Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu sensed before today’s AL Manager of the Year Award came down that Mike Scioscia of the Angels would be the winner. Tough to argue, given what that Angels team went through this season, especially early on.
There were injuries to key starting pitchers John Lackey and Ervin Santana, then later sluggers Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero. But the biggest clubhouse blow of them all was the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart when the car he was riding in was struck by an alleged drunk driver.
The Angels were emotionally devastated by the death. At the time, remember, they drifted a half-dozen games back of the division lead and seemed prime to be knocked out of the race before the month of May was even done.
But they always held it together. They never quite fell back far enough to make their eventual comeback seem an impossible task. They came close. But they never broke. And for that, in the mind of Wakamatsu and very likely several BBWAA voters, that was a huge reason to give Scioscia the nod.
“I think everybody knew they were going to come back because they’d had some devastating injuries,” said Wakamatsu, who tied for fourth in voting along with Texas manager Ron Washington. “What I respect about him most was the way he handled the tragedy. He did a great job of respecting the family, in his comments to the media, and using the whole thing in a positive way, if that’s even possible to do.
“That club could have gone either way. He made sure they stayed on-track long enough until all of those injured guys came back.”
Wakamatsu played alongside fellow catcher Scioscia for a time back in the 1980s as a minor leaguer and also got to know him while working in the Angels organization for several years. The M’s field boss says there are elements of Scioscia’s style that he admires and tries to incorporate into his own dealings with players.
“He’s a guy that’s pretty versatile,” he said. “He gets respect from his players, deals with the media well. He’s not afraid and that’s not always easy in a game where every move is chastised.
“He’s not afraid to push the envelope.”
Wakamatsu feels Scioscia’s one-on-one relationship with his players pays off and helped him get through the challenges of this past season.
“I think them just knowing he’s the same off the field as he is on it is a key,” he said. “He’s consistent. He gets respect from his players. He’s created an expectation that he’s there to win.”
It’s worth noting that none of the managers who received votes today came from a losing team. They all created expectations of winning.
The first three vote-getters, Scioscia, Ron Gardenhire and Joe Girardi, all coached playoff teams.
And as good a turnaround as the M’s enjoyed under Wakamatsu this past season, if he wants to crack the top-three, he’ll probably need to take the M’s to that next level.
Still, this was a pretty good start.