12/11/2002 07:19 am ET
Hammond grabs Setup Man honors
Left-hander wins inaugural MLB.com award
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
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ATLANTA -- Chris Hammond would probably find it in his best interest not to blink any time soon.
Hammond's success during the 2002 season made him a wanted man on the free agent market and impressed enough fans to enable him to be voted MLB.com's Setup Man of the Year.
"Seriously," Hammond said when told he had won the award. "That's pretty cool. Are you serious?"
Some may question whether the events in Hammond's life over the past year are fact or fiction. The left-handed reliever, who retired because of elbow problems in 1998, came into Spring Training last year just hoping to find a spot in the big leagues.
Six months later, he had established himself as one of Bobby Cox's most reliable relievers in the Braves successful bullpen and joined Ferdie Schupp and Dennis Eckersley as the only pitchers to record a sub-1.00 ERA and pitch at least 70 innings.
Hammond, who was 7-2 with a 0.95 ERA in 75 innings, permitted five earned runs in April and just three the final five months of the season. His wicked changeup, which was termed the Bugs Bunny pitch by many of his teammates, baffled hitters all year and enabled him to escape his final 32 appearances without allowing a single run.
"This past season was by far the best I've ever had," Hammond said. "It's going to be a long time before I can actually sit back and realize just how special it really was."
Hammond was in New York on Tuesday and after a physical on Wednesday will sign a two-year deal with the Yankees that will guarantee him $4.8 million. That's not bad for a guy who, last year at this time, was simply hoping to find a job.
The Setup Man of the Year Award is part of MLB.com's This Year in Baseball Awards. There were over 250,000 ballots cast for the awards, which were launched on Nov. 7.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This
story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its