After two years of a rebuild, two years of growing pains, two years of painstaking losses in the name of long-term success, the Miami Marlins finally saw some light during the 2020 season.
On Tuesday, their manager was recognized for it.
Don Mattingly edged out the Chicago Cubs’ David Ross and San Diego Padres’ Jayce Tingler to win the 2020 National League Manager of the Year award as voted on by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He joins Joe Girardi in 2006 and Jack McKeon in 2003 as the only Marlins managers to win the award.
Mattingly received first-place votes on 20 of 30 ballots. Eight others voted him as runner-up.
With the win, Mattingly also joins rare company. He is the fifth person in MLB history to win manager of the year after winning MVP as a player. The others: Kirk Gibson (manager of the year in 2011; MVP in 1988), Joe Torre (manager of the year in 1998 and 1996; MVP in 1971), Don Baylor (manager of the year in 1995; MVP in 1979) and Frank Robinson (manager of the year in 1989; MVP in 1966 and 1961).
But it was not an easy path.
To get there, Mattingly and the Marlins had to overcome a COVID-19 outbreak that impacted 20 members of the organization and had Mattingly at one point questioning if they should even continue playing.
In the end, through 18 MLB debuts, 174 roster moves and continued schedule shuffling due to their week-long quarantine early in the season all while embracing the underdog role placed upon his team, the even-keeled skipper guided the Marlins to a winning record for the first time since 2009 and a playoff berth for the first time since 2003.
“I’ve gotten to know Donnie throughout the years and we start talking about someone that always remain calm under pressure and is so even keel regardless of what happens,” Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said. “I think it’s beneficial for the players. It’s also beneficial for young players coming up. … That’s a calming presence and a calming influence that you have on the group. That made him the perfect guy for this group and couldn’t be happier.”
As Mattingly reflected last week on being named a finalist for the award, he thought back to the beginning — and the lowest point — of the season.
The Marlins had 18 players and two coaching staff members test positive for COVID-19 following their season-opening series against the Philadelphia Phillies. They spent a week quarantined in two Philadelphia hotels, separated those who tested positive and those who didn’t, while they waited for the number of positive test results to mitigate.
“Those days in Philly were rough,” Mattingly said in an interview with MLB Network on Nov. 2. “Every day, I’d get a call from (former president of baseball operations) Mike (Hill), and it’d be like ‘Skipper four guys today’ and then ‘Skipper, five guys.’”
Finally, on Aug. 2, a week to the day after they played their most recent game, the Marlins made their way via bus to Baltimore to continue their season.
More logistical problems ensued.
“We get to Baltimore, and we can’t get in our rooms. I’ve got guys sitting on the stairs and sitting in lobbies for like two hours. At that point, I swear I told myself, ‘I’m not sure this is worth it,’” Mattingly said. “That was a tough part of that season. When we were there in that hotel after dealing with everything we dealt with and now we can’t get guys in rooms. And it’s like, ‘Man, this stinks.’ But you know, those are the days that I remember telling myself to be grateful, thankful for my kids, thankful for our health, thankful that we’re playing in beautiful ballparks. You just had to say that to yourself to get through it and bring a positive attitude to your club the next day and to keep our belief in what we were capable of doing.”
They took the field again on Aug. 4 to start a four-game, three-day series with the Baltimore Orioles and continue a road trip that in total lasted 23 days. They won their first five games out of quarantine to start the season 7-1. They had winning records against the Philadelphia Phillies (7-3) and Washington Nationals (6-4) and went 4-6 against both the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets.
They clinched their first playoff berth in 17 years on Sept. 25, the four-year anniversary of Jose Fernandez’s death, with an extra-innings win against the New York Yankees and secured their first winning record since 2009 with a 5-0 shutout victory at Yankee Stadium two days later in the regular-season finale.
Miami went on to sweep the Chicago Cubs in the best-of-3 wild-card round at Wrigley Field before losing three consecutive games against the Braves in the National League Division Series at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
“That’s a step froward for us,” Mattingly said. “We’ve gotten a lot of young guys experience this year. We’ll have a tremendous amount of competition within our camp next year for jobs and who’s going to be where. This is just the start of it. One of our slogans a couple of years ago was ‘Just getting started’ and that’s what I feel like now.”
©2020 Miami Herald