Joe Maddon and Kirk Gibson were named the AL and NL managers of the year, and, all things considered, they were probably the most deserving candidates for the award. Both managers overcame diminished pre-season expectations and led their relatively young teams to the playoffs, so it’s hard to argue with either selection, especially when you consider how intimately each team’s style of play has become entwined with the personality of their manager.
Not many people pay attention to who wins the Manager of the Year award, much less who finishes further down the ballot. However, the relatively poor showing of Joe Girardi is a little hard to figure. For the third straight year, the Yankees finished with one of the top-3 records in all of baseball, and yet their manager has finished third, sixth, and fifth in the balloting. Although all three of the managers selected since 2009 have been worthy choices, at what point will Girardi get more recognition?
Based on the divergence between the Yankees’ record and Girardi’s showing in the MoY balloting, it seems obvious that the electorate is holding his team’s payroll against him. After all, Girardi won the award with a losing record as manager of the 2006 Marlins, so it can’t be personal. Just ask Terry Francona, the Red Sox’ much respected former manager who rarely poled well in the MoY voting. Apparently, it’s easy to manage a ballclub full of high-priced superstars? That’s probably a question that shouldn’t be posed to Francona.
I am not one of Girardi’s biggest fans, but one doesn’t have to be an advocate to appreciate the job he did this year. Not only did the Yankees exceed their own deflated pre-season expectations (ESPN’s experts were unanimous in selecting the Red Sox to win the division), but they did so because of contributions from several surprising sources. In addition to patching together a starting rotation with veteran retreads, Girardi once again crafted a league-leading bullpen, something that has become a hallmark during his tenure with the Yankees. Girardi also had to deal with several key injuries to veterans, while integrating an unprecedented number of rookies into the team. In many ways, the 2011 Yankees did not break camp as your typical Bronx Bombers, but they still found away to end the season as such. Much of the credit for that belongs to Joe Girardi.
It’s clearly an advantage for a manager to have a roster as talent-laden as the Yankees’. However, with those big names come big egos, and, as the Red Sox learned this year, it isn’t always easy to get a team full of superstars to come together. I am not suggesting that Girardi did a better job than Maddon, Jim Leyland, or Ron Washington, but, even if he did, it seems likely he wouldn’t get the recognition. Even though I am sure Girardi wouldn’t trade place with any of those managers, it’s kind of a shame to think he would have to in order to improve his chances of being named Manager of the Year.