Davey Johnson and Bob Melvin both engineered unexpected turnarounds in Washington and Oakland and Tuesday they were both rewarded with manager of the year awards.
Johnson won a convincing race as he registered 23-of-32 first place votes and 131 points. He beat out Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker, who had five first-place votes and 77 points, and San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy, who had four first-place votes and 61 points.
Melvin won a considerably closer race as he received 16-of-28 first place votes and 116 points. He edged out Baltimore’s Buck Showalter, who had 12 first place votes and 108 points. Chicago’s Robin Ventura finished a distant third with just 12 points.
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“Absolutely shocked,” Melvin told MLB Network. “Buck had such a great year, and just to be talked about in the same light, with respect to baseball people like him and Robin Ventura, it’s quite an honor for me. So, yeah, shocked would be the right word.”
Johnson and Melvin became the fifth and sixth managers to win it in both leagues, joining a distinguished group that includes Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella, Tony LaRussa and Jim Leyland.
Though both Johnson and Melvin saw their seasons end in the fifth game of the division series, it was remarkable both men reached that point.
In Washington, some improvement was expected from a team that had not had a winning season since moving from Montreal after 2004, but not to the extent of what the Nationals pulled off. They ended Philadelphia’s five-year stranglehold on the NL East with a 97-win season that brought postseason baseball to the nation’s capital for the first time since 1933.
The Nationals held a share of first place for every day after May 21 and won the title with injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Drew Storen and Jayson Werth. They also won the NL East despite placing an innings limit on Stephen Strasburg and easing Bryce Harper into the lineup a little earlier than the team might have liked.
“I didn’t think they overachieved,” Johnson said on the MLB Network. “They just played to their ability.”
The Nationals had their first winning season since moving to Washington in 2005 and the franchise’s first since Frank Robinson led the 2003 Montreal Expos to 83 wins. That made Johnson the franchise’s first manager of the year since Felipe Alou led the Expos to the best record in the 1994 strike-shortened season that ultimately had an extremely negative impact for the Expos’ ability to keep talent.
While expectations were not high in Washington, they were even lower in Oakland. The Athletics had the AL’s lowest payroll after dealing young pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey for young players that made key contributions.
Among them were pitchers Tommy Millone and Jarrod Parker and outfielder Josh Reddick, who helped the A’s shatter those low expectations and finish with 94 wins, a 20-game turnaround that was the third-best in club history They had a roster filled with rookies, went 72-38 after June 1 and took the AL West title on the last day of the regular season by overtaking Texas.
“I can’t say that I’ve been with a team with so little expectations early in the season to end up where we did,” Melvin said. “[It was a] pretty magical season. I was the bench coach in Arizona when we won the World Series there [in 2001], but boy were there some things that happened this year that I’ve never seen before.”
The Athletics trailed by 13 games at the end of June and faced a five-game deficit with nine to play. Oakland wound up becoming the first club to win a division or pennant when trailing by five games with nine or fewer games remaining.
Melvin also guided the third team to the postseason that held first place for just one day. The others were the 2006 Twins and 1951 Giants.
Those accomplishments gave Melvin his second award. He also won in 2007 with Arizona and became the first Oakland manager to win since LaRussa in 1992.
Rounding out the voting in the NL was Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez (17 points) and San Diego’s Bud Black (one point) and St. Louis skipper Mike Matheny (one point). Also receiving some consideration in the AL were 2011 winner Joe Maddon (seven points), Joe Girardi (five points), Leyland (two points) and Ron Washington (two points).
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher for offseason news throughout the winter.