One of the most aptly named awards in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance awards season always hits lead off. The manager of the year, better known as the Connie Mack Award in our neighborhood, sets the standard in a hurry. And while neither of my picks for the best skipper in either league have the credentials the 3,700+ game victor, 5-time World Champion Mack carries, but they did make an unforgettable impact on the scope of the 2012 season, setting their clubs up in good position to gain some ground on the legend in the title category.
My winners of this year’s award both rejuvenated two dormant franchises to unimaginable heights this year. Residing in the basement of two of the most exclusive divisions in the game, they called the shots that turned the world upside down all the summer. They are responsible for a large part of the unpredictable nature that reinvigorated the game this summer, and for that, they are The CHEAP SEATS pick for the honor of being the “Macks” of the Year
National League: Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals
The Nationals rise to power wasn’t a complete surprise; they had a great supply of developing talent and a few of the premier prospects in the last decade on the way as well. However, they not only came into their own this summer this year, they left behind a pack of more accomplished and raved about clubs in the NL East to do so. Six months later, they finished the year with the most wins in the National League with
The remarkable part of what Johnson accomplished was how he went about holding it together. For all of their success, the Nats rarely went at it as a whole. At different parts of the year, they lost Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman, about five different closers and most notably, the self-selected lost of Stephen Strasberg. That’s a lot to handle, but the flexibility of Johnson kept the team going.
However, Johnson’s indifference to the failings of making controversial calls was what truly set the team apart. He showed great heart in moves such as permanently handing the centerfield reigns to 19-year-old Bryce Harper early in the year. Later in the year, he boldly switched up his starting catcher midseason in with the trade for Kurt Suzuki, who took over receiving a pitching staff that already boasted the best ERA in the NL. His greatest challenge was the ever-present job of managing the innings and eventual shutdown of Strasberg, both on and off the field.
All of these were moves made that could curtail a team that was making the non-stop drive for new levels of success that the Nationals were, but they didn’t miss a step along the way. That’s a credit to the man calling the shots, and Johnson is the top reason why the Nationals won their first division title since 1981, and brought postseason baseball back to DC for the first time since 1928.
Runners Up: Dusty Baker, Reds & Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
American League—Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles
The Nationals were only half of the DMV-area baseball resurgence this summer, as over in Baltimore an Orioles franchise rose from the ashes to pull the most surprising run through the summer of any club. After not having a winning season since 1997, the O’s turned their entire world around, winning 93 games just a year after losing the same amount. And much of that is due to the mindset that the non-nonsense Showalter began installing in the club two years ago.
The team showed a brief glimpse of this potential under their then new skipper in 2010, winning 34 games in the month and a half under Showalter. Yet after taking a step back to their usual underwhelming stature in 2011, hope slid again…until they assisted in the biggest postseason KO in history, knocking the Red Sox out the playoffs on the season’s last day. Well, the momentum from that win carried across the winter and into the spring, and the Orioles not only were the toughest team in the
The Orioles were characterized by the unlikely. Despite winning over 90 games, no pitcher on the club won more than rookie Wei-Yin Chen’s 12 games or hit for an average higher than Adam Jones’ .287. They were comprised of cast offs, rookies and journeymen, not a single household name on their club. They only scored seven more runs than they allowed all year. But this mixture created the hungriest team in the game, a team with something to prove and a flare for the dramatic. They went 29-9 in one run contests and 25-14 in ones decided by two runs. Their most remarkable display came after regulation ball, winning a MLB-record 16 straight extra inning games. Is this all possible?
Well yes it is, and the glue in the middle of all of this is Johnson, who made what looks like luck from outside into pure skill. There’s something to be said for inspiring and creating the grit it takes for a team that has lined the cellar of a division for nearly a decade. And in the end rise back to the postseason by beating the Red Sox 13 times, the Rays 10 times and take two series in the last month against the Yankees to close it out. Showalter’s presence guided the club to places unimaginable in an often unbelievable way.
Runners Up: Bob Melvin, Athletics & Jim Leyland, Tigers
For more on the postseason and word more words on these award choices, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan