Friday, September 01, 2006
Willie or Girardi, who is manager of the year?
My buddy Will and I are having a debate over who will and should win the National League Manager of the Year Award.
Naturally, I’m campaigning for our man Willie Randolph. Will thinks Joe Girardi of the Marlins has it locked up, and I’m starting to see that opinion pop up in columns.
Typically I defer to Will, who is the best baseball analyst I know and is an amazing researcher. Check out his work on baseballtruth.com and you’ll be impressed.
But we’re not seeing eye to eye on this one.
Will believes that even if — or when — the Fish fall out of the wild card race, Girardi took a team that was expected to lose 110 games and has them in contention, all with the added burden of owners exhibiting bizarre behavior.
If Will had a vote — and it’s a crime that some press box lizards get one and Will doesn’t — he’d mark down Girardi first, followed by Jerry Narron of the Reds and then Willie.
I’ll give my reasons for giving the award to Randolph, but first I argued that there’s no way Girardi — who I agree has done an excellent job — gets the award for finishing in third place in a five-team division, especially if the Marlins finish with a losing record. And as I write this, the Fish are three games under and 17.5 back of the Mets and 3 back in the wild card standings.
I speculated that in the history of the award, it has never gone to someone finishing so low in the standings or with a losing record.
I should have checked first, because I was only half-right.
The award has only been around since 1983, and turns out the it’s gone to a first-place manager 17 of 23 times in both leagues.
Here are the exceptions:
1987: Buck Rogers, in what is the most mysterious award. The Expos finished third with a 91-71 record four games out and following the Cards and Mets. But the team wasn’t all that horrible the year before, finishing 78-83. You’d think it would take a more dramatic turnaround to be named best manager in the league. I don’t remember if there were any strange circumstances surrounding the team that year other than Tim Raines coming back in May after the free-agent hi-jinks.
1989: Frank Robinson, who brought the Orioles into second place after an disastrous 54-107 season the year before.
1990: Jeff Torborg, who took the White Sox to 94 wins and second place after finishing in seventh in 1989.
1993: Dusty Baker and the Giants finished in second place despite winning 103 games. The team was in fifth place in 1992.
1995: Don Baylor finished second, but took the Rockies to the wild card in their third season.
1999: Jimy Williams piloted the Red Sox to second place, four games behind the Skanks. They were second the year before, too.
1999: Trader Jack McKeon brought the Reds into second place, they were fourth in 1998.
2001: Larry Bowa took the Phillies from last place in 2000 to second place the next year.
2002: Mike Scioscia’s Angels were in third in 2001 and moved up to second and the wild card.
2003: Jack McKeon — did you know that’s actually pronounced Mc-Quoon? — salavaged the Marlins season and took them to second place and the wild card, eventually gloriously humbling the Yankees.
2003: Tony Pena boosted the awful Royals to third place, teasing everyone who thought the franchise wasn’t as horrible as it was. He finished 83-79, just four games over .500.
2004: Buck Showalter moved the Rangers from fourth place to third, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The team was 45 games back in 2003 and Buck kept them in the race until the end, finishing three back.
So third-place managers have taken the award three times. No one with a losing record has scored the award, though Pena sure came close.
It’s hard to say what should be considered a great managing job. Clearly it’s subjective.
Guys at the helm of dramatic turnarounds usually get the love, but I’m not sure that’s always fair.
Look at Detroit, where it’s a given that Jim Leyland will get some hardware for his performance. But I’d point out that Alan Trammell last year didn’t have a healthy Magglio Ordonez, Kenny Rogers in non-Mets mode, Joel Zumaya, Jason Verlander with a year of experience and Pudge Rodriguez recovered a, ahem, mysterious weight loss and divorce issues.
I wonder how Trammell might have fared with the same upgrades, just as I wonder if Art Howe might not have been chased out of town if he had Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Pedro and a healthy Jose Reyes.
As for Willie, I think he deserves it.
Will points out that I pick the Mets manager for the award every year, along with Mets for MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year. I can’t say that’s true, I’m not sure the Mets had a decent rookie in 2001.
But look at what Willie’s done this year with the rotation alone. Pedro’s hurt, Galvine’s been hurt, Zambrano’s done, Bannister got hurt, Maine got hurt and Jose Lima should have been hurt. The stud set-up man is done after a car crash and the second-best set-up man pouted most of the year.
The two corner outfield slots have been issues due to an injury and a trade, and the second-baseman was banished for sucking.
With all of this going on, the Mets have posted the best record in the league — and just better than Leyland’s Tigers. Seems like a good job to me.
And there’s been a dramatic improvement over last year, when Willie pulled some real head-scratchers.
Alas, history shows Mets tend not to do well with post-season awards, and no Mets skipper has ever one this particular accolade. Hal Lanier took it in 1986, Tommy Lasorda in 1988 and Dusty Baker swiped it from Bobby V in 2000.
These things are decided by sportswriters, and we know that Yankee-hacks have infiltrated their ranks. Our best hope is that some of these guys are confused and still think Randolph works for the Yanks and throw some votes his way.