Nomar, Thome nab Comeback honors
Two players win fans' vote by thriving in new scenery
The individual awards season is now officially under way, with nearly a half-million fans at MLB.com deciding that Nomar Garciaparra of the Dodgers and Jim Thome of the White Sox are the recipients of the 2006 Major League Baseball Comeback Player of the Year Award presented by Viagra.
The Comeback Player of the Year Award is officially sanctioned by Major League Baseball, and is presented annually to one player in each league who fans believe has re-emerged on the baseball field during the season. This award was first given out in 2005, when Jason Giambi and Ken Griffey Jr. won.
This season, Garciaparra, who received 72,054 votes, won by a decisive margin, and re-emerged as a star on the baseball field this year after a couple of injury-riddled seasons. For the season, the Dodgers first baseman batted .303 with 20 home runs and 93 RBIs. Additionally, the right-handed slugger was selected to his sixth All-Star Game and led the Dodgers back to the playoffs.
The 1997 AL Rookie of the Year played first base this year for the first time in his career and committed only four errors in 1,124 total chances for a fielding percentage of .996. The two-time AL batting champion helped the Dodgers reach the postseason with some clutch hitting during the last two weeks of the regular season -- including two dramatic walk-off home runs. Garciaparra will be honored prior to Game 3 of the National League Division Series between the Dodgers and the Mets.
One of the things about Garciaparra that evidently made an impression on fans was how seamlessly he made the change from shortstop to first.
"Whenever you win an award, it's a great honor," Garciaparra said. "I think what helped me out this year was being a by-product of this team. Here we are, in the playoffs.
"My success this year has truly been because of [the team]. When you're done [playing], and look at an award sitting on the mantle, or wherever it's sitting, you get to remember the guys -- and this definitely is a special team -- not just on the field, but off the field."
Thome, who garnered 55,587 votes, also led wire to wire in the voting to win the award, re-established himself as one of the game's elites by hitting 42 homers and driving in 109 runs. The White Sox left-handed slugger rebounded from an injury-marred 2005 campaign to finish tied for third in the American League in home runs (42), third in walks (107), fifth in slugging percentage (.598) and seventh in runs (108).
With Ryan Howard ready to take over full-time at first base for the Phillies, Thome was traded in November to the then recently crowned World Series champion White Sox for outfielder Aaron Rowand and two Minor League pitchers. The injury and trade, which brought the Peoria, Ill., native closer to home, seemed to have nothing but a positive effect on Thome.
The 2006 All-Star selection and five-time All-Star is 26th on the all-time home run list with 472 and 28th all-time with 1,364 walks. Thome is one of only two players with 40 or more home runs in each league in consecutive seasons -- Griffey was the other in 1999-2000. Thome ranks fifth all-time with 17 postseason homers and 12th all-time in RBIs. Thome will be recognized at a later date.
"All you have to do is look at his numbers over the years against us," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said. "I used to have this saying to [White Sox owner] Jerry Reinsdorf -- whenever he would come up in a situation to beat us, I'd say, 'You know, I've seen this movie before, and I didn't like the ending the last 12 or 13 times I saw it.' Sure enough he'd do something to hurt us."
In the American League, the other candidates were Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers, Frank Thomas of the A's, Curt Schilling of the Red Sox, Corey Patterson of the Orioles, and Rafael Soriano of the Mariners.
In the National League, the other candidates were Johnny Estrada of the Diamondbacks, Carlos Beltran of the Mets, Scott Rolen of the Cardinals, Joe Borowski of the Marlins, and Edgar Renteria of the Braves.
Representatives of Major League Baseball and the editorial staff at MLB.com selected the 12 nominees -- six players from each league -- for this award.
To further engage fans in the selection process, the voting at MLB.com was done in conjunction with an online sweepstakes. As part of the program, one fan will have the opportunity to throw out a ceremonial first pitch prior to a World Series game this month.