Chris Coghlan and Andrew Bailey both agreed to change, then quickly got their chance in the majors. Now each has a rookie reward that will last forever.
Coghlan, the pesky Florida Marlins leadoff hitter, won the National League Rookie of the Year award in a close vote Monday and Bailey took the AL honor after an outstanding season as Oakland’s closer.
“I couldn’t have written it better,” Coghlan said during a conference call.
A second baseman in the minors, Coghlan made a hasty shift to left field in May and found a home atop Florida’s lineup. Bailey also switched successfully, going from struggling Double-A starter to All-Star reliever in a year.
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“I think the move to the bullpen allowed me to get back mentally to who I was,” Bailey said, explaining that he began challenging hitters again. “Just took the opportunity and ran with it.”
Coghlan edged Philadelphia pitcher J.A. Happ, receiving 17 first-place votes and 105 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Happ, the only player picked on all 32 ballots, garnered 10 first-place votes and 94 points.
Bailey, who had 26 saves and a 1.84 ERA this season, was selected first on 13 of 28 ballots and finished with 88 points. Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus was the runner-up with 65 points, one more than Detroit pitcher Rick Porcello.
Bailey, a surprise All-Star in July, was driving when he got word that he won.
“At first I thought it was a prank call. Which one of my friends is playing a prank on me?” he said. “I didn’t want to take my eyes off the road.”
Once he realized the news was legit, Bailey passed it along to his family.
“My mom was crying and my dad was stoked,” he said.
Coghlan dug himself out of an early slump and had a superb second half. He batted .321 with nine homers and 31 doubles in 128 games, scoring 84 runs and driving in 47.
Called up from the minors in May, the 24-year-old Coghlan topped NL rookies in batting average, runs, hits (162), total bases (232) and on-base percentage (.390). Though he was left off seven ballots, he became the third Florida player to win the award, joining Hanley Ramirez (2006) and Dontrelle Willis (2003).
“At the end of the year I knew that I put myself in a good position to win,” Coghlan said.
Atlanta pitcher Tommy Hanson finished third with two first-place votes and 37 points.
Utilityman Eric Bruntlett, who scored the winning run in the final game of the 2008 World Series, became a free agent after refusing a minor league assignment from the Philadelphia Phillies. Bruntlett batted just .171 (18-for-105) this season after hitting .217 in 212 at-bats in ’08. … Catcher Ramon Hernandez agreed to a $3 million, one-year contract with the Reds after Cincinnati declined his $8 million option. … Wally Backman was hired as manager of the New York Mets’ Brooklyn Cyclones farm team in the New York-Penn League. A member of the Mets’ 1986 World Series championship team, Backman was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks in November 2004. He was fired four days later after The New York Times reported he had been arrested twice and had financial problems. … Indians manager Manny Acta added Tim Tolman as the bench coach, Steve Smith as third-base coach and Scott Radinsky as bullpen coach.