Three times since the 2013 season, Terry Francona has won American League Manager of the Year. Three other times since 2004, his teams reached the World Series, winning it twice.
The job Francona did this season with the Cleveland Guardians might have been the most impressive of his 22 years in the majors as a manager. From the start of spring training, he seemed to sense a maturity about his team, that it was not shy or afraid of any challenge. And that, once the games got bigger, the players would not shrink from confrontation due to inexperience. He was right.
Francona guided the youngest team in the league to 92 victories and the AL Central title, and, against the New York Yankees, he got the Guardians within one victory of reaching the AL Championship Series. The Minnesota Twins or Chicago White Sox were picked by most analysts to win the division, and few envisioned Cleveland finishing much higher than .500.
“It doesn’t matter, your age,” said Francona, who was reminded of that belief through his team’s play. “It matters how much you want to compete, and how much you’re willing to put the team first.”
As a result, a 30-person panel of BBWAA voters selected Francona as the AL’s best manager in 2022. Francona won a fairly tight race with 17 first-place votes, eight more than Brandon Hyde of the Baltimore Orioles. Scott Servais of the Seattle Mariners finished third, and Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros took fourth place. Voting finishes before the postseason begins, so playoff results are not factors.
Buck Showalter of the New York Mets won National League Manager of the Year and has earned top manager honors four times in his career with four different teams. He and Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers had eight first-place votes apiece, but Showalter did better among the electorate in second-place and third-place votes. Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves finished third, followed by Oliver Marmol of the St. Louis Cardinals and Rob Thomson of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Francona heard Showalter’s acceptance speech on the MLB Network and agreed that anyone who wins Manager of the Year really owes it to the entire organization.
“When you start hearing people talk about you individually, it makes you a little uneasy,” Francona said. “But where it allows me to brag about our organization, that makes me really happy — whether it’s the players or the coaches, all the way to the clubbies and the medical trainer. That’s how you win.”
Cleveland had inexperienced players in left field, like Rookie of the Year candidate Steven Kwan, and in right field with Oscar Gonzalez. Second baseman Andres Giménez blossomed into an All-Star at age 23, and right-hander Triston McKenzie, along with closer Emmanuel Clase, became big stars at age 24.
Francona, 63, led the inexperienced lot despite ongoing health problems that could cut short his career someday.
The voters could have opted for Hyde. The 49-year-old oversaw a huge improvement by the Orioles, who went from 52-110 in 2021 to 83 victories and contention for the AL wild card. The O’s also were young and had little collective experience, but Francona’s Guardians closed out the regular season on a 40-21 run, which included huge head-to-head success against their closest pursuers.
As for NL Manager of the Year, the electorate was too dismissive of Thomson’s success with the Phillies, even keeping with the context of the regular season. He deserves credit for untangling the mess created with Joe Girardi running the team. Girardi complained about the "number of reasons we didn't win," adding that he doubted Philly could overcome it all and make the playoffs — but that it would be something he'd "pray" for.
Phillies president Dave Dombrowski replaced Girardi with his bench coach, Thomson, a respected voice in the game but a first-time MLB skipper. Under Thomson, the Phillies went 65-46 and made the postseason as the last NL wild card, answering Girardi’s Hail Mary.
Philly played without Harper for about a third of the season because of injuries. It also got almost nothing from slugger Nick Castellanos. There were other holes in the lineup in center field, shortstop and third base until the second half. The starting pitching collectively was just OK for most of the season, and the bullpen didn’t sort itself out until very late in the regular season. The Phillies also famously killed their chances on defense nightly. Yet, they won anyway. That’s what it should be about.
The Cy Young winners will be announced Wednesday, followed by league MVPs on Thursday.