Craig Counsell failed in his bid to become the Milwaukee Brewers’ first manager of the year, losing in a close race to Atlanta’s Brian Snitker in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America for the 2018 season announced Tuesday.
Snitker garnered 17 of 30 first-place votes to 11 for Counsell, with the final points tally a close 116-99. The other finalist for the NL award, Colorado’s Bud Black, had one first-place vote and 41 points.
Oakland’s Bob Melvin was the winner of the American League manager of the year, topping finalists Alex Cora of Boston, the runner-up, and Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash.
Snitker received 17 first-place votes, 9 seconds and 4 thirds, compared to Counsell’s 11 firsts, 13 seconds and 5 thirds. Counsell, who was left off one of the ballots cast, became the fourth Brewers manager to finish as runner-up, joining Tom Trebelhorn in 1987, Phil Garner in 1992 and Ron Roenicke in 2011.
Counsell said he was pleased to see Snitker honored after serving in the Braves’ organization for some 40 years, much of it in the minor leagues. After Atlanta finished with a 72-90 record in 2017, 25 games out of first place, Snitker piloted the rebuilding club to the NL East crown this year with a 90-72 finish.
“Brian’s story with the Braves is truly incredible and should be celebrated,” Counsell said. “Forty years with an organization and he never thought about himself. He just loved working for the Braves.
“To get that opportunity and have a season like that is just awesome, and I’m glad it’s being celebrated. A story like that is so rare in sports.”
In his fourth season as manager, Counsell, 48, led the Brewers to their first playoff berth since 2011 and their second NL Central crown. The Brewers put on a furious rush in September, finishing a 20-7 month with eight consecutive victories.
The eighth victory came in an extra Game No. 163 after the Brewers caught the Cubs and finished in a first-place tie in the division. The Brewers won that game, 3-1, at Wrigley Field to overtake Chicago, which had a five-game lead entering Labor Day.
During that eight-game winning streak, the Brewers clinched their first playoff berth in seven years but didn’t settle for a wild-card spot. In that final-month surge, Counsell used his deep and talented bullpen liberally, not hesitating to pull starters early in games whether in trouble or not.
Ballots for manager of the year were cast at the end of the regular season, but the Brewers went on to sweep Colorado in three games in the NL Division Series before bowing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games in the NL Championship Series. The Brewers’ final victory count of 102 established a franchise record for one year.
Of the four teams to advance to the LCS round, the Brewers had by far the lowest payroll, beginning the season around the $90 million level.
“What I think about is the unbelievable job our players did this year,” Counsell said. “They were amazing in everything they accomplished, certainly what they did on the field. They were a family in the clubhouse. They drove this whole thing. I feel like we’re celebrating them.”
Counsell, who grew up in Whitefish Bay and still resides there, was named manager of the Brewers one month into the 2015 season after the team stumbled to a 7-18 record under Roenicke. The decision was made to strip down the major-league roster and undergo a complete organizational rebuild, and Counsell, who had been an adviser to then-general manager Doug Melvin, was entrusted to oversee that process on the field.
After going 73-89 in 2016, the Brewers took a big step forward on the field in ’17, forging an 86-76 record and missing the second wild-card berth by one game. General manager David Stearns, hired at the end of the ’15 season, and principal owner Mark Attanasio decided to push the rebuilding process forward to postseason mode and acquired outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, the favorite to win the 2018 MVP Award on Thursday.
The decision to augment the team’s talent base, including late-season acquisitions such as third baseman Mike Moustakas, paid off when the Brewers made their run to the NL Central crown and came within a game of the World Series. As a local resident, Counsell said he continued to hear and see the joy of fans afterward.
“The players scatter around the country, but being here and having people say, ‘thank you’ is really meaningful,” Counsell said. “You feel the excitement at the ballpark when you’re playing but just the simple thank yous meant a lot.”
Counsell, who had no managerial experience before taking over the Brewers, signed a three-year contract extension through the 2020 season in November 2016.