McGehee's comeback year recognized by Sporting News
Third baseman earns NL honor after returning from Japan to play for Miami
Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee has a trophy to go with his trove of frequent flier miles after he was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year by Sporting News on Monday.
McGehee's comeback was more literal than most, as he played in Japan in 2013 before returning to Major League Baseball on a one-year deal with the Marlins, for whom he proved a capable run-producer and lineup-stabilizer. Making the most of a career-high 160 games played, McGehee batted .287 with four home runs, 76 RBIs, 29 doubles and 177 hits -- the National League's fourth-highest hit total.
Those efforts were recognized with Monday's award, which was decided by a vote of Major Leaguers.
"It's a testament to the people I have around me, my family, my agent, my parents, everybody," McGehee said by telephone. "When I would talk about wanting to come back, they supported me. There were probably a lot of people outside that circle that still had their doubts, and they probably still have their doubts, but that close circle for me was a good support system. I didn't feel like I was doing it alone."
The same could be said, according to McGehee, of his decision to go to Japan in the first place. After splitting time on the Pirates and Yankees in 2012, he faced a difficult choice between a non-guaranteed job in the U.S. versus a set spot with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan's Pacific League. Believing he still had life as an everyday player, and having secured the support of his family, McGehee packed his bags.
"When I went over [to Japan] I wasn't necessarily thinking about coming back," he said in September. "I had it in my mind that this is where it was going to be. I had to come to terms with that. When I found out I had a chance to come back, it meant a lot to me. There have been a lot of guys that have went over there and had success that haven't been able to come back, for whatever reason. I knew the chances of that happening weren't very good to begin with. I guess I'm proud of being able to say I went there and was able to come back."
McGehee signed with the Marlins in December for $1.1 million plus $450,000 in incentives for plate appearances. The 32-year-old is arbitration-eligible this winter, and the Marlins are expected to bring him back. This time, McGehee will return to expectations.
"I expect a lot out of myself, and I always have," he said. "With that being said, when Spring Training was wrapping up and we were getting ready to start, there was a level of trying to take some of the expectations off myself and just give myself a chance to play. I think the biggest thing for me, not that I didn't enjoy playing before, but sometimes when something has been taken from you a bit, you enjoy it that much more.
"I was able to enjoy coming to the field every day. Even when we were in some of our tough stretches, I couldn't wait to get to the field, just like it was Opening Day the whole year."
With 26 votes, McGehee topped runners-up Tim Hudson of the Giants (17 votes) and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers (15 votes) in the NL comeback player poll.
Mariners right-hander Chris Young was the Sporting News' American League Comeback Player of the Year.