|Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr.|
Manager of the Year is the most tenuous of baseball awards, relying almost solely on the gut instincts and distanced observation of a select group of baseball writers. The end-of-year awards provide great opportunity for argument, even when there are irrefutable statistics that should eliminate such jabbering. As the MVP and Cy Young award voting continues to illustrate, these statistics are still taken with a grain of salt. This year's Cy Young winners both dominated in voting, Justin Verlander winning unanimously and Clayton Kershaw taking 27 of 32 first place votes, though a quick perusal of the most telling pitching stats point to Roy Halladay being the best NL pitcher and CC Sabathia at least being good enough to garner a substantial number of first place votes (instead he finished 4th in voting). While baseball writers still struggle to evolve toward more accurate measures of baseball greatness, the Manager of the Year vote will always allow them to indulge in those tried and not-so-true indicators: the gut and wins. Advanced statistics don't exist in the evaluation of managers. Yet. However, in the short history of the award, wins don't seem to play too great a roll in deciding a winner either.
The Manager of the Year was first awarded in 1983. It is bestowed upon the best manager in both the AL and NL by a group of 2 BBWAA members from each team's city. It would seem wins would be the most telling indicator of managerial greatness, as the manager's chief objective is in the preparation and management of his players in the service of winning baseball games. As John McGraw said, "the main idea is to win." Leo Durocher goes one step further: "How you play the game is for college ball. When you're playing for money, winning is the only thing that matters...win any way you can as long as you can get away with it."
Fifty-nine managers have won the award since its inception, with Joe Torre and Johnny Oates sharing the award in 1996. Yet only twenty-four of those managers led their teams to the most wins in the league. Eliminate Felipe Alou and Buck Showalter from the 1994 strike-shortened season, who were arbitrarily given the award for their team's posting the highest winning percentage, and that means that only 39% of the winners achieved the best record in their award season. Bobby Cox, who is tied with Tony LaRussa with four MoY awards, didn't win in any of the seasons his team posted 100+ wins. There seems to be a direct correlation between expectations and results when deciding a winner. Much like Kirk Gibson this season, Bobby Cox led the Braves from a last place finish in 1990 to 94 wins and the pennant in 1991. While Jim Leyland's Pirates were the better team that season, Cox's was the most surprising. Managers have never been rewarded for meeting expectations, but are always lauded for exceeding them. Another Durocher quote comes to mind: "If you don't win, you're going to be fired. If you do win, you've only put off the day you're going to be fired." Bobby Cox didn't get recognition for all those dominant years because we knew the Braves were good. The belief was that they would be good with any skipper. And perhaps they would have. After all, it's the players that make the team, the skipper just makes them go.
|I miss this guy.|
Ron Gardenhire in 2010 and Joe Girardi in 2006 are interesting cases. Gardenhire has finished 2nd in MoY voting five times, finally winning the award in 2010. There was nothing exemplary about this season that warranted recognition any more than those previous. Except that Joe Nathan blew his arm out in Spring Training and missed the entire season. The Twins were favorites to win the Central with Joe Nathan, and now without him, most prognosticators had already closed the book on their season. With a healthy Joe Nathan and a similar finish, I don't see Gardenhire getting the trophy. Girardi, on the other hand, is the only manager to have won the award with a losing season. The Marlins went 78-84 that year, five games worse than 2005. With the losses of Beckett, Burnett, Lowell, Castillo, and Pierre (all big contributors in Championship 2003) the Marlins weren't expected to do much. And indeed they didn't. However, the baseball writers must have anticipated a 100-loss season to reward a manager for only losing 84.
This isn't to say the Manager of the Year Award should always go to the best team's skipper. There is something to be said for achieving a lot with a little. The team with the best players more often than not is the team finishing with the most victories, regardless of who is calling the shots. Did the Yankees win ten pennants in twelve seasons because Casey Stengel was a genius? Or because their roster included Dimaggio, Berra, Mantle, Maris, Ford, Turley, Kubek, among others? A bit of both, for sure. But more the latter.
I agree that Joe Maddon and Kirk Gibson were the most valuable managers in 2011. The Arizona Diamondbacks don't look like a 94-win ballclub, yet they were. With predominantly the same roster as in 2010, they won 29 more ballgames. And Joe Maddon is the man, plain and simple. He comes from the Mike Scioscia school, which is churning good managers seemingly every year, and will one day have an interesting book written about him. Both Gibson and Maddon have put together very good teams with less to work with than most organizations. My primary issue with the voting is the lack of recognition received by those who enter the season with a team predicted to win. We all tire of the saying, "looks great on paper, but the game is played on the field." And yet managers are discounted if they execute their expectations. This season Philadelphia, managed by Charlie Manuel (102 wins) and New York, managed by Joe Girardi (97 wins) won the outright pennants. Everybody expected PHI to win, many expected NYY to be good, but not to win the East. Neither manager received one 1st place vote. Manuel finished 4th in the voting, Girardi 5th. It is true they have the biggest payroll in their respective league. But Manuel's team built a dominant lead in the standings and held it, while having no off-days in September (with a couple double-headers). They didn't crumble like Boston. Girardi's Yankees, filled with aged superstars and egos, not to mention a thin pitching staff, still managed to play consistent winning baseball and top the Red Sox, the team picked by just about everybody to win the whole bloody thing. And yet they hardly received any consideration at all.
I doubt managers care much about this award, other than how is can work into contract negotiations, and like the Durocher statement above, prolong getting fired a bit longer. It would be interesting to see an additional layer added to the voting. Perhaps have each MLB manager vote for his top three, not necessarily excluding himself and combine this with the BBWAA votes. Nobody has a better idea of what other managers have to work with than...other managers. They have poured over scouting reports ad nauseum. It may help to evaluate a manager's performance over the entire season, rather than 2nd half surges and Wild Card races. It may even prevent more managers from getting pre-emptively shit-canned.