Maddon wins NL Manager of the Year

Maddon wins NL Manager of the Year

Cubs rookie Kris Bryant got his trophy. Now his manager has one, too.

A day after Bryant was the Baseball Writers' Association of America's unanimous pick for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was named BBWAA NL Manager of the Year. The 61-year-old Maddon, who previously won American League Manager of the Year honors twice, was the only NL skipper to appear on all 30 ballots, garnering 18 first-place votes to runner-up Mike Matheny's nine.

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Maddon is the seventh manager to win the award three times and the seventh to win in both leagues.

"It's a little bit staggering, actually," Maddon said, surrounded by family and friends in Tampa at his Italian restaurant, Ava.

Congrats to NL MOY, Joe Maddon

When Maddon opted out of his contract to manage the Rays last November and moved north, the Cubs were coming off their fifth consecutive losing season. Many scoffed when he said in Spring Training that he believed he had a club ready to reach the postseason, but that's where his club wound up, winning 97 games during the regular season, then beating the Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game behind Jake Arrieta and beating the Cardinals in the NL Division Series. The Cubs finally ran into a roadblock against the Mets in the NL Championship Series.

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR VOTING

Manager, Club 1st 2nd 3rd Points
Joe Maddon, CHC 18 11 1 124
Mike Matheny, STL 9 12 6 87
Terry Collins, NYM 3 7 13 49
Clint Hurdle, PIT     8 8
Bruce Bochy, SF     1 1
Don Mattingly, LAD     1 1

Even through the pressure-packed NLCS, Maddon stayed true to his unique brand of managing. After the Cubs fell into a 2-0 series hole, Maddon paraded through the clubhouse with a speaker blaring the "Rocky" theme. In the same Citi Field clubhouse months earlier, he'd brought in a magician to help snap a losing streak, and he organized similar bonding exercises throughout the year that involved pajamas, and a disc jockey, and zoo animals.

For a roster sporting little postseason experience beyond Jon Lester, and populated by a slew of rookies, from Bryant to Addison Russell to Kyle Schwarber, it was the perfect atmosphere to fuel the Cubs' ahead-of-schedule success.

"At the end of the day," Maddon told an MLB Network audience, "this is a players' game. To be a steward of this wonderful group of young players, I feel very fortunate."

Maddon is the fourth Cubs manager to win the award, with Jim Frey (1984), Don Zimmer (1989) and Lou Piniella (2008). Like Maddon, Frey also won on his first year in the job.  

Pena on Maddon's managing style

Under the BBWAA's scoring system, which awarded five points for a first-place vote, three points for second and five points for third, Maddon scored 124 total points to Matheny's 87. Mets manager Terry Collins, a dear friend of Maddon's from their days working in the Angels organization, took the remaining three first-place votes and finished third with 49 points.

All three had a solid case to win the honor. Matheny led the injury-battered Cardinals to 100 regular-season wins and a division title in the NL Central, which featured baseball's three best records. Collins led the Mets' second-half charge, leading to New York's first NL East title since 2008.

But Maddon topped them for his work with the Cubs, who improved by 24 regular-season wins over 2014. It was the biggest such jump in baseball.

"It's unusual and not easy to walk into a situation like we did, not really knowing anyone -- the players, front office, ownership -- and extracting the kind of year that we did," Maddon said. "That really stands out from a personal perspective. It validates the approach that I took intentionally at the beginning and I talk about all the time. It's about relationships."

Maddon mentioned two managerial moves as sources of pride: Placing Schwarber and his left-handed power bat at the No. 2 spot in the batting order behind Dexter Fowler, and moving veteran shortstop Starlin Castro to open the position for rookie Russell, and installing Castro at second base days later.

Both tweaks paid dividends, particularly the infield realignment. Russell posted two of his three best OPS months in August and September while providing an upgrade on defense. Castro ranked among baseball's best hitters in September, with a .369 average and 1.055 OPS.

"Starlin was a star right there. He handled that superbly," Maddon said. "As you're asking me the question, I can see him sitting across from me in that little manager's office at Wrigley, and looking at me, and listening to me, and not getting angry, and not pushing back. I think he knew in his heart it was the right thing to do. ... 
 
"It was a big moment for us." 

Despite the impact of those maneuvers, Maddon is better known for his new-age approach to managing personalities. Again and again, his players lauded their skipper's role in the Cubs' sudden success.

"I think he was a big factor," Bryant said Monday after winning rookie honors. "From the very first day of Spring Training, encouraging us to be ourselves. Don't change the way you play. Him just being a really laid-back manager. It's easy to talk to him.

"Having a lot of young guys on the team, I think that just breeds success. He brought the best out of me, and I think a lot of our success is him leading the way and keeping us calm and confident and at the same time having a lot of fun."

Maddon celebrated Tuesday night by dining on pizza and sipping Tuscan wine. He said he had yet to turn his focus to 2016, though he'll have to this week during a planned telephone call with Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

If Epstein asks Maddon to help the Cubs recruit free agents -- former Rays ace David Price happens to be one of the top players available, and a likely target -- Maddon said he would happily oblige.

"The spotlight is shining from Wrigley Field, and you just have to believe that's going to attract other people who want to be there," Maddon said. "Obviously, a huge attraction is the fact we have not won a World Series in over 100 years. I think there's a lot of competitive Major League players who would like to be a member of the first group that did that."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.