For the Cardinals and Twins, 2019 was a return to prominence within their divisions, a return to being the center -- or, rather, the Central -- of attention.
And for their managers -- both of whom were in their first full season in the skipper’s seat -- prominence of a different sort arrived Tuesday night, when St. Louis’ Mike Shildt and Minnesota’s Rocco Baldelli were, respectively, named the National League and American League Managers of the Year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
In close voting in both leagues -- Baldelli had the same number of first-place votes as Yankees manager Aaron Boone, and Shildt actually had fewer first-place votes than Brewers manager Craig Counsell -- the two men prevailed on the might of what many would consider surprise finishes atop baseball’s Central divisions.
And both were quick to deflect the attention away from themselves.
“This is an organizational award, a team award,” Shildt said during the announcement on MLB Network. “My job is not to win an individual award. My job is for us to win team awards and then help players win their individual awards for their families and their careers, getting the most out of their God-given abilities. But I accept it graciously on behalf of our players and our staff and our front office and ownership. It’s an amazing blessing.”
Said Baldelli, who at 38 years old became the youngest winner of a Manager of the Year honor: “Nobody takes on the responsibility of working in baseball or doing a job like this for personal accolades. You take these types of roles because you want to do everything you can for your group.”
Counsell received 13 first-place votes to Shildt’s 10, but Shildt had more voting points (95) than Counsell (88) by virtue of his 14 second-place votes to Counsell’s six. The Braves’ Brian Snitker (three first-place votes) was the other NL finalist.
Baldelli and Boone each received 13 first-place votes, but the difference-maker was Baldelli receiving 13 second-place votes to Boone’s nine, finishing with 106 total voting points to Boone’s 96. The Rays’ Kevin Cash was the other finalist with three first-place votes.
The BBWAA awards announcements continue Wednesday with the AL and NL Cy Young Awards and conclude with Thursday evening’s unveiling of the AL and NL Most Valuable Player honors, with both broadcasts airing live on MLB Network starting at 6 p.m. ET.
Here's a full look at how Shildt and Baldelli managed to achieve Tuesday’s accolades:
Baldelli becomes eighth rookie manager to win MOY
The rookie skipper took on a big task when he made the move from Tampa Bay, where he was Cash’s Major League fielding coordinator. After a run to an AL Wild Card spot in 2017, the Twins lost 84 games in ‘18, costing Hall of Fame player Paul Molitor his job as manager. The Twins hadn’t won the AL Central since ‘10.
A former standout on the field, before mitochondrial disease sapped his strength and shortened his career, Baldelli brought new rest and recovery routines to the Twins and embraced more analytical thinking with his day-to-day strategy. Under Baldelli, the Twins enjoyed a year-over-year improvement of 23 wins and hit a Major League-record 307 home runs before getting swept by the Yankees in the AL Division Series (voting for all BBWAA awards takes place at the conclusion of the regular season).
Minnesota’s 101 wins marked just the second time in franchise history that the club reached a triple-digit total (the 1965 team won 102), and Baldelli was just the seventh rookie manager in history to have a 100-win season.
Now, Baldelli is just the eighth true-rookie skipper (i.e. no previous partial-season stints) to win this award, joining the Astros’ Hal Lanier (1986), the Giants’ Dusty Baker (1993), the Marlins’ Joe Girardi (2006), the Nationals’ Matt Williams (‘14), the Rangers’ Jeff Banister (‘15), the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts (‘16) and the D-backs’ Torey Lovullo (‘17).
“It came down to an offseason of discussions and communication and getting on the same page and offering plans,” Baldelli said. “Sometimes it’s days on end where you’re just sitting there and you’re on the phone. It’s not overly glamorous, but it’s really helpful and effective in getting everything lined up.”
The Twins had to take down the defending-division-champion Cleveland Indians, who had taken the division for three straight seasons, to win the Central. And after coughing up what had been an 11 1/2-game lead in early June and entering play on Aug. 12 in a tie, the Twins finished strong. They went 30-14 down the stretch to win the Central by eight games and ensure that Baldelli would become the fourth Twins manager to claim this award, following Tom Kelly (1991), Ron Gardenhire (2010) and Paul Molitor (’17).
Shildt is first MOY winner with no pro experience
Tuesday’s announcement came at an especially emotional time for Shildt, whose mother, Lib, passed away at age 85 last week after a battle with a pulmonary illness. When Shildt was young, his mom was an administrative assistant for the Double-A Charlotte O’s, and so Shildt got an early education in professional baseball by cleaning shoes in the clubhouse and shagging flies during batting practice.
“[Losing my mom] was a very difficult, very trying thing to go through,” Shildt said. “I’m appreciative of that time and love that her and my dad invested in me.”
Shildt had professional experience as a clubbie but not as a player, earning him the distinction of becoming the first Manager of the Year recipient who didn’t play pro ball.
“I got to college at UNC Asheville and realized [I was not going to be a Major League player] really quickly,” Shildt said. “I set my sights on being the best coach I could be. My efforts led me here. This wasn’t what I was striving for. I just wanted to be involved with young men and help coach and grow the game and the people within the game and just be a good ambassador for the game. Lo and behold, here we are, and I’m very grateful for it.”
Shildt did enter 2019 with some Major League managerial experience, having taken over for the dismissed Mike Matheny midway through the Cards’ ‘18 campaign. The Cards went 41-28 after the change to leap into Wild Card contention. Though the Cards ultimately fell short of October, the front office removed Shildt’s “interim” tag.
Even with that improvement, and the offseason acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt, it was an open question whether the Cards could get back to the top of the Central and into the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Despite an offense that ranked in the Majors’ bottom 10 in both average and slugging and a bullpen that lost Jordan Hicks and Alex Reyes to injury, the Cards were able to reach their goal, effectively sealing the Central by completing a four-game sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley Field in late September, making the first time St. Louis had done that since 1921. After completing a 91-win campaign, the Cardinals went on to beat the Braves in the NLDS before getting swept by the eventual World Series-champion Nationals in the NLCS.
Heading into the season, Shildt’s goal was to improve the Cards’ defense. They became the first team in history to go from the most errors (133) to the fewest (66) from one year to the next. The baserunning also improved substantially.
“When you get lost in the process and have talented players and super talented people on the field, that just adds up,” Shildt said. “It’s easy to believe in that and anchor to that. That’s what allowed me to stay calm was knowing our staff and players were doing everything they could mentally and emotionally to be the best they could every day.”
Shildt is the third Cardinals skipper to win Manager of the Year, joining Whitey Herzog (1985) and Tony La Russa (2002).
Below are point totals for the balloting, as voted on by members of the BBWAA. Ballots for each award were submitted before the start of the postseason from two writers in every city, based on the league covered.
The system rewarded five points for first-place votes, three for second place and one for third place.
American League results
- Rocco Baldelli, MIN: 13 (1st place) -- 106 points
- Aaron Boone, NYY: 13 (1st place) -- 96 points
- Kevin Cash, TB: 3 (1st place) -- 33 points
- Bob Melvin, OAK: 3 (2nd place) -- 19 points
- AJ Hinch, HOU: 1 (1st place) -- 12 points
- Terry Francona, CLE: 1 (2nd place) -- 4 points
National League results
- Mike Shildt, STL: 10 (1st place) -- 95 points
- Craig Counsell, MIL: 13 (1st place) -- 88 points
- Brian Snitker, ATL: 3 (1st place) -- 45 points
- Dave Roberts, LAD: 4 (1st place) -- 25 points
- Dave Martinez, WSH: 3 (2nd place) -- 15 points