Aaron Judge Wins AP Male Athlete of the Year -- Here Are 20 Other Famous Athletes to Win the Award

Aaron Judge Wins AP Male Athlete of the Year — Here Are 20 Other Famous Athletes to Win the Award

Aaron Judge ended the 2022 calendar year with a bang as he was named AP Male Athlete of the Year. It was a year that came with plenty of doubts, considering he declined a 7-year, $213.5 million contract prior to the start of the 2022 MLB regular season – ultimately betting on himself, his talent, and his health.

It went well for the outfielder, who put together one of the most impressive seasons we’ve ever seen out of an MLB player. He only missed five games in the regular season and finished the campaign with a .311 batting average, 177 hits, 28 doubles, 62 home runs, 131 RBIs, 133 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases. 

He led the MLB in runs, home runs, RBIs, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and total bases – and, of course, broke the American League home run record. Not only did he win AP Male Athlete of the Year, but he was an All-Star, was the league’s MVP, and won a Silver Slugger award. 

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Other Athletes to Win AP Male Athlete of the Year

Aaron Judge Wins AP Male Athlete of the Year -- Here Are 20 Other Famous Athletes to Win the Award
via Instagram (shoheiohtani)

Aaron Judge had an exceptional year behind the plate, which many people were doubting when he declined that already-massive contract offer earlier in the year. His patience paid off and he signed a nine-year, $360 million contract with the Yankees in December – much more massive than before.

Winning AP Male Athlete of the Year was just the cherry on top of a season like none other – the only thing he wasn’t able to accomplish was a World Series championship. Nonetheless, he becomes just the 75th recipient of the award since it was first introduced in 1931 – several athletes won multiple times.

Of the 75 athletes to win the award, 70 of them – including Aaron Judge – were American and 10 of them have won the award more than once (three athletes have won it four times and another athlete won it three times). Let’s take a look at some of the most recent athletes named AP Male Athlete of the Year.

20. Joe Montana (1989, 1990)

Joe Montana was first named AP Male Athlete of the Year in 1989 – a year that began with him leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl win on January 22nd (the end of the 1988 regular season). He then proceeded to win his first MVP award in the 1989 regular season with 29 total touchdowns. 

Montana also won AP Male Athlete of the Year in 1990 and is one of just seven male athletes to win the award in back-to-back years. After leading his 49ers to a second consecutive Super Bowl win on January 28, 1990, he proceeded to win his second consecutive MVP award during the 1990 regular season. 

19. Michael Jordan (1991, 1992, 1993)

Michael Jordan saw Montana’s back-to-back AP Male Athlete of the Year honor and raised him one, winning the award three consecutive years between 1991 and 1993. During this three-year stretch, Jordan led his Chicago Bulls to three consecutive championships as he took the NBA by storm. 

Between 1990 and 1993, Jordan averaged 31.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.6 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 240 games played – he also added 33.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.0 block in 58 playoff games. He was named MVP twice and NBA Finals MVP three times during the stretch. 

18. George Foreman (1994)

George Foreman retired from boxing in 1977 with a 45-2 career record, but eventually made a comeback to the ring 10 years down the line. Between 1987 and 1993, he fought his way back into heavyweight contention and had two opportunities to regain a title, but came up short both times – in 1991 and 1993. 

In 1994, Foreman made history when he won the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles in a bout vs. Michael Moorer – he won via a 10th-round KO. Foreman was 42 years old, making him the oldest heavyweight champion ever – he also broke the record for longest interval between a fighter’s first and second title.

17. Cal Ripken Jr. (1995)

On September 6, 1995, Cal Ripken Jr. did something that many people thought would never be done. Suiting up in his 2,131st consecutive game, Ripken broke the all-time MLB record for most consecutive games played – a record previously held by Lou Gehrig. It was a historic day, marking a historic career.

Ripken Jr. continued that streak for another 500 games, eventually coming to an end on September 20, 1998 at 2,632 games. He made 19 consecutive All-Star appearances during his 21-year career in the MLB, retiring after the 2001 season with 3,184 hits, 431 home runs, and 1,695 RBIs in his career. 

16. Michael Johnson (1996)

In 1996, Michael Johnson was a walking record-breaker and gold medalist – putting on quite a show during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. It all started in June when he ran a 19.66-second 200m at the Olympic Trials, breaking a record previously held by Pietro Mennea – who ran it in 19.72 seconds. 

At the Olympics, he easily won a gold medal in the 400m race with an Olympic record time of 43.49 seconds. He then ran a 19.32-second 200m, winning the gold medal and breaking the record he broke earlier in the year. He became the first male to win gold in the 200m and 400m in the same Olympics. 

