Narrowly edging out runner-up New York Yankees skipper Aaron Boone, Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was awarded American League Manager of the Year on November 12, 2019. The Manager of the Year Award is specifically tailored for the manager of the team that most exceeded expectations.
Winning the most games in franchise history since 1965, the Minnesota Twins won 101 games in 2019 under first-year manager Rocco Baldelli. At age 38, the proud Italian American was the youngest manager in the American League and only the seventh skipper in Major League history to win 100 games or more in his rookie season. Leading the Minnesota Twins to its first division championship since 2010 and the organization’s second 100-win season ever, Rocco Baldelli joined Billy Martin (1969), Bill Rigney (1970), and Ron Gardenhire (2002) as the fourth Twins manager to lead the team to the postseason in his first season at the helm. Rocco Baldelli is the fifth Italian American to manage the Minnesota Twins, following in the footsteps of skippers Cookie Lavagetto (1961), Sam Mele (1961-68), Billy Martin (1969), and Frank Quilici (1972-75).
Rocco Baldelli possessed a players-first approach to management which fostered comfort, rest, and two-way communication. By shortening team workouts throughout the season as well as decreasing the frequency and priority of batting practice, Rocco Baldelli empowered his players to take responsibility for their own preparation. His squad used a record 307 home runs to overcome flaws in their pitching staff. To offset any deficiency in the starting rotation, Rocco Baldelli managed his bullpen well based on the fact that he led the team to an AL best 23-12 record in one-run games.
As a player, outfielder Rocco Baldelli had a promising career jeopardized by a rare muscular disorder called mitochondrial disease that caused frequent injuries. Drafted sixth overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2000, he finished third in 2003 American League Rookie of the Year Award voting. Team owner Vince Naimoli compared him to Joe DiMaggio as an up-and-coming all-star five-tool player. Tampa Bay went as so far to issue Rocco Baldelli the Yankee Clipper’s number 5 jersey . Shortly thereafter, he was inducted into the Rhode Island Italian-American Hall of Fame in 2004. However, injuries caused by his muscular disorder forced him to miss the entirety of 2005 and large amounts of every season until he retired in January 2011.
Absent most of the 2008 season, Rocco Baldelli returned to play 28 regular-season games in August and September to help Tampa Bay reach the playoffs. During the postseason, he hit two home runs, including a three-run homer in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) victory that propelled the Rays to the World Series. Alan Schwarz of the New York Times said that the ALCS home run was “as medically remarkable as Kirk Gibson’s wobbly-kneed shot 20 Octobers ago.”
As a result of his incredible comeback, Rocco Baldelli was honored by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America as the recipient of the 2008 Tony Conigliaro Award, which is given to the major league player who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage-trademarks of the former Red Sox star outfielder.
Over a decade has passed and Rocco Baldelli continues to beat the odds by being recognized as 2019 American League Manager of the Year. Under the continued leadership of the Italian American skipper, the Minnesota Twins’ clubhouse and future appears to be burning bright into 2020 and beyond. Forza #Italia!
by Roberto Angotti