Twins, D-backs managers win award for first time in careers
By Richard Justice
Paul Molitor and Torey Lovullo may someday look back at the 2017 season as one of the most fulfilling they've spent in baseball. For the rest of us, this is what managing at the highest level looks like.
Manager of the Year Awards are tricky things -- an inexact balance of expectations, performance and trying to understand clubhouse dynamics, front-office thinking and a dozen other moving parts.
That said, there's little dispute about the job these two did. Molitor was named American League Manager of the Year on Tuesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, while Lovullo got the National League honor. Ballots were cast before the start of the postseason. (The Esurance MLB Award for Best Manager does include postseason performance, and does not make distinction for league. That will be announced on Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MLB Network.)
NL Manager of the Year voting
Torey Lovullo, ARI
Dave Roberts, LAD
Bud Black, COL
Craig Counsell, MIL
Dusty Baker, WSH
Joe Maddon, CHC
While there were reasonable cases to be made for a long list of managers, the final vote count saw both Molitor and Lovullo get 18 of 30 first-place votes.
"It's humbling, really," Molitor said. "You know, an award like this is certainly a reflection on the organization, the work that my coaches and my players put in. If you win Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young or the MVP, it's about the player, but this award, I think, is a lot more about everybody that contributed to the Twins having a turnaround season."
Molitor finished with 112 points, followed in the AL by Cleveland's Terry Francona (90), Houston's A.J. Hinch (56) and New York's Joe Girardi (12). In the NL, four other managers got first-place votes, but Lovullo finished with 111 votes, followed by Los Angeles' Dave Roberts (55 points), Colorado's Bud Black (43), Milwaukee's Craig Counsell (33), Washington's Dusty Baker (25) and Chicago's Joe Maddon (3).
AL Manager of the Year voting
Paul Molitor, MIN
Terry Francona, CLE
A.J. Hinch, HOU
Joe Girardi, NYY
Molitor and Lovullo couldn't have started the season in more different situations.
Molitor, 61, was entering his third season as Twins manager after winning 83 games as a rookie manager in 2015, but just 59 in '16. He was in the final year of his contract and working for a new chief baseball officer, Derek Falvey, who had not hired him. With a roster dotted with young players, the Twins were widely picked to finish last in the AL Central.
And even after the Twins got off to a surprising start, they were far enough from contention at the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31 to prompt Falvey to trade closer Brandon Kintzler and starter Jaime Garcia.
Molitor called a team meeting with his dispirited players and told them to focus on their own jobs. He said he still believed they were good enough to make the postseason.
"I think, obviously, you check in with your veteran guys … and you kind of get a feel for where everybody is at," Molitor said. "Your other coaches come in and tell you some of the things that they're hearing, and people are saying it's not surprising.
"You've got to take inventory at certain times and kind of give perspective. It's nothing magical, it's just something that, collectively, people needed to hear how I was viewing it and how our coaches were viewing it, and hopefully we could get everybody to kind of get over that speed bump and get back to playing baseball."
With young players like outfielder Byron Buxton and veterans like second baseman Brian Dozier taking off, the Twins won 35 of 59 games starting on Aug. 1 to get the AL's second Wild Card berth.
Minnesota improved by 26 games from 2016, while becoming the first team to make the postseason a year after losing 100 games. Molitor is the second Hall of Fame player to be named Manager of the Year (Frank Robinson was Manager of the Year in Baltimore in 1989).
Lovullo was the most important hire made in Arizona after the D-backs brought in Mike Hazen to be the club's general manager. Lovullo had been a hot managerial prospect for several years, but his only experience was running the Red Sox for 48 games (28-20) on an interim basis in 2015.
In Arizona, Lovullo took over a team that lost 93 games in 2016 and hadn't made the playoffs since 2011. But with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt playing at an MVP level, Zack Greinke anchoring a strong rotation and Archie Bradley emerging as a dominant reliever, the D-backs went 93-69 and beat the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game.
"It's pretty special," Lovullo said. "There are a lot of things that go on that nobody knows about, but I know a lot of people did a lot of great things behind the scenes for us."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.