Come 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the Baseball Writers' Association of America will reveal its selected winner of the 2011 American League Manager of the Year Award. It will reveal the winner of the National League award, too, but the rest of this article deals only with the former due to limited time and limited interest, so those of you who are all about the National League Manager of the Year Award can go ahead and check out.
It's curious timing, given that the AL Cy Young was announced on Tuesday, and given that the NL Cy Young will be announced on Thursday. People actually care a little about the Cy Young award, and many of them probably figure that the winners will be announced back-to-back. So, by making their Manager of the Year announcements between their Cy Young announcements, the BBWAA will trick people into noticing the manager award when they were looking for something else. Crafty.
Why would people have to be tricked into noticing the Manager of the Year award? Why don't people care about it very much? One reason might be awards fatigue, or general awards not-care-about-itis. Another reason might be that people are far more interested in athletes and teams than the people who coach them. A big reason, though, is that we just don't know how to evaluate a manager's performance.
We don't. Like, pretty much at all. We can praise managers of teams who do well, and that's usually how this award voting goes, but there's no proof that those teams did well because of their managers, instead of despite them. We can't break this down to numbers. We can, say, identify a manager's strategies, and we can maybe quantify some stuff there, but at no point can we ever convincingly answer the question of, "was this manager good?" Maybe you're content just looking at a team's final record, but I don't think that's nearly enough.
Because we can't measure which managers did well and which managers did not, voting on them seems like silly business. The voting process will be relatively uninformed, so the results of the voting process will be relatively uninformed. And who cares about an award that comes out of a relatively uninformed process?
Truth be told, we can never know which candidates most deserve to win the Manager of the Year. Because we can never know the most deserving candidates, it follows that you could make arguments for anybody and everybody. Below, you will find brief arguments in favor of every manager in the American League. I'm actually somewhat serious about this, and the only reason I'm not including the NL too is because this idea occurred to me too late to run down 30 blurbs.
Manny Acta, Cleveland Indians
The Indians absolutely stormed out of the gate, and as late as August 18, they were within 1½ games of the AL Central division lead before dropping off down the stretch, in large part due to injuries. From 2010 to 2011, they increased their win total by 11 despite a similar roster, and survived disappointing campaigns from Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Fausto Carmona.
John Farrell, Toronto Blue Jays
Did you know that the Blue Jays finished with a .500 record? And that they did that despite a pitching staff with all of one reliable starter? In Farrell's first year at the helm, he motivated and squeezed production out of a team given zero chance to go anywhere at the start. It might be easy for the Blue Jays to fold, given the competition in the AL East; Farrell's Blue Jays did not.
Terry Francona, Boston Red Sox
Some might argue, considering the collapse and everything that came out afterward, that Francona did a miserable job. However, one could argue the opposite - that Francona did a fantastic job of keeping things together as long as he did, given what was apparently lurking beneath the surface. The Red Sox started 2-10, and everyone would have you believe the elements were there for a toxic clubhouse. Francona came a day away from steering that team into the postseason.
Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins
Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau combined for seven home runs. Ron Gardenhire came to the yard every day and managed a woefully inadequate baseball team without ever killing himself or any of his players.
Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
The easy shoot-down is, how hard could it possibly be to manage the New York Yankees? But let's think about this for a moment. Let's think about all the egos Girardi was juggling. Let's think about all the pressure under which he was working. And let's remember that the Yankees got absolute crap from Phil Hughes, Rafael Soriano and A.J. Burnett, who were supposed to be important parts of the pitching staff. Girardi's Yankees finished with the best record in the AL, and the best run differential in baseball.
Ozzie Guillen, Chicago White Sox
Guillen turned a successful young non-closer into a successful young closer. For some time, he fashioned an effective six-man rotation with nary a complaint. And Guillen also managed Adam Dunn, a big-money slugger who spent the season mired in a slump of historic proportions. The situation with Dunn could have boiled over into something even uglier, but Guillen kept things about as pleasant as they could have been, under the circumstances.
Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers
During the 2010 season, the Tigers finished exactly .500, and had the performance to back that record up. In 2011, they improved to 95-67, and won the AL Central. They didn't just win the AL Central, either - they won the AL Central by 15 games, despite trailing by eight games in May, and despite holding just a narrow lead in the middle of August. Leyland's Tigers showed impressive killer instinct.
Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays
In 2010, the Rays were good, but then they lost a bunch of talented players, so in 2011, they were supposed to be not so good. What actually happened was that the Rays were good, and pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in baseball history to squeak into the playoffs. Also, they did this in the same season that Manny Ramirez up and retired. Remember how Manny Ramirez was a Tampa Bay Ray? That was this year.
Bob Melvin, Oakland Athletics
Bob Melvin took over for Bob Geren when the A's were 27-36, and he guided the team to a near-.500 record the rest of the way despite having walked into a completely unfamiliar situation, and despite some really significant injuries. It's the "completely unfamiliar situation" part that most blows me away. Bob Melvin walked into an underachieving clubhouse, kept things in order, and saw the team improve.
Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels
It's forgotten now, but on September 10, the Angels were 1½ games back of the first-place Rangers. The Rangers were coming off a trip to the World Series, and the Angels were coming off an offseason in which they were expected to do a lot, but instead did ... not a lot, and then a really bad thing. Along the way, Scioscia successfully installed a rookie first baseman and a rookie closer, and he kept the external mess that was Vernon Wells from becoming an internal mess.
Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles
Try to tell me it's easy. Try to tell me it's easy to manage a team like the Orioles in the Orioles' situation. The Orioles had zero hope. Absolutely zero hope, at any point. They had even less hope than the Blue Jays, who might have entertained the glimmer of the idea of making some noise, since they had Jose Bautista and all. The Orioles were and are the most hopeless organization in baseball, for their own reasons and for bigger reasons, and it's difficult for me to believe that the players don't feel that. Even still, Showalter's Orioles finished 25-27, playing the Red Sox and Rays hard to the very end. (The very, very end.)
Ron Washington, Texas Rangers
The Rangers finished 96-66, and held at least a share of first place in the AL West every day after May 15. Their record improved by six games over 2010 even though they lost Cliff Lee and suffered a number of injuries. Washington made of Mike Napoli what Mike Scioscia couldn't, and I don't know that there's a manager in baseball more beloved than Washington. Being liked isn't enough, but Washington manages to be both liked and an effective team leader.
Eric Wedge, Seattle Mariners
At one point, the Mariners were 43-43 and very much alive in the race. It's a miracle that they got to that point, given the offense they were running out there. Wedge kept the team together all along, while it was playing well, while it was losing 17 games in a row, and while it was playing out the string. Despite a constant roster shuffle, Wedge seemed to command the clubhouse's respect, and where it might have been understandable for there to be some discontent, there wasn't any - at least that got out.
Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals
The Royals, in one sense, underachieved, since they were picked by some before the year as a potential surprise. But if you look at what happened, Yost got productive seasons out of Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur. He helped Joakim Soria through an ugly stretch. He leaned on and got productivity out of a broad assortment of players with limited or zero major league experience. On July 18, the Royals were 38-58. They finished 33-33, and 15-10 in September. Yost helped to mold this team into one that could emerge in a big way in 2012.