HOUSTON -- Crowded onto a stage in the bowels of Minute Maid Park on Wednesday were stars of baseball past and present: Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, José Altuve and Christian Yelich. They posed for pictures around Hank Aaron, whose namesake award they’ve all won over the years. Hall of Famers
HOUSTON -- Crowded onto a stage in the bowels of Minute Maid Park on Wednesday were stars of baseball past and present: Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, José Altuve and Christian Yelich. They posed for pictures around Hank Aaron, whose namesake award they’ve all won over the years. Hall of Famers Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio joined them, as did Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Everyone was there to celebrate Yelich and Mike Trout, winners of the 2019 Hank Aaron Award, which MLB presents annually to the top offensive performer in each league. Yelich, who won the award last year, turned to Altuve at one point during the ceremony and gushed.
• All-time Hank Aaron Award winners
“There’s kind of a lot of homers up here, huh?” Yelich said.
“It’s not lost on any of us how cool that is,” the Brewers outfielder added a few minutes later. “Just what those guys have accomplished in their careers, it’s mind-blowing, actually.”
Perhaps one day, a future winner will look at Yelich and think the same. Following up on his 2018 National League MVP Award-winning campaign, he defended his NL titles in batting average (.329) and on-base percentage (.429), while adding one in slugging (.671) and finishing fourth in the league with 44 home runs. Yelich became the first player to win the NL batting title in consecutive years since Larry Walker in 1998-99.
“I really am honored, appreciative of everybody who voted on it, deemed it worthy enough, even though I didn't get to see it to the finish line,” said Yelich, who missed the latter half of September due to a fractured right kneecap. “But it's an honor. It's a tough way to go out, but for them to still recognize me, and thought it was enough, is really cool.”
Although the Brewers did not need Yelich to power into the playoffs with a strong September run, they fell short without him in the NL Wild Card Game against the Nationals.
Some element of "what could have been" will always color the 2019 seasons of both Yelich and Trout, the latter of whom underwent surgery to remove a Morton’s neuroma from his right foot in September. But Trout also accomplished enough over five and a half months to claim a Hank Aaron Award, leading the American League in on-base percentage (.438) and slugging (.645). He is the only player to finish with an OPS above 1.000 each of the past three seasons.
Trout also set a career high with 45 homers, drove home at least 100 runs for the third time in his career and scored at least 100 for the seventh time, remaining the same type of preternatural hitter he’s been throughout his nine-year career.
“I would like to extend a sincere thank you to Hank Aaron, the Hall of Famers and fans for this honor,” Trout, who was unable to fly to Houston for the ceremony, said in a statement. “This would not be possible without the support of my teammates, coaches, family and my wife, Jessica. I am humbled and thankful to win this award.”
In his own statement, Aaron lauded Trout and Yelich as “great ambassadors of the game,” calling their offensive play “spectacular.”
“I congratulate them on winning the award again,” Aaron said.
There’s plenty of history here. Trout and Yelich are the 10th and 11th players to win multiple Hank Aaron Awards, joining Rodriguez (four times), Barry Bonds (three times), Ortiz, José Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton (twice each). Trout won his first in 2014, while Yelich did so last season; both wound up also winning the MVP Awards of their respective leagues.
Unlike the MVP Award, which takes a player’s total contributions and value into account, the Hank Aaron Award -- established in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record -- is solely about offense. Fans across the country voted on this year’s award, as did a panel of Hall of Famers handpicked by Aaron for the occasion, a group that included Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Biggio, Ken Griffey Jr., Eddie Murray and Robin Yount.
Those are some weighty names, and Manfred noted the gravity of winning an award “named after a living legend and one of the greatest players in baseball history.”
As if anyone needed reminding.
“You definitely know who Hank Aaron is,” Yelich said. “He played baseball at another level. Especially on the Brewers, he’s on baseball's Mount Rushmore, one of the best to ever do it. Just to spend time with him, get to talk to him two years in a row now is pretty special. It’s something that I don't take for granted.”
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.