 with 13 home runs, 53 RBIs and 51 runs while playing all 60 games. He led the National League with 23 doubles. He added his usual Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base.
He had an NL-best 18-game hitting streak and 33-game on-base streak. He finished the season winning player of the month for September, when he hit .375 with eight homers and 32 RBIs, while also walking (20) more than he struck out (14).
Freeman anchored a Braves offense that ranked second in the majors in runs scored and homers while topping all teams in OPS. It was on pace to be the most productive offense in franchise history—and the entire operation was built around Freeman.
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Most importantly, as he would tell you: The Braves went 35-25, earning their third consecutive NL East division title.
Freeman capped his MVP candidacy on Sept. 25, when his 11th-inning, walk-off homer clinched the No. 2 playoff seed for the Braves. He had entered the game as a pinch-hitter.
“He’s just a special player,” Braves rookie righthander Ian Anderson said. “He loves the game. That’s the biggest thing. Obviously, he’s a really good player, but he loves being out there. I didn’t realize how vocal he was with some of the guys on other teams. It just goes to show you how much fun he’s having out there.”
For so long, Freeman has been an underappreciated all-star. He isn’t flashy and plays the unsexiest position. He’s plays for a mid-market team, despite the Braves’ broad fan base.
The beginning of his prime occurred on rebuilding teams. Atlanta lost at least 90 games in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Even now, in the wake of three straight division titles, Braves teammates such as right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. and second baseman Ozzie Albies simply have more sizzle than the boringly consistent Freeman.
But Freeman has been the Braves’ steady presence. He has produced while missing just four games across the past three seasons. He is Atlanta’s clubhouse leader. He remained committed to the franchise through its darker days and now headlines one of the premier organizations in baseball.
“I don’t know if you can (quantify Freeman’s importance),” Snitker said. “His presence, who he is and what it means to our organization, on the field, in the clubhouse, off the field, the man he is. The guy is some kind of special for all of us, for me more than most. I lean on him. I’ve been with him for so long, the ability to just bounce things off him. It’s really good to have a leader like that that you can talk to.”
This was a long time coming for Freeman, who is now getting the credit he has earned since entering the majors in 2010.
For what he overcame and for what he achieved in 2020, he is truly deserving of the distinction Major League Player of The Year.