ATLANTA -- A year after doubting whether he'd have the chance to extend what was an unexpected opportunity, Braves skipper Brian Snitker can now proudly lay claim to the 2018 National League Manager of the Year Award.
Snitker was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude when he was announced as the winner Tuesday evening. Less than three years after being given what was expected to be a short-term, interim role as a Major League manager, he proved that he was the right man to lead the Braves through a rebuild and back to the postseason.
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"This is the farthest thing from anything I've ever imagined," Snitker said. "I've been recycled three times in my career here and when I left the last time, I kind of thought the window [to be a Major League manager] had closed. I was fine with it. I didn't need to validate anything I had done. I was proud of the job I'd done with the organization. No, I never thought I'd be sitting in front of you as the Manager of the Year."
Snitker received 17 first-place votes and was included on each of the 30 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. He finished ahead of Milwaukee's Craig Counsell, who received 11 first-place votes. Colorado's Bud Black and Chicago's Joe Maddon each received one first-place vote.
Guiding the Braves to an unexpected NL East crown highlighted what was a memorable 12-month span for Snitker. The 63-year-old baseball lifer has served as a player, coach or manager within the Braves organization dating back to 1977. But a little more than a year ago, he wondered whether he had a future with the club.
When the 2017 season ended, former Braves general manager John Coppolella wanted a different manager and Snitker had no desire to continue working for Coppolella.
Everything changed when Coppolella was relieved of his duties the day after the season. Snitker's contract option for 2018 was exercised just a few days later. Another key development occurred in early November, when Alex Anthopoulos was lured to Atlanta to run the Braves' baseball operations.
Though Snitker might not have been familiar with the more aggressive analytics approach Anthopoulos brought to the organization, Snitker benefited from his willingness to digest the information and use it to fortify the knowledge and leadership skills he had gathered over the previous four decades.
"The results were unbelievable," Anthopoulos said. "But I think if you stick Snit with anybody, he's going to get along with and be able to work them. You don't last as long in an organization as he has, wearing all kinds of hats and doing all kinds of jobs, if you can't interact with people and players and be able to adapt as well.
"Our game has changed a lot over that period. There's a confidence with the humility. He's not afraid to admit [when he doesn't understand something]. That's a really strong quality. I've seen the other side where people can be insecure. He knows what his strengths are."
One of the most memorable moments of this past season occurred when an enraged Snitker emphatically yelled at Jose Urena after the Marlins' pitcher beaned Ronald Acuna Jr. with a first-pitch fastball on Aug. 15. The passion and protective nature shown certainly weren't surprising to former Braves Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson, David Justice or the countless others who had Snitker as a manager at the Minor League level.
Snitker rekindled his Minor League managerial career after briefly being lost in the shuffle once John Schuerholz became Atlanta's general manager after the 1990 season. He also swallowed his pride when Frank Wren demoted him from Braves third-base coach to Triple-A manager after the 2013 season.
Once the sting of that move evaporated over the season that followed, Snitker accepted the likelihood that he would never have the opportunity to manage in the big leagues.
Snitker's unexpected journey toward this award was renewed when he replaced Fredi Gonzalez as Atlanta's manager six weeks into the 2016 season. Snitker inherited a team that was 9-28. But first baseman Freddie Freeman said he and his teammates felt like they were 28-9 when Snitker addressed the team before his first game as a big league skipper.
"He's done a phenomenal job," Freeman said. "It's very difficult to handle 25 different personalities, and he's one of the best at being able to do that."
Once 2016 concluded, the Braves stuck with Snitker, passing on the opportunity to hire Black. The decision was influenced by a campaign waged by Freeman and Nick Markakis, who quickly grew appreciative and comfortable with Snitker's leadership.
"It validated all I've tried to accomplish because I'm all about [the players]," Snitker said. "They're the ones who make it fun to come to the ballpark. They're why I'm here. There's no doubt about that. Those players are the reason I'm sitting here in front of you right now. That means the world to me. [The players] mean more to me than anything else in this business."
Given that they had been part of the three consecutive 90-loss seasons during the organization's massive rebuild, Freeman, Markakis and Julio Teheran had a genuine appreciation for the tears of joy Snitker shed on Sept. 22, when the Braves clinched the NL East. Many preseason predictions had Atlanta pegged for a fourth-place finish.
The Braves spent 115 days in first place and never experienced anything longer than a four-game losing streak. Snitker's calm approach fueled his team's resilient nature, a trait that was seen when Atlanta blew a six-run, eighth-inning lead to the Red Sox on Sept. 5 and then proceeded to essentially seal the division by winning seven of the next eight games.
Snitker benefited from the MVP-caliber production Freeman provided and the great success NL Rookie of the Year Award-winner Acuna had upon being moved to the leadoff spot after the All-Star break. But Snitker also pushed all of the right buttons with the pitching staff, which was without its only experienced closer for approximately three and a half months. Four of the five relievers who made at least 50 appearances had never experienced a full Major League season.
"It takes a lot of people to accomplish what we did this year," Snitker said. "Managers get awards because of the players. It's all about them. I'm so proud of our players and what they accomplished this year."