In an industry in which tactical directions have increasingly trended toward collaboration -- if not top-down demands -- the impact a manager has on his ballclub has generally been reduced. This environment makes skippers with established credentials, real bench bona fides, stand out all the more. And in the 2022 regular season, the Baseball Writers' Association of America decided that two such skippers stood out from all the rest.
The Guardians' Terry Francona was named the American League winner and the Mets' Buck Showalter the National League winner of the Manager of the Year Award, as announced by the BBWAA on MLB Network on Tuesday night. And for two men who rank in the top 20 all-time in managerial wins, winning this award was a familiar feeling.
Showalter, who previously won the award with the Yankees in 1994, Rangers in 2004 and Orioles in 2014, became the first person to win Manager of the Year with four different clubs and joined Tony La Russa (with three teams) and Bobby Cox (with two teams) as the only four-time winners.
"What a great moment for our organization and coaching staff and ownership and front office, scouts, player development," Showalter said. "The recognition of our organization means a lot to everybody. Very humbling, very honored."
Francona, who also won with Cleveland in 2013 and 2016, is a third-time winner.
"The best part about this is it gives me the opportunity to brag about the people I work with -- the coaches and the baseball ops guys and certainly our players," Francona said. "Everybody talks about culture and things like that. I really believe we live it out every day, and for that I'm really proud."
As always, the voting was conducted prior to the postseason. So among other October/November outcomes, Dusty Baker finally slaying the elusive World Series dragon in his 25th season as a skipper was not taken into account.
Francona received 17 first-place votes and 112 voting points, followed by the Orioles' Brandon Hyde (nine first-place votes, 79 points), the Mariners' Scott Servais (one, 43), Baker (three, 31) and the Yankees' Aaron Boone (zero, four).
The NL Voting was much closer. Showalter (eight first-place votes, 77 points) beat out the Dodgers' Dave Roberts (eight, 57), the Braves' Brian Snitker (seven, 55), the Cardinals' Oliver Marmol (five, 44), the Phillies' Rob Thomson (two, 36) and the Padres' Bob Melvin (zero, one).
Though the award win is old hat for him, Showalter is actually the first Mets manager to win this honor, now leaving the Brewers as the only club to have never had a Manager of the Year. After three seasons in the wilderness, Showalter took over a win-now Mets team that had been a profound disappointment in 2021 and needed the figurative kick in the pants. Under the meticulous manager, the star-laden squad brought playoff baseball to Citi Field for the first time since 2016 by claiming the NL's top Wild Card spot.
The Mets' 101 wins were a gigantic improvement over the 77 wins from 2021 and were the second-most victories in franchise history, behind only the 1986 World Series championship team (108). Only the Orioles had a larger improvement.
Though the Mets squandered what had at its height been a 10 1/2-game lead in the NL East and lost six of their final seven to the division-champion Braves, the voters saluted Showalter for the change in sentiment around this squad and the perseverance in a season in which co-aces Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom were limited by injury to a combined 34 starts. Showalter brought professionalism and attention to detail to a team in need of both.
"I just think I tried to calm the seas a little bit and understand they were pretty good," Showalter said. "They had done some things to attack our weakness before I got here. And to realize that we’re kind of self-inflicting a lot of things. If we could get out of our own way, we could have some fun. I think our guys really bought into holding themselves to a high standard.”
For Francona, 2022 was a comeback, of sorts. Health issues had forced him to step away from his team before the conclusion of the season in both 2020 and 2021. But in his 10th season in Cleveland, a still-hobbling Francona -- with a protective steel plate in his shoe following toe surgery and drains in his back to address a gastrointestinal issue – had arguably his finest managerial moment.
The Guardians entered their first season with their new name looking to make a name for themselves in other ways. Not only did they have the youngest roster in MLB, but the average age was actually lower than most Triple-A teams. The only established stars on a team with one of the lowest payrolls in MLB were José Ramírez and Shane Bieber, the latter of whom was coming off a shoulder issue. Most projections and prognostications had the White Sox and Twins vying for the AL Central title. But it was the Guards – with their brand of strong pitching and defense and small ball -- who led going into September. And in the final month-plus, Francona's club blew past the opposition, going 24-10 down the stretch to not only win the Central but win it by 11 games.
The huge steps forward for youngsters like Andrés Giménez, Steven Kwan, Oscar Gonzalez, Triston McKenzie and Emmanuel Clase and the quick maturation of a roster in which 17 rookies debuted were in part a credit to the 63-year-old Francona's calm, charm and communication.
"It doesn't matter your age; it matters how much you want to compete and how much you're willing to put a team first, ahead of your own personal circumstances," Francona said. "For younger guys still trying to find their footing in our league, that's pretty amazing that they were able to always put our team first. For that, I had -- and still will -- have a tremendous amount of respect for that group."