Being a Major League Baseball manager can often be a thankless job. Much like being a parent, when things are going badly, the blame falls to the manager's shoulders. When things are going well, the accolades more often go to the heroics of the squad.
It takes a myriad of qualities to breed the perfect manager. The following is a list of the top of the heap out there in 2012.
It takes a special kind of manager to win consistently in a division where the payrolls are often higher than the net worth of a small country. Joe Maddon is that special kind of manager who has managed to win year after year despite his team maintaining a payroll lower than the Yankees infield.
Anyone who has read Jonah Keri's book, The Extra 2%, can tell you that it is more than superior managing that has kept the Tampa Bay Rays competitive against all odds. Maybe he can not take full credit, but he can certainly take his share of credit. Prior to Maddon's arrival in 2006, Tampa Bay had never won more than 70 games in a season. During Maddon's tenure, they have been to the playoffs three times (despite playing in that oh-so-tough division), and Maddon has been named Manager of the Year twice.
The season is young still, but the Rays are sitting atop their division. Maddon's winning record in his last six-plus years with a franchise barely older than that just might say that it's not going to be easy to dethrone them.
At the moment, Kirk Gibson is probably best known for a home run he hit off Dennis Eckersley during Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
As a player, Gibson was a superstar. His playing resume boasts an NL MVP award, two World Series titles, a Silver Slugger award and an ALCS MVP. At the rapid-fire pace that Gibson is proving himself as a Major League manager, his postseason accomplishments as a player may not remain what he is best known for.
In 2010, Gibson was named the interim manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks following the midseason dismissal of A.J. Hinch. Despite posting a paltry 34-49 record in his inaugural managerial tenure, at the end of the season, Gibson was promoted to the manager for the 2011 season, the interim title being dropped.
In his first full season as manager, Gibson proved the Diamondbacks front office had made the smart choice by giving him the job of skipper. Kirk Gibson took the team from worst to first and led them to their first NL West title since 2007. He received the NL Manager of the Year award accordingly.
Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington is considered by many to be a polarizing figure. His positive test for cocaine during the 2009 season did not endear him to many. What has endeared him as a manager has been his ability to navigate his squad to two consecutive World Series bids while remaining a "players manager."
Being a players manager is not always regarded as a positive. Being a confidante to the squad and treating the team in a more buddy-buddy fashion can often be a mistake. People do not always listen to those who do not establish themselves as a leader who commands attention. In Washington's case (as his record with the team shows), it works. He has created an ambiance of loyalty and respect in the Texas clubhouse.
When Ron Washington led the Texas Rangers to their first World Series, it was an incredible triumph. The Rangers had never before won a playoff series. Washington also became only the third African-American to manage a team into a World Series.
The Detroit Tigers, despite a less than spectacular start to the 2012 season, remain the favorite of many to win the AL Central. Sure, they have reigning MVP and perennial filthy hurler Justin Verlander. Yes, the lineup is also blessed to feature both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. All these great parts can't make the engine work—not without the masterful finesse of a great skipper like Jim Leyland.
Leyland has proven time and again that he can win in either league with whatever squad is handed to him. Remember the last time the Pittsburgh Pirates had a winning season? That was nearly 20 years ago under the rule of Leyland. He led the Pirates to three consecutive division titles. After he left Pittsburgh, the skipper took the helm of expansion team Florida Marlins and brought the first World Series title in franchise history to Florida.
In 2006, Leyland switched allegiance to the American League when he moved north to Detroit. He started his career with the Tigers by taking a team that was coming off 13 consecutive losing seasons and won the American League pennant. There have only been seven managers in baseball history to win a pennant in each league.
As if that wasn't enough to cement Leyland's place on this list, earlier this week, he secured his 1,600th career win passing the great Tommy Lasorda on the All-Time Wins list.