The voting criteria for Manager of the Year appears to go along these lines: "What team had the most surprising season? Who managed that team? Give that manager the award."
From Bud Black and Kirk Gibson to Eric Wedge and Joe Maddon, small-revenue teams that have seasons as surprise contenders have the prime position for the award.
Evidently, this means that a team with deep pockets does not need much skill to manage. It's as if having a huge payroll and a roster of stars allows the manager to fill out the lineup card and fall asleep.
However, sometimes managing with sky-high expectations can lead to a different set of challenges. A team with a small budget and little chance to win also has very little pressure. A team who spent the money and demands a title has no room for error.
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who is doing his best managerial work of his career in 2012, is a perfect example. Of course he is managing the best paid team in baseball, but not all of the players are producing up to their contracts.
Alex Rodriguez has put up numbers far below an MVP candidate and has battled injuries all season long. Mark Teixeira has also been inconsistent and is no longer one of the elite offensive performers.
Girardi has received All-Star caliber performances from Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson. But he has also had to juggle the likes of Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez as they fall in and out of slumps and hot streaks.
As for his pitching staff, at certain points of the season the pitchers on the disabled list far outshone the ones on the active 25-man roster.
Girardi lost Michael Pineda before the season began, and in the process the Yankees no longer had their best trade chip in Jesus Montero. Joba Chamberlain bounced himself onto the disabled list for more than half the season. Andy Pettitte returned and then broke his foot. Even CC Sabathia spent time on the disabled list.
And of course there was a little injury to Mariano Rivera. The one consistency in New York since 1996 was that the Yankees could rely on Rivera in the late innings. One fly ball during batting practice in Kansas City later, and the Yankees suddenly had to worry about the ninth inning for the first time since Bill Clinton was in office.
And David Robertson, the All-Star understudy, got hurt as well.
Girardi faced all of these obstacles under the glare of the intense media scrutiny of New York. He could look to the north and see injuries fighting to make the big-budgeted Red Sox irrelevant.
He could look to the south and see the budding dynasty in Philadelphia crumble under the weight of injuries and bad contracts.
The Yankees did not suffer a similar fate. Without a significant midseason addition to the pitching staff other than bringing Pettitte out of retirement, the Yankees continued to win. They overcame inconsistent performances by Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia to see their bullpen become a strength in Rivera's absence.
The Yankees were at an even .500 in late May and could have gone either way. Teams like the Rangers, Rays and Tigers seemed poised to pass them by. The Yankees are 42-25 since falling to .500 on May 21. Instead of falling to the pack, they have opened up, as of this writing, a five-game lead for the division.
Joe Girardi certainly deserves credit for that. That is a level of pressure that the presumed favorites like Bob Melvin of Oakland and Robin Ventura of the White Sox do not face with their teams that began this season as "also-rans."
Of course, Girardi probably will not win the award. Too many people will say "what is the challenge of winning with the Yankees? He's suppose to win." And those people will never see the irony of their statements.
He manages a team that treats losing Game 7 of the World Series as a failed season.
Girardi can take consolation that he already won a Manager of the Year Award. He did so with the Florida Marlins in 2006. That team did not have a winning record, but they contended for a long time with a small budget and no expectations.
He has a harder job this year.
For the sake of full disclosure, this author is a Boston Red Sox fan and not one who takes much pleasure in praising the New York Yankees.
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