Every year, the group known as the Baseball Bloggers Alliance places their ballots for various awards to be announced at the end of the season. This year, Bob Netherton and I will be placing the votes for the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance in the category of Manager Of The Year. The award is officially titled The Connie Mack Award, so named because of the winningest manager in baseball history.
For me, this year’s group of skippers came down to a few criteria. Who did more with less? Who found ways to win games that were not meant to be won? It was not about taking a team that was supposed to win and winning (Sorry Charlie Manuel). It was about taking a team that had been written off (even on a game-to-game basis – everyone should be beating the Astros right now) and doing something unexpected. So without further ado, here are my top three choices for the Manager of the Year.
3. Tony LaRussa (St. Louis Cardinals) – Believe it or not, this is not a hometown pick. I am not a LaRussa fan, and I make no qualms about saying so. The man overmanages at times, yet finds ways to win. He is the third most winningest manager of all time, and will probably pass up John McGraw in the next season, should he return. But this award is not about longevity. It is about this year.
LaRussa’s Cardinals did more than anyone would have predicted they could this year. Their march to the postseason really did not begin in earnest until September, as they found themselves 10.5 games out of the race (wild card and divisional) during the week of August 24. They lost an ace in Adam Wainwright before the season began. Superstars Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday both suffered injuries that landed them on the shelf throughout the season. Guys that few out of the Midwest had heard of named Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso led the team in games played. Yet this team prevailed, made a historic comeback, and found their way into the playoffs. Tony might make me nuts, but he must be doing something right.
2. Clint Hurdle (Pittsburgh Pirates) – The Pirates had been complacent in the cellar of the National League for 18 years entering the 2011 campaign. Most people probably could not name 3 players off of the Pirate’s roster. The definition of a young team – Hurdle had only two players on his roster over the age of 30 this year. Yes, you read that correctly. Thirty. This team was doomed from the start.
Then something remarkable happened. Hurdle’s club put together a 47-43 first half. On July 19, game number 95 on the season, the Pirates were up a half game on the Milwaukee Brewers, a season high seven games over .500, and shocking the baseball scene. It was not going to last, according to pretty much everyone, but the Pirates held out longer than anyone thought they would. Hurdle had a young team, but he brought out the best in them, and if the team can stick together for a few years instead of trading them away for aging veterans, they could surprise again next year.
1. Kirk Gibson (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Last year, the Diamondbacks lost 97 games, finishing 27 games back of the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants. Gibson, that of postseason fame himself, took over the reins of the team at roughly the halfway mark of that largely forgettable season. This season, Gibson brought in the A-Team for his coaching staff. Don Baylor, Alan Trammell, Matt Williams and Charles Nagy, among others, are all roaming the halls and dugout steps of Chase Field. Former coaches and managers in their own right, All-Stars whose playing days are not all that distant, now all together in one dugout. Every time you looked into that dugout, you wondered how Gibson got all those guys in one place.
This year, on the backs of a strong pitching staff led by starter Ian Kennedy and reliever J.J. Putz, the Diamondbacks shocked the National League West, running away from the division and finishing 8 games ahead of the Giants and the rest of the pack. Gibson made moves that other coaches would not make, used a regular lineup of players aged 23-30, and earned the respect of the rest of the National League in the process. Gibson might just be starting out his managerial career, but he is off to a good start.