As Skip Schumaker navigated his way through his first season as an MLB manager, one piece of advice from Tony La Russa kept resurfacing.
“He told me ‘Trust your gut. Don’t make a move to cover your butt,’ and I would think about that quite a bit,” Schumaker said. “You game plan, you go through all kinds of different scenarios before the game with your staff, but at the end of the day, you have to make a move that could win or lose a ballgame.”
Schumaker was in that position many times during Year 1 with the Miami Marlins — a season in which he built a winning culture inside a clubhouse that had yearned to move past the losing side of an ongoing rebuild.
And it played a role in Schumaker on Tuesday being named the 2023 National League Manager of the Year, as voted on by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The Baltimore Oroles’ Brandon Hyde won the award in the American League.
Schumaker finished ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Craig Counsell and Atlanta Braves’ Brian Snitker, the other finalists for the award. He was on 24 of the 30 ballots, which were submitted before the start of the playoffs, receiving eight first-place votes, eight second-place votes and eight third-place votes.
But as Schumaker did so many times during the season, he deflected the credit to those around him — his coaching staff, the players, the front office for putting him in position to succeed.
“Never once during the season was I like ‘Oh, if I win two more games, I’m going to maybe have a shot at winning manager of the year.’ That’s insane,” Schumaker said. “Nobody really thinks of that. I hope not because you shouldn’t be in that seat because it was never about me. I just did whatever I could to win that day.”
In his first season as an MLB manager, Schumaker guided a Marlins team projected by most to finish fourth in the National League East to an 84-78 record — a 15-win improvement over the 2022 season — and the team’s first playoff berth in a full season since winning the World Series in 2003.
Miami’s playoff run was brief, getting swept in the best-of-three wild card series by a Philadelphia Phillies team that went to the National League Championship Series.
Miami went 33-14 in one-run games and had 41 comeback wins.
“He’s amazing. Skip’s the best,” Marlins second baseman Luis Arraez said. “He gave me the opportunity to talk with him every day and to my teammates. He deserves it. We went to the playoffs because of him. He’s the man.”
‘A lot of coaching is organic’
As Schumaker reflected on the season that had just passed, there are a slew of instances he could point to as either turning points or aha moments in his first year as a manager.
Of the comebacks and close wins, a few games stood out to Schumaker.
The 6-5 win over the Chicago White Sox when Miami scored five unanswered runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
The 10-9 walk-off win over the St. Louis Cardinals, the team Skip played for the majority of his career, when Jordan Hicks airmailed a throw to first base that allowed the tying and winning runs to score.
The 8-7 walk-off win over the New York Yankees, when Miami scored five runs in the ninth inning to complete the unexpected comeback.
“A lot of the season didn’t make sense,” Schumaker said, referring to the comeback wins. “That’s why our staff would just like at each other like ‘Here we go again. You know what’s gonna happen.’”
But those are merely results.
Schumaker chose to look at the moments behind the scenes that set the foundation for those moments to happen.
“It was different conversations and text messages, late night calls with certain players that really showed me this thing’s gonna work out and they get it. They’re starting to understand what winning looks like,” Schumaker said. “I don’t think it was one particular game. I think it was different moments throughout the year. A lot of coaching is organic. It’s not what a lot of the media sees on the field or inside of a clubhouse. You have one-on-ones, coffees in the hotel or you go out and have dinner with certain guys and just try to get a sense of who they are and build those relationships.”
Historic context of Schumaker’s win
Schumaker’s win marks the ninth time in MLB history a manager of the year award was given to someone in his first season as a major-league manager. It’s the first time since the Minnesota Twins’ Rocco Baldelli in 2019 and the first in the National League to do so since the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Torey Lovullo in 2017.
The other seven: the Houston Astros’ Hal Lanier (1986), the San Francisco Giants’ Dusty Baker (1993), the Marlins’ Joe Girardi (2006), the Washington Nationals’ Matt Williams (2014), the Texas Rangers’ Jeff Banister (2015), and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dave Roberts (2016).
He is also the fourth Marlins manager in franchise history to take home the award, joining Don Mattingly (2020), Girardi (2006) and Jack McKeon (2003).