I couldn’t even begin to tell you whether Terry Francona was a more deserving Manager of the Year candidate than John Farrell. No one has ever explained to me some basis for comparing managers that makes choosing that award anything close to a clear or objective process. There are far more moving parts to a team’s success than there are to an individual player’s success and we struggle with picking MVPs and Cy Youngs as it is. Applying some rational basis, let alone statistical basis, to the award is probably beyond our abilities.
And, perhaps because of that, the Manager of the Year Award is way, way, way more narrative-laden than any award. Tell a compelling story and that guy is probably going to win it. Tell me: how much of Clint Hurdle winning it last night had to do with the Pirates losing for 20 straight years as opposed to simply what happened in 2013? I’d say a fair amount. Of course Clint Hurdle wasn’t around for most of that losing and factors which had the Pirates losing in, say, 1996, 1999 and 2004 had zero effect on what the Pirates did in 2013. None of which is to say that Clint Hurdle wasn’t the best manager in the NL in 2013 — I’d probably vote for him because, well, why not? — but he gets credit for stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with him because, well, it’s a good story.
Some folks in Boston aren’t really happy with the story that won Terry Francona the Manager of the Year Award over John Farrell. John Tomase of the Boston Herald is one. He argues that there’s a bias against big market/big payroll teams like the Red Sox when it comes to the Manager of the Year Award, with voters discounting the job guys like Farrell do because they have an expensive roster and are thus, somehow, expected to win.
I think there’s probably some truth to that. Looking at recent Managers of the Year and they tend to come from teams with lower payrolls and in smaller markets and in situations where they weren’t expected to do much. Surprise teams are often favored. People like those stories.
Maybe that’s a little unfair to guys like Farrell, but Tomase’s competing narrative — one that favors Farrell — is a lot less compelling to me:
He also had to win in an environment far harsher than Cleveland’s. While the Indians played to a largely empty park in relative anonymity, Farrell had his every move analyzed, dissected and eviscerated on two all-sports radio stations and two sports-only TV networks, with one of the league’s largest traveling media contingents chronicling his every move … The Boston market presented its own unique challenges. Clay Buchholz’ use of suntan lotion started a firestorm. A team that never lost more than three straight the entire season nonetheless had the panic-mongers fully frothed after a 5-9 stretch in mid-August.
In other words: Farrell’s job was tougher because, we, the fierce Boston media made it tougher for him. How impressive that he dealt with our unrelenting coverage and criticism.
I don’t suppose that’s nothing either — it is a stressful job — but I bet if you asked any manager if he’d rather deal with an annoying press corps or a meager payroll, he’d pick the annoying press corps seven days a week and twice on Sundays. Also: while media narratives are inevitable when it comes to the Manager of the Year award, how rich is it that the chosen media narrative here makes the media itself such an important part of the story?
Gonna go out on a limb here and say that John Farrell almost certainly spent ten times more thinking about the next day’s lineup and who in the bullpen needed rest than he did whether someone from the Globe, Herald or some sports talk station was going to ask him about the goop on Clay Buchholz’s arm. And that, whatever we can say about the difficulty of handing out the Manager of the Year award, we can say that there’s a lot more to it than “the role the media played.”