Mancini, Mountcastle and Belanger honored by MLBPA (updated)

Though grinding through a rebuilding process that has left them with the first overall draft pick for the second time in four years, the Orioles made out wonderfully tonight in the Major League Baseball Players Association’s Players Choice Awards.

Trey Mancini was chosen as the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year and Ryan Mountcastle was selected as Outstanding Rookie.

The awards are especially meaningful to players because they’re voted on by their peers.

Mancini seemed to be the obvious pick over teammate Cedric Mullins and the Mariners’ Mitch Haniger, though the runners-up certainly deserved recognition. Mancini missed the 2020 season following his diagnosis of Stage 3 colon cancer and appeared in 147 games.

There was more to the comeback than returning to the field, which probably would have sufficed.

Mancini accumulated 616 plate appearances and he finished with 33 doubles, 21 home runs and 71 RBIs. He also was runner-up in the Home Run Derby.

“It means the world,” Mancini said on ESPN. “I’m so honored and humbled to receive this award. Especially 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 an entire season and receive this award just means everything to me.”

Asked about his first home game and the standing ovation, Mancini said, “It was incredible. I think we were only at 25 percent capacity at the time at the beginning of the season, but it felt like a full stadium. I still have goosebumps thinking about it. Everything kind of came full circle and it was just so great to be back.”

Mountcastle offered his congratulations in a video posted by the MLBPA.

“Couldn’t have happened to a better guy,” he said. “For you to overcome the obstacles that you had to face, I mean, it’s truly amazing. Just watching you play all year was definitely an inspiration to me, how hard you worked after everything that happened, it’s a blessing to be your teammate.”

Former teammate Mark Trumbo also appears on the video.

“It’s been an honor to watch you grow, both personally as a friend and professionally as a clubhouse leader over the years,” Trumbo said. “The impact of your story and journey reached far beyond the game of baseball, inspiring teammates, fans and many across the world as they face unpredictable challenges in their own lives. Your outlook and resiliency are to be admired and it’s no surprise to me or those that know you best that this year has been nothing short of an epic comeback story.”

Mancini said on the video that baseball took a backseat after his diagnosis and “I was fighting for my life.”

“Luckily, I got through chemo well and was able to play the full season this year,” he said. “I’m just so appreciative of that and the recognition I just got from my peers all year. Every single team we played, everybody could not have been nicer, and the fans, too. It was just such incredible outreach by everybody and it was just amazing the entire year.”

The Sporting News also named Mancini as the AL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Mullins, the first player in Orioles history with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same season, also is a finalist for the Silver Slugger Award, with three outfielders chosen in each league. However, he was denied a shot at a Rawlings Gold Glove, with Kevin Kiermaier, Myles Straw and Michael A. Taylor named finalists earlier today.

Mountcastle-Celebrates-HR-White-Sidebar.jpgMountcastle beat out the Rays’ Randy Arozarena and the Rangers’ Adolis García. Perhaps a surprise considering how he hasn’t gotten much traction in discussions for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Rookie of the Year award in the AL.

BBWAA finalists will be revealed on Nov. 8 and the Rookie of the Year winner on Nov. 15.

Mountcastle’s 33 home runs led all rookies in the majors and his 89 RBIs ranked second. He was the league’s Rookie of the Month for June.

Overcoming an excruciatingly slow start, when he batted .196 with a .515 OPS in April, Mountcastle slashed .255/.309/.487 with 23 doubles and a triple in 144 games. He set an Orioles rookie record for single-season home runs, passing Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.

“I didn’t really know what to expect going into this first full season,” Mountcastle said on the MLBPA video. “I had never hit that many before in the minor leagues or anything, but coming into this year and hitting 33 homers, it’s pretty cool. After the first month, I probably wouldn’t say I expected that, but I turned it back around and it feels good to be where I’m at.”

“It’s not easy to fail at the major league level and kind of stick with it, keep believing in yourself, and he did that,” Mancini said. “He had a tremendous year and I’m so excited for him.”

The winners were announced tonight on ESPN. This is the 30th year that awards have been distributed.

In addition, longtime Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger is the 2021 recipient of the Curt Flood Award, which is given to a “a former player, living or deceased, who in the image of Flood demonstrated a selfless, longtime devotion to the Players Association and advancement of Players’ rights.”

Belanger was an eight-time Gold Glove winner, with a career 39.5 dWAR, per Baseball-Reference.com, and played on some of the greatest teams in franchise history, patrolling the left side of the infield with Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson.

Nicknamed “Blade” for his slender build, Belanger worked in the offices of the MLBPA after retirement as an assistant to executive director Donald Fehr. He died of lung cancer on Oct. 6, 1998 at 54.

“Players who shared the field with Mark and those who have come along since owe a debt of gratitude to him,” Fehr said in a statement following Belanger’s passing. “He stood up for players’ rights in the early days of the MLBPA, and his clearsighted, unflinching leadership was instrumental during the 16 years he served the union after his retirement as a player. I will personally miss the wisdom and insight he provided on virtually every important decision the MLBPA has made over the past three decades.”

The Curt Flood Award was created in 2020. Hall of Fame outfielder Andre Dawson was the first recipient.

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