KANSAS CITY -- Be honest. Back on May 31, who would have expected that the Royals would make a run at the playoffs and that Eric Hosmer would be their Player of the Year?
After all, the Royals had just sloughed through an 8-20 May and were eight games under .500 at 22-30, dead last in the American League Central. Hosmer, in his 50 games, was dragging along with a .261 average, 16 RBIs and one -- yes, one -- home run.
But the Royals did revive to make a spirited AL Wild Card bid and finished 10 games over .500. And Hosmer, in the last four months of the season, batted .318 with 16 more home runs and another 63 RBIs while the team's record improved to 64-46.
As a result, Hosmer on Tuesday was announced as winner of the Les Milgram Player of the Year Award as voted by the Kansas City Chapter of Baseball Writers' Association of America. The award is in memory of Les Milgram, a Kansas City businessman who helped convince Royals founder Ewing Kauffman to invest in the expansion franchise that began play in 1969.
This is the third major award selected by the KC baseball writers. Previously, closer Greg Holland won the Bruce Rice Award as Pitcher of the Year and starter James Shields won the Joe Burke Special Achievement Award.
It's the first Player of the Year Award for Hosmer, who finished the season with an average of .302, 17 homers and 79 RBIs to go with his 34 doubles, 86 runs and .353 on-base percentage. He also swiped 11 bases.
One factor in the left-handed hitter's slow start this season was a swollen palm in his left hand that popped up on Opening Day at Chicago.
"My hand blew up," Hosmer said. "It was cold, I was facing [Chris] Sale and getting jammed a little bit. So it blew up and the swelling was always kind of there, but I'm never a guy to take myself out of the lineup. You want to do everything you can to help the team -- that's part of grinding out a full season. You go through things like that. I knew when things warmed up that it'd go away and a lot of good things would come from that."
And they did, especially after Hall of Famer George Brett and little-known Pedro Grifol were brought in as hitting coaches in late May.
"When Pedro and George came, it just kind of changed the attitude for the whole offense," Hosmer said. "Those two really worked well together, and George, with his presence just walking around there and his mentality on how he goes about everything in life, just kind of rubbed off on a lot of our guys."
In brief, Grifol brought the game plan and Brett brought the attitude. Brett bowed out after two months, but Grifol stayed on and will return as hitting coach next season.
Hosmer's defensive prowess was recognized this year as well as he won his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the AL's best fielding first baseman. Two teammates, left fielder Alex Gordon and catcher Salvador Perez, also won Gold Glove Awards and Hosmer heard about it.
"That's what so great about the guys. I got calls or text messages from nearly every one of my teammates," Hosmer said. "To have five guys nominated and three guys win is huge for us. It shows that we have a lot of young guys trying to make a name for themselves in this league and a lot of guys whose work ethic is second to none. Honestly, you get that by leadership of your veteran guys. If you walk in the locker room every day and look at Alex Gordon and what he does, it really makes you look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you need to do a little more throughout the day. Obviously you can't ever compare to what he does, but that's leading by example."
Things appeared easy for Hosmer early in his career. He roared through his rookie season of 2011. Promoted from Triple-A Omaha on May 6 that year, he smashed 19 homers with 78 RBIs and a .293 average. He was so impressive that he was third in the AL Rookie of the Year Award balloting.
However, Hosmer's numbers plummeted in 2012, his first full season. He had just 14 homers, 60 RBIs and a .232 average. When this year didn't start out much better, there was considerable concern but he'd learned a valuable lesson from his adversity.
"One of the biggest things I learned in 2012 is how long a season is," Hosmer said.
He also learned the value of hard work last offseason, drilling in the batting cage at his home with his older brother, Mike Jr. In fact, Hosmer also credits his parents, Mike and Ileana, will helping his bounce-back season this year.
"It's really special to win this, and I couldn't have done it without them," he said. "With all the awards that are coming now, it really means a lot, because they did a lot behind the scenes that nobody knows about that really, really helped me a lot."
Among other things, Hosmer led the AL with 60 multihit games, fifth most in Royals history. He was seventh in the league with 188 hits and sixth against left-handed pitchers with a .323 average. His 156 hits after May 19 were the Majors' most in that span and he tied with Texas' Adrian Beltre for the big league best 65 hits after the sixth inning.
Hosmer sees even better things ahead for the Royals.
"Everyone obviously is real confident going into next year," he said. "The way we ended that second half, I think everyone there finally realizes how good we really are and we can actually do this. I think it's going to be a fun year for us."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com.