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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

November 17, 2009 at 12:45 PM

Now on the clock: Don Wakamatsu

As brilliant as Felix Hernandez was in 2009, it was harder to muster up a passionate Cy Young case for him, because Zack Greinke was demonstrably just slightly better. And the voters agreed.

I actually believe a stronger Mariner case can be made for the award to be given out Wednesday: Manager of the Year.

donwak.jpgIn the National League, I believe it’s going to be a rout for Colorado’s Jim Tracy, who took over a down-and-out Rockies team, 18-28 at the time Clint Hurdle was fired, and led them into the playoffs. It was a remarkable turnaround orchestrated by Tracy, who guided the Rockies to a 74-42 record (.638). That’s worthy of being rewarded.

But the American League is wide open, and I think Seattle’s Don Wakamatsu is worthy of strong consideration. That said, I believe the Angels’ Mike Scioscia will win, and it’s hard to argue. The Angels overcame a death and numerous key injuries to finish with the second-best record in the league (97-65) and a runaway division title.

You could also make a case for Ron Gardenhire, who guided the Twins to the division title in a furious comeback to catch the Tigers on the final day and win a one-game playoff. But the Twins won just one more game than the Mariners through 162, and the Mariners were coming off a 101-loss season.

Another good case could be made for Texas’s Ron Washington. Here’s what Tom Verducci of SI said in picking Washington as his manager of the year choice: “The Rangers were five games out with eight to play. How the heck did they do that? They played a rookie at shortstop, had a mediocre offense in which no player drove in 90 runs, got only 89 games out of Josh Hamilton, and gave 99 starts to Scott Feldman, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Brandon McCarthy and Matt Harrison, all of whom were between 22 and 26 years old.”

I suppose you could also make a case for Joe Girardi of the Yankees. His team did, after all, win 103 games, overcame the Red Sox, survived the whole Alex Rodriguez turmoil, and made it all hum smoothly. But I find it hard to overlook the vast resources at the Yankees’ disposal. Girardi was handed CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira on top of all the other All-Stars on his roster. That has a tendency to help your managing.

As for Wakamatsu, he orchestrated a 24-game improvement, which is remarkable. And he did it with a team that was in flux much of the year as general manager Jack Zduriencik wisely adjusted the roster. Just as impressively, Wakamatsu completely changed the attitude and atmosphere of a team that was dysfunctional the previous year. By the end of the season, the Mariner clubhouse was like Disneyland — the Happiest Place on Earth. The team completely bought into Zduriencik’s “belief system” — and, of course, the talent provided by Zduriencik was also better, which helped considerably. All in all, a remarkable performance by Wakamatsu, and one fully deserving of being recognized as the best in the league.

But I doubt it will be. Scioscia is the strong favorite.

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