MILWAUKEE -- Craig Counsell and the Brewers will have to wait for the franchise’s first Manager of the Year honor.
Counsell’s former teammate Gabe Kapler won the Baseball Writers' Association of America’s NL Manager of the Year Award on Tuesday, besting runner-up Counsell and third-place finisher Mike Shildt, the former skipper of the Cardinals.
While Counsell has yet to win the award, he has received votes in each of the past five years, finished in the top four in four of those years and has been runner-up to the winner three times: in 2018 (Brian Snitker won), ’19 (Shildt won) and ’21. This year, Counsell received one first-place vote, 22 second-place votes and four third-place votes.
Kapler garnered 28 first-place votes and Shildt also got one. BBWAA voters -- two in each city -- were required to rank their top three choices before the first pitch of the postseason.
“He helps players play good. It’s pretty simple,” said Brewers bench coach Pat Murphy in an MLB Network appearance on Tuesday before the results were unveiled.
The Brewers played to a 95-67 record during the 2021 regular season with arguably their best starting rotation ever, overcoming early-season injuries and an underperforming offense while cruising to the second National League Central division title under Counsell and the fourth division title in club history. They built a lead as large as 14 games over the rest of the division, representing the widest gap at any point of any Brewers season.
By year’s end, the Brewers were in the postseason for the fourth straight season. Before Counsell came aboard as manager, they had made the postseason four times ever.
Asked on the MLB Network show announcing the winners whether this was his most challenging season at the Brewers’ helm, Counsell said, “I think we had a pretty good ballclub. I think just getting through this season and the COVID situations that every team faced, that was challenging for every manager and every team. This was a fun season, I thought. We had a blast. It was a great bunch of guys that got together and we had a great pitching staff led by some incredible starting pitching. Adversity? Every team gets it, but we had a great season and we had a fun season.”
Murphy knows Counsell’s impact on the season better than anyone. He came to Milwaukee in the summer of 1987 to recruit Counsell to Notre Dame and the two have been having what Counsell calls “a baseball conversation” ever since. Since October 2015, Murphy has been Counsell’s top lieutenant on the coaching staff.
“He really cares about trying to understand you,” Murphy said. “He might disagree with you at first, but he really seeks to understand you. … I will say this: The whole staff was involved. Craig includes everybody. We call it ‘inclusion theater.’ Everyone is involved. He likes to get a number of different opinions.”
Murphy added, “We talk all the time, but he doesn’t overdo it, you know? He doesn’t just talk for the sake of talking. He doesn’t go down rabbit holes. His famous line is, ‘I’m not going to give any oxygen to that.’ He takes care of the task at hand, he doesn’t worry about every little piece of dirt on the floor. Where I might have been, every time there’s a piece of dirt on the floor, I want to address it and attack it and confront it. He’s more, ‘Let’s let it play out a little bit.’”
Health was at the front of mind all year during 2021, Murphy said. That manifested in the Brewers’ collaborative decision to employ six starters for much of the year. One of them, right-hander Corbin Burnes, is a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award, which will be presented on Wednesday night.
“He loves to disagree with you,” Murphy said of Counsell. “He’s not worried about what people think of him. He’s just genuine and he executes when it’s time to execute.”