15. Tiger Woods (1997, 1999, 2000, 2006)

Tiger Woods is one of three male athletes to be named AP Male Athlete of the Year four times in their career – the other two are mentioned further down on this list. He first won it in 1997, a year that saw him win his first major championship at The Masters Tournament – he finished with four wins on the year. 

Woods didn’t win in 1998, but he won it back-to-back in 1999 and 2000. During that stretch, he won the PGA Championship twice, the U.S. Open once, and The Open Championship once. He most recently won the award in 2006 when he won his third PGA Championship and third The Open Championship. 

14. Mark McGwire (1998)

Mark McGwire is the one that ruined Woods’ shot at four consecutive Male Athlete of the Year wins. He entered the 1998 regular season with 387 career home runs in 1,380 games played between 1986 and 1997. He was coming off a career-high 58 home runs in 1997 and had 52 home runs the year prior. 

The 1998 season saw McGwire on a different level – hitting 70 home runs and 147 RBIs in 155 games played. His 70 home runs not only led the MLB that season, but it set the all-time single-season home run record – previously held by Roger Maris (61 home runs). Still, McGwire didn’t walk away as the MVP. 

13. Barry Bonds (2001)

Barry Bonds entered the 2001 regular season with 494 home runs in 2,143 games played between 1986 and 2000. He saw McGwire make history with his 70 home runs in 1998, but that became old news when Bonds led the MLB with 73 home runs in 153 games played (two games less than McGwire in 1998). 

Bonds finished the 2001 season with a .328 batting average, 156 hits, 32 doubles, 73 home runs, 137 RBIs, 129 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases. He won his fourth MVP award and would go on to win MVP in each of the next three seasons – he won it four years straight and retired with a record seven MVPs.

12. Lance Armstrong (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)

Lance Armstrong is the second of three athletes on this list to be named AP Male Athlete of the Year four times in their career, but the only one to do it four years in a row – he won it in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. It capped off a seven-year stretch where Armstrong won the Tour de France every single year. 

Unfortunately, his AP Male Athlete of the Year honor isn’t really valid, considering his Tour de France titles were stripped from him due to a doping investigation that found him guilty of using PEDs. It resulted in quite a downfall, as he was banned from all sports and was forced to retire from his cycling career. 

11. Tom Brady (2007)

Did you really think there would be a list like this without Tom Brady on it? He was named AP Male Athlete of the Year in 2007 after leading the New England Patriots to a perfect 16-0-0 regular season – though he technically went 18-1-0 in the calendar year (the Patriots went 2-1 in the playoffs in early-2007. 

Brady threw for 737 yards and 6 touchdowns in those three playoff games earlier in the year before exploding for 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns, and just 8 interceptions during the 2007 regular season. He was a Pro Bowl and All-Pro quarterback that season, also winning MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. 

10. Michael Phelps (2008)

Michael Phelps was named AP Male Athlete of the Year in 2008 – a year that included one of the greatest Olympic performances of all-time. He went on to break the all-time record for most gold medals in a single Olympics, winning eight gold medals in swimming – practically cleaning up the entire sport. 

Not only did he win eight gold medals, but he set world records in seven of those events and an Olympic record in the eighth. The events included 100m butterfly, 200m freestyle, 200m medley, 200m butterfly, 400m medley, 4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle, and 4×100 medley. It was an incredible showing. 

9. Jimmie Johnson (2009)

2009 was a historic season for Jimmie Johnson, who became the only driver in NASCAR history to win four consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Championships. He also became the first NASCAR driver to win AP Male Athlete of the Year and became the fourth NASCAR driver to win Driver of the Year three times. 

Johnson ended the 2009 season with seven wins in total – becoming the only driver to win at least three races in each of their first eight seasons. He also had four poles, 16 top fives, and 24 top-ten finishes. To top it off, Johnson won his second ESPY in the Best Driver category and was nominated for Best Athlete. 

8. Drew Brees (2010)

Drew Brees began the 2010 calendar year with a 3-0 record in the 2009-10 playoffs – he threw for 732 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions en route to his first and only Super Bowl win. It was just his third trip to the playoffs and he needed an overtime win for the NFC Championship, but he got the job done. 

Brees followed that up with an impressive 2010 regular season – throwing for 4,620 yards and 33 TDs in 16 games. He led the Saints to an 11-5-0 record to finish the calendar year 14-5-0. He might have thrown the most interceptions of his career in 2010, but he also led the entire league in completion percentage. 

7. Aaron Rodgers (2011)

Aaron Rodgers began the 2011 calendar year with a 4-0 record in the 2010-11 playoffs – he threw for 1,094 yards, 9 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions en route to his first and only Super Bowl win. Like Brees, it was just Rodgers’ third trip to the playoffs, but only his second trip since being named starter.

