Yesterday, The Sporting News announced the Joe Maddon was voted AL Manager of the Year by his colleagues. Generally, I think Manager of the Year is a silly award. A manager’s effect on his team’s success is a difficult thing to gauge and the award always seems to go to someone with a really good team that just played it safe. After all, outside of Maddon and a few others, just about everyone uses the same guiding principles in managing a baseball game. Baseball is not like football or basketball where the coaches are creating unique offensive and defensive plays.
This time is a different. I can definitively say the 2011 Rays would not have had a modicum of the success they had without Joe. I see no other manager in either league that could have worked through the problems Joe faced. Not only did he get this club over the mental hurdle of its slow start, he kept them loose and focused when they seemed dead-in-the-water.
Maybe Joe’s success this year can be summed up in two creative decisions.
First, from July 26-August 1, Maddon recalled a relief pitcher from AAA every day. He called one up, used him that night, and sent him out for a fresh arm. The bullpen was tired after a few long games and flight to the west coast. I don’t know that I have ever seen a manager use his 40-man roster that effectively to protect the team’s biggest weakness.
Second, on September 24, Maddon yanked starter Jeff Niemann after the top of the 1st and used rookie reliever Alex Torres for 5 innings. That move carried tons of risk. Most managers stick with their proven starter their (even if they doubt how well their starter is pitching) because, if the game goes sideways, the manager is absolved of fault. After all, Niemann’s been our guy all season, what can I do? But Maddon saw something he didn’t like (as did most of us watching Niemann that night) and took a chance to try and win the game, rather than not lose the game.
Maybe the last move sums Maddon up in a nut shell. He manages to win games. He does things to add value rather than doing things to avoid removing value. Sometimes, a more conservative approach would help the team. Sometimes, Maddon’s tinkering and risk-taking drives me nuts. But, I can appreciate a guy that goes to work every day and tries to contribute.
So, while Joe and I will disagree again next summer, probably many different times, I’ll take this opportunity to tip my cap. Here’s hoping Joe, his dugout rail towel, and his multi-colored ink pens, are in a Rays uniform for a long time to come.