Charlie Manuel

Some additional thoughts on NL Manager of the Year

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A couple people have said that I came down a little hard on Bud Black in my Manager of the Year post.  I certainly didn’t mean to, and if I did, I apologize. I have nothing against Bud Black and I think he did a great job.  I can’t argue with his winning, nor will I.  Really, I was just using his win as a means by which to explore the way in which managers are evaluated.  I could have easily used a devil’s advocate device — like  I did with the Padres’ 10-game losing streak —  in the cases of Dusty Baker, Bobby Cox, or Charlie Manuel.  All of them did things last year that at times made you scratch your head. Many of their moves, if cast in a certain light, could be shown to look bad.

But stepping back from that rather academic point, it’s worth noting that there were arguments in favor of all of the vote-garnering candidates in the NL.  Briefly:

  • Black: though maybe we undersold the Padres, even an optimist couldn’t have guessed them to be in it until the last weekend. Plus, I’ve always believed that a manager has his biggest impact on bullpen management, and Black certainly did a great job with the Padres’ bullpen, which ended up being the best in baseball;
  • Dusty Baker: the same expectation game applied to him, as not many people picked the Reds to finish highly. I had them a distant second before the season started, but I was drinking a little bit of the Reds Kool-Aid.  And while it may have stretched over two seasons, Baker deserves a lot of credit for Joey Votto’s development into an MVP candidate. His handling of Votto’s anxiety issues last year was expert, and I could easily see many managers screwing that up. There are few managers whose players speak more highly of them than Baker’s do of him;
  • Bobby Cox: Scratching away the “one for the road” considerations that I feel have no place in this award, a case could certainly be made for Cox on a “most with the least” basis. At least for the second half of the season when the Braves lost player after player, and still held on to a playoff spot thanks to duct tape and baling wire.  In all honesty, though, there was a lot of luck there and the Padres’ collapse helped a lot.  He’d maybe get a third place vote from me — maybe fourth — but I can see why he’s in the conversation;
  • Charlie Manuel: I don’t know that he should have won, but I thought he’d get more consideration than he did. The Phillies were injured all year, and Manuel did a great job keeping that operation together.  In the end, though, he was hurt by (a) the feeling that the Phillies were already the most talented team in the NL to begin with; and (b) the Oswalt trade. That trade and the Three Aces stuff ended up setting the narrative for the second half of the Phillies season, not Manuel’s genius. Though, obviously, it’s a lot more complicated than that.  Managers of the most talented teams have won the award. So too have managers of the team that has made the big trade. I think Manuel deserved better.
  • Brad Mills: they started so poorly and then traded off all of their veteran talent, yet after the first couple of weeks of the season, Mills’ Astros matched all but the very top teams in the NL.
  • Bruce Bochy: Some of the sharpest minds in baseball, ahem, wrote them off in June, but he rallied the troops, righted the ship, mixed six more metaphors and led the team to the NL West title (votes were in before the playoffs began).

So they all had their merits. And in the end, I’m back where I began: If given an MVP or Cy Young ballot tomorrow I’d have no problem filling them out. But I have no idea how to go about valuing candidates for the Manager of the Year Award. I look forward to reading some of the voters’ explanations — especially Christina Kahrl’s over at Baseball Prospectus, who had a MoY vote — to see how they went about it.

James McCann is in The Best Shape of His Life

Detroit Tigers catcher James McCann blows a bubble while warming up during a spring training baseball workout, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, in Lakeland, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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As I note every spring, “Best Shape of His Life” stories aren’t really about players being in The Best Shape of Their Lives. They’re about players and agents seeking to create positive stories.

We know this because the vast majority of Best Shape of His Life claims are about guys who were either injured the season before, guys who had subpar years the season before or players whose conditioning was a point of controversy the season before. These folks, or their agents + reporters who have little if nothing to write about in the offseason = BSOHL.

James McCann hurt his ankle last season and had a subpar year at the plate. So not only is he a perfect BSOHL candidate, he went old school with the claim and hit it right on the money, verbatim:

Spring training is less than a month away, folks!

Bo Jackson is not gonna change kids’ minds

1989:  Bo Jackson #16 of the Kansas City Royals practices his swing as he prepares to bat during a game in the 1989 season.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last week Bo Jackson said that, if he had it to do all over again, he would have never played professional football and that he would never let his kids play. The sport is too violent, he said. “I’d tell them, ‘Play baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, just anything but football.’”

Fair enough. Thom Loverro of the Washington Times, however, thinks that Bo could do more than simply give his opinion on the matter. He thinks Bo should become an official ambassador for Major League Baseball:

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, pick up the phone right now and call Bo Jackson. Tell him you have a job for him — vice president of something, whatever you would call the man in charge of converting a generation of young athletes to baseball. And pay him what he wants.

You won’t find a better symbol of the differences between the two sports than Bo Jackson. After all, he was an All-Star in both. Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball.

Bo, tell the children — baseball over football.

The Children: “Who is Bo Jackson?”

Yeah, I’m being a bit flip here, but dude: Jackson is 54 years-old. He last played baseball 23 years ago. I’d personally run through a wall for Bo Jackson, but I’m 43. I was 12 when he won the Heisman trophy. While he may loom large to middle aged sports writers, a teenager contemplating what sport to play is not going to listen to someone a decade or more older than his parents.

This isn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s indicative of how most columnists process the world through their own experiences and assume they apply universally. It’s probably the biggest trap most sports opinion folks fall into.