Rodgers followed that up with an impressive 2011 regular season – throwing for 4,643 yards, 45 TDs, and just 6 interceptions. He led the Packers to a near-perfect 14-1-0 season (they were 1-0 with him on the sideline). His incredible play resulted in him being named MVP for the first of four times in his career. 

6. LeBron James (2013, 2016, 2018, 2020)

LeBron James is the third and final athlete on this list to be named AP Male Athlete of the Year four times in their career – joining Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong from above. James won it in 2013, 2016, 2018, and 2020 – you can honestly make a case for him to win the award every single year. 

Over his legendary 20-year career, James has been named an All-Star on 18 occasions and is on his way to his 19th appearance this season. He’s a four-time NBA champion, four-time MVP, four-time Finals MVP, three-time All-Star MVP, and six-time All-Defensive player – he’s a future first ballot Hall of Famer.

5. Madison Bumgarner (2014)

Madison Bumgarner had arguably the best season of his career in 2014, finishing the regular season with an 18-10 record, 2.98 ERA, 219 strikeouts, 4 complete games, and 2 shutouts in 33 starts (217.1 innings pitched). He set career-highs in each of those categories and won his first career Silver Slugger award. 

Bumgarner was even more explosive in the playoffs. He was named MVP of the NLCS after striking out 12 in 15.2 innings pitched – he was 1-0 and had a 1.72 ERA in that series. He went on to win World Series MVP after throwing a complete game shutout in Game 5. He went 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 21.0 innings pitched in the World Series.

4. Stephen Curry (2015)

By 2015, Stephen Curry had established himself as a force in the NBA. He was riding off a 2014-15 season that saw him win his first of two MVP awards and first of four NBA championships. He averaged 28.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 1.9 steals in 21 playoff games en route to a Warriors’ title. 

Curry kept the good vibes rolling in the 2015-16 season, scoring 118 points through the Warriors’ first three games. He went on to lead the league in scoring at 30.1 points per game and won his second MVP award – this time doing so in unanimous fashion, becoming the first player in NBA history to do so. 

3. José Altuve (2017)

In the three years leading up to the 2017 season, José Altuve was slowly creeping his way into MVP contention. He placed 13th in MVP voting in 2014, was 10th in voting in 2015, and jumped up to 3rd in voting in 2016. He led the league in hits in each of those three seasons – and batting average twice.

Then came 2017, which saw Altuve record a career- and MLB-high .346 batting average with 204 hits, 39 doubles, 24 home runs, 81 RBIs, 112 runs scored, and 32 stolen bases en route to his first MVP award. He then hit 7 home runs and 14 RBIs in the 2017 playoffs, including 2 home runs in the World Series – which Houston won. 

2. Kawhi Leonard (2019)

Kawhi Leonard had the best season of his career in 2018-19 – finishing the regular season with 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 steals. He then averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.7 steals in 24 games played during the playoffs – leading the Raptors to their first ever NBA title. He was named Finals MVP.

Leonard followed that up with another impressive regular season in 2019-20 – putting up career-highs in points (27.1) and assists (4.9) per game. It was his first season with the Clippers, but one that only saw him play 57 games as he started to limit his playing time due to injuries. Still, he was one of the best players in the league. 

1. Shohei Ohtani (2021)

Shohei Ohtani took the MLB by storm in 2021 after playing in just 55 games the season prior. He went on to have one of the most impressive seasons we’ve ever seen by a baseball player – not only having extreme success at the plate, but also getting the job done on the mound. He was exciting to watch. 

Ohtani finished the regular season with a .257 batting average, 138 hits, 26 doubles, 8 triples, 46 home runs, 100 RBIs, 103 runs scored, and 26 stolen bases. He also went 9-2 as a starting pitcher with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130.1 innings pitched. He was named MVP and made his first All-Star appearance. 

Multiple Winners of the AP Male of the Year Award

Looking at the list above, several athletes – Joe Montana, Lance Armstrong, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, and Tiger Woods – have been named AP Male Athlete of the Year multiple times. While they are some of the most recent to do it, they certainly aren’t the only ones to accomplish it. 

The four other athletes to be named AP Male Athlete of the Year more than once include Carl Lewis (1983, 1984), Sandy Koufax (1963, 1965), Byron Nelson (1944, 1945), and Don Budge (1937, 1938). It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, considering all athletes from all sports are included in the voting. 

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With that said, several athletes will have an opportunity to join the coveted list of multiple winners next year – Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani, Kawhi Leonard, José Altuve, Stephen Curry, Aaron Rodgers, and Madison Bumgarner. They’ve each won it once and are still active in their respective sports.

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