The Nationals had never won one of the BBWAA’s four major awards before last night, and by the end of the evening they will probably have two. After Bryce Harper won rookie of the year yesterday, Davey Johnson is up for Manager of the Year tonight. He is the easy choice, no offense to other finalists Bruce Bochy and Dusty Baker.
Johnson, 69, guided a team that had never been any good to the best record in baseball. A manager’s importance can be debated. It can be argued it’s the players who govern improvement or regression, triumph or a long September. In Johnson’s case, there is little room for debate. He mattered. He was the perfect manager for this team. He gave confidence to youth and lent experience to a callow roster. Johnson wrapped all of his lessons in swashbuckling conviction. He raised expectations. From the start of the season, Johnson’s Nationals believed they were better than the league. Johnson made the team everyone beat act like The Team to Beat.
As far as the manager of the year award goes, it typically goes to the team that most exceeded external predictions. How else are you going to quantify how a manager, uh, managed? Johnson has it all over his peers there, too. The Nationals won 18 more games in 2012 than in 2011. The Reds did, too, but they did with it a roster that loosely resembled the 2010 NL Central champions. The Nationals were expected to improve. Some predicted them to contend. No one thought they would win 98 games, and Johnson helped allow that to happen.
In the American League, the choice will be easy only if you have a coin handy. Two out-of-nowhere teams, the A’s and Orioles, means a close vote between Bob Melvin and Buck Showalter. The A’s continued their permanent, near-annual rebuilding cycle and still somehow stole the AL West from the Rangers by making up two weeks’ worth of games. The Orioles shuffled their roster like no contender in recent history, and Showalter made the pieces fit and earned a playoff spot – and Baltimore’s first winning season since 1997 – out of the perennially daunting AL East.
The last time the Orioles made the playoffs, Johnson was in their dugout. He won the manager of the year award, and on the day they announced it, he resigned in a dispute with owner Peter Angelos. Johnson is back in the spotlight, this time without any of the discord, coming up on 70 years old and still every bit as confident in what his mind can do.