Tom Kelly was the American League’s Manager of the Year in 1991. It was his first (and only) MOY award; even though he probably turned in his best managing performance in 1988.
That season Kelly’s team finished a distant second to the Oakland A’s, led by MOY Tony LaRussa, who probably could have slept through the summer and still gotten 100 wins from one of the all-time most talented teams. That season, Kelly dealt with high expectations from a championship the year before, an unpopular early-season trade in which the front office exchanged a fan-favorite right fielder with power for a supposedly high on-base second baseman who acted as though he would rather have a root canal than play with the Twins, and a fist fight between two of his players and still managed to improve his team’s won-loss record from the year before. Still, Kelly only managed a fifth place finish.
TK had to wait four more years for his recognition, and he did it by using the formula the MOY voters could not possibly overlook: taking a last place team and making them a first place team. Kelly got all but one first place vote for that performance.
If one were to simply look over the voting results for ensuing years, one might think that TK stopped being a good manager. He wasn’t named on a single ballot for the next decade. That, of course, coincided with a dark age in Twins’ history, one that was just coming to an end when Kelly finished third in the AL MOY vote in 2001.
Ron Gardenhire hasn’t had any such stretches in his career so far. With the exception of 2005 and 2007, Gardy has been either second or third in voting every year. For someone who follows the Twins year in and year out, it is hard to say that Gardy’s managing this season was any better (or worse) than the previous years, and I would argue that he had more talent in 2010 than on any of his other division-winning teams. Most see his recent win as more of a lifetime achievement award for the man who has led his team to six division titles in nine seasons. In that sense, I do think the award is deserved.
It would be wise not to count on such recognition for Gardy next season. Unlike for the Gold Glove award, in which a Gold Glove the previous season is the greatest predictor for success, the MOY award is less inert. Since its inception in 1983, no AL manager has won in consecutive seasons (Bobby Cox repeated in 1995 – the only NL Manager to do so).