Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves won the 2023 NL MVP Award. The same night, he homered for the Tiburones de La Guaira in his native Venezuela. (Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)
World Baseball Network
Ronald Acuna’s retirement from Venezuelan baseball did not last long, and he punctuated his 2023 National League MVP Award with a home run for his winter league team.
After being named the 2023 NL MVP unanimously on Thursday night, he hit a two-run home run in his 2023-24 Liga Venezolana de Beisbol Professional season debut with the Tiburones de la Guaira off of Tigres de Aragua reliever Luis Mey in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Tiburones won 11-4 against the Tigres at home at Estadio Forum La Guaira.
Acuna is the 17th Latin American player in the history of MLB to win an MVP Award. Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox in 2020 was the last Latin American Player to win an MVP Award.
The other four Latin American players that have won an National League MVP award are Roberto Clemente in 1966, Orlando Cepeda in 1967, Sammy Sosa in 1998, and Albert Pujols in 2005, 2008, and 2009.
Acuna played center field and right field defensively during Thursday night’s win and went 2-5 with two runs scored, two RBI, and one strikeout.
The Atlanta Braves outfielder, who had the best year of his Major League Baseball career in 2023 with 41 home runs and 73 stolen bases, announced that he would return to the Tiburones de La Guaira for the 2023-24 Liga Venezolana Beisbol Profesional season on October 26.
Last season, Acuna, who is nicknamed “El Abusador,” declared his retirement from Venezuelan baseball following an incident in the stands on January 25 during a game against the Leones de Caracas. In the fourth inning of the game that night, which was played at Estadio Universitario, the then-home field for the Leones, Acuna homered to right-center field, then took 39 seconds to circle the bases, stopping to gesticulate wildly in celebration front of the Tiburones’ dugout, then making similar gestures in the direction of the stands after rounding third base. Acuna punctuated the home run by dancing in the batter’s box before finally touching the plate.
Following the game, Acuna announced his retirement from Venezuelan baseball in an Instagram post, citing his family being on the receiving end of abusive treatment from the Leones fans after the home run. The post has since been deleted.
In his first winter league season during 2022-23 with Tiburones de La Guaira, Acuna played in 10 games with 39 plate appearances and batted .441 with 15 hits, one double, two home runs, six RBI, three walks, and eight strikeouts.
Acuna regained his confidence during the 2023 regular season after he played in the 2023 World Baseball Classic in March with Venezuela, where he played in five games with 18 at-bats smacked four hits, one double, two RBI, two walks, four strikeouts, and three stolen bases while batting .222 during the tournament and losing to the United States 9-7 in the quarterfinals at loanDepot Park in Miami.
Acuna and Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani both won MVP Awards this past season and participated in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. In 2017, both Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Altuve won the AL and NL MVP and participated in the World Baseball Classic in the same year. Miguel Cabrera won the MVP and played in the World Baseball Classic with Venezuela in 2013, and Justin Morneau won the MVP in 2006 after appearing in the WBC with Canada that year. The only players that have won an MVP Award that did not participate in the WBC are Ryan Howard in 2006, Joe Mauer in 2009, Albert Pujols in 2009, and Andrew McCutchen in 2013.
Acuna previously won the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year. In 159 games this past season, the four-time All-Star led the NL in plate appearances (735), at-bats (635), OPS (1.012), and OPS+ (168), while leading the Major Leagues in hits (217), stolen bases (73), on-base percentage (.416), and total bases (383).
Acuna is entering his seventh MLB season in 2024 and has played in 673 games with 3,082 plate appearances, batting .292 with 767 hits, 137 doubles, 11 triples, 161 home runs, 402 RBI, 180 stolen bases, 341 walks, and 666 strikeouts including a .918 OPS.
The Tiburones, at 9-12, are in sixth place in the 2023-24 regular season. The Tigres de Aragua are 8-15 and in last place.
The Tiburones will play at home at Estadio Universitario against fifth-place (10-11) Bravos de Margarita on Friday at 6 p.m. EST.
The Tigres de Aragua will play their next game on Saturday against the third0-place Aguilas de Zulia (11-11) on the road at 12 p.m. at Estadio Luis Aparicio El Grande.
All Liga Venelozolana de Beisbol Profesional games are streamed on beisbolplay.com with a paid subscription through the final out of their championship series.