Hendriks, Bellinger win Comeback Player of the Year Awards

November 28th, 2023

and  were named the 2023 Comeback Player of the Year in the American League and National League, respectively, on Tuesday. They were honored for seasons that were triumphant for very different reasons.

Hendriks, a three-time All-Star closer for the White Sox, was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December. Soon afterward, the intense right-hander voiced his determination to return to a Major League mound. His fight against the disease included throwing bullpen sessions between chemotherapy treatments in the lead-up to the season.

By April, Hendriks was in remission, and he made his emotional season debut for Chicago on May 29, five months following his diagnosis.

Hendriks, 34, pitched five innings across five appearances for the White Sox before he was shut down in June with right elbow inflammation and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery in August. Hendriks, who is a free agent, is aiming to pitch in 2024.

The right-hander is the second White Sox player to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award; Jim Thome won it in 2006. Hendriks also received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2023 ESPYs in July and was named a Roberto Clemente Award nominee for the fifth time in his career.

Bellinger’s career has been a story with peaks and valleys. The 2017 National League Rookie of the Year and the 2019 NL MVP, Bellinger averaged 37 home runs and a 144 OPS+ through his first three big league seasons. He then won a World Series with the Dodgers in 2020.

However, the lefty slugger batted just .193 through his next two injury-plagued seasons. He hit 29 home runs over more than 800 at-bats and had a 27.1% strikeout rate. The Dodgers decided to non-tender Bellinger after the 2022 season, making him a free agent.

Looking to restore his value, Bellinger signed a one-year deal with the Cubs in December. He bounced back in a big way, putting up a .307/.356/.525 slash line, 26 dingers and a career-low 15.6% K rate.

The 28-year-old was the NL Player of the Month in July and took home his second Silver Slugger Award. He was also one of four players this past season to bat at least .300 with 25-plus homers and 20-plus stolen bases, joining the Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr., the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman.

Bellinger, the first Cubs player to earn the Comeback Player of the Year Award, is now one of the top position players on the open market.

The Comeback Player of the Year Award has been given annually by MLB since 2005 to one player in each league "who has re-emerged on the field during the season." The winners are determined following a vote by the 30 club beat reporters from MLB.com. Last year's honorees were Astros pitcher Justin Verlander and former Cardinals star Albert Pujols.