From the moment he stepped back onto the field in spring training to mark the beginning of his comeback from colon cancer, Orioles star Trey Mancini has been warmly welcomed by his peers.
Their admiration for his return to play after missing all of 2020 for chemotherapy and treatment earned him American League Comeback Player of the Year in the 2021 Players Choice Awards, while fellow Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle was named the league’s Outstanding Rookie. The winners were announced during Wednesday night’s “SportsCenter” broadcast.
“It means the world. I’m so honored and humbled to receive this award,” Mancini said on ESPN. “When I got my diagnosis, I wasn’t totally sure that I’d be playing baseball again, so to be able to come back and play a whole season and receive this award means everything to me.”
Mancini, 29, played an entire season this year despite not having stepped on the field in the shortened 2020 campaign, working himself back to full health and spending the first part of the year as one of the league’s most productive hitters. He wore down as the season went on, but ended with a respectable 21 home runs and a .758 OPS in 147 games.
He frequently used his platform as a baseball player to bring awareness to colon cancer in young adults, with the most significant instance being his star-turn in the Home Run Derby, where he finished second.
“That was probably the highlight of the year, especially since my entire family was there,” Mancini said. “At the time, I was ready for bit of a break, but at the same time, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Mancini beat fellow Oriole Cedric Mullins, who rebuilt his career after crashing down to Double-A in 2019, and Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger for the honor. He’s the third Oriole to win Comeback Player of the Year in the Players Choice Awards, with Mark Trumbo winning most recently in 2016.
Mountcastle, who hit 33 home runs with a .796 OPS, was a less obvious choice than Mancini for his award. The American League rookie class was a deep one this year, and Mountcastle won out over Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena and Texas Rangers outfielder Adolis García.
They weren’t the only players with Orioles ties to take home an award from the union. Mark Belanger, who won eight Gold Glove Awards, a World Series and made an All-Star team in 17 seasons with the Orioles, was the second winner of the Curt Flood Award.
First given in 2020 to Andre Dawson, the Curt Flood Award is given to a former player who demonstrated the same selfless and longtime devotion to advancing players’ rights as Flood, who was integral in establishing free agency.
The Players Choice Awards are separate from MLB’s awards, for which honors like Most Valuable Player, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year are selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America. MLB’s Comeback Player of the Year Award is voted on by MLB.com writers.