When it comes to the Manager of the Year Award, how a team finished should not be the first thing that is looked at. One should also consider the history of the team being led, what kind of work the manager had to do, and were injuries a plague during the season?
For me, there were several managers that did an excellent job in the National League this year. But none of them did what Clint Hurdle of the Pirates did. Hurdle brought an end to a 20-year losing streak in Pittsburgh and got the Pirates into the playoffs.
Mike Matheny took a team to the World Series that lost its closer, starting shortstop, and ace starting pitcher all before the season started. There were more injuries along the way and the amount of rookies Matheny had to employ while keeping his team not only in the hunt for the NL Central title, but also went on to have the best record in the National League.
Don Mattingly and the Dodgers took on a ton of overpaid problem children from Boston at the end of the 2012 season. The Dodgers then signed one of the top free agent pitchers to a mega deal in the offseason.
Preseason talk was that the Dodgers were the favorites to make the World Series. But by June, the Dodgers were in last place. Then Yasiel Puig arrived. And like Bryce Harper did for the Nationals one season prior, Puig gave the Dodgers the spark they needed. By August Los Angeles was in first place and on its way to the NL West championship.
But again, the Dodgers spent a lot of money and were expected to win. Yes, Mattingly did a great job managing the egos and getting his players to perform, but he was only doing what was expected of him.
So, that brings me back to Hurdle, the skipper of the wild card winning Pittsburgh Pirates.
Before the 2013 season, Pittsburgh hadn't made the playoffs since 1992. Even worse, the Pirates hadn't had a winning season since 1992. The previous two seasons (2011 and 2012) the Pirates made runs at ending the losing streak, but flopped in the end. This time they didn't.
Hurdle helped guide a mix of old veterans and young stars to the playoffs. Hurdle and the Pirates made it out of the one-and-done game and faced the Cardinals in the NLDS. While the series went a full five games, the Pirates came up short in the end.
But Hurdle, who has been the field boss of the Pirates since 2011, has turned Pittsburgh from a consistent loser into a team that not only believes it can win, but into a playoff contender.
For that, Hurdle is my choice for National League Manager of the Year.
In the American League there are also several quality candidates. Among them are Bob Melvin of the Oakland A's, Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians, John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox and Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals. Unfortunately only one can win the award and for me, the one that deserves it most is Terry Francona.
But, before we get into Francona, lets look at his competition.
Farrell took over a Boston Red Sox team that finished in last place one year ago. The team purged itself of several high priced stars and went back to the drawing board. In the end, the Red Sox went worst to first, winning the 2013 World Series. But, even with that accomplishment, the Red Sox had a good team.
Melvin and the A's shocked the baseball world in 2012. But in 2013 Oakland was supposed to return to the bottom of the division while the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels ruled the AL West. But that didn't happen. Melvin and the A's were a team to be reckoned with all season and won their second straight AL West title with a ragtag team of unsung heroes and castoffs.
That Melvin won this very award last year shows he knows what he is doing and why he is able to get the best out of his players.
Yost and the Royals are another example of many years of bottom feeding finally finding its way. Kansas City had its first winning season since 2003 and only its second since 1994. At the same time, the 86 wins were the most by any Royals team since 1989 and Yost was the man behind the team.
In his three-plus years as Royals skipper, Yost has seen his team improve every season. After taking over early in 2010 and finishing with a 55-72 record, Yost led the Royals to their first 70 win season since 2008 in 2011. After a one game improvement in 2012, the Royals flourished to the tune of a 14-win improvement in 2013. The Royals were even in the hunt for the second wild card slot late in September.
But with everything these great candidates did, it doesn't match the year Francona had with the Indians.
Francona not only ended a four year losing skid by delivering a winning season to the tribe, but it was also Cleveland's first 90 win season since 2007. Francona had the Indians one win behind the division leading Tigers.
He did it all without any legit big name players. Yes the Indians signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn in the offseason and brought in a well aged Jason Giambi, but those are complimentary players, not guys you build around.
And the pitching staff, wow! What a surprise the pitchers provided. No one in baseball expected Scott Kazmir to come back. Ubaldo Jimenez had been wasting space on the roster since leaving Colorado. Justin Masterson had only one winning season (2011) in his past four years before winning a career-high 14 games.
By turning the Indians around and getting them into the playoffs, Francona is my choice for AL Manager of the Year.