CLEVELAND -- David Ortiz and Kris Bryant, two superstar sluggers who jointly symbolize the transfer of power in Major League Baseball, were named the recipients of the 2016 Hank Aaron Awards on Wednesday as the most outstanding offensive performer in his respective league.
The awards were handed out by Commissioner Rob Manfred and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in a news conference before Game 2 of the 112th World Series at Progressive Field. Bryant was already in the building as an integral participant with the Cubs in the Fall Classic against the Indians, and Ortiz was ushered in quietly for his first public appearance as a retired Major Leaguer.
"I congratulate David Ortiz and Kris Bryant on earning the 2016 Hank Aaron Awards," Manfred said. "David created an extraordinary legacy with the Red Sox. Fans will never forget his consistent excellence at the plate and his performances on the game's greatest stages. Kris followed up an award-winning rookie season by helping lead the Cubs to their best regular season in more than a century. Both David and Kris are deserving of an honor named for one of the greatest players and individuals that our game has ever known."
"It is an honor that the awards, which distinguish the top offensive performers in baseball, have my name on it," Aaron said. "I want to congratulate Kris and David on their terrific seasons and extend my thanks to the Hall of Famers and fans who once again helped select the winners."
Ortiz, who turns 41 on Nov. 18, won the American League award and finishes as a two-time Aaron Award winner, having also won in 2005. In the final season of his 20-year Major League career, the Red Sox's designated hitter led MLB with a .620 slugging percentage, a 1.021 OPS and 48 doubles. The Dominican Republic native batted .315 with 38 home runs, 127 RBIs (tied for first in the AL), 80 walks and a .401 on-base percentage. The homer and RBI totals were his best since '06, and he set single-season records for players over the age of 40 in homers, RBIs, doubles and extra-base hits, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The 10-time AL All-Star played in all 76 of Boston's postseason games since 2003, the most in franchise history, but his bid to share this particular stage with Bryant was cut short by a Cleveland team that won in three games in the AL Division Series. Ortiz retired as the Red Sox's all-time postseason leader in homers (17), doubles (19), extra-base hits (38), hits (80), runs (51), RBIs (57) and walks (59). He finished his career as a three-time World Series champion, and he was named the Most Valuable Player of the '04 AL Championship Series and the '13 Fall Classic.
"I think it's an honor to be part of this unbelievable award," Ortiz said. "I have received a lot of different awards in my career, but the Hank Aaron Award that I have in my house is the one that I kind of look at every day. The way it looks, just to begin with, is something that, to me, is very special. Every time I get to the plate, it's something that means a lot to me. Like I say, it's an honor."
Bryant, the National League recipient, established himself at the age of 24 as one of the game's top young sluggers in his second MLB season. The versatile third baseman/outfielder, a key cog in the Cubs' best regular season in more than a century, batted .292 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, an NL-best 121 runs scored, eight stolen bases, a .385 OBP and a .554 slugging percentage.
Bryant's home run total was the third most in the NL and the most by a Cub since Derrek Lee's 46 in 2005. The 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner became the fourth Cub in franchise history to amass at least 120 runs, 35 doubles, 39 homers and 100 RBIs in a single season, and he was just the second to do so in the past 85 years. He joined Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby (1929) and Hack Wilson ('30) as well as Lee (2005) on the list. Bryant is just the fourth Cub in the past 100 years to reach 100 RBIs in his age 24-or-younger season, joining Andy Pafko in 1945 and Hall of Famers Ernie Banks in '55 and Ron Santo in '64.
"I want to thank all the fans and everyone who supported me for this award," Bryant said. "It's truly an honor to be up here with two of the best baseball players to ever play this game. I grew up watching Big Papi and the Red Sox get to this point and win a World Series, and hopefully I can do that here. To accept an award with one of the best baseball players ever with your name on it is a true honor for me."
As Ortiz gave his acceptance speech, he looked down at the end of the dais from behind his black sunglasses and flashed a big smile at No. 17.
"That baby boy over there at the end of the table, man," Ortiz said of Bryant. "Now it's my turn to sit down and watch you doing your thing. So much fun watching you out there, carrying the team on your back. That's part of greatness, and that's part of what this game is all about. Looking forward to enjoying plenty of years watching you play the game."
Bryant said it was "surreal" to be part of the generations of greatness gathered in one small setting, one that epitomized the constant passage of the national pastime.
"Yeah, it's so surreal to me," Bryant said. "I've been through some pretty cool things recently, but this is something I'm going to have to pinch myself. Obviously David Ortiz had an unbelievable career, and he's going out and I'm just making my way in. Obviously one of the best baseball players that ever lived sitting next to me."
"To be a young player in K.B.'s shoes and to win that award and have that particular man present it to you, it's very impressive at a young age," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "There's a lot of great competition out there.
"An award like this for K.B. could galvanize his thoughts about himself as a Major League baseball player, too. It's a great achievement for him, and I'm very happy for him, and I know he will humbly accept it in the right way."
Established in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record -- by hitting No. 715 on his way to a final 755 -- the Hank Aaron Awards are officially sanctioned by MLB and recognize the most outstanding offensive performer in each league.
Fans voted for the recipients on MLB.com and Twitter, and for the seventh straight year, a special panel of Hall of Fame players led by Aaron joined fans in voting. The Hall of Fame panel included some of the greatest offensive players of all time, including Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Craig Biggio, Ken Griffey Jr., Eddie Murray and Robin Yount. These Hall of Famers -- who combined for 17,010 hits, 8,844 RBIs and 2,275 homers -- were all personally selected by Aaron to lend their expertise.
Manfred said this annual award ceremony is important not just because of the winners, but for the man who faithfully shows up each year to talk about them.
"We also do it as a tribute to Hank Aaron, and it's important to remember that," Manfred said. "I look forward to Game 2 of the World Series each year, because Hank is religious about being here with us, which we really appreciate. He's a great gentleman. He's a great ambassador for our game, and he's one of our greatest players, so I really appreciate him being here with us."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. MLB.com reporter Carrie Muskat contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.