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Leyland, Washington, Girardi Atop AL Manager Of The Year Race

George McGinnieCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 23: Manager Jim Leyland #10 of the Detroit Tigers against the Oakland Athletics during a Major League Baseball game on August 23, 2009 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Notable nattering nabob of the Detroit Free Press Drew Sharp recently took a break from his negativity to proclaim Tigers manager Jim Leyland as the easy pick for American League Manager of the Year.

When Sharp writes, I instinctively believe exactly the opposite.

But maybe he's on to something.

Leyland won the award in 2006. In just his first year in Detroit, he guided the Tigers from perennial bottom-feeder to their first playoff appearance since 1987.

Almost as soon as he was named manager, Leyland was doing the kinds of things that don't show up in box scores: acting like the leader, inspiring the team to play to its potential, lambasting the team for underachieving and managing expectations as it rose to prominence. His decision to lean on rookie pitchers Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya also helped the turnaround.

There is no real formula for guessing the manager of the year.

Generally it goes to a manager whose team made the playoffs, but not always. It doesn't hurt to win 95 or more games. It sure helps if he manages a turnaround team, or has a feel-good story to be pedaled.

And, at least in the case of the AL, it helps to have not won the award in a decade or more.

Leyland has check marks near a few of these qualifications.

  • The Tigers should make the playoffs. They won't win 95 games. After being swept by Kansas City, they likely won't even win 90. But they should be one of the final eight teams playing.
  • The Tigers were tabbed to finish fourth- or last-place in the AL Central by many experts. So the team is out-performing expectations.
  • The storyline of the Tigers winning for the downtrodden city of Detroit and state of Michigan seems popular.

You can point to some tactical decisions made along the way for evidence he knows what he's doing in a game (then again, many Tigers fans would be more than happy to provide a pile of evidence for the counter-argument).

Recently, the Tigers scored the tying or go-ahead runs in the eighth inning or later during every game of a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. Leyland's strategic button-pushing paid off in the middle game of the series when he used 23 members of his roster, dropping in pinch runners, pinch hitters and defensive replacements as the situation called for to piece together a victory.

Sometimes, you think the man is crazy. And yet, sometimes he simply looks like a mad genius.

However, chief competition for the award would seem to come from the Rangers' Ron Washington, and the Yankees' Joe Girardi. Both might make better choices than Leyland.

Washington's Texas Rangers are in a nip-and-tuck wild card race with the Red Sox. Last season, they won 79 games. This season, they've won 79 games with several weeks left to play. The Rangers have not been in the postseason since 1999.

Should Texas earn that playoff spot, it would seem hard to imagine anyone but the former Oakland Athletics' coach coming away with the hardware at the end of the season.

Finally, a good argument could be made for Girardi, as well. His team will surely win more than 100 games this season. The last AL teams to do that were the Angels (100 wins in 2008) and the Yankees (101 in 2004). In fact, it's possible these Yankees will have the most wins by an AL team since Seattle's 116 in 2001. A 13-8 record down the stretch would give them that honor.

Given that, and the fact they were actually playing sub-.500 as late as May, Girardi is a solid pick as well.

In any case, it's hard to quantify. Maybe voters, fearing the dismal AL Central could bring home more awards than it deserves if Minnesota's Joe Mauer and Kansas City's Zack Greinke win MVP and Cy Young, would prefer to mix things up a bit.

This year's decision is certainly a tough one.

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