Baseball looked a bit different, and frankly a bit awkward, at the start of the 2011 regular season.
It was not because players had made dramatic team changes or that new ballparks had opened up, but because iconic skippers who had become a part of baseball DNA would no longer be taking their perches at the top of their dugout steps.
Joe Torre and Bobby Cox, each leaving the diamond to pursue other fields, no longer were the head of their respective teams.
The fact that these two left the game has had its positive aspects, however. The attention of the media has been removed from big-name managers, and its focus has now been placed on the game as a whole. With the recent years' return to a more pitching- and defense-driven game, the strategic role that a major league head coach must play has become more appreciated.
In this new age of baseball, we have added fresh faces to our group of managers. With new teams to learn and attempt to control, we knew there would be successes and failures in the 2011 crop of rookie managers.
But who has shown more skill in the first half of this 2011 season? Simply put, there have been many stories to tell about baseball's rookie managers of 2011.
The first man on our list is good ol' Kirk Gibson. A lot of people, including myself, were happy when Kirk got the job temporarily last season. Now it seems he may be the man at the helm for years to come.
What Gibson possesses that other managers don't is the ability to relate to the players as what they are: players. Gibson has been a star, played with stars and seen his share of successes and failures in the big leagues.
After having a manager like A.J. Hinch, who lacked the experience leading baseball teams on the field, it is no surprise that having this man lead has been like cold water to a surprising Arizona Diamondback team.
The only other man who comes to mind when I think about rounding up and getting the most out of a talented bunch of players in his first year as manager is Bobby Cox.
Clint Hurdle and his 2011 Pirates have reminded a lot of people of Bobby and his Braves from 20 years ago. Clint was handed an inexperienced pitching staff, a lineup anchored by unproven hitters and a city that was on its toes waiting for a winning baseball team to blossom.
Though the Pirates may not make it all the way to the playoffs in 2011, Clint has his team within striking distance at the All-Star break this year. If they can make a splash at the deadline or catch fire down the stretch, Pittsburgh will be rocking come September.
Fredi Gonzalez quickly made a fanbase for himself in Atlanta after taking over for a living legend.
His situation was different from other managers, as he was handed a wealth of pitching depth, a solid offensive lineup and a front office that knows firsthand how to win during the season.
Though Fredi's adjustment to his new team seems like it would be a walk in the park, it by no means has been. Replacing someone as beloved as Bobby Cox is never easy, especially when the team struggles early in the season.
But Fredi has handled the pressure admirably and has his club staring a playoff appearance in the face if all goes well during the second half.
If you ask anyone around baseball, they will tell you Eric Wedge is a baseball man. He has proven it this year with the Mariners, who were a mess last year but now seem to be pointed in the right direction.
Wedge inherited a mess in Seattle and has done an outstanding job so far considering how wrong the Don Wakamatsu era went.
What may be the most amazing part of Wedge's tenure so far with Seattle is the fact that he has the Mariners near .500 with literally no offensive support.
Being only 7.5 games out of first place at the All-Star break, they could be significantly be improved by adding a bat or two.
Eric Wedge, along with Michael Pineda, deserves much of the credit for an improved Seattle team.
Many people thought that the Brewers should be better than six games over .500 at the All-Star break, but Ron Roenicke has done a terrific job for the first-place Brewers. It's now no coincidence: Mike Scioscia's prodigies always seem to thrive in whatever situation they find themselves.
The Brewers are a team that is clearly built for postseason play, with major superstars, elite starting pitching and lights-out relievers who want the ball under the lights. With the right formula in their roster, the chances of a World Series berth lie on the shoulders of the coaching staff.
It is under the bright lights, throughout the pennant race and into October, that we will learn Roenicke's true ability as a manager.
With the Cito Gaston era finally over in Toronto, John Farrell was welcomed with open arms as the new Jays skipper.
Time will tell if Farrell is one of those needle-in-a-haystack type of managers who can compete in the AL East.
Many people don't know that the Mets are actually above .500 at the break, at 46-45. After trading Frankie Rodriguez, it appears the Mets will be sellers at the deadline, and that record will likely drop to below .500 for the third consecutive season.
This does not correlate to the fact that Terry Collins has done a tremendous job in the first half with the Mets.
The Mets gain experience and patience with Collins, which is something the organization and fanbase have lacked in recent years. Mets fans are hungry for winning, and Collins is laying the foundation for a winning clubhouse in 2011.
Let me put it this way: No one could be doing a better job right now in LA other than Don Mattingly. He knows the organization and the players, and even in times of difficulty, Mattingly has the mental toughness to lead a team that could surprise us all in the second half of 2011.
Mattingly has the baseball attitude people admire in managers. Oftentimes in our impatience, we forget what a wise and loving teacher once told us: "You reap what you sow."
Even if the fruit is not yet ripe in Hollywood, the seeds are being sown for a great Dodger future. This can be said about many of the 2011 rookie managers—they're sowing strong seeds for successful futures in the clubhouse.
This is nothing personal against Mike Quade; I think he is doing a passable job. I just think the manager's office in Chicago must be cursed or something, the only cure being if your first name is Dusty and your son is a ball boy.
Seriously, I'm scared for this guy. He seems like a happy and chipper kind of guy, but this job kills people. I can only imagine what kind of person he might be in five years if he keeps the job.