The Baseball Writers Association of America selected Obama for the award for his “dignity and poise” in throwing out the opening pitch at the 2009 All-Star Game.
“He doesn’t play in the Major Leagues, but he’s a Major League figure in the world,” said Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci.
Obama wore jeans and a Chicago White Sox jersey for his ceremonial pitch at the All-Star Game in July. Video of his pitch was seen by more people around the world than any baseball game.
“His pitch was low and didn't make it to home plate, but he showed immense potential,” Verducci said. “We believe that if he hadn’t gone into politics, he could have been a great baseball player. So why not go ahead and give him the award?”
Obama became the first sitting president in the world to win an MVP award in a professional sport. The president said he was “surprised and deeply humbled” by the honor.
"I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures that have been honored by this prize," Obama said.
Reaction to Obama’s MVP Award was mixed, with some welcoming the news and others calling it the biggest mistake since Sanjaya was voted off American Idol.
Rev. Al Sharpton called it an “inspiring choice,” saying that Obama, with a single pitch, had shown the world that it’s possible for anyone to succeed in baseball, not just young men who have spent years taking steroids.
But others said it was far too early in the Obama presidency for him to receive the award. “He hasn’t done much to deserve it,” said baseball analyst Rush Limpball. “It would have been better to give it to him after he has served two terms and thrown out the opening pitch at a dozen games.”
Baseball fan Pedro Pena agreed, saying it made no sense to give the award to a pitcher who had failed to strike out anyone, not even the Republicans.
“How can they give the MVP award to a part-time player?” Pena asked. “It’s unfair to the real professional players, especially to my brother Carlos.”
Carlos Pena, who hit 39 home runs for the Tampa Bay Rays, said he wasn’t surprised that the Baseball Writers Association would pick a winner so arbitrarily.
“They’re just baseball writers –- what do you expect?” Pena said. “They aren’t the Nobel Prize Committee or something.”