Davey Johnson of the Washington Nationals, and Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics were chosen as managers of the year on Tuesday after guiding their teams to huge turnaround seasons.
Melvin beat out Baltimore’s Buck Showalter for the AL honor in a close vote by a Baseball Writers’ Association of America panel. Under Melvin, the A’s made a 20-game improvement, finished 94-68 and won the AL West.
Johnson was an easy choice for the NL prize after the Nationals — who had never enjoyed a winning year — posted the best record in the majors and made their first playoff appearance.
Johnson, who turns 70 in January, was honored for the second time. He was tabbed as the AL’s top manager in 1997, hours after he resigned from the Orioles in a feud with owner Peter Angelos.
This time, Johnson will get a while to enjoy the accolade.
The Nationals announced this month that he will guide them in 2013, when he will be the oldest manager in the majors. He’s set to leave the Washington dugout and become a team consultant in 2014.
”World Series or bust,” Johnson said on the MLB Network. ”It’s going to be my last year, anyway.”
Melvin also became a two-time winner, having been chosen in 2007 with Arizona.
Melvin got 16 first-place votes. Showalter got the other 12 firsts, and Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox finished third.
The A’s were one of baseball’s biggest surprises this year, especially after trades and injuries wreaked havoc with the roster. Oakland never panicked under Melvin’s cool demeanor and overtook Texas in the final week to win the division. The Athletics lost in the first round of the playoffs to Detroit.
Johnson received 23 of the 32 first-place votes, Dusty Baker of NL Central winner Cincinnati got five firsts and was second. Bruce Bochy of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants got four firsts and was third.
Washington won its second-ever major postseason award. Bryce Harper was voted NL Rookie of the Year on Monday.
Washington went 98-64 this year, taking over the NL East lead in late May and staying in first place the rest of the way. Boosted by Harper, Cy Young candidate Gio Gonzalez and their fresh ”Natitude,” they brought postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933.
The playoffs didn’t go quite so well. Minus Stephen Strasburg — team execs decided the ace had pitched enough while recovering from elbow surgery — Washington blew a 6-0 lead and lost the deciding Game 5 of the division series to St. Louis. Voting for the BBWAA awards was done before the playoffs.
Johnson oversaw a diverse roster, one made up of young and old, Washington veterans and newcomers. A four-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover, two-time World Series champion and the last big leaguer to get a hit off Sandy Koufax, Johnson spoke with a soft, raspy tone but always held his team’s attention.
He would occasionally raise his voice — he liked to holler ”whack-o!” when the Nationals homered.
Johnson managed the New York Mets to the 1986 championship and later guided Cincinnati and the Orioles. He returned to managing in 1999 with the Los Angeles Dodgers for two years.
In June 2011, Johnson was working as a senior adviser with the Nationals when Jim Riggleman suddenly resigned midway through the season. Johnson took over and agreed to be part of a search committee to select a manager for 2012, allowing that he could be a candidate for the post, too.
The Nationals finished 80-81, barely missing out on their first winning season, and Johnson was brought back for another try.
Washington was minus baseball for more than three decades. The Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season, then the Montreal Expos moved to D.C. to start in 2005.
Under Johnson, the Nationals put aside their losing past and set up a winning future.