Hill named AL Comeback Player of Year
MLB.com reporters honor infielder's courageous story
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays simply did not know what to expect from Aaron Hill this year. The concussion that the second baseman suffered last season was serious enough that the team admittedly had its doubts about his ability to return to the diamond.
"Sometimes people don't come back from concussions," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said earlier this year. "That certainly was a worry on our part -- his, too."
As it turned out, Hill returned in a big way for Toronto.
After one of the most prolific offensive showings in club history, Hill has been named the American League's Comeback Player of the Year in voting by 30 MLB.com beat reporters. Hill received 14 first-place votes, five second-place votes and three third-place votes to finish ahead of Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez and Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer in balloting.
Toward the end of last season, while Hill was coping with not being able to return to Toronto's lineup, someone told him about the Comeback Player honor. Hill was determined enough on his own to prove that he could return strong this season, and at the time he joked with former general manager J.P. Ricciardi about capturing the accolade.
"I told J.P., 'I'm going to win that Comeback Player of the Year thing,'" Hill recalled with a laugh this past September. "He probably wouldn't remember that, but I do."
Hill's prediction was made in jest, but he delivered in the end.
"I really did want to prove everybody, not wrong, but just know that I could be back and I'm fine," Hill said during a conference call on Monday. "That was the main goal. That was really the only goal this year."
Over 158 games this season for the Blue Jays, Hill finished with a .286 average, 36 home runs, 37 doubles and 108 RBIs. He also ended with 195 hits, 103 runs scored and 340 total bases along the way. Among Major League second basemen, Hill ranked first in home runs, RBIs, total bases and at-bats (682).
Hill, who boasts one of the stronger arms among players at his position, also gave the Blue Jays an elite defender in the field. Among all Major League second baseman, Hill ranked first with 798 total chances, 484 assists and 129 double plays, finishing the season with just seven errors and a .991 fielding percentage.
All of this comes after Hill appeared in just 55 games in 2008 for the Blue Jays.
On May 29 of last year, Hill was chasing down a fly ball in shallow center field in Oakland, where he collided with former Jays shortstop David Eckstein. Hill -- struck on the side of the head by Eckstein's right elbow -- missed the rest of the season and was plagued for months by headaches, sleepless nights and dizzy spells.
2009 COMEBACK PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
|Here are the voting results for the American League and National League Comeback Player of the Year awards.|
|Aaron Hill, TOR||14||5||3||88|
|Victor Martinez, BOS||6||9||6||63|
|Michael Cuddyer, MIN||3||5||4||34|
|Jorge Posada, NYY||3||4||4||31|
|Russell Branyan, SEA||3||3||2||26|
|Scott Podsednik, CWS||1||1||2||10|
|Juan Rivera, LAA||1||4||7|
|Rajai Davis, OAK||1||2||5|
|Andruw Jones, TEX||1||1||4|
|Travis Hafner, CLE||1||1|
|Fernando Rodney, DET||1||1|
|Chris Carpenter, STL||27||2||141|
|Yovani Gallardo, MIL||9||3||30|
|Josh Johnson, FLA||8||1||25|
|Todd Helton, COL||1||4||4||21|
|Aaron Boone, HOU||2||3||13|
|Pedro Martinez, PHI||3||4||13|
|Luis Castillo, NYM||1||4||7|
|Jeff Weaver, LAD||2||6|
|Jonny Gomes, CIN||1||3||6|
|Peter Moylan, ATL||6||6|
|Mike MacDougal, WSH||2||2|
Hill met with numerous neurologists, consulted a concussion speciliast in Pittsburgh and sought advice from other athletes who had experienced a similiar injury and symptoms. It took months before Hill could even ride a stationary bike without feeling light-headed.
"The most difficult thing, really," Hill said. "With any other injury, they could say, 'Well, your knee is this -- two-to-four weeks, or four-to-six weeks,' or whatever it may be. There was never an answer for a concussion. They gave me a, 'Well, some people come back in a couple days, some people a couple weeks and some people have been dealing with them their whole lives.' That was the answer I got.
"It really wasn't the answer I was looking for. The fact that my whole life if there's a problem you, not attack it, but you just know there's a light at the end of the tunnel and how long it's going to take. That was the only thing that was difficult for me, mentally, was that there was no answer.
"I didn't really know what to do. I tried not to do anything and I didn't really know how to do that and they didn't give me a time table. It's nice that it's in the past, I'll tell you that."
Gaston knew how hard it was for Hill to sit idle while the Blue Jays played on without him.
"We were all worried about him last year," Gaston said. "I know that he wanted to try to come back last year. Every time I'd see him when he was around the team, he wanted to come and play. I told him, 'Hey, we want you back, but we want you back healthy. Take your time.'"
The team's patience paid off.
On June 28 against the Phillies, Hill belted two home runs to give him 19 on the season, establishing a new single-season club record for long balls by a second baseman with three months to play. When it was all said and done, Hill's 36 homers and 108 RBIs set franchise marks for single-season production by a middle infielder.
Hill's home run total -- the third-highest ever for an AL second baseman -- was also the most in one season for a player at his position since Alfonso Soriano clubbed 38 for the Yankees in 2003. The 108 RBIs that Hill collected were the most in one campaign by a second baseman since Bret Boone's 117 with the Mariners in '03 as well.
Through it all, Hill appreciated how fortunate he was to come back as well as he did.
"I just keep it in my mind that it's a blessing to be back, it really is, to be back in a uniform," Hill said.
For his efforts, Hill was named to his first All-Star team this year, joining ace Roy Halladay as the Blue Jays' representatives in St. Louis. Toronto finished with a losing record for the first time since 2005 this season, but Hill provided a feel-good story amidst all the other issues. For Halladay, Hill is what the pitcher will remember most about the 2008 campaign.
"The biggest thing has got to be Aaron Hill coming back and being the player that I think everybody thought he would be," Halladay said following his final home start of the season. "For me, looking back, it's going to be Aaron Hill. What he came off of last year and what he's done this year, I think it's remarkable."
Even Hill's peers were thrilled to see how he came back from last year's incident.
"I think everyone's excited about the way he's played this year after what he went through," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who was a teammate of Hill's on Team USA during their days as collegiate stars. "A couple years ago, he had a great year and then last year he gets hurt.
"You never want to see anybody get hurt, especially like that. I talked to him at the end of the year there and he said everything he did, he'd get so tired. The way he loves baseball, you never want to see that. That's why everyone, we're so happy for him."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.