Selecting the Manager of the Year in each major league this season is a lot like trying to separate Spencer Tracy playing a priest and Jimmy Cagney portraying a gangster at Academy Awards time in the 1930s. So many field leaders have done outstanding jobs in totally different circumstances that it's strictly a judgment call. Ten who deserve at least a piece of the Honor Pie in '87 are Sparky Anderson, Tom Kelly, Tony La Russa, Gene Mauch, Tom Trebelhorn, Dick Williams, and Jimy Williams from the American League, plus Whitey Herzog, Buck Rodgers, and Roger Craig from the National.
Craig the leading exponent of the split-fingered fastball and Detroit's pitching coach when the Tigers won the World Series in 1984, has made the San Francisco staff one of the best in baseball. Roger's choice of platoon players and pinch-hitters has also been a big factor in the Giants' drive for the NL West championship.
Herzog's juggling act has kept St. Louis in first place in the East despite a number of key injuries, including the lengthy absence of his best pitcher, John Tudor.
However, the NL's sentimental favorite is definitely Rodgers of Montreal, whose front office allowed two of the team's best players, slugger Andr'e Dawson and ace reliever Jeff Reardon, to get away during the winter. The Expos were also glacier-slow in re-signing free agent Tim Raines. But instead of complaining, Rodgers just keeps on making strategic moves that pay off.
If the American League's list of managerial candidates seems crowded, this is why.
On May 12 Anderson's Detroit Tigers were ll-19, with a pitching staff that needed a road map. Sparky also had no reliable No 4. hitter at that time. Two days later, however, he was saying the Tigers would win the AL East title with shortstop Alan Trammell batting fourth. Trammell has since become a leading MVP candidate, and the Tigers are dueling with Toronto for the lead.
It is no exaggeration when people say both veterans and rookies are apt to play better for La Russa. A good example of the former is nomad pitcher Dave Stewart, who signed with Oakland in 1986 as a free agent after wearing out his welcome in Los Angeles, Texas, and Philadelphia. Stewart has become a Cy Young Award candidate under La Russa, who also has the cinch Rookie of the Year in first baseman Mark McGwire.
Mauch has done an incredible job with a California staff which has placed so many pitchers on the disabled list that Gene has often had to struggle to come up with a legitimate starter. And mail for the No. 4 man in the Angels' rotation now comes marked ``occupant.''
If you think Trebelhorn somehow doesn't belong with names like Anderson, La Russa, and Mauch, you're wrong. Even though Milwaukee's season has been a series of hot and cold streaks, the Brewers have already won almost as many games in Tom's rookie managerial season as they did all of last year.
Until Kelly came along selling enthusiasm and confidence at bargain basement prices, Minnesota hadn't won a division title in 17 years. But thanks to some robust hitting plus Kelly's Midas touch with his pitching staff (including knowing just when to relieve a faltering starter) the Twins are in a position to end the drought.
During the winter Williams convinced Seattle's front office to trade power for pitching. The result was a strong start by last year's cellar dwellers, and while the Mariners finally dipped under .500 in July, they have gained enough respect by now to keep opponents from taking them lightly. Williams has gotten great mileage from his kids by spotting them against certain clubs, giving them extra batting help, and pushing them to be more aggressive in road games.
After last year's skid to fourth place from a division title the previous season, most Toronto fans were ready to fire their Mr. Williams. But if Jimy seemed unsure of himself at times in his first year on the job, nothing like that has surfaced this season. Although Toronto's starters have often been shaky, Williams has compensated by making excellent use of his bullpen. Elsewhere in the major leagues
How good a base stealer is Vince Coleman of the St. Louis Cardinals, who leads the major leagues in thefts? ``Vince hasn't been around long enough to call him the best of all time,'' Cardinals' Coach Red Schoendienst told me. ``But he gets such a good jump on the pitcher that so far this year I've seen him steal safely 19 consecutive times on pitchouts!''
From slugger Pedro Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers after the Chicago Cubs asked the plate umpire to check his bat for cork: ``I don't need cork to hit. Man, when you can hit, you can hit anything. Wade Boggs can hit with a chicken bone!''