Image credit: Torey Lovullo (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
It was early August, the clubhouse doors were closed and Torey Lovullo was pissed.
His young Diamondbacks team had just fallen to the Padres for its ninth loss in a row, and a promising season was on the brink of slipping away. Arizona had surprised with a hot start behind rookie sensation Corbin Carroll but had regressed mightily in the heat of summer.
Buyers at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the D-backs had lost every game since. Once 16 games over .500, Arizona had now sunk to 57-59.
Inside the postgame clubhouse, the longtime manager uncharacteristically let loose. “’Unloaded’ is a fair word,” recalled Carroll.
Usually careful with his words, Lovullo released a torrent of raw emotion. He criticized, nakedly calling out where his struggling team needed to improve. He empathized, making it clear that Arizona’s downturn was weighing on him as much as anybody. He laid out the stakes: Things needed to get better soon, or the D-backs’ season was effectively over.
The next night, the D-backs won to snap their losing skid. A little less than two months later, they splashed into the Chase Field pool to celebrate their first playoff bid since 2017, Lovullo’s first year at the helm.
Arizona players popped champagne corks four times in October while making an eye-opening run to the franchise’s first World Series since 2001. As far as crucial turning points go, Lovullo’s closed-door, truth-telling session is as good as any. By getting the Diamondbacks through that, he showed them they could get through anything.
For that—for his steady hand guiding a team full of unproven and inexperienced players, for his ability to maximize the talent on what no one would claim was baseball’s most dangerous roster—Lovullo is the 2023 BA Major League Manager of the Year.
For the 58-year-old Lovullo, it’s an extra bit of validation in what has been a years-long redemption arc. Several times recently—before the season, during it and on Nov. 8, when he signed a multi-year extension—Lovullo has said he feels lucky to still be leading the team.
D-backs general manager Mike Hazen hired Lovullo as manager after he took over in October 2016. They had worked together in the Red Sox organization, Lovullo as Boston’s bench coach following nine seasons as a minor league manager. He immediately shepherded a veteran-heavy roster to 93 wins and a wild card berth.
The D-backs were competitive while missing the playoffs in 2018 and 2019, but cratered the following two seasons. In 2021, as Arizona limped to a dismal 52-110 record, Lovullo’s seat justifiably warmed. His roster was outgunned, a failure Hazen lays at his own feet rather than his manager’s, but Lovullo’s team also played sloppy, mistake-laden baseball.
But instead of shuffling the managerial deck, Hazen extended Lovullo’s contract. Each of the two seasons since, Lovullo has managed for his job, playing on what amounted to a one-year deal. Still, Hazen insisted the manager was the right man to lead the franchise back into contention, and 2023 certainly proved the GM right.
The D-backs were projected to be an intriguing, up-and-comer in 2023, but nobody foresaw a World Series berth. When Arizona zoomed out to a 50-34 start, expectations suddenly changed.
No longer was Lovullo tasked with helping a young team find its sea legs. He was charged with turning it into a contender. In previous seasons, he had mastered the art of delegation, letting his many veterans police the clubhouse. He took the same tack to start the 2023 season, but around midseason, as the good times ended and the losses suddenly piled up, Lovullo changed tactics.
Individually, Lovullo took a more active hand in teaching young players what it took to be big leaguers. He became more frank and critical, both to his players and talking to the media about them.
“It wasn’t time to massage,” Lovullo said. “It was time to be direct.” Team meetings became more frequent in the three weeks following the all-star break. It all culminated in the meeting that broke Arizona out of its funk.
“I had just had enough,” Lovullo said. “I went at them very aggressively. That was probably the most critical team meeting that I had, where I raised my voice a little bit and just told them what I was thinking and the things I was disappointed in and the things that had to change or else.”
It certainly worked. The D-backs went 27-19 the rest of the way, claiming a playoff spot on the season’s penultimate day. In the playoffs, they turned into an overnight juggernaut. The D-backs stormed past the Brewers and rival Dodgers without a loss in the first two rounds.
In the National League Championship Series against the Phillies, Arizona’s backs were twice forced against the wall, down 2-0 and then 3-2 in the series, only for them to win Games 6 and 7 on the road.
Their young players—Carroll, Gabriel Moreno, Alek Thomas, Geraldo Perdomo—raised their games. Arizona’s hitters waited out starting pitchers and conducted methodical at-bats. The pitchers found big outs whenever needed. After the D-backs downed the Phillies, Bryce Harper offered his praise. “I don’t think that team is scared of any situation,” Harper said, “or any spot.”
Arizona finally met its match in the World Series, falling to the Rangers in five games, but that steady mindset was a reflection of Lovullo’s managerial skill. Players bought in because he bought into them. “You feel like he cares about you as a person,” Carroll said. “It’s more than just you’re his player to him.”
That’s not to overlook Lovullo’s strategic acumen. Outside Arizona’s Game 4 loss in a bullpen day, a debacle that owes more to the team’s flawed roster construction than Lovullo’s decision-making, Lovullo often displayed the magic touch.
He yanked starting pitchers when he needed to—sometimes to their surprise, though they often came around when Lovullo explained his reasoning to them afterward—and just about every pitching change he made to protect a lead proved to be the correct one.
Fresh off the World Series, Lovullo is no longer managing for his job. He is now signed through 2026. With Terry Francona retiring and Craig Counsell jumping to the Cubs, just four managers have been with their teams longer than Lovullo has been with Arizona.
There’s a reason for that. When he signed his most recent extension, Lovullo once again pronounced himself lucky to be with the D-backs. In reality, it might be the other way around.