Brewers manager Craig Counsell and Braves manager Brian Snitker have been voted Sporting News’ 2018 National League Co-Managers of the Year in a survey of their peers. Sporting News has given Manager of the Year awards since 1936.
When asked to describe managers Craig Counsell and Brian Snitker, their players often put forth similar enthusiastic plaudits: a players’ manager, cares about his people, a motivator, the right guy for this team.
Another similarity: Both managers led teams that took giant steps forward in 2018 — Counsell with the Brewers and Snitker with the Braves — surprising many baseball observers.
Add it all up and the next similarity isn’t surprising: Counsell and Snitker have been voted Sporting News’ co-NL Managers of the Year.
Counsell and Snitker each received six votes in a September survey of all 15 NL managers, while Rockies manager Bud Black received three votes. It’s just the second tie in the history of SN’s Manager of the Year voting.
Counsell, who also received the award in 2017, is the fourth manager to win in consecutive seasons, joining Billy Southworth of the Cardinals (1941-1942), Bobby Cox of the Braves (2002-2005) and Terry Francona of the Indians (2016-2017). It’s the first award for Snitker, who just completed his second full season as Braves manager.
Both managers led teams that far exceeded preseason expectations. Counsell, whose Brewers finished strong in 2017 and barely missed a playoff berth, marched the Crew upward in 2018 — with the help of some key additions — to claim the NL Central title with 96 wins after a victory over the Cubs in a Game 163 tie-breaker.
Snitker, meanwhile, led a young Braves team to a surprising 90 wins — after three straight 90-plus-loss seasons — and an improbable NL East title when most evaluators expected one more rebuilding year and a win total somewhere in the mid-’70s.
In the case of both men, their players love them.
“It puts a smile on my face just talking about him,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said of Snitker, who just this week was rewarded with a two-year extension. “He cares more about the person than the player, I feel like. He has your back, no matter what’s going on.”
One of Snitker’s defining qualities is his even demeanor. Whether things are going well or going poorly, he remains the same, Freeman said.
“That’s what you need in a manager,” Freeman said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve lost four in a row — he’s going to come in and be the same person, and that’s what you need. You can have a panic button, and he never hits it. … It just makes you relax to go out there and play.”
Knowing when to step in and manage and when to let the players handle themselves is important for any skipper, and players say Snitker has that down pat.
“He allows us to be ourselves. He’s not a very controlling manager,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “He respects us as individuals and he allows us to be professionals. That’s the only thing that he expects out of us on a daily basis, is just show up and be a pro.”
It’s a similar case with Counsell, who, in addition maintaining that ever-important even keel, has successfully juggled a roster with some seemingly redundant pieces, keeping everyone engaged and feeling like part of the team.
“Mixing and matching with different matchups and keeping everybody fresh and keeping everybody in there — it’s a lot harder than people think,” Brewers infielder Travis Shaw said. “And I think he’s done a really good job of that.”
Brewers pitcher Jhoulys Chacín said Counsell told the team in the first meeting of spring training that he wanted everyone to feel close — and that’s exactly what happened, much sooner than expected.
But when players respect — and actually like — their manager, when it seems a perfect match has been achieved, the buy-in comes more naturally.
“You don’t (normally) get that from the first day or first month,” Chacín said. “… I feel like when all the 40 men and everybody got here, I feel that we got like really connected. We really trusted each other.”
As one might expect, Snitker and Counsell give no indication that they’ve played a role in their teams’ success, instead deflecting credit elsewhere.
Snitker: “There’s an ‘it’ factor with teams. You don’t know how they get it, but when they’ve got it, it’s really something special. You can’t manufacture it. It’s nothing that you can put together. I can’t, as a manager, give it to them. Some teams have it. … It’s a fun thing to be around.”
Counsell: “I’m a product of my experiences and the people that I’ve been around and the people I’ve watched do this job. That’s where my experiences about how people do this job and … cultures they desired to kind of set came from.”
Their players would argue that there’s more to it than that.
THIS WEEK’S SN AWARD SCHEDULE
Monday: Rookies of the Year (AL and NL)
Tuesday: Comeback Players of the Year (AL and NL) and Managers of the Year (AL and NL)
Wednesday: AL All-Star Team | NL All-Star Team
Thursday: MLB Player of the Year