Davey Johnson of the Washington Nationals and Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics, who led smaller-payroll teams to Major League Baseball division titles this season, were honored as 2012 managers of the year.
Melvin, 51, guided the Athletics back from a big deficit to win the AL West division on the final day of the regular season. The A’s, with a $55 million opening-day payroll that ranked next-to-last among baseball’s 30 teams, according to USA Today, trailed the Texas Rangers by 13 games on June 30.
Johnson, 69, led the Nationals to MLB’s best record and gave Washington its first postseason baseball in 79 years while making the controversial decision to shut down top pitcher Stephen Strasburg in early September. The Nats ranked 20th in baseball with an $81 million payroll.
“That was a good stepping stone, but there’s more to come,” said Johnson, who will retire after next season. “It was a fun year for me and I look forward, with another year of experience, that it’s going to set us up to be even stronger and better.”
Johnson and Melvin now have won in both leagues. Johnson previously captured the AL award in 1997 with the Baltimore Orioles and Melvin won his NL managerial honor in 2007 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Only four other men have won manager of the year honors in both leagues -- Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland and Lou Piniella.
“I get a little uncomfortable with individual accolades,” Melvin said on a conference call, “but the one thing I did think about ahead of time if I did win it was doing it in both leagues.”
Melvin led an Oakland roster put together by General Manager Billy Beane, whose philosophy of evaluating players was the topic of the book “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, a Bloomberg columnist.
The Athletics’ payroll was less than a third of the $198 million of the New York Yankees, the highest in baseball. Yankees manager Joe Girardi finished fifth in AL voting.
Oakland entered September four games behind Texas and finished the regular season by winning its last six, including coming back from a 5-1 deficit in the season finale against the Rangers for a 12-5 victory and the division title.
The A’s lost three games to two in the best-of-five AL Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.
“I was a bit surprised,” Melvin said of his award. “This was a year that not much was expected of us.”
Johnson won the NL award with 131 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, taking 23 first-place votes in 32 ballots. Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker was second with five first-place votes and 77 points, while Bruce Bochy of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants was third with four first-place votes and 61 points.
Balloting was much closer in the American League. Melvin had 16 first-place votes and 12 second-place selections for 116 points, while Buck Showalter of the Orioles had 12 firsts and 16 seconds for 108 points. Robin Ventura was third with 12 points. Points were awarded on a 5-3-1 basis.
Johnson led the New York Mets to their last World Series title, in 1986. The former major league infielder, who managed the Mets from 1984-90, also had stints with the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Nats won their first division title since 1994, when they were located in Montreal as the Expos.
The Nationals’ 2012 record, 98-64, was the best in the franchise’s 44-year history. They blew a ninth-inning lead in Game 5 and lost three games to two in the NL Division Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Strasburg, 24, who had 2010 elbow surgery, went 15-6 with a 3.16 earned run average before being protectively benched after 159 1/3 innings, a decision that hung over the team ever since Johnson announced the plan during spring training.
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the youngest non-pitcher to make the All-Star Game, was named the NL Rookie of the Year two days ago. Today, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez will be among the finalists for the NL Cy Young Award as both leagues’ top pitchers are announced.
Johnson said he’s already looking forward to next season. The Nationals said on Nov. 10 that Johnson will retire at the end of the 2013 season to become a team consultant.
“I still feel we have a higher ceiling, that we can do better, and I’m looking forward to that challenge,” he told reporters on a conference call. “Guys really didn’t overachieve, they played up to their potential.”