|These men are all staring at each other in breathless anticipation. Who among them will prevail? (Getty Images)|
We've been conducting a walking tour of the individual awards and gauging where things stand for each one. To conclude this particular round of updates, we'll turn to the American League managers, who, as you can see above, all insist on dressing up like players.
Criteria? The Manager-of-the-Year hardware is generally about defying expectations (defying them in a good way, of course). And the names you'll find herein certainly have done that ...
Be honest: you probably thought the Orioles were going to finish in last place this season. I confess that I did. After all, the O's entered 2012 having finished last in four straight seasons. They'd lost at least 92 games in six straight seasons and hadn't mustered a winning year since 1997. How, playing an unbalanced schedule in the brutal AL East, were they to survive, let alone contend? Yet here they are, in wild-card position at this writing. Showalter's O's are succeeding despite a negative run differential, so what's unfolded to date can be regarded as a minor baseball miracle. Does that all trace back to the manager? Of course not, but no skipper has overcome the odds this season quite like Showalter.
2. Robin Ventura, White Sox
Ventura's White Sox may yet cede the division to the high-priced Tigers, but thus far they've defied expectations in a big way. Coming off a 79-83 season a year ago, the Sox were seemingly in a down cycle and in need of a scorched-earth rebuild. Even the most optimistic forecasts tabbed them for no better than a weak third place. But here they are. In part, that's because the steady, unflappable Ventura has served as the perfect antidote to the departed Ozzie Guillen and his dramatics.
3. Bob Melvin, A's
Are the A's beginning to drift from contention? Possibly. But that they're in contention at all says much about the job Melvin has done. To put it in "bottom line" terms, Melvin's A's have something better than a puncher's chance at making the postseason despite the lowest payroll in the league and (seemingly) despite having a younger-than-average roster.
ALSO IN THE MIX
4. Joe Maddon, Rays
Maddon has become a perrennial candidate for this award with good cause. The Rays are always in the contending fray despite severe budget contraints and a brutal home division. Maddon is one of those rare skippers who strikes a balance between being primarily a "player's guy" while also being able to mete out discipline when needed (witness his relationship with B.J. Upton over the years). That's the kind of skill blend that leads to longevity. As for the season in question, Maddon's Rays have remained in strong contention despite the usual disadvantages and despite missing their best player for the bulk of the season. Another fine job by the Bespectacled One.