Voting for the AL and NL Managers of the Year might be one of the toughest categories in baseball to fill out a ballot for. Not neccesarily because of overwhelming competition, but because no one's exactly sure how to vote.
Do you vote for the manager who led a juggernaut team, such as Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees? Or do you vote for the manager who led a less talented roster to over-achievement, such as Don Wakamatsu of the Seattle Mariners?
When casting my own ballot (that doesn't count anyway), I look at the teams that in my opinion overachieved, and ask myself, "If they had a different manager, would the outcome have been any different?"
Which is how I came up with Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins as my AL Manager of the Year.
We're talking about leading a team that was six games off the pace of the Tigers with three weeks to play. A team that lost their cleanup hitter Justin Morneau for the season at the worst possible time, when they were already starving for offense already.
Not to mention a team, that on paper, just wasn't that good.
So imagine my surprise when I look online and see Mike Scioscia had taken the AL honors.
No surprise. None whatsoever.
It was expected. Scioscia led a team that was absolutely rocked in mid-April, when pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from the ballpark after pitching the best game of his young career, throwing six shutout innings. Just by reading the opinions of some other baseball writers, you could tell they were all leaning towards the Angels skipper, most of them pointing to the April tragedy.
Expected, yes. Deserved? Eh. Call me uncompassionate, but Scioscia's roster was stacked. When you have a lineup that includes Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales, Bobby Abreu, and Juan Rivera, you should probably be winning about 90-95 games (the Angels won 97). I understand the reasoning some of these writers had for voting for Scioscia. Doesn't mean I agree with it.
Ron Gardenhire, on the other hand, didn't exactly have a Hall of Fame caliber roster to throw out there everyday. Nick Punto was very often his starting second baseman, rocking a .228 batting average.
Brendan Harris, who shared part of the third base duties when Joe Crede went down for the season, hit 6 home runs in over 400 plate apperances, with just 37 RBI. But as Gardenhire said, they played the game the right way. They hustled, they threw to the right base, and played sound defense.
Looking at the lineup, they're not exactly the '27 Yankees. How Gardenhire got this team to the AL Central Championship is still beyond me. I just don't get it. Just like Jim Tracy (who won the NL Award by the way), who made everyone say, "How the HELL did he do that with that team?", that's what Gardenhire did. Those are the managers that should win these awards.
No one's saying that about Scioscia. I greatly commend him on keeping his team together and making Nick a rallying point for the season. He handled the death of a player about as well as a manager could. But all he did was lead a talented roster to somewhere it should have been in the first place.
Gardenhire pulled a Scott Bombay (cue the Mighty Ducks reference) and led this team of grinders and hustlers to an AL Central banner that was about as far out of his reach as you could imagine.
Congrats to Mike Scioscia—your Manager of the Year—but don't worry Ron, you'll always be my 2009 AL Manager of the Year.