It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Gunnar Henderson was a unanimous choice for American League Rookie of the Year. While there were several fine rookies, including Orioles reliever Yennier Cano, who didn’t even receive a vote, Henderson stood out.
Henderson beat out Cleveland starting pitcher Tanner Bibee and Boston first baseman Triston Casis. For the first four months of the season, Texas third baseman Josh Jung, who finished fourth, looked to be Henderson’s biggest competition, but he fractured his left thumb in early August and missed six weeks.
Henderson is the first Oriole to win the AL Rookie of the Year since reliever Gregg Olson won it in 1989. The Orioles had the longest ROY drought of any American League team.
During the MLB Network telecast, Henderson heard the news from Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., who won the award in 1982.
“It’s pretty cool, especially having my name etched up there with Cal and Gregg Olson,” Henderson said in a video conference call. “It’s pretty cool to be able to say that, especially being from a small town. It was something that was on my mind, but I went out there and tried to play as hard as I could each and every day. I felt like I had a good shot if I went out there and did that.”
Henderson had a tough start in 2023. On May 12th, he was hitting .175.
“It was getting through that beginning part, just honestly staying consistent for the rest of the season,” Henderson said. “Getting through that little struggle in the beginning was the biggest thing for me because some guys can get caught up in that and have a really hard time getting over that. I’m very thankful that the Orioles let me go through it, make it through it and being able to put a good year together.”
Henderson had previously been named AL Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News and was named the top AL Rookie in the Players Choice award. He won a Silver Slugger in the utility category since he split time between third base and shortstop. Henderson is one of nine finalists at shortstop on the All-MLB Team.
“I felt like I’ve always played with a calm demeanor and then just really play with my hair on fire whenever I get in between the lines,” Henderson said. “I just felt this is where I belonged ever since I’ve been here, ever since I was playing ball at a young age. This is what I wanted to do so when I got here, it was just, honestly, go out there and let myself take over.”
Henderson’s highlight came when the Orioles beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 in 11 innings on September 17th. Earlier that afternoon, the Orioles clinched their first playoff berth since 2016 and a wild celebration ensued.
“Just to make it into the playoffs is pretty cool,” Henderson said. “That one was pretty awesome … pretty special, one I won’t forget.”
The Orioles will benefit from Henderson’s award because they’ll receive a Prospect Promotion Incentive draft pick after the first round. The Arizona Diamondbacks, whose outfielder Corbin Carroll also was a unanimous winner of the National League Rookie of the Year award, will also receive a pick. The Orioles will choose 24th in the first round of next July’s draft.
Henderson said he watched some postseason games with his parents, and it made him eager to return for more October baseball.
“Hearing the crowd’s energy for that, I would love to be able to experience a World Series energy, especially at Camden Yards,” Henderson said. “That would be something I’m really looking forward to checking off the bucket list. ”
Henderson liked the new rules with larger bases and the banning of the infield shift.
“I had a little bit of experience with it through Double-A and Triple-A,” Henderson said. “I felt pretty comfortable with it. I enjoyed it. It cut down on the game times … We really enjoyed it, and looking forward to seeing how it evolves.”
On Tuesday, Brandon Hyde will find out if he’ll become the first Oriole to win Manager of the Year since Buck Showalter won it in 2014. He’s competing against Texas’ Bruce Bochy and Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash. Votes were cast before the start of the postseason.
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