Being a finalist for American League Manager of the Year apparently didn’t carry enough weight for Jeff Banister to avoid a speeding ticket Tuesday afternoon.
Maybe he should have waited until after he won the award to take on the law.
The lead foot was voted as the AL’s top manager for 2015 after leading the Texas Rangers from the league’s worst record in 2014 to the AL West title, and in the process became the first rookie manager to win the award in the AL.
Banister humbly passed along credit to others throughout the organization, especially the coaching staff and players, for his triumph over Houston manager A.J. Hinch and Minnesota’s Paul Molitor.
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But Banister was praised by others for his leadership during the dark days early in the season for keeping the Rangers afloat and for galvanizing them for a stretch run that produced the franchise’s sixth division crown.
“For me, this is an organizational award, a group of coaches, a group of players, a scouting department, development department, the fan base,” Banister said. “I just happened to be the lucky one who gets to sit in this seat and accept it.
“Truly without all those different areas and departments of people coming together we don’t have the type of year we had and I’m not saying thank you.”
Banister received 17 first-place votes from 30 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to eight for Hinch, whose Astros lead the West for most of the season before the Rangers passed them in September.
Only two writers didn’t have Banister on their ballot.
Championships are paramount to best manager races, and Banister knows he wouldn’t have been honored if the Rangers hadn’t held off the Astros in the final few days of the season.
“If we don’t win the West, we don’t get in the playoffs, none of this happens,” he said.
The Rangers posted winning records from 2009 to 2013 before injuries and a lack of depth wrecked their 2014 season. The task that fell to Banister, who replaced Ron Washington on Oct. 16, 2014, was to avoid a second straight disaster.
Jeff Banister led the Rangers to 88 wins, the most by a first-year manager in franchise history. Ted Williams, with the 1969 Washington Senators, and Kevin Kennedy, with the 1993 Rangers, had 86 in their first years.
It was a tall task for a rookie manager, especially after staff ace Yu Darvish was lost in spring training and No. 2 starter Derek Holland went out for four months after one inning of his first start in the home opener.
The Rangers went 7-14 in April.
“Coming off the season we had in 2014, if we have another bad season, then 2014 isn’t a fluke anymore,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “Now it’s a pattern, now it’s a direction, and now we’ve got some issues.
“The way that Jeff took that challenge on, especially with the slow start and some of the injuries again and the risk of that ‘here we go again’ mentality seeping in, he didn’t deviate from what he said he was going to do. He empowered his staff, trusted in the players that the scouts and front office identified and trust the development staff.”
3 BBWAA managers of the year in Rangers history. Jeff Banister joined Johnny Oates (1996) and Buck Showalter (2004).
The Rangers went 80-58 beginning May 4 and 45-25 beginning July 21 to erase a nine-game deficit to the Astros and finish at 88-74.
“The way that he carried the team with the leadership and made us cover some serious ground, he definitely deserves it,” Holland said. “A strong leader. A great vocal guy to have. I’m blessed to say that’s my manager.”
But don’t expect the manager to take any of the credit.
“It’s truly what it means to a coaching staff, a group of players and an organization,” said Banister, the third Rangers manager honored by the BBWAA. “I’m the one who gets to accept it, but it’s an award that we all get to share in.”