Yesterday the American and National League Managers of the Year were announced by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Joe Maddon, skipper of the Tampa Bay Rays, was voted as the best AL manager of 2011, while Kirk Gibson, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ leader, was tabbed as the best coach in the NL this season.
Both of the teams Gibson and Maddon managed had very unexpectedly impressive 2011 seasons that resulted in playoff appearances.
After the Diamondbacks finished 65-97 in 2010, few though they would have any chance of competing in the National League West this season. Not only did they have to take on the Dodgers, Rockies and Padres, but they had the reigning World Series champs in their division, the San Francisco Giants.
But Gibson and the Diamondbacks were able to turn things around in a hurry. Behind their young stars such as Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks won 94 games in 2011 and claimed their first NL West title since 2007. Though the club was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Brewers, the Diamondbacks’ success becomes no less impressive. Much of that success can be attributed to the motivating force that is Gibson.
Tampa Bay was another club that wasn’t given much of a shot before the 2011 season. The team had watched several big-name veterans leave via free agency last winter, and no one knew if the Rays would be able to keep pace in the ever-competitive American League East.
But, after a rocky start, the Rays were able to play solid baseball last summer. Heading into September, even though it didn’t look like the club would make the postseason, 2011 would have still been considered a win by most because of the resiliency they showed.
But that ‘moral victory’ wasn’t enough for the Rays or its skipper. Instead, Tampa Bay, thanks in part to a Red Sox collapse, completed one of the most improbable comebacks ever. Evan Longoria’s walk-off shot on the last day of the regular season propelled the club into the playoffs, a place the Maddon and the Rays have found themselves three of the past four years.
Continuing the trend of most of this offseason’s end of the year voting, each Manager of the Year race wasn’t very close. Maddon received 26 of the possible 28 first place votes while Gibson collected 28 of 32. Finishing behind Maddon in the AL were Detroit’s Jim Leyland and Texas’s Ron Washington. For the NL, Milwaukee’s Ron Roenicke finished second while St. Louis’s Tony La Russa came in third.