Editor's note: This column by Yahoo! Sports national columnist Tim Brown made the case Sept. 15 that Jim Tracy deserved to be National League Manager of the Year. Tracy was honored Nov. 18.
The Clint Hurdle era had been over for a month when Jim Tracy wandered through his team's clubhouse, all smiles.
The Colorado Rockies had hardly lost under him. The pitching staff was throwing strikes. Relievers Huston Street(notes) and Manny Corpas had gotten their roles straightened out. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki(notes) was a player again, and so were a lot of guys who'd seemingly lost their way, their stroke, their something. Clint Barmes(notes) was the regular second baseman, Ian Stewart(notes) was at third, the team was winning.
So Tracy disappeared into the tiny manager's office and a veteran player nodded after him.
"Man," he said, "did we need that guy."
Jobs in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh had ended poorly, as these jobs often do. He'd signed up in Colorado to be the man standing there if – all right, when – Hurdle stumbled. And when the Rockies went out 18-28, when they looked dead, smelled dead, played dead, along came the folksy Trace.
As invisible as Hurdle was intrusive, Tracy asked them for effort and professionalism and, wouldn't you know it, they delivered.
The Rockies pitched with everyone in the league from June on. Down an ace (the injured Jeff Francis(notes)), they had Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) grow up. Lacking depth, they had Jorge de la Rosa(notes) and Jason Hammel(notes) figure it out. Jason Marquis(notes) improbably became an All-Star.
Maybe it is pathetic that a locker room filled with professional ballplayers would need to be reminded that baseball at this level is a results-oriented business, that they were running out of time, and that the organization would soon be out of people to fire.
The truth is, all over the league managers are talking ballplayers into playing ball, or trying to, and having mixed results.
Here, in Colorado, Jim Tracy talked them into playing ball. He talked them into winning the game they were playing and worrying about tomorrow when it arrived. He showed them they could trust him.
In 99 games, they are 64-35. For that, Tracy ought to be the National League manager of the year. Yeah, they needed him.
Tony La Russa, Cardinals: For a manager with such a distaste for developing (or trying to develop) players in the major leagues, La Russa has had a clubhouse full of projects over the past couple seasons. A year after having 14 players make their major league debut, the Cardinals had eight more in 2009, and they turned their fourth-place NL Central finish of '08 into a runaway division title. Among the areas that have gone well for La Russa and the Cards: Brendan Ryan(notes) at shortstop, Skip Schumaker(notes) at second base, Colby Rasmus(notes) in the outfield, Ryan Franklin(notes) (from the roots of Chris Perez(notes) and Jason Motte(notes)) in the ninth inning. Beyond that, the Cards have a nice organizational vibe going for them, and that begins with the man in the sunglasses.
Bruce Bochy, Giants: As always, Bochy has shown a nice touch with his pitching staff, though one could hardly go wrong with the likes of Tim Lincecum(notes) and Matt Cain(notes). However, Cain's growth can be traced to a come-to-Jesus with Bochy in the middle of last season, where the manager challenged his young pitcher to become fitter and tougher, and here he is. Also, Bochy milked Barry Zito(notes) (as if he had any choice) back to respectability. As a result, with hardly any change in the offense over last season, the Giants could push 90 wins. They won 72 last year. Bochy, like his coaches and GM Brian Sabean, is in the final year of his contract.
Charlie Manuel, Phillies: Ol' Cholly had his hands full again, only this time there'd be no need to run down the Mets. Yeah, it was the pitching again, and the nightly guess as to which end would struggle – the starter or the closer. Or both. The Phillies scored plenty of runs, in spite of Raul Ibanez's(notes) injury (and poor second half) and yet another year of decline for Jimmy Rollins(notes) since his MVP season. They won a lot of road games, tightened up the pitching staff in the second half (hello, Cliff Lee(notes)), rode Ryan Howard(notes) and Chase Utley(notes), and managed to survive their share of ninth innings. What you can say about Charlie: His players play for him, and that's high praise.
Fredi Gonzalez, Marlins: Maybe he has the one player in the league everybody is dying for (Hanley Ramirez(notes)), and maybe he has the best pitcher hardly anyone has heard of (Josh Johnson(notes)), and maybe he has the NL Rookie of the Year in left field (Chris Coghlan(notes)), but Gonzalez also has the one thing no other manager wants: a $35 million payroll. Still on the edge of contention, the Marlins consistently get more than they paid for. For that they can thank Gonzalez.