SAN FRANCISCO -- Ryan Vogelsong's saga transcended baseball, which made him the obvious choice for this year's Willie Mac Award.Vogelsong was honored in a ceremony before Friday night's series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The right-hander earned the distinction by winning a vote conducted primarily by players, coaches and the athletic training staff, who annually bestow the award upon the Giant best embodying the competitive and inspirational spirit of Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey, who also gets a vote. "It's named after one of the greatest Giants ever, one of the best players in Major League Baseball history," Vogelsong said, articulating the thrill he received with the award. "Just to have my name involved with his and some of the other guys who won the award is really neat for me. Because I enjoy being a Giant so much." Moreover, Vogelsong cherished the respect of his peers that the award represented. "I think the biggest thing is that it came from my teammates," he said. "I think if you ask any guy that's playing the game or played the game what's the most important thing, it's the way your teammates perceive you. So the fact that it came from a teammates' vote makes it very special." Vogelsong gained popularity by compiling a 10-6 record with a 2.62 ERA. But he also captured imaginations by rising from non-roster invitee status in Spring Training to National League All-Star recognition after replacing the injured Barry Zito in San Francisco's starting rotation. "When I think things are going to slow down a little bit, they just keep getting better," Vogelsong said during the on-field ceremony, which included McCovey and six previous Willie Mac Award winners: emcee Mike Krukow, Matt Cain, Shawon Dunston, Mark Gardner, J.T. Snow and Andres Torres. Before this year, Vogelsong was the quintessential journeyman, meandering through four organizations and two teams in Japan since the Giants drafted him in the fifth round in 1998. "I just think that guys understand my story," said Vogelsong, 34. "Most people have gone through some kind of struggle in their career at some point. Even if it's a couple-of-weeks thing, or a couple of years or a couple of months, they can look to my story and what has happened as a little pick-me-up to get you through. When you think things are bad, they can always be worse. And when you think things can't be worse, they can always get better. I think that's kind of why people, especially guys on the team, are drawn so much to me and the story. They can relate to it." So, too, can non-ballplayers. "People can understand working hard and persevering through tough times," Vogelsong said. Noting that he drew motivation from the resurgence of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, Vogelsong added, "Hopefully my story is doing the same thing for other people." It certainly made an impression among the Giants. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval, himself a solid Willie Mac Award candidate for his in-season comeback from a fractured right hamate bone, graciously praised Vogelsong.
"He deserves it," Sandoval said. "He did a great job to help the team and he came from nowhwere. I knew he had talent when he signed with us. ... This is a guy who's been through a lot in his life. How he came back here, I appreciate the work he's done because not everyone can do that."Said Torres, last year's award winner, "Seeing all he's been through and to come and perform and be a great teammate, he's the perfect guy." Manager Bruce Bochy called the voting results a "no-brainer," adding, "We're fortunate to have had him when [Zito] went down and for him to pitch like he did, but also to be the person that he is." "Pretty easy [choice]," outfielder Cody Ross said. "To see what he's been through, the way he performed and the way he carried himself, it's been really fun to be around and to watch." Even if Vogelsong hadn't won the Willie Mac Award, he would have entrenched himself in Giants lore through the manner in which he re-signed with the organization before this season. The Dodgers, San Francisco's archrivals whom Vogelsong will face Saturday, actually offered him a contract first, shortly after last December's Winter Meetings. But, while playing for Tiburones de La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League, Vogelsong told teammate Guillermo Rodriguez, briefly a Giants catcher who had become the organization's roving catching instructor, that he preferred to return to his professional baseball roots. Rodriguez immediately contacted Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans. "About three hours later we had a deal in place," Vogelsong said. "I couldn't see myself being a Dodger. And I'm sure glad it happened the way it happened."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.