Kirk Gibson was named Manager of the Year in the National League for the 2011 season today. He certainly can make a case for winning the award. He took an underachieving Arizona Diamondbacks team that was below .500 in 2010 and won 94 games and the National League West division with them. In addition, Gibson is one of the most iconic players to have ever played baseball, his Game 1 winning home run in the 9th inning of the 1988 World Series while standing on two bad legs is one of the most famous hits in history. A great player, a good man, and a great coach. When one thinks of the ideal manager to win an award such as this, a coach with Gibson's credentials certainly comes to mind.
It is, however, my opinion that he should not have been the man with this award at the end of the day. I am not saying that he doesn't deserve it and I am not trying to diminish the Diamondback's achievements this year. What it comes down to, for me at least, is history. The Diamondbacks most recent World Series Championship was in 2001, 10 years ago. Two years before that in 1999, they won 100 games. The year after their title they won 98 games. In the seasons between 2003-2010, the Diamondbacks only finished above .500 three times, most recently in 2008 when they went 82-80. The recent struggles in the decade make a case that the more immediate history of the franchise was not as successful as it may have liked, and it certainly needed a manager with the talents of Kirk Gibson to help return the team to its former glory. Regardless of five losing seasons in ten years, there is another manager with another team with a more dismal history that won a division title this year, and he is the one who deserves this award.
That manager is Ron Roenicke, first-year manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, and that history is one that has not (until very recent memory) seen a season worth being proud of since 1982. Roenicke's Brewers won 96 games (a franchise record) and won the National League Central division (its first division title since 1982 and first title as a member of the National League; from the franchise's foundation in 1970 until 1998, it had been a member of the American League). 1998, the year the Brewers moved to the National League, was also the year the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball franchise was founded. In three years, the Diamondbacks were world champions; the Brewers were in the cellar. From 1993-2004, the Brewers finished each season below .500; that is a streak of 12 years! In 2005, the team finished 81-81; 2006, back below .500. It was not until 2007 that the Brewers had a winning record and it was not until 2008 that they broke their 25-year playoff drought. Unfortunately for Brewers' fans, the very next season, and the season after it, witnessed two more seasons below .500 (let it be noted that the Diamondbacks were also under .500 both those years as well).
Why bring up this history? Well it seems to me that history is the main factor that won Gibson the award. Gibson took a team that had losing records for two straight years and won their division, a division that included the defending world champion San Fransisco Giants. Let's take a look at Roenicke though: his team also had had losing records for two straight years, he too was a first-year manager, and he too won his division. In addition, his division included the eventual World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. Gibson and the D-backs won 94 games. Roenicke and his Brewers won 96. On top of this, the Brewers were the team that knocked the D-backs out of the 2011 playoffs. Both men came to teams with young players with a lot of potential, franchises that wanted to win, and division rivals with a much more recent history of winning.
If history is what we are looking at when deciding who wins this award, there should be no doubt in any baseball writer's mind that the Brewers have a far more depressing history than the Diamondbacks. The Brewers won more games and beat the Diamondbacks in the playoffs; even so, their present statistics are so evenly matched that one would have to look at history in order to decide which manager deserves it more. Considering the decades of inadequacy that Milwaukee fans have had to endure, I do not see how a team that won a World Series within its first three years and winning records in nearly half of the years of its existence can make a case for having a more challenging history to overcome. Roenicke had more to overcome, more to prove, and more pressure to succeed (with it being Prince Fielder's last year, it was a "go big or go home" year for the Brewers). He did what many said he could not do: turned a perennial loser into a winner, and that is deserving of Manager of the Year.