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Liam Hendriks, Cody Bellinger win 2023 MLB Comeback Player of the Year awards

Hendriks returned to play just months after a cancer diagnosis, while Bellinger finally looked like his old self after years of injuries and ineffectiveness.

Liam Hendriks of the Chicago White Sox gives a thumbs up to fans before a game against the Texas Rangers at Guaranteed Rate Field on June 21, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

We’re well into Hot Stove season at this point, but there’s still some hardware to be handed out as MLB puts a bow on 2023. The league named its Comeback Player of the Year in both the American and National League on Tuesday night, and it was an all-Chicago affair: White Sox closer Liam Hendriks took home the award in the AL, while Cubs outfielder Cody Bellinger earned the honors in the NL.

Comeback Player of the Year has been presented annually since 2005 to “one player in each league who has re-emerged on the field during the season” — a criterion that can mean anything from injury to a dip in production. The voting is conducted by the 30 team beat writers for MLB.com. Here are the previous winners of the Award, by league and by year:

Comeback Player of the Year history

YEAR AMERICAN LEAGUE NATIONAL LEAGUE
YEAR AMERICAN LEAGUE NATIONAL LEAGUE
2005 Jason Giambi, NYY Ken Griffey Jr., CIN
2006 Jim Thome, CWS Nomar Garciaparra, LAD
2007 Carlos Peña, TB Dmitri Young, WSH
2008 Cliff Lee, CLE Brad Lidge, PHI
2009 Aaron Hill, TOR Chris Carpenter, STL
2010 Francisco Liriano, MIN Tim Hudson, ATL
2011 Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS Lance Berkman, STL
2012 Fernando Rodney, TB Buster Posey, SF
2013 Mariano Rivera, NYY Francisco Liriano, PIT
2014 Chris Young, SEA Casey McGehee, MIA
2015 Prince Fielder, TEX Matt Harvey, NYM
2016 Rick Porcello, BOS Anthony Rendon, WSH
2017 Mike Moustakas, KC Greg Holland, COL
2018 David Price, BOS Jonny Venters, ATL
2019 Carlos Carrasco, CLE Josh Donaldson, ATL
2020 Salvador Perez, KC Daniel Bard, COL
2021 Trey Mancini, BAL Buster Posey, SF
2022 Justin Verlander, HOU Albert Pujols, STL

The 34-year-old Hendriks appeared in just five games this past season before going down with Tommy John surgery, but that hardly mattered; considering that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January, the fact that he made it back to the mound at all this year represented an incredible achievement. From the jump, Hendriks was adamant that he would not only beat cancer but return to pitch at some point in 2023. And sure enough, he did just that, making his season debut against the Angels on May 29 in front of a raucous Guaranteed Rate Field. Hendriks is currently a free agent and will likely miss most if not all of next season as he rehabs; he was one of the game’s elite relievers before his cancer diagnosis, however, and he’ll likely be looking for a two-year deal somewhere that will allow him to return to full health in 2025.

Bellinger’s comeback story wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Hendriks’, but it’s a remarkable one nonetheless. He’d won NL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP by the time he turned 24, and he looked for all the world like the foundation of a new Dodgers dynasty. And then he fell off a cliff: Bellinger’s OPS dipped from 1.035 in 2019 to .789 in 2020 to a miserable .542 — among the worst marks of any regular — in 2021. He wasn’t much better in 2022, and that December Los Angeles made the shocking decision to non-tender the guy who’d once looked like one of the game’s brightest young talents.

You probably know what happened next. Bellinger landed with the Cubs on a one-year, buy-low deal and promptly took off, slashing .307/.356/.525 with 26 home runs in 130 games. He didn’t quite reach his old heights, but he came pretty darn close, and he now enters free agency again at the top of the position-player market ready to cash in with a nine-figure deal.