Cliff Lee and Fernando Tatis topped the list of improbable stars this season, earning Players Choice Awards as their leagues' Outstanding Comeback Player.
Lee, who was named the AL's Outstanding Pitcher earlier this week, was hampered by an abdominal injury in 2007 and was eventually demoted to the minors, finishing the season with a 5-8 record and a 6.29 ERA. The left-hander from Arkansas returned healthy and more determined than ever this season and posted a 22-3 record with a 2.54 ERA over 223 1/3 innings for Cleveland, striking out 170 batters while walking just 34.
"It was absolutely no fun to go through that injury, and I hope I never have to go experience it again," Lee told Yahoo! Sports in the awards announcement on Thursday. "Hopefully, I can build on this year and carry it into next year."
Tatis played in the Major Leagues for eight seasons before being cut by Tampa Bay in the spring of 2004. At that point, he decided to go back to the Dominican Republic to spend time with his family. But following a layoff of almost two years, he was inspired to build a church in his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic.
"The only way we could build the church is if I came back to baseball one more time, because it takes a lot of money," Tatis said. "The town that I come from is very poor. The people are very poor."
He signed with the Orioles in late 2005 and played 26 games for Baltimore in 2006 after spending most of the season in the Minors. He then spent all of 2007 with the Mets' Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans but persevered in pursuit of his goal.
"It was my dream to make it one more time to the big leagues, so I could build the church," Tatis said. "I had a dream that I wanted to come true."
When injuries took a toll on the Mets roster this spring, Tatis was promoted to New York and seized the opportunity. He became a smart and steady performer for the Mets, helping them challenge for the NL East title. He batted .297 with a .369 on-base average and a .484 slugging average in 273 at-bats and, although his natural position was third base, he played mostly in the outfield.
The Players Choice Award winners are selected by the players themselves in balloting conducted in September under the supervision of the accounting firm KPMG. Players are invariably gratified to be honored by their peers.
"Any time your colleagues vote to give you an award, it's something to be proud of," Lee said.
Earlier this week, Lee and Tim Lincecum were named Players Choice Awards recipients as their leagues' Outstanding Pitcher, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols were named their leagues' Outstanding Player, and Evan Longoria and Geovany Soto were named their leagues' Outstanding Rookie.
The overall Player of the Year, a vote of players in both leagues, as well as the Marvin Miller Man of the Year will be announced on Friday.
Each 2008 Players Choice Award winner recommends the charity of his choice to receive a grant from the Major League Baseball Players Trust. Since 1992, the Players Trust has contributed more than $3.25 million dollars to charities around the world in honor of Players Choice Award winners.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.