Liam Hendriks and Cody Bellinger have been named the 2023 Comeback Players of the Year, with Hendriks receiving the honor in the American League and Bellinger in the National League. Both players achieved remarkable comebacks for different reasons.
Hendriks, a three-time All-Star closer for the White Sox, faced a daunting challenge when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December. Despite this setback, the determined right-hander made it his mission to return to the Major League mound. In a remarkable display of perseverance, he continued to throw bullpen sessions in between chemotherapy treatments as he prepared for the season.
By April, Hendriks achieved remission and, on May 29, marked an emotional return to the mound for the Chicago White Sox, just five months after his cancer diagnosis. His triumphant comeback was a testament to his resilience.
However, Hendriks faced another setback in June when he was sidelined due to right elbow inflammation, ultimately leading to Tommy John surgery in August. Undeterred, the 34-year-old, who is now a free agent, remains determined to return to the field in 2024. Hendriks becomes the second White Sox player to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award, following Jim Thome’s win in 2006.
Hendriks’ remarkable journey was previously recognized with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the 2023 ESPYs in July, and he was also named a Roberto Clemente Award nominee for the fifth time in his career.
In contrast, Cody Bellinger’s comeback story revolved around resurrecting his career after facing a series of challenges. The former NL Rookie of the Year (2017) and NL MVP (2019) had enjoyed early success, with impressive stats including an average of 37 home runs and a 144 OPS+ over his first three MLB seasons. He also clinched a World Series title with the Dodgers in 2020.
However, Bellinger’s career took a downturn as injuries and struggles at the plate plagued him over the next two seasons. He posted a batting average of just .193 over a span of more than 800 at-bats, and his strikeout rate reached 27.1%. The Dodgers decided not to tender him a contract after the 2022 season, making him a free agent.
Bellinger’s quest to revive his career led him to sign a one-year deal with the Cubs in December. The lefty slugger made a significant comeback, achieving an impressive .307/.356/.525 slash line, hitting 26 home runs, and notably reducing his strikeout rate to a career-low 15.6%.
His stellar performance earned him recognition as the NL Player of the Month in July, and he received his second Silver Slugger Award. Bellinger also joined a select group of players in the 2023 season, batting .300 or better with 25 or more home runs and 20 or more stolen bases, a feat shared with Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Braves, Shohei Ohtani of the Angels, and Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers.
Cody Bellinger’s comeback earned him the distinction of becoming the first Cubs player to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award, positioning him as a highly sought-after player in the free-agent market.
The Comeback Player of the Year Award has been a longstanding tradition in MLB since 2005, recognizing one player in each league who has made a significant return to form during the season. The winners are determined through a vote by MLB.com’s 30 club beat reporters. In the previous year, the award went to Astros pitcher Justin Verlander and former Cardinals star Albert Pujols.