Eight managers with a total of thirty-two years of playoff experience will make season-making and season-breaking decisions on our televisions over the next four weeks.
I've taken it upon myself to review each manager's résumé, as well as mix in my own personal feelings on each, to formulate a manager's power rankings of sorts.
Or to put it another way, it's my version of a manager fantasy draft. All one man's opinion. Nothing scientific about it. I'm sure there will be some disagreement with the placements, so tell me in the comment section: How would you rank this list?
1. Joe Maddon — Tampa Bay Rays (2nd playoff appearance): No coach or manager in professional sports impresses me more than Maddon. He has the whole thing down to a science. He knows when to lead, when to sit back, when to teach, when to press a button, and when to add levity. His finger is firmly planted on the pulse of his squad at all times.
Put his knowledge, instincts and all around understanding of his role together with the talent they have accumulated in Tampa, and you have one very dangerous baseball team.
2. Ron Gardenhire — Minnesota Twins (6th): Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, the man known as "Gardy" has finished second in the AL Manager of the Year voting five different times. (Perhaps fittingly, he finishes second on this list as well.)
"Gardy" had big shoes to fill when he took the reigns from Tom Kelly in 2002. Six divisions title later, Twins fans haven't forgotten Kelly, but they have completely embraced the change in personalities. And believe me, it was quite a change from the mild-mannered Kelly to the short-tempered Gardenhire.
His playoff record may not be sparkling (6-18 is actually really awful), but the bottom line is all of his experience and division titles add up.
3. Joe Girardi — New York Yankees (2nd): I follow enough Yankees fans on Twitter to know Girardi has his fair share of detractors. That said, I like Girardi. I may not always like or understand the moves he chooses to make, but I like the way he has handled the pressure and personalities of New York, and I like the ring on his finger.
That's a big one — the ring.
Having gone through the wringer completely — and successfully — just last season, I think it would be irresponsible to rate Joe (Can I call you Joe, Joe?) any lower.
4. Bobby Cox — Atlanta Braves (15th) Bobby is a tough guy to rate at this stage of his career. Sure, his list of managerial accomplishments is second to no one and in earlier years he might be at the top of this list. He even has the one ring from 1995. I get that and I recognize that.
But what does Bobby offer now?
Is he the same baseball guy? We know he's still fiery and willing to get tossed, but is the mind as sharp as it needs to be to be a difference maker for a team that's just "good enough" in October? Those are difficult questions to ask, and maybe even more difficult to answer.
I give him a nod of respect for this season and his career, but I think this is the right spot for him on the list.
5. Dusty Baker — Cincinnati Reds (4th): Baker was at the helm for two of the biggest playoff collapses in recent sports history with the 2002 Giants and 2003 Cubs. Has he learned his lesson from those years yet? We don't know, because this is his first chance since those disappointments to prove that he did.
What I can tell you is Baker, despite his reputation, has managed a team I felt was much improved, but not playoff caliber, into the playoffs. That's enough to impress me, and more than enough to impress the Reds front office, who just handed him a two-year extension.
6. Charlie Manuel — Philadelphia Phillies (5th): During the 2008 season, I made a list of managers I felt should be fired. Charlie Manuel was on that list. (Oops — so was Dusty) Five weeks later, Charlie Manuel was the manager of the world champions and on his way to helming a dynasty-in-the-making.
But I included Manuel on that list knowing full well his team was playoff bound. I did it because as I stated at that time ...
"Playoffs or not, the Phillies always seem to play a notch or three below the level they’re capable of. Do I need mention their embarrassing exit from the 2007 playoffs again?"
I have since gained an odd respect for Manuel, but also stand by my belief that the Phillies have won in spite of him on many occasions.
7. Bruce Bochy — San Francisco Giants (5th): As a keen observer of NL West baseball throughout his entire run, Bochy has never overwhelmed me as an a game manager. That said, he has been known to make chicken salad out of less than desirable ingredients. Just look back at the success he had with some of those low-budget teams in San Diego.
8. Ron Washington — Texas Rangers (1st): When he's not annoying Dan Haren and the Angels, Washington is doing a solid job managing his Rangers. So good, in fact, he may even be considered the leading candidate for AL Manager of the Year.
That's a nice story.
Now the problem. This is his first trip to the playoffs, and he immediately finds himself matched up with the No. 1 manager on my list. I'm not saying Washington can't match wits with Maddon, but I do believe the series will go the distance and the two skippers will have a major say in how it plays out.
Basically it's sink or swim for Washington right off the bat. If he passes that test, he would shoot right up this list heading into next season.