As we creep towards the Rangers’ first round match-up with either the Yankees, Red Sox or Rays, it’s time to vote for post-season kudos. As a Baseball Bloggers Alliance member, I’m pleased to have a vote in such proceedings, even if they don’t carry the cache of the actual awards from the Baseball Writers Association. As I have an AL-centric blog, my voting only goes to the AL version of the awards. First up, the Connie Mack Award for the AL’s best manager.
Obviously, I have a soft spot in my heart for Ron Washington and I truly believe he deserved the award a year ago. But, like sometimes the Oscar goes to an actor who’s never won before as kind of a Lifetime Achievement Award (see Paul Newman for “The Color of Money”), so too did Washington lose out on the award a year ago to Ron Gardenhire, who should have been honored before he finally was.
A year later, Washington is again in the mix. Having followed this team from Spring Training on, I think Wash did a tremendous job being able to keep his stable of talent happy. Despite having too many starters for 9 positions, he used Michael Young as a super utility man and DH, which gave needed rest to Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland, helping the team get through the hot Texas summer and refreshed for the playoffs. Washington also had to cope with a bullpen that was expected to be a strong suit but faltered badly in the first half of the season. Yet through all that, Texas has been a first place team since mid-May and never relinquished the spot.
Still, even I can’t give Ron Washington the Connie Mack Award. There’s at least one manager ahead of him in 2011 performance.
Also in the mix are Manny Acta of the Cleveland Indians. I suspect there were but a few, if any takers for the idea of the Indians contending for an AL Central crown, but the Tribe was the biggest surprise in the season’s first half before fading down the stretch. Acta deserves a lot of the credit for that. He’s brought along a young team and he’s teaching them how to win. Yes, they collapsed late in the season, but they’ve established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in 2012.
Then there’s Jim Leyland of the Tigers. Most expected the Tigers to be in the mix for the AL Central title, but the consensus was it would be the tightest race in the AL’s weakest division. Instead, the Tigers ran away with it with a late August/early September hot stretch that left everyone else in the dust. As of this writing, the Tigers and Rangers are in a battle for the #2 seed in the AL, when early season prognosticators would at best have given them the worst record of any playoff team, even worse than the Wild Card qualifier.
Last but not least, there’s Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees. It’s fashionable for fans of other teams to knock the Yankees as the Evil Empire and I certainly qualify as a Yankee hater. Let me qualify that: I hate the Yankees front office for winning through outspending everyone else (and yes, the Red Sox are coming close to equalling the Bronx Bombers in my eyes in that category). Results, though, are results. The fact is, what Joe Girardi has done in bringing the Yanks to the AL’s best record despite having one of the most threadbare of starting pitching staffs has been incredible. Yes, they have an ace in CC Sabathia, but AJ Burnett has been the same basket case he was a year ago, Phil Hughes has had a huge regression and the signings of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were originally meant to be insurance in case of other injuries. Turns out Colon and Garcia were insurance policies that paid off. Ivan Nova has made a late push to solidify the starting staff. In addition, Girardi has had to contend with A-Rod’s health, Steve Swisher’s first half slump and Jorge Posada’s weak hitting and hurt feelings when he was finally benched. All this in the glare of the NYC media spotlight.
So my votes for the AL Connie Mack Award go as follows:
1. Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
2. Ron Washington, Texas Rangers
3. Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers