Editor's note: This is the first story in a series that will publish each day this week. Tim Brown's picks for Rookies of the Year, Cy Young Awards and Most Valuable Players in each league will follow.
Whoever are the managers of the year – and I'm about to tell you – Bud Black deserves special commendation for his effort to keep Milton Bradley from beating the bejeezes out of umpire Mike Winters, which, alas, concluded with Bradley blowing an ACL and potentially ruining the Padres' season.
I'm not sure there is a paragraph in the Connie Mack manual that covers pass-blocking for backpedaling umpires (and I am sure Black had a handful of jersey there). But that was pretty good for a former finesse pitcher whose previous experience with immovable objects was brushing past Bartolo Colon in an Angel Stadium hallway.
Just goes to show you, sometimes the best-laid plans end up with your left fielder on the DL and your offense in the dumper, which captures the life of the bigleague manager.
Two managers (Mike Hargrove and Buddy Bell, effective at the end of the week) resigned this summer, one (Ozzie Guillen) practically begged to be fired and instead got a four-year extension, and three (Sam Perlozzo in Baltimore, Jerry Narron in Cincinnati and Phil Garner in Houston), uh, didn't get extensions.
There are ominous drumbeats in places such as Philadelphia, the Bronx, Pittsburgh and Texas, but, so far, so good.
And then there is St. Louis, where Tony La Russa got about an hour-and-a-half to soak in the satisfaction of turning an 83-win season into a World Series title, at which point the light turned green and, well, you know the rest. It was a brutal season for La Russa, whose contract runs out after the regular season. The guess here is he returns to the Cardinals, for whom GM Walt Jocketty has another year on his contract, and they both sort it out a year from now.
If not, La Russa could land in a number of places, Seattle, Kansas City and Pittsburgh among them.
The NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR:
Bob Melvin, Arizona Diamondbacks. This was the team nobody thought much about, not even when it was in first place – in September. They've had kids as regulars – or getting lots of playing time – at catcher, third base, shortstop and two of the three outfield spots. Melvin has come up with 89 different lineups. He's had six different starting third basemen, six different left and right fielders, and, as of Orlando Hudson's late-season injury, four different second baseman. He had Jose Valverde grow into a full-time closer and Tony Pena a full-time setup man, and got all of 10 starts out of Randy Johnson. This team is going to win 90-plus games while being outscored. Melvin was a patient and positive leader, allowing the Diamondbacks to arrive a year or two ahead of schedule.
Lou Piniella, Chicago Cubs. Wouldn't everybody like to throw $300 million at a perennial loser and take a shot at managing that club? Well, what looked like an easy gig in December looked a lot like a disaster as late as June. What teammates didn't settle in the dugout, they settled in the clubhouse. Some scouts scoffed at the collection of egos and free-swingers, shuddered at the defense and predicted catastrophe for the bullpen. At times they were right. At the end, the Cubs were 34-20 in June and July, and are 15-8 in September.
Manny Acta, Washington Nationals. They didn't lose 110 games. Or 100 games. They might not even lose 90. That qualifies as a monumental (D.C. reference) achievement, if not by the Nats' front office, then by the guy who convinced the players they didn't have to be total disgraces. Acta sent 13 different starters to the mound, many of them not as good as the original five, the reason for the dire spring predictions, and the Nationals are about to have their second winning month in the last three.
HONORABLE MENTION: Clint Hurdle, Colorado Rockies.
THE AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR:
Eric Wedge, Cleveland Indians. Turned out, it took the Indians about a year and a week to get over that late-2005 messiness. By some accounts, Wedge took a flier on some motivation strategies that bombed in 2006, and this season returned to a more level approach. He swapped out Andy Marte from third base early and Josh Barfield from second base late, got a better year on both sides of the ball from shortstop Jhonny Peralta, and spent much of the season trying to find a happy, productive place in the order for DH Travis Hafner, whose numbers fell way off. Meantime, Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers tanked in the rotation, but Fausto Carmona prospered, and the bullpen became a strength leading to closer Joe Borowski; left-hander Rafael Perez and right-hander Rafael Betancourt developed into two of the best setup men in the game. By the end, the difference in the Central Division: The Indians came to play. They were 46-23 inside the division.
Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels. The Scioscia philosophy has become the Angels philosophy and the result is a steady flow of capable players from the minor leagues. Jeff Mathis caught most of the critical games in August and September when Mike Napoli was injured and Jose Molina was in New York. Erick Aybar filled in for Howie Kendrick at second base. Reggie Willits helped drive the offense in the first half, when Chone Figgins and then Garret Anderson were banged up. Joe Saunders stood in for Bartolo Colon, and Dustin Moseley became a middle-inning regular. The back end of the bullpen has faltered since the All-Star break, and still the Angels ran off in the West.
Joe Torre, New York Yankees. Managers with absurd payrolls and rich in All-Stars don't generally gather many post-season plaques, but Torre has survived a crazy baseball summer in the city that defines crazy. The tabloids had him fired last fall, then again in the spring. In his first five games, Torre started Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Kei Igawa and Darrel Rasner. Among seven or eight starting pitchers, there were about 10 healthy hamstrings. Remember Tyler Clippard? Matt DeSalvo? Chase Wright? All Yankees starters. They were 6½ games out in April, 14½ in May, 13½ out in June, and still as many as 7 out in September. It was the usual Torre job of composure and professionalism, resulting in a 47-23 second half.