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Joe Girardi is the only manager to win MLB Manager of the Year with a losing record

Florida Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Baseball Writers Association of America reveal their annual awards this week, and the one that is most difficult to pin down is Manager of the Year.

This is the 37th season of the honor, and it’s not as simple as picking the manager with the best record, nor should it be. After all, we are trying to determine the manager’s performance, not necessarily the team. It is all intertwined, however.

Joe Girardi is the only manager to win this award with a losing record, and for that he is the most memorable Manager of the Year ever.

Fourty-four times since 1983 has a team won 100 games (or its equivalent in a strike-shortened campaign), and only 10 of those teams (22.7 percent) were helmed by a Manager of the Year. There have been the same number of Managers of the Year from teams that missed the playoffs.

One of those teams that missed the playoffs despite being led by a Manager of the Year was the Marlins in 2006, led by Girardi.

The Marlins have won two championships in their history, both coming in the first 11 years of the franchise. Each World Series triumph was followed by an immediate fire sale, the first by original team owner Wayne Huizenga and the latter by Jeffrey Loria, an odious figure who moved to the Marlins after effectively killing the Expos in Montreal.

After winning the title in 2003, Loria did what he does best, ruin a baseball franchise. Eighty percent of the championship rotation was either traded — Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Mark Redman — or left via free agency (Carl Pavano) in the next two years. In that same time frame, the club’s top five home run hitters from 2003 were either traded — Mike Lowell, Derrek Lee, Juan Encarnacion — or left as free agents (Alex Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez).

By 2006, the Marlins looked nothing like their World Series-winning team from three years earlier. The cupboard wasn’t bare by any means, still stocked with Miguel Cabrera, still just 23 years old, plus Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez in their infancy. But the Marlins were by no means contenders.

Loria hired Girardi, who finished a 15-year playing career just three years prior, to manage.

Things got off to a horrific start, with Florida (they weren’t yet “Miami”) losing 31 of their first 42 games. But things started to gel, behind a great year from Cabrera — .339/.430/.568 with 50 doubles and 26 home runs — plus excellent rookie campaigns from Ramirez and Dan Uggla. They also got competent pitching out of an absurdly young rotation, with 124 starts coming from pitchers 23 or younger.

Even after that putrid start, Girardi’s Marlins were above .500 as late as September 15. They were nowhere near the postseason picture, but it was an incredible performance by a first-year manager.

It wasn’t without some turbulence, however. On Aug. 6, the Dodgers finished off a sweep of the Marlins in Miami, and Loria was stewing in his field-level seats. From an ESPN recounting of events in 2006:

Loria and Girardi had words after two borderline pitches were called balls in the midst of a six-run Dodgers rally. Loria, who was sitting near the team dugout, yelled at the umpire, and then got into a discussion with Girardi when Girardi asked him to stop.

”Then Girardi said, ‘Just stay out of it. I’m the manager.’” a source told the Palm Beach Post. “And Loria said, ‘Well, I’m the owner,’ or words to that effect. ‘If you don’t like what I’m telling you, you’re fired.’” Another source told the newspaper Girardi’s reply to Loria included profanities, which irked the owner even more.

”Loria got up out of his seat and was preparing to get rid of [Girardi],” one source told the newspaper. “Jeffrey can be very knee-jerk. Before he was done walking up the aisle, Jeffrey made up his mind to fire Joe right after the game.”

Loria was talked out of firing Girardi then, and he finished the season with a 78-84 record. Despite the losing record, Girardi received 18 of 32 first-place votes and beat out Willie Randolph for NL Manager of the Year, with voters recognizing the challenges of working in that environment with that owner.

Loria did eventually fire Girardi, but not until after the season, even though Girardi had two years remaining on his contract. By the time Girardi won the Manager of the Year award, he was already out of a job for more than a month.

Manager of the Year winners

Feat MOY awards
Feat MOY awards
Best record in league 27
100+ wins or equivalent 9
Division winner 49
Wild card winner 13
Missed playoffs 10
10-win improvement 59
100-win seasons and 10-win improvements adjusted to account for strike-shortened years

“I don’t know if vindication is a good word just because, as a manager, you want to manage,” Girardi told reporters at the time. “Whether you’re recognized as a Manager of the Year or not, it’s not going to put you in that seat.”

He also got the last laugh, eventually. Girardi didn’t manage the next two years, but then signed with the Yankees and won a World Series in 2009, his first season in New York. Even more hardware for Girardi.

Girardi made the postseason six teams in his 10 seasons managing New York, and had a winning record every year with the Yankees, but never finished higher than third in Manager of the Year voting. Go figure.

Of the 74 MOY awards, 27 (36.4 percent) have gone to the manager whose team had the best record in the league that season. This used to be the norm for the award, which began in 1983. The first three National League winners and the first six American League top managers also happened to finish with the best record in baseball.

In the last 10 years, the team with the best record has had the Manager of the Year just twice. Both were Nationals managers — Davey Johnson in 2012 and Matt Williams in 2014 — who were gone at the end of the next season, Johnson by retirement and Williams by force.

The teams with the two best records in baseball in 2019 were the 107-win Astros and 106-win Dodgers. Neither A.J. Hinch nor Dave Roberts finished in the top three in their respective Manager of the Year voting. But before you say that neither is Dave Martinez, whose Nationals won the damn World Series, we must remember that Manager of the Year, like all BBWAA awards, is voted on before the postseason begins.

Fifty-nine of the 74 MOY winners (79.7 percent) before 2019 improved by at least 10 games, including managers who took over midseason and a few adjustments for strike-shortened years.

The last seven AL Managers of the Year all improved by at least 10 wins from the previous season, as did eight of the last nine NL winners.

Best I can tell, the Manager of the Year award is about expectations. Do better than expected, or better yet better than last year, and you are a candidate for this award. Or maybe wait for Loria to purchase another team, and tell him to get bent from the dugout.