From here in the armadillo, body-by-Whataburger precincts, the vote that named the Texas Rangers’ Jeff Banister as American League Manager of the Year on Tuesday appears to have been a runaway.
Banister was listed as either first or second on 25 of the 30 ballots that were cast, including mine as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
My unbiased ballot:
1, Banister. 2, A.J. Hinch, Astros. 3, Paul Molitor, Twins.
As a fellow voter explained to me — each AL team’s media contingent was allowed two votes — Banister was an easy choice based upon the job he did from the first game of the season to the last.
My mind, however, was made up weeks before that final series against the Angels.
The Rangers saw players go on the disabled list 26 times during the 2015 season. In all, the club used 57 players, second-most in major league history. Of the 57, 18 were rookies.
By the second inning of Banister’s first home game of the season, three of his projected five best starting pitchers were out with injuries. Ross Detwiler began the year in the Texas starting rotation.
On May 1, Shin-Soo Choo was batting a less-than-robust .096. By that same day, Adrian Beltre had only two runs batted in. And by the middle of May, the Rangers were 9 1/2 games out of first place.
A first-year baseball manager can be uniquely vulnerable. His philosophies are still hypothetical. His in-game moves invariably puzzle 50 percent of the fandom. Until he wins, he’s as trusted as the East German skating judge.
Even worse, a manager who doesn’t win soon enough can lay the seeds of clubhouse discontent. A poorly performing player can easily whisper in the media’s ear and blame the new guy in the manager’s office. One former Ranger used to give the manager suggested lineups to follow.
Banister, however, never had to deal with that. His strong voice never wavered. His faith in his wounded club never dimmed.
“The players need consistency,” Banister said Tuesday night, after his award was announced. “They need a manager and a coaching staff to continue to lead them when there are challenges.
“It could have been very easy to jump off the message and start changing course. When no one else — no one else — outside of our clubhouse believed what we were saying, because we weren’t putting the Ws on the board, we weren’t finishing games off, we weren’t playing well, we weren’t hitting the baseball, we weren’t driving in runs, we continued to have the same message and talked the same talk about what we felt we could do.
“I think if we didn’t stay strong and relentless in that thought process then, we don’t play the way we did down the stretch.”
Injuries for some Rangers became opportunities for others. Choo, Beltre and Elvis Andrus all played their way out of dismaying early slumps. Faith in Rougned Odor and Delino DeShields paid off impressively.
In clubhouses where the message has become skewed, teams don’t continue to play hard. They tend to find a way to lose, not find ways to win. They don’t come back from being eight games behind on Aug. 2.
As they searched for a replacement for the successful Ron Washington, general manager Jon Daniels and his group felt they didn’t need a manager who would rebuild the organization.
The nucleus was there. In Daniels’ words, they wanted someone who would “help pull the rope.”
Jeff Banister pulled the rope mightily in 2015, from deep depths all the way to the AL playoffs.
No manager did a better job. His team proved it.