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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sorry, Charlie, But You Should Have Been Named Manager of the Year

There's little doubt that the baseball writers had a tough choice in voting for NL Manager of the Year. On the one hand, they had two managers who resurrected doormats from the dead -- Bud Black of the Padres, the 2010 version of the Hitless Wonders, and Dusty Baker of the Reds, a team that would have had notoriety had the Pittsburgh Pirates not had the exclusive franchise on last place in the NL Central since, well, Bill Clinton's first term. Then there was a sentimental favorite, the retiring Bobby Cox. And, lest anyone forget, there were also the two guys who managed in the NLCS, Bruce "Merlin" Bochy of the Giants, who used a magic wand to conjure creative lineups while harnessing a dominant pitching staff, and Charlie Manuel, whose steady hand guided an injury-decimated team through a rough summer before turning on the jets and leading the Phillies to the best regular-season record in baseball. All that despite, at one point during the season, have the last four spots in his lineup look like this: Sardinha (C), Castro (SS), Valdez (2B) and the pitcher. And yet, they still won games (ultimately Castro was released and Sardinha sent back to the minors). And they stayed relatively close to the Braves until guys like Rollins, Utley, Victorino and Howard returned to the everyday lineup.

So why didn't Charlie win it? Probably because of a view of the voters that with all that talent, he was supposed to have a good team, and he did, and most of those writers didn't have the box seat to the Phillies that Phillies' fans did. Then again, Phillies' fans don't have a box seat to the journeys of the other teams the way professionals who cover the game do. As for the Padres, they were sailing along to the playoffs until a fateful series in August, when, of all teams, the Phillies came into town, fresh off being swept four straight at home by the Astros. The Phillies swept the Padres, who subsequently went on a tailspin that they struggled to come out of, and, ultimately failed. By that measure, the edge has to go to Charlie Manuel, but for the general sense that "well, his guys were supposed to do that." Sure, but they weren't fully healthy, and they didn't hit the way they did a few years ago, either.

Baker's team made the playoffs, and Bochy's won the World Series, and Manuel's had the most injuries in baseball. Bud Black did a great job, but both Bochy's work (because he got a position-player lineup full, for the most part, of castoffs) and Manuel's work (for the reasons stated above) were more worthy, all in a year where all five guys who got votes were worthy of a Manager of the Year Award.

Players and managers alike don't play for awards and find that when they do they struggle and miss. They do their best and then hope that if the kudos are meant to be, they'll pick up some of the hardware. Fair enough. But if you juxtapose the star-laden Mets of a few years back with the star-laden Phillies of the present -- at the times when both were beset by significant injuries (remember when the Mets lost Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado at the same time?) -- one team faded away, while the other remained robust. It wasn't that the Phillies had stars to step in for their injured regulars, it's just that others picked up the slack and the leadership was there, both at the player level and at the managerial level. Charlie Manuel is a players' manager, and he gets the players to play for him as well as anyone else does. That's what made the 2010 regular season very special for the Phillies and their fans. With all the injuries, they could have faded away and chalked it up to too much time for too many players on the disabled list. Instead, they used their setbacks as a rallying cry, all the while with their calm, upbeat skipper steering the ship. It was fun to watch, and it was worthy of a Manager of the Year award.


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