By voting Bob Melvin the American League manager of the year, those deliberating decided that he pulled off a bigger miracle with the Oakland A’s in 2012 than Buck Showalter did with the Baltimore Orioles. Fair enough. On the scale of unlikely occurrences, the end product of the regular season for the A’s did rate slightly higher than the Orioles’ finish, even if both were special to their fan bases and good for baseball in general.
Oakland’s late-September rush to capture the AL West Division title on the last day of the season by swiping it out from under the noses of the Texas Rangers was as dramatic as any team maneuver over the summer. But the Orioles were right there in the suspense department, too, in hand-to-hand combat with the New York Yankees day after day until the last.
Somehow Melvin coaxed 94 victories out of his group of low-paid, ridiculously young players that featured a staff of unknown rookies that had to step up when Bartolo Colon screwed up and got caught using performance-enhancing drugs and then Brandon McCarthy was hit in the head by a life-thraetening line drive. As impressive and surprising as the A’s had been all year given those developments unfolding in August and September made it even more remarkable that they could not only keep up their fast closing pace, but improve on it. To say the Rangers, who had shot out to a huge lead in the standings to start the season, were shocked is the understatement of the season.
By Oakland eking out the the division title it redefined the playoffs under the new system. They reduced the Rangers to being a wild card team that had to win a one-game play-in to keep going. So instead of being guaranteed a best-of-five series to fight on for a third straight World Series berth, the Rangers played a one-and-done game and were done.
In most years Showalter would have won this award. The Orioles were picked by everyone for last place in the American League East Division and even after Baltimore got off to a fast start to the season no one believed in them. All of the thinking was about how long it would take the Orioles to fade. Only they never did. They were slugging it out with the Yankees until the last couple of days of the season and their 93 wins earned a wild-card spot. It was not as if Showalter’s roster was littered with tons of headliners, either. The Orioles, with few exceptions like the A’s, were a bunch of no-names, too.
Melvin, 51, spent 10 years in the majors as a catcher, mostly as a backup. Oakland is the third team he has managed. After stints with the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks (for whom he was named National League manager of the year), he took over the reins of the A’s in 2011. With all of the attention on the “Moneyball” tendencies of general manager Billy Beane it’s a wonder anyone wants the job.
It’s been almost preordained in recent years that the A’s can’t compete with the big spenders and so finish out of the playoffs. Melvin clearly showed that exceptions can be made. The A’s made the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and he was rewarded for that feat.