Twenty-five months after being fired by the Phillies, Gabe Kapler was named National League Manager of the Year on Tuesday night.
Kapler, 46, led the San Francisco Giants to the best record in the major leagues in 2021. He received 28 of a possible 30 first-place votes in beating out Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers and Mike Shildt of the St. Louis Cardinals. Shildt was fired from his position after the season.
Voting was done by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash won the award in the American League for the second straight year.
Kapler managed the Phillies in 2018 and 2019, finishing with an overall record of 161-163. His teams went 20-36 in the month of September and missed the playoffs both times. Managing partner John Middleton cited the team’s poor September performances for his decision to fire Kapler in October 2019. Former general manager Matt Klentak, who had hired Kapler, opposed the firing. Klentak was fired after the Phillies’ postseason drought reached nine years in 2020.
The drought swelled to 10 years in 2021.
While the Phillies have been unable to get to the postseason in two years under Joe Girardi, Kapler succeeded three-time World Series winner Bruce Bochy in San Francisco and led the Giants to the NL West title in his second year with that club.
Kapler likened succeeding Bochy to managing the Phillies in the afterglow of the Charlie Manuel era. He used the word "iconic" to describe both men and the impact they had in their respective cities.
"It's impossible to fill Bruce Bochy's shoes and I had no ambition to do that," Kapler said in a conference call with reporters after the announcement. "My goal was and is to support the players and their goals and create an environment where players and staff can grow. So that's the focus over trying to do something truly impossible, replacing someone as legendary and successful as Bruce."
Projected to win just 75 games by Baseball Prospectus, the Giants won a major-league high and franchise-best 107 games in 2021. Or, as Jack O'Connell, longtime leader of the BBWAA said, "Gabe Kapler was able to do something that John McGraw, Bill Terry, Dusty Baker or Bruce Bochy were never able to do and that's win 107 games." Kapler's Giants were the first NL team since the 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers to have a winning percentage of at least .600 in every month of the season.
The Giants took sole possession of first place in the NL West on May 31 and held that spot for 121 of the 122 days that remained in the season, winning the division by a game over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ultimately, the two teams met in the NL Division Series and the Dodgers prevailed to move on to the NL Championship Series, where they lost to eventual World Series champion Atlanta.
Kapler is known for progressive, out-of-the-box methods and there were questions about how he’d mesh with the Giants’ veteran clubhouse. Those questions were eliminated in 2021. Veterans Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt all had outstanding seasons. The Giants led the NL with 241 homers and the bullpen recorded a majors-best 2.99 ERA while the starting staff ranked third at 3.44.
One of the Giants’ more impressive statistics was the 38-17 record they posted after a loss. That type of resilience reflects well on a manager.
Kapler was asked if winning the NL Manager of the Year award provided him with any vindication after the way things ended in Philadelphia 25 months ago.
"For the entirety of my two years here in San Francisco, and this is coming from the heart, I have been putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on the job in front of me," Kapler said. "There's not enough energy to do anything else."
Last week, the Giants awarded Kapler with a two-year contract extension taking him through the 2024 season.
Baseball’s awards week continues Wednesday and Thursday nights with the unveiling of the Cy Young and MVP winners in both leagues. Phillies Zack Wheeler and Bryce Harper are both finalists.