NEW YORK (AP) – Mike Shildt began his life in baseball at his mom’s side, tagging along with her to work at a Double-A ballpark and picking up odd jobs around the clubhouse.
When Shildt was recognized Tuesday night for the career that has followed, the late Lib Shildt was the first thing on his mind.
“My mom was remarkable,” he said.
Less than a week after his mother died, Shildt was honored for piloting the St. Louis Cardinals back into the playoffs, narrowly beating Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers to win NL Manager of the Year.
Shildt earned the award in his first full season on the job, even though Counsell received more first-place votes (13-10) from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli won the AL prize in a tight finish over Aaron Boone of the New York Yankees. Both received 13 first-place votes, but Baldelli got more second-place nods (13-9). The 38-year-old is the youngest to win the award.
Shildt teared up upon learning he’d been chosen. The 51-year-old is the first manager of the year who never played pro ball, but he’s been around the game since he was a child. His mom worked as an administrative assistant for the Charlotte O’s in the Baltimore Orioles’ system, and Shildt was a regular in the clubhouse.
“Appreciative of the time and love she and my dad invested in me,” Shildt said.
Hospitalized for her final days, Shildt’s mother repeatedly told her nurses how important it was that she live until Tuesday to find out if her son had won.
“She was emotional about knowing it was likely she wasn’t going to be here,” Shildt said. “I said, ‘You know what? You’re going to know before I am.’
“It still hasn’t sunk in in total and I don’t know if it ever will, ultimately, what that loss is going to feel like,” he added.
Shildt replaced Mike Matheny as Cardinals manager during the 2018 season, and under his steady guidance, St. Louis has been among baseball’s best teams since. The club won 91 games and the NL Central crown this year, ending the franchise’s three-year postseason drought. The Cardinals gave Shildt a contract extension through the 2022 season.
“I set my sights on being the best coach I could be just like being the best player I could be, and the journey has led me here,” Shildt said.
Atlanta’s Brian Snitker finished third after winning the award last year. The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts was fourth and Nationals manager Dave Martinez came in fifth. Washington turned a 19-31 start into a World Series championship, but voting for the award concluded before the postseason began.
Baldelli and Shildt are the eighth and ninth managers to win this award in their first full seasons on the job.
Baldelli took over a team that won 78 games in 2018 and pushed them to 101 victories and an AL Central title. He worked tightly with Minnesota’s analytics-focused front office – a shift from predecessor Paul Molitor, who won the award in 2017 – and oversaw a turnaround powered by the team’s major league-record 307 home runs.
“There’s really no playbook,” Baldelli said. “You certainly take advantage of the resources around you, the people who you trust, you rely on them in a lot of ways. I did that in a lot of different ways.”
The self-dubbed Bomba Squad thrived under Baldelli, whose big league playing career was cut short by a rare disorder that led to frequent fatigue and soft tissue injuries.
One of Baldelli’s priorities was keeping players rested, a strategy that worked especially well with his catchers. Nobody started more than 73 games behind the plate for Minnesota, yet the trio of Mitch Garver, Jason Castro and Willians Astudillo combined for 48 home runs, most in the majors by any team’s backstops.
Young hitters Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler had breakout seasons, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton began to meet the weighty expectations that followed exceptional minor league careers, Nelson Cruz kept putting up big numbers and a no-name bullpen emerged as one of the most reliable in baseball.
“We have a group of young players here in Minnesota, a nucleus of young guys that were really coming into their own in a lot of ways,” Baldelli said. “I think some of those guys were ready to take the next step in their career offensively, and a couple of those guys were doing that at the same time. We also complemented them with some quality, veteran players.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash also earned three first-place votes and finished third. Oakland’s Bob Melvin was fourth, followed by Houston’s AJ Hinch and Cleveland’s Terry Francona.
All teammates a season ago, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Charlie Morton are finalists for the AL Cy Young Award, which will be announced Wednesday. Cole and Verlander pitched the Astros to their second pennant in three seasons and are the favorites for the award. Morton left Houston for Tampa Bay in free agency and had a career year.
Mets ace Jacob deGrom is expected to repeat as the NL Cy Young winner. He’s up against the Nationals’ Max Scherzer and Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu.
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