At the helm of one of the Majors' biggest surprise teams this year, and in the midst of one of the game's biggest turnarounds, Twins skipper Paul Molitor was named American League Manager of the Year on Tuesday, as voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Molitor, who just completed his third season and was also a finalist in 2015, edged out the Indians' Terry Francona and the Astros' A.J. Hinch for the AL honors. Molitor received 18 first-place votes, six second-place and four third-place for a total of 112 points, and he was left off just two of the 30 total ballots. Francona received 90 points and Hinch, 56.
:: AL Manager of the Year voting totals ::
Molitor oversaw a Twins club that weathered an up-and-down season, one in which they began as an afterthought, got hot in mid-summer, became sellers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, then surged to a postseason appearance, the team's first since 2010. With their roster maneuvering and attrition, the Twins used 36 pitchers, second most in the Majors, and were without their best player, All-Star third baseman Miguel Sano, for 48 games.
"I still had a lot of optimism that if we continued to see the progress that some of our guys were making, we were going to hopefully still win our fair share of games over the last couple months," Molitor said.
• Previous AL winners
With a young nucleus largely comprised of raw yet blossoming talent, Molitor was recognized for his leadership in steering the Twins to a club-record 26-win improvement from 2016 -- in which they lost an MLB-worst 103 games -- after they had lost at least 90 games in five of its previous six seasons. Minnesota became the first club to reach the playoffs one year after losing at least 100 games. Its 85 wins were the fewest by an AL Manager of the Year and tied for the second-fewest in MLB history.
"There was some strategy in lowering the expectations last year," Molitor said. "You know, you lose 103 games and it's humbling, whether you're a player or a coach or a manager. You know, I had to do a lot of self-evaluation of things that I thought I could have done better throughout the '16 season. I definitely knew what I felt we had to get better at to improve. The big difference was in '16, a lot of young guys, we got off to a horrible start, and the mental fragility of young players, we just couldn't recover. This year, was the opposite."
Molitor becomes the third Twins skipper honored since the award was established in 1983, joining Tom Kelly (1991) and Ron Gardenhire (2010), whom Molitor replaced after the '14 season following a 13-year tenure. All three anchored the Twins to the postseason, with Kelly capturing the club's third and most recent World Series title the year he was named AL Manager of the Year.
A Minnesota native, who was an All-American shortstop at the University of Minnesota, Molitor joined the Twins' organization as a Minor League coach in 2005, and he eventually worked his way up to Gardenhire's staff in 2014. Gardenhire, whom Molitor remains close with, was recently hired as the Tigers' manager.
"I watched his style," Molitor said. "I watched how even in that on year I coached for him, we didn't have a particularly good year and how he grinded his way to the very last day. I was impressed by that. Just no matter the circumstances, he tried to do whatever he could from day one to the last day, to try and help his players improve and try to find a way to win baseball games."
Following three promising seasons, and with the conviction of Tuesday's recognition, Molitor is proving to be the rare exception of success among former players as managers. He joins Frank Robinson as the only Hall of Famers to be elected as players and go on to be named Manager of the Year. Robinson, a two-time MVP who ranks 10th all-time with 586 home runs, won the honor in 1989 as the Orioles' skipper.
"What was so impressive with Mollie is how he was still learning about being a better manager," second baseman James Dozier said. "It's nothing negative.
"When you stop learning, you might as well leave the game. He could easily say, 'I'm Paul Molitor, Hall of Famer, and we're doing it my way,' but instead, he really poured into us and we poured into him, and bounced off things to learn as a unit."