Schumaker named NL Manager of the Year after triumphant 1st season

November 15th, 2023

MIAMI -- Skip Schumaker never expected he'd become a big league manager, much less an award-winning one.

When it came time for Tuesday's announcement of National League Manager of the Year, Schumaker thought he had no shot. So his son went to baseball practice while his daughter and wife watched nearby.

And yet, it was Schumaker's name called as the winner, as voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. With 72 votes, he beat out finalists Craig Counsell (51) and Brian Snitker (48), the latter matching Miami's skipper with eight first-place votes. Schumaker appeared on all but six of the 30 ballots, which had to be sent in before the postseason began.

"I dreamt of playing in the Major Leagues one day, and then I fell in love with coaching, and then I got this opportunity," said Schumaker, who won two World Series with the Cardinals over an 11-year MLB career. "I never once during the season [was like], 'Oh, if I win two more games, I'm going to maybe have a shot of winning the Manager of the Year.' That's insane. Nobody really thinks of that. I hope not, because you shouldn't be in that seat. It was never about me. I just did whatever I could to win that day."

Schumaker, who becomes the eighth person to win the award as a first-time manager, is the first to do so since Rocco Baldelli (Twins in 2019). He also is the fourth skipper in franchise history to receive the award, joining predecessor Don Mattingly ('20), Joe Girardi ('06) and Jack McKeon ('03).

The 43-year-old Schumaker inherited a 93-loss ballclub with a 23.6% chance of making the postseason on Opening Day, per FanGraphs, and led Miami (84-78) to its first playoff berth during a full season in 20 years.

Looking at the statistics, the Marlins' 2023 success doesn't make sense. Not with Luis Arraez, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Joey Wendle and Jean Segura changing positions. Not by season's end when they held a -57 run differential -- the worst of any postseason team in history. But Schumaker, who left his job as bench coach for the Cardinals to join the Marlins, received buy-in from star players like Arraez, Sandy Alcantara and Jorge Soler to create a winning culture.

“It's a combination of things," former colleague and St. Louis manager Oli Marmol said in September when noting what made Schumaker successful. "In talking to him, it's [building belief], and it's having some really good pitching that allows you to be in every game. When you're in every game, then you have a chance to pull away with some of them, and they've done a really good job of that."

Schumaker helped guide Miami through adversity, like losing Chisholm, Avisaíl García, Trevor Rogers and Johnny Cueto for significant time. After dropping below .500 (66-67) on Aug. 30, the Marlins captured series wins over the postseason-bound Dodgers, Phillies, Braves and Brewers in September to secure the NL's second Wild Card seed. Miami became the first team since Minnesota in 2009 to sit below .500 133 games or later into a season and make the postseason in a 162-game slate. Down the stretch, Schumaker handled a young rotation with just two reliable starters once Alcantara and rookie Eury Pérez got hurt.

Miami also embodied Schumaker’s fighting spirit, recording comeback wins in 48.8% of its victories. Six of them came when trailing by three-plus runs at the end of the seventh -- the most by an MLB team in a season in the Modern Era, according to OptaSTATS.

"Amazing. Skip is the best," Arraez said last Friday when explaining why Schumaker deserved MOY. "He gave me the opportunity to talk with him every day and to my teammates. Skip is one of my favorite managers. He deserves it. We went to the playoffs because of him. He's the man."

Arraez has a point. The Marlins' 15-win improvement was in large part due to their reversal in fortune in close ballgames, where the margin for error is slim and every move is magnified. After recording 40 one-run losses in 2022, the most since the 1975 Astros and just three shy of the ‘68 White Sox for the single-season record in the Live Ball Era (since 1920), they compiled an MLB-best .702 winning percentage in one-run games in 2023.

Throughout the season, Schumaker would go back to advice from his former manager Tony La Russa.

"He told me, 'Trust your gut. Don't make a move to cover your butt,'" Schumaker said. "I would think about that quite a bit, because you game-plan, you go through all kinds of different scenarios before the game with your staff. At the end of the day, you have to make a move that could win or lose a ballgame. There's a lot of times where I made bad moves and I had really good players that just covered up my mistake. I'm very aware of that.

"But there were times where analytics or whatever would suggest to keep a guy in or pull a guy out or pinch-hit or not bunt or whatever it is. But I kept relying back on that saying of make a move that -- you've seen the game, you've been around the game -- trust your gut, trust your staff and don't make a move just to appease a front office or an analytic group.

"And I think that was what our staff stood by. We have a lot of guys that played the game for a long time or coached the game for a long time that saw different ways of trying to win games, and we had to do everything we could to win games in certain ways, whether it was bunting, hit-and-run or anything you're not supposed to really do sometimes. And we found ways to win that in that way."