FROM A GUY WHO WASN’T “SERIOUS ENOUGH” TO “TEAM LEADER” – BY KEVIN MCALPIN

freddie freeman, atlanta braves
FILE – In this Oct. 13, 2020, file photo, Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman watches his two-run home run during the fourth inning in Game 2 of the baseball team’s NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Arlington, Texas. Freeman easily won the NL MVP award Thursday, Nov. 12, topping off a trying year that saw him become so ill with COVID-19 he prayed “please don’t take me.” (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

April 9, 2021
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – Over the last 11 years, Braves fans have been spoiled, having a chance to watch the career of Freddie Freeman evolve into the player he is today.

While the 2020 season was his most memorable to this point, Freddie has proven to be one of the most consistent players in Major League Baseball. While superstars like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw and others usually are the ones on the covers of video games and magazines, Freddie Freeman deserves to be right there with them.

Originally a second round pick of the Braves in the 2007 Draft out of El Modena High School in Southern California, the now 31 year old first baseman is a four time All-Star, two time recipient of the Silver Slugger Award, a 2018 Gold Glove Award winner and this past season, Freddie took home the ultimate personal award as he was named National League Most Valuable Player.

While all those individual accomplishments are great, there’s one thing missing from his trophy case that his mentor Chipper reminded him about at the start of Spring Training.

Freddie spoke on a brief exchange he had with Jones saying, “I was talking to Chipper today and he said, ‘You’ve got every award now, but you’re still missing one thing.’

Yup, I know and I’m coming for it,’” Freeman replied.

This was in reference to Chipper still having Freddie beat in the World Series ring department.

While some players relish in the personal accolades, that’s not good enough for the Braves first baseman. “I have one goal, and that’s to win the World Series” Freddie declared in early March.

Let’s jump back to the MVP thing for just a second.

Winning one brings you, as Brian Snitker often says, “instant credibility”. It’s what he referred to when the Braves brought in Josh Donaldson in 2019 and the clout referenced to former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel when he was added midseason a couple years ago.

Earning the Most Valuable Player Award is a big deal, and Freeman joined some pretty exclusive company in 2020, becoming the first Brave to take home the award since Chipper Jones in 1999. The only other players in franchise history to earn such an honor were Terry Pendleton (1991), Dale Murphy (1982, 1983), Hank Aaron (1957), Robert Elliott (1947) and Johnny Evers (1914).

Of course the MVP Award is mostly based on offensive statistics, but I still believe Freddie is an underrated defensive first baseman.

With guys like Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo and others in the NL, his defense was often overlooked, but in my opinion, nobody makes a 3-6-3 double play look easier than Freddie Freeman. His ability to do the splits, stretches and lunges as saved countless errors from his infielders over the years, something his teammates often point out when asked.

I remember a conversation I had with Andrelton Simmons years ago, and even back then, he credited Freeman with saving a few errant throws that he didn’t think many other first baseman could get to.

A couple years ago I did a segment on MLB Network, asking who I thought would be the next Braves player elected to the Hall of Fame. Obviously, it’s extremely difficult to project, but the organization had gone through quite a run with the likes of Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, Chipper, Bobby and John Schuerholz. After a moment of consideration, the answer was clear. I don’t know what the next decade will hold for Freeman, but up to this point he’s certainly among elite company who have already found their homes in Cooperstown. Baseball-Reference has him listed with Eddie Murray and Carl Yastrzemski as the most similar batters at this point in their respective careers with Eddie Murray appearing to be the closest comparison by age.

Will Freeman’s career continue to evolve into one that could land him in baseball’s most exclusive club someday? Braves fans hope they’ll have an opportunity to see that career from start to finish with an induction ceremony for Freddie in Cooperstown as the finale.

No matter how things end up, there’s no question Freddie Freeman is an elite player. He’s become one of the “faces of the game” and should continue to be on that level for a long, long time to come.

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