Unlike the American League, the National League playoff picture was pretty much set in stone a month before the season was over. So, there weren’t very many teams making that final push, or having to win the last week of the season in order to make it in. And, because of that, I see fewer legitimate candidates in the NL.
The only playoff team whose manager didn’t make the cut is the only playoff team that has (or is even likely to) fired its manager: the Reds’ Dusty Baker. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that Dusty is highly overrated. He can take a good team to the playoffs … and that’s about it. Not once do you see him take over a scrappy, underwhelming team, and get them to overachieve. Not once did he take a good team, and make them a great team. In fact, with all the good teams he has managed over the years (in San Fran, Chicago and Cincinnati), only two of them ever made it past the first round of the playoffs (’02 Giants lost the World Series and ’03 Cubs lost the NLCS). Yes, he led a lot of teams to the playoffs, but those were frequently good teams that needed a good manager to help them navigate their way through the playoffs to a championship. Dusty is not the man for that job. But, I digress…
As I remove candidates from this list, let’s keep in mind that these are still this year’s 4 best managers. They all did something very well, or they wouldn’t be on this list in the first place. But, the first one off the list for me, is the guy that might end up winning the award – Mattingly. Mattingly did a very good job managing a team of stars. But, what I think we might forget in this discussion is that the Dodgers were in last place when they promoted Yasiel Puig. And, almost immediately, he helped them catch fire. Mattingly had to manage the fire, yes. But, this is the least impressive of the four, to me.
Next, I would likely remove Gonzalez. In part, because of the fact that this was a different kind of team than what he managed a year ago. The front office in Atlanta worked hard this offseason to add some key offensive talent (B.J. Upton & Justin Upton). Yet, in spite of that talent, this was a fairly inconsistent team this season. They had an unbelievable home record (won nearly 70% of their games!), but a losing record on the road. They had an incredible August, but a losing September. They beat up primarily on a bad division, but for some reason struggled against teams like the Padres, Brewers and Giants. I feel like this team underachieved a little, so I can’t give the award to Gonzalez.
So, we’re down to the final two, and this is a very close call in my mind. Both of the guys on this list deserve a lot of credit for getting their teams to where they were at the end of the season. Both of these guys managed teams that were not loaded with big stars. Both of these teams finished well ahead of where most expected them this year. So, my vote is going to go to the guy who helped make history . . . and that’s not Mike Matheny. Matheny did a great job with the team in St. Louis, and I really don’t have a reason not to give him the award, other than . . .
Clint Hurdle. While I mentioned Dusty Baker as a guy that I’ve come to the conclusion is one of the most overrated managers in the game – Clint Hurdle is probably one of (if not the) most underrated managers in the game. He took the Rockies to the World Series – a team that has only made the playoffs 3 times in its 21-year existence. And, ever since he took over the Pirates in 2011, they’ve gone from perennial cellar-dwellar, to a team that felt like it was on the brink of doing very well. And, this year, they did it. Not only did they break that 20-season streak of losing seasons, but Hurdle carried this team all the way to 94 wins. So, he gets my vote . . . for whatever that’s worth.