MILWAUKEE -- After leading the Brewers to the National League’s best September record for the second straight season despite losing club MVP Christian Yelich along the way, Craig Counsell finished a close second Tuesday to the Cardinals' Mike Shildt for the Baseball Writers' Association of America’s 2019 NL Manager of the Year Award.
And when we say close, we mean close.
Counsell, who was bidding to become the first Brewers manager to win the award since it was introduced by the BBWAA in 1983, garnered more first-place votes (13) than either Shildt (10) or fellow finalist Brian Snitker of the Braves (three). But Shildt garnered more second-place votes than any skipper, giving him the winning point total in a system that rewards five points for a first-place vote, three for second and one for third.
The final tally was 95 points for Shildt, 88 points for Counsell and 45 points for Snitker. And there’s no manager’s challenge on this one.
It marks just the second time in Manager of the Year voting that the winner did not receive the most first-place votes. The only other time was in the American League in 1995 when the Mariners’ Lou Piniella had nine first-place votes to 11 for the Red Sox’s Kevin Kennedy but won on total points, 86-74.
Counsell took the tough loss with good humor.
“The award that I’d like to be presented with is the one Dave Martinez won,” he said, referring to the World Series-winning manager of the Washington Nationals. “That’s what you’re doing it for. That’s kind of the ultimate.”
Counsell quickly added, "And I'm not trying to diminish Mike Shildt's award by any means. I don't want it to come off like that. But if you ask me what's important, [winning the World Series trophy] is what's important."
Counsell would have been a worthy choice for Manager of the Year, especially considering that 2019 marked the last year of 40-man rosters in September and no manager in the game made better use of those extra bullpen arms than Counsell. In 2018, the Brewers were 15th in MLB over the first five months of the season with a 3.94 ERA before going 20-7 with an MLB-best 2.70 ERA the rest of the way, including their victory over the Cubs in a NL Central tiebreaker game. Counsell finished that year runner-up to Snitker in NL Manager of the Year balloting.
In 2019, Counsell and the Brewers did it again. They were 18th in MLB with a 4.68 ERA over the first five months, then went 20-7 once again with an MLB-best 3.01 ERA to surge to the second NL Wild Card. Counsell finished second once again, this time to Shildt.
“I think that means we’re having good seasons, so that’s good with me,” Counsell said. “Let’s just keep having good seasons. Our goal is to put ourselves in a spot where we get into the playoffs. And if we get into the playoffs, we’ve got a chance to win the World Series. That’s what we want to keep doing.”
He acknowledged that the rules will be different next year, though. Counsell is still waiting to hear firm details about a 26-man active roster during the first five months of the regular season and a cap of 28 in September. The Brewers will adapt to make the most of their personnel, he said. He also acknowledged that the Brewers are facing a winter of more turnover than last year, given their robust crop of free agents led by Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas.
“When you sign and commit to players like Yasmani and Moustakas on one-year contracts, they’re going to create really big holes at the end of the season,” Counsell said. “We just have to be ready that there’s going to be change. There’s the potential for some different names there. I think we knew that and we expected that, and now it’s [president of baseball operations David Stearns’] job to see what comes of that through the winter. That will definitely be addressed – and maybe with some of the same guys.”
Counsell earned high marks as manager for his work during the Brewers’ 2019 surge, which began in the wake of a blowout loss to the Cubs at Miller Park on Sept. 5. Yelich hit a go-ahead home run the next night -- his 44th and final homer of the season -- in a win that sparked a spree of 18 victories in 20 games. Most of those wins came after Yelich was lost for the year to a fractured right kneecap on a foul ball in Miami on Sept. 10. The next night, Moustakas homered twice in a 7-5 win. The night after that, Ryan Braun homered while wearing Yelich’s jersey under his own in a 3-2 win, the team’s seventh victory in a row.
Counsell helped keep the team connected, a theme he’d stressed since his very first Spring Training address as manager in 2016. In his emotional speech after the Brewers clinched a spot in the 2019 postseason with a Sept. 25 win at Cincinnati, Counsell stood in the middle of the visitor’s clubhouse and told players, “Look around, because this is what a team looks like.”
“One of the things about professional athletes is they’re human, and when someone has confidence in you, you perform better,” Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said that night. “All these guys know he believes in them and counts on them. Then they achieve.”