NEW YORK (AP) — Mike Shildt began his life in baseball at his mom’s side, tagging along for her shifts 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.
Less than a week after his mother’s passing, 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 in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli won the AL prize in a tight ballot over Aaron Boone of the New York Yankees. Both received 13 first-place votes, but Baldelli got more second-place nods. 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 at any level. Of course, he’s been around the pro game since he was a child, when his mom took him to her job with the Charlotte O’s in the Baltimore Orioles’ system.
“Appreciative of the time and love she and my dad invested in me,” Shildt said.
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 was third after winning the award last year. The Dodgers’ Dave Roberts finished fourth, and Nationals manager Dave Martinez was fifth. Washington turned a 19-31 start into a World Series championship, but voting for the award concluded before the postseason began. The Nationals entered the playoffs as a wild card, not far off from preseason expectations.
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 this award in 2017 — and oversaw a turnaround propelled by the team’s major league record 307 home runs.
The self-dubbed Bomba Squad thrived under Baldelli, whose big league playing career was spoiled 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 catchers.
Jorge Polanco emerged as a star at shortstop, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton began to meet the expectations that followed exceptional minor league careers, Nelson Cruz kept putting up big numbers and the bullpen emerged as one of the most reliable in baseball.
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.