Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit has been named the winner of the Tony Conigliaro Award, honoring his comeback from rotator cuff surgery to become one of baseball's best setup men.
The award is presented annually by the Boston Red Sox in memory of Tony Conigliaro, the former slugging outfielder who came back from a devastating pitch to the face to return to the big leagues. A 12-person panel votes on the award to recognize a player who overcomes adversity through the spirit, determination and courage that were Conigliaro's trademarks.
For Benoit, the comeback began after missing the entire 2009 season following surgery. He was a free agent last offseason until signing a Minor League contract with the Rays as Spring Training began. After spending most of April in the Minors, Benoit joined the Rays and became the critical cog in their bullpen, leading all American League relievers with a 1.34 ERA over 63 appearances and dominating league hitters.
"There was a point when I had my rehab in Arlington [Texas] that I thought it was over," Benoit said last month. "It hurt too much. It's the thought process. It's the process of getting back in shape."
Benoit's comeback made him the most coveted setup men on the free-agent market before the Tigers signed him to a three-year, $16.5 million contract last month, one of the largest contracts ever given to a non-closing reliever.
The Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will honor Benoit during its annual dinner Jan. 20 at the Westin Copley Place in Boston.