WASHINGTON -- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had a season for the ages in 2015, and he was rewarded for his hard work Thursday by becoming the third-youngest player to win the Baseball Writers' Association of America's National League Most Valuable Player Award.
Harper won the award unanimously (the youngest to ever do so), receiving 30 first-place votes, while Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt and Cincinnati's Joey Votto finished second and third, respectively, in the voting.
Harper became the first player in franchise history to win the NL MVP Award. Montreal Expos right fielder Andre Dawson finished second twice, in 1981 and again in '83.
"I'm very excited and very humbled to get this award," Harper said. "When you go into Spring Training, you always want to win that World Series. All I wanted to do was stay healthy, be on the field every single day. [I believed that] if I could do that, I would have this award by the end of the year."
At 22 years, 353 days old on the final day of the season, Harper is behind only Hall of Famers Johnny Bench (22 years, 298 days for the Reds in 1970) and Stan Musial (22 years, 316 days for the Cardinals in '43) for the youngest NL players to be named MVP. Oakland's Vida Blue is the youngest MVP in baseball history, winning the American League MVP Award in 1971 at 22 years, 64 days old.
Highly touted since he was the first overall pick in the 2010 Draft, Harper took his game to a new level five years later, also winning an NL Silver Slugger Award and the Players Choice Award for National League Outstanding Player. He is a candidate for Best Major Leaguer and Best Everyday Player in the Esurance MLB Awards, to be revealed Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
Harper was a one-man show, while many of his teammates were injured or struggled. Despite not having protection in the lineup, Harper hit .330, led the NL in home runs (42, tied with Colorado's Nolan Arenado), runs scored (118), on-base percentage (.460) and slugging percentage (.649).
Harper is the only player in Major League Baseball history with at least 42 home runs, 124 walks and 118 runs scored at age 22 or younger, and he is the youngest player in MLB history with at least 42 home runs and 124 walks in a season. The previous youngest was Babe Ruth, who hit 54 home runs and had 150 walks in 1920 at the age of 25.
Harper was one of two players from Las Vegas to win a BBWAA award this week. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, a childhood friend of Harper's, won the NL Rookie of the Year Award on Monday. According to ESPN, it's the 12th time that the MVP of a league was younger than the Rookie of the Year (Bryant, 23 years, 272 days).
Harper's 42 homers are the second most by any left-handed hitter age 22 or younger, trailing Eddie Mathews (47, 1953).
"I was not surprised. I thought it was very deserving," Votto said shortly after Harper was announced as the MVP. "I would have been surprised had it not been unanimous. It's not a place to talk about the way writers vote, but with a year like that, it just felt like one of those fantastic years in the history of baseball."
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has had a chance to think back and appreciate the historic nature of Harper's season.
"That was one thing I was cognizant of the whole season," Rizzo said. "You could see throughout the season what this guy meant to this ballclub. And don't forget, this guy carried us throughout the whole season. The hitters around him were dropping like flies, and this guy was the cornerstone of an offense. Every team we played circled his name and said, 'This guy's not going to beat us,' and with that said, he beat a lot of teams.
"It was a remarkable season, and as we said at this time last year, I thought Harper was just scratching the surface of what he could be. He had a terrific season. I don't see this being the last terrific season he has, and it may not be even be the best season he ever has."
Hitting isn't the only reason that Harper won the NL MVP Award. Baserunners didn't dare try to take an extra base against him. If they did, Harper nailed them.
According to Stats Inc., Harper ranked third among NL outfielders in range factor per nine innings (2.07) and putouts per nine (2.01). Harper credited teammate Jayson Werth and former first-base coach Tony Tarasco for his improvement in right field.
"Those two guys helped me out every single day, day in and day out," Harper said. "I think it's huge. I want to be good on both sides of the ball and help out my pitchers, and do the things I can out there for them."
Harper also credits shortstop Ian Desmond for teaching him not to take the game so seriously.
"I'll do everything I can to have fun and enjoy the time that I play," said Harper. "[Desmond] is such a great teammate. He is a great person on and off the field. I enjoy being around him. … At the end of the day, if you are 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, you have to have the same mentality coming in the next day. That's what I tried to do the whole year. I want to help my team on a daily basis. That's all I wanted to do."