MINNEAPOLIS -- The youngest manager in the American League and a rare managerial hire from outside the Twins' organization, Rocco Baldelli lived up to all the anticipation in 2019, becoming the seventh skipper in Major League history to win at least 100 games in his rookie season as he guided Minnesota to its first division championship since 2010.
In recognition of that success, Baldelli was named the winner of the 2019 AL Manager of the Year Award on Tuesday night, edging out Yankees skipper Aaron Boone by 10 votes and finishing well ahead of third-place finisher Kevin Cash of the Rays. Baldelli is the eighth recipient of the award in his first full season as manager.
"You take on a responsibility, and it's one that you take seriously when you take on the role of manager," Baldelli said. "You don't do it for anything that points back to yourself. You don't do it for awards. You do it to bring a group together in the best possible way you can. When you do get acknowledged for something individual, it's an interesting feeling, but you are certainly floored by being acknowledged in that way."
Baldelli is the Twins' fourth Manager of the Year Award winner, joining his three most recent predecessors in Tom Kelly (1991), Ron Gardenhire (2010) and Paul Molitor ('17).
Of the 30 ballots cast in the AL, Baldelli and Boone each received 13 first-place votes, but Baldelli pushed ahead with 13 second-place votes, as compared to Boone's nine, along with two third-place votes.
From the moment he was first introduced as the new Twins manager last October, Baldelli spoke earnestly about his emphasis on building relationships and creating a fun, comfortable clubhouse environment to empower his players, and those elements laid a strong foundation for his collaboration with his staff and team executives as the 38-year-old skipper learned on the job in his first season at the helm.
"It's a really easy thing to say in an interview process or generally when you talk about how you want to operate," chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said after the season. "But I would say to see it manifest on a daily basis and the way he led that group and the way he empowered everybody on the staff to do their jobs was incredible to watch. I think everybody in that room benefitted from Rocco's investment in that person individually and their genuine belief that it was in that individual person."
That relationship-building began before Baldelli's first season even officially got underway, when he visited Byron Buxton in Georgia and Miguel Sanó in the Dominican Republic last offseason to establish early rapport with the pair of cornerstone players coming off particularly difficult '18 campaigns.
Baldelli's players-first attitude emphasizing comfort, rest and communication was also clear from the start of Spring Training, as he shortened team days throughout the season, diminished the frequency and importance of batting practice and, as a whole, trusted his players to prepare and conduct their own business in whatever ways suited them best.
Working with his coaches, Baldelli carefully managed the rest of his pitching staff and his catchers, coaxing 31 homers and a AL Silver Slugger Award out of Mitch Garver and a 23.9 WAR out of his pitching staff, per FanGraphs, the third-best mark in the Major Leagues.
It's tough to directly and objectively gauge the impact of any single manager on his team's success, but Baldelli's players certainly seem to have responded to his managerial methods, as much of the Twins' young core took meaningful steps forward, including huge seasons from Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Garver, Sanó and Buxton, among plenty of others, to pace the Twins' Major League-record 307 homers as a team.
"The correlation between these factors that are difficult to measure and actually what you're getting out of them, I don't think there's one way to do it," Baldelli said. "I trust and believe, deep down, that the way we treat our players on a daily basis, playing time, schedules, the rest and recovery factor in general -- I think it's valuable, although not every way of measuring it is extraordinarily objective. ... It's something we're going to continue to try to learn as much as we can about and continue to evaluate going forward."
That's why the Twins were able to surge from 78 wins in '18 to 101 wins in '19, the largest season-to-season climb in the American League, and held off the surging Indians in the second half to claim the division championship despite severe injury issues in the infield and outfield and losing what had been, at one point, an 11 1/2-game lead in the division.
And that's why the Twins' clubhouse -- and future -- appears bright under Baldelli's continued leadership as the Twins reload for 2020 in the coming months.
"You need an entire group, and from the Pohlad family to Derek and [general manager] Thad [Levine], [bench coach Derek Shelton] was my right-hand man, our staff was incredible," Baldelli said on MLB Network. "We needed everybody to come together, and then it really comes down to the players going out there and doing it. ... We had a lot of things go really well this year, and it's because of our group."