They changed the culture of their teams. They brought winning back. They reached the playoffs again in 2013. And Tuesday, Clint Hurdle of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians were named the MLB Managers of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
When you're thinking of baseball cities that have seen more than their fair share of losing, Cleveland and Pittsburgh are on the shortlist.
The Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948. They've had glimpses of postseason success, flashes of being good. But they're still a sports team in a Cleveland, a city that's grown accustomed to losing. The Pirates, meanwhile, hadn't made the postseason since 1992. They hadn't owned a winning record since then either. They've been close in years past, but fell apart down the stretch.
This year, both cities got injections of winning. And their skippers deserved plenty of credit.
The Pirates made it to the postseason, finally. They were 94-68 under Hurdle, in his third year. That's a 15-game improvement from 2012 and 37-game improvement from 2010, the year before Hurdle took over. The Pirates finished second in a very competitive NL Central, earning a wild card berth into the playoffs and advancing into the NLDS.
The Indians made quite the turnaround too. A year ago they were 68-94, but Francona was hired in the offseason and, wham, the Indians won 24 more games. They were 92-70, earning a wild-card berth, their first playoff appearance since 2007.
Francona's Manager of the Year victory was a close one. He received 16 first-place votes, beating his friend and former pitching coach John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox, who had 12 first-place votes. The final tally: 112 for Francona, 96 for Farrell. Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics, last year's winner, finished third.
Francona's win was a slight upset, considering Farrell turned the Red Sox from a last-place team to a World Series winner. But these awards were voted on before the postseason. Interesting fact: Despite winning two World Series in Boston, Francona had never finished higher than fourth in Manager of the Year voting.
In the NL, Hurdle won in a runaway, receiving 25 of 30 first-place votes. Don Mattingly of the Los Angeles Dodgers finished second and Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves finished third. Just like how the Pirates last went to playoffs in 1992, the last time their skipper won this award was in 1992 as well. Back then, it was Jim Leyland.
When you hear baseball people talk about the differences in Cleveland and Pittsburgh lately, it starts at the top. Hurdle and Francona are managers who brought with them the winning attitude necessary to climb the standings and make baseball exciting again for the city.
It took Hurdle a couple of years to turn a 57-win Pittsburgh team into a contender, but he did it. Thanks have to also go to Pirates MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen and a front-office that's on the right path, both in collecting prospects and using baseball analytics to the best of their advantage. With all that and Hurdle calling the shots, the Pirates went from "Are they for real?" to "They are for real."
In Cleveland, Francona was given big free-agent signees (Nick Swisher, Michael Bourne) and benefitted from better-than-expected seasons (Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir). But more than anything, Francona came to town with a great reputation — he had won two World Series recently and players loved him. He embraced the team and the city — he wore a T-shirt with 216 (Cleveland's area code) on it while accepting his Manager of the Year award — and brought a new life to the Indians.
Now with, wild card seasons and Manager of the Year awards in their pockets, both Hurdle and Francona, plus the cities that root for them, have plenty to build on for 2014.
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