SARASOTA, Fla. — Last month, Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins publicized that his breakout All-Star season came in the wake of having 10-15 centimeters of intestine removed to treat Crohn’s disease. On Monday, ahead of Baltimore’s first workout of spring training, Mullins revealed why he waited so long to share.
He wanted to keep the focus on teammate Trey Mancini’s comeback from stage 3 colon cancer.
“My situation wasn’t life or death,” Mullins said inside the Orioles’ clubhouse at Ed Smith Stadium. “It was something I knew I’d be able to come back from, and Trey was coming back from his chemotherapy, and for me, all the support needed to go to him. For him to do what he did, come back and play a full season, regardless of how tired he was, he showed up every single day and he performed really well. I thought that was important for him to get that recognition.
“His accomplishment, it really outweighs mine, in my opinion. That was his moment.”
Mancini, 29, was honored as the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year by both the league and players’ union, returning to play 147 games after missing the 2020 season. Mullins, 27, was also a finalist among his peers, but that recognition was related to him bouncing back from being demoted to Double-A in 2019.
He made Baltimore’s Opening Day roster in the shortened 2020 season, but he dealt with stomach pain, cloudy urine and bowel issues. He had long associated his stomach problems to cases of food poisoning, but the prolonged experience eventually led to the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract and could cause an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Although the pain came in the wake of Mancini’s diagnosis that spring — his surgery to remove a malignant tumor was two years ago Saturday — Mullins said he had little fear he was experiencing the same disease, given their difference in symptoms.
“They eliminated the worst possible scenario pretty early,” Mullins said.
With the approval of doctors, Mullins finished off the 2020 season while on antibiotics then underwent surgery soon after. The procedure’s eight-week recovery period was slightly elongated when an abscess appeared at the surgical site and needed to be drained.
He then began preparing for the 2021 season, abandoning switch-hitting to bat exclusively left-handed. In November 2020, he texted Mancini to ask for advice for building toward a return to baseball after his surgery. Mancini said although chemotherapy followed his procedure, the surgeries themselves were similar.
“I told him you have a lot of time to catch up and don’t rush into anything,” Mancini said. “You’ve got a lot of time to get back and be yourself, and we all saw what did. He did just fine, so I think he ramped up the proper amount.”
Mullins became the first Oriole to record a 30-30 season with 30 home runs and 30 steals. He became an All-Star and Silver Slugger while being the first player since 1965 to finish in the top 10 of his league’s MVP voting despite playing for a 100-loss team.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
“My recovery time in between games was a lot better,” Mullins said. “Able to get better sleep, able to eat better. I think that was the biggest thing, feeling natural energy coming back without having to force it.”
In February, the Major League Baseball Players Association released in a video in which Mullins revealed and discussed his experience with Crohn’s disease; in the case of some teammates, it was the first they learned of what he had overcome to become an All-Star.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde described Mullins as the “ultimate teammate” for making sure no attention was diverted from Mancini’s comeback. He and the club’s front office were aware of Mullins’ procedure and recovery timeline, and that knowledge made his 2021 season all the more impressive, Hyde said.
“You never saw him let it bother him one time throughout the year,” Hyde said. “He never talked about it. He’s just such a positive guy that I think when it came out and he talked about it, a next level of appreciation came from everybody of what this guy was battling, what he went through and then to have the year he had just says how quality of a guy he is.”
The video notes Mullins’ desire to raise awareness of Crohn’s — a goal similar to the advocacy Mancini has done in the wake of his diagnosis. The reaction to the video, from those in the game and those facing Crohn’s disease, left Mullins inspired.
“I didn’t expect that kind of response,” Mullins said. “I didn’t know that that many people were dealing with this. Regardless of the numbers that I see, once you physically see it on messages and Instagram and Twitter, it was kind of overwhelming for a minute. I was like ‘Wow, like there are a lot of people that deal with this and then in some cases worse than what I have.’
“I felt that it was important for me to kind of take it upon myself to go along with that and be an inspiration, in a sense, to other people that may be down about having the disease, but there are ways to continue to live a life.”