There was little to suggest it would be something other than a rebuilding year for the A's after they traded three top pitchers before the 2012 season. They used an all-rookie starting rotation at times along with patchwork lineups. But they won 94 games, wrested the American League West crown from the Texas Rangers and made the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
On Tuesday, the man who wrote those lineups, Bob Melvin, was named the A.L. Manager of the Year. Melvin edged the Orioles' Buck Showalter, who led a similar turnaround in Baltimore, to become the first A's manager to win the award since Tony La Russa in 1992.
After a season of the A's dealing out surprises, Melvin said, he had the favor returned.
"I was a bit surprised," Melvin said of the award on a conference call. "Yet for me, it's more a validation for our organization having a great year more than anything.
"Somebody has to get these awards, and I'm lucky enough to be in a position for it, but it was a concerted effort from everybody in our organization to accomplish what we did this year in a year that probably not a whole lot was expected of us."
Melvin received 16 of the 28 first-place votes and 116 total points, while Showalter got 12 first-place votes and 108 points. The two were the only managers named on every ballot. Robin Ventura of the White Sox finished third.
In his first full season in Oakland, Melvin led the A's to a 20-win jump over their 2011 record. They trailed the Rangers by 13 games on June 30 but had baseball's best record in the second half and won their final six games, including a sweep of Texas in the final series to overtake the Rangers atop the West.
"When a manager takes a club where the expectations are the team is supposed to lose not only 100 games," general manager Billy Beane said the day after the A's were eliminated from the playoffs, "but in some cases people thought 100-plus games, and then that team wins the toughest division in baseball I don't know what somebody would have to do if they weren't Manager of the Year."
The A's made their stretch run despite losing veteran starters Bartolo Colon (drug suspension) and Brandon McCarthy (brain injury), and played most of the season with converted catcher Josh Donaldson at third base and a first-base platoon of Chris Carter and Brandon Moss, both of whom started the season in Triple-A Sacramento.
A's players lauded Melvin during the season for his even-keel leadership and helping foster a strong chemistry in the clubhouse despite significant roster turnover praise that Melvin usually deflected. Many players took to Twitter on Tuesday to congratulate him.
Davey Johnson of the Washington Nationals was the National League winner, with the Giants' Bruce Bochy finishing third behind runner-up Dusty Baker of the Cincinnati Reds in voting conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Melvin and Johnson are the fifth and sixth managers to win the award in both leagues. Johnson was named the A.L.'s top manager in 1997 with the Orioles, while Melvin won the award in 2007 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"I think more than anything for me (this time) it's the pride of being home and wearing a hometown uniform," said Melvin, a Menlo Park native and former Cal player. "It's kind of a surreal experience. It was from Day One for me and will continue to be."
Under Showalter, the Orioles improved by 24 wins over their last-place finish in 2011 and captured their first playoff berth since 1997.
Nearby, under Johnson, the Nationals led the majors with 98 wins, posting the franchise's first winning season since 2003 when they were still in Montreal and first playoff berth since 1981.
Johnson received 23 of the 32 first-place N.L. votes, Baker five and Bochy four. Bochy guided the Giants to the N.L. West title and their second World Series crown in three seasons; however, voting for the award was conducted before the postseason.