ST. LOUIS -- In his first full season as manager, Mike Shildt guided the Cardinals to a National League Central title and back to the postseason for the first time since 2015. He managed the ups and downs of an inconsistent offense, a rotation that struggled to find its footing early and a bullpen that lost its closer halfway through the season.
Shildt’s success led him to being named the 2019 NL Manager of the Year on Tuesday night in balloting conducted by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Shildt edged out Brewers manager Craig Counsell -- who received more first-place votes (13) than Shildt (10) -- by seven points. Braves manager Brian Snitker came in third place. It was the second time in Manager of the Year voting that the winner did not receive the most first place votes. (Seattle’s Lou Piniella won the AL award in 1995 with nine first-place votes to Kevin Kennedy of the Red Sox, who had 11.)
National League results
- Mike Shildt, STL: 10 (1st place), 14 (2nd place), 3 (3rd place) -- 95
- Craig Counsell, MIL: 13 (1st), 6 (2nd), 5 (3rd) -- 88
- Brian Snitker, ATL: 3 (1st), 6 (2nd), 12 (3rd) -- 45
- Dave Roberts, LAD: 4 (1st), 1 (2nd), 2 (3rd) -- 25
- Dave Martinez, WSH: 3 (2nd), 6 (3rd) -- 15
- Torey Lovullo, ARI: 2 (3rd) -- 2
Shildt and most of his coaching staff are meeting this week at the Cardinals’ complex in Jupiter, Fla., to review 2019 and create plans for ‘20, so the coaches, including bench coach Ollie Marmol, pitching coach Mike Maddux, hitting coach Jeff Albert and bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd, were able to celebrate with Shildt when he won.
“This is an award for having a good team and having a bunch of players do what they do. No award gets accomplished in this regard without having a good team,” Shildt said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday night. “It was fitting that these guys are here and that we could celebrate together because it’s really a cumulative award.”
Shildt became the first Manager of the Year Award winner who never played professional baseball. Instead, he has spent most of his career scouting, coaching and managing in the Cardinals system before taking over as interim manager last year.
“I grew up in a Double-A clubhouse, so when I was 8 years old, I was chasing foul balls and shining shoes,” Shildt said. “I realized my personal goal was to play in the big leagues, and I got to college at UNC Asheville and realized that was not going to happen really quickly being a below-average college player.
“I set my sights on being the best coach I could be, and the journey led me here. This wasn’t what I was striving for, I just wanted to be involved with young men and help coach and learn the game and grow the game and win the game. Just be a good ambassador for the game. Lo and behold, here we are. I’m grateful for it.”
The Cardinals have had two other NL Manager of the Year Award winners since the honor was first given out in 1983: Tony La Russa in 2002 and Whitey Herzog in '85.
“It’s just surreal that even now, having the job for a year and a half or whatever it is, on a daily basis thinking about the company that you join in the history of the organization,” Shildt said. “Just an amazing line of managers, to think I’m a part of that group and to share this award with Tony and Whitey is really something that quite honestly I can’t get my head around. It’s very special, that’s for sure.”
In 2019, St. Louis went 91-71 and reached the NL Championship Series before falling to the Nationals. The Cardinals excelled at defense and baserunning, and their pitching pushed them to the division title.
Shildt was the one who made sure the fundamentals would improve. Last offseason, Shildt sat down with his staff and found the problems on defense and baserunning that the Cardinals had in 2018. In Spring Training, he focused on working out those problems. And the Cardinals became the first Major League team in history to go from the worst defense (133 errors) to the best (66 errors) in back-to-back seasons. Baserunning went through a similar makeover.
There were also the doubts about the Cardinals bullpen and how effective it would be. Yet Shildt managed the bullpen that lost closer Jordan Hicks in the middle of the season, and never had former top prospect Alex Reyes, turning to former starter Carlos Martínez, and St. Louis unearthed a slew of young talent that made the relief corps one of the most efficient in the Majors -- it ranked fifth in ERA (3.82) and first in saves (52). Shildt also managed an offense did not meet expectations -- one that ranked in the bottom 10 in average (.245) and slugging (.415) -- to a division title.
Despite his starters struggling in the beginning of the year, Shildt believed in and stuck with the same rotation in the second half, too, and it paid off. Led by Jack Flaherty’s 0.91 ERA after the All-Star break, the Cardinals rotation had a 3.15 ERA in the second half. As the rotation clicked in the second half, so did the team, and the Cardinals were 47-27 after the All-Star break.
“I feel like the word would be cohesiveness,” Shildt said. “That’s a broad way of saying that our players, our staff, all our support system … everyone was in sync with where we were going and how we were doing it. So just the cohesiveness of what we were doing and feeling like we were pulling on the same rope is why we were able to accomplish what we were able to accomplish.”