The odds were against Don Wakamatsu before the voting even began. Despite leading the Mariners to a 24-game turnaround in 2009, the Seattle manager really had little chance of winning the AL Manager of the Year Award.
In the 27-year history of the award only four managers of teams that didn’t make the playoffs won the award, the last being Buck Showalter of the Rangers in 2004. Wakamatsu, whose team finished the season at 85-77, couldn’t get Seattle to the playoffs.
So it came as little or no surprise when Mike Scioscia of the Angels won the award. Scioscia, who also won the award in 2002 when the Angels beat the Giants in the World Series, led the Angels to the ALCS where they lost to the Yankees.
Making the playoffs in its self doesn’t seem like that big of a deal for the Angels — the team is pretty much a lock for the postseason given the weakness of the AL West. However, this season was different.
Scioscia’s team was shaken early in the season by the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart, who was killed by a drunk driver. The team also suffered more than its share of injuries, losing starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana for the first six weeks of the season. Pitcher Kelvim Escobar missed the entire season, and Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter also spent extended time on the disabled list. In mid-June the team languished at 29-29 before taking off.
The Mariners, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2001, were a team in shambles at the end of 2008. At 61-101, the team had the worst record in the American League and the clubhouse chemistry was something akin to a failed lab experience. Management made widespread moves in the offseason, bringing in a new general manager and head coach and getting rid of unhappy players. The moves paid off, and Wakamatsu led the team back to respectability.
However, Wakamatsu finished well behind Scioscia, in a fourth-place tie in the voting by the Baseball Writers’ of America Association. His performance was overshadowed not only by Scioscia but also by Ron Gardenhire, who led the Twins to a final playoff charge, finished second; Joe Girardi, whose Yankees won the World Series, finished third; and Ron Washington of the Rangers was tied for fourth.
The question isn’t really if Wakamatsu deserved the award. In another season he might have won it. It’s just that in 2009 others deserved it more.
Kerwin Berk is the former assistant sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.