Hanging to the right of Jeff Banister’s office desk is a framed photo of himself with George W. Bush, and a letter from the ex-president.
In the handwritten letter dated from November, Bush congratulated Banister on being named American League Manager of the Year.
It won’t happen, but Banister deserves to be the first man to win the award for the second consecutive season. What he did this season merits another trophy, and a fresh note from former President Bush.
Baseball handed Banister a slalom of obstacles, and the division champion Rangers may finish with the best record in the American League. The Rangers are not going to have any single player win a regular-season award, but they are the best team in the AL.
Of the scores of decisions made by Rangers baseball czar Jon Daniels, he has found the right managers. Ron Washington was a hit and Banister has, at a minimum, been his equal.
“To begin with, he is positive and he believes in his players. He lets us do our thing,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said of Banister. “It doesn’t matter the situation, he always seems calm. This team has answered well to that. We believe in our ballclub, and we believe in our manager and just the positive things he brings to our club. [Banister’s saying] ‘Never ever quit’ is true more and more every day.”
As much as Banister deserved the award last season, he does more so this season.
Just don’t hold your breath on him winning it again. Baseball voters don’t give this award to the same guy in consecutive years. The award began in 1983 and no American League manager — not Tony La Russa, Sparky Anderson or Lou Piniella — has won it twice in a row.
The likely winner of this award will be Cleveland’s Terry Francona or Boston’s John Farrell, and neither is necessarily a homer vote. Both men did outstanding jobs and their teams will reach the postseason.
The only man to ever repeat as a winner of the Manager of the Year was in the National League when Bobby Cox of the Atlanta Braves won 2004 and ’05.
Banister should be the first in the AL.
When he began 2015, the expectations for the Rangers were not even to finish .500. They won the AL West, and they nearly defeated a superior Toronto Blue Jays team in the American League Division Series. The Rangers were never better than the Blue Jays, and they almost won it before an epic gag.
This season, the expectations were adjusted and significantly higher, and again the team has eclipsed those. There is a chance the Rangers could set the franchise record for wins in a season of 96 established in 2011.
“I don’t know, I’d like to think that I’ve been a little different. In what ways? I don’t even know if I can completely answer that,” Banister said. “I know there have been times I’ve had a lot more patience in certain situations this year — allowed myself to be more at ease with the whole process of it all. To put a fingerprint on it, I don’t know if I can answer that.”
While he says he has done nothing consciously different this season, some players have noticed he has cut back on the amount of managing he did when he first arrived. Meetings are not as long, or as frequent. He changed his staff in the off-season, although the decision to let pitching coach Mike Maddux go was more about money than anything else.
It helps, as Banister says, to have “a damn good team,” but one of the reasons he has one is the job he does.
Most teams take on the personality of their manager, in all sports, and the Rangers have: This is a professional group that takes competing seriously.
All managers in a 162-game season have to juggle and move around pieces, and Banister has had the benefit of bouncing around good parts, but what baseball dealt him should not have resulted in the best record in the AL.
His big-money bat, Prince Fielder, was never right from Day One and had to give up baseball during the season.
Banister has had to alternate no less than four players at first base – a position that is normally a cornerstone of run production from one guy.
The long-shot prayer of a designated hitter, Josh Hamilton, never played a game and has since been released.
The Shin-Soo Choo disaster continued and he was limited to 45 games before he was shut down for the regular season.
Banister had Yu Darvish for just under half of the season. He never had the Derek Holland both he and the team expected. He lost Colby Lewis for three months.
Banister moved around the back end of the rotation, and his expected closer, Shawn Tolleson, was never the same guy he was in ’15. Banister had to call on Sam Dyson as a reliable closer.
Despite it all, the Rangers owned the best record in the AL pretty much since Opening Day.
He won’t win the AL Manger of the Year award again because these things don’t happen, but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t or get another nice note from the ex-president.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.