A different kind of streak for Cox?

A different kind of streak for Cox?

Of all the awards and honors in baseball's display case, none is more difficult to assess than Manager of the Year. While many awards are statistics-driven and others reward more intangible contributions, managers are cited for a blend of both.

Here is what we mean: In the last 13 full seasons, the National League Manager of the Year Award has gone to the league's top winner only once -- in 2000, to Dusty Baker of the Giants.

More often, the honor has gone to managers whose teams didn't even make it into the postseason. As such, some have dubbed this the "nice try" trophy, because it tends to salute those who spur teams to play beyond the limits of their circumstances.

No surprise, then, that no one has ever earned Manager of the Year laurels in consecutive seasons, in either league, since the award became an official part of the Baseball Writers Association of America's lineup in 1983.

By the award's unwritten definition, you can't overachieve twice in a row; it'd be like repeating as Comeback Player of the Year.

Well, the time may have come to break new ground, because the guy in Georgia has had to overcome an entirely fresh set of obstacles to again land on his feet.

There are relatively few matching stories of perseverance, creativity and make-do. It has been a lean year for managerial impact. The West Division, playing at or under .500 all year, is out of the picture. Two other teams -- the Reds and Pirates -- changed managers during the season. As campaigns go, this won't remind anyone of the Iowa caucus.

So even if the Braves' Bobby Cox does not make it two in a row, the award is almost certain to go to someone who has already won it.

Bobby Cox, Braves: He clipped off 11 straight division titles without anyone noticing -- including six 100-plus-victory seasons -- but finally got people's attention last season when he lost much of his offense (Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla) and still won.

And he's doing it again, after losing two 15-game winners from last season (Russ Ortiz and Jaret Wright) and getting eight wins out of two other starters who combined to win 27 games in 2004 (John Thomson, Mike Hampton).

Sure, Cox and invaluable sidekick Leo Mazzone, the pitching coach, welcomed back injured Horacio Ramirez and added Tim Hudson. But they've had to be creative to make the subtraction-addition game work -- no better example of that than how John Smoltz's return to the rotation crumbled the bullpen.

Then, there are the injuries that have forced the Braves to rely on a steady stream of rookies, 17 in all and 12 still on the roster as they turned the corner into September. Cox has had to use lineups that have included at least one rookie in every game since mid-May, yet has used these lineups to take control of the NL East.

Cox reigned as AL Manager of the Year in 1985 with the Toronto Blue Jays and has twice won the award in Atlanta -- last season and in 1991, when he ended the Braves' string of last-place finishes and started another streak.

A couple of days out of the All-Star Game break, Cox chalked up his 1,700th win with the Braves, the fourth manager to reach that level with one team and the first in 35 years, since the Dodgers' Walter Alston.

He is old school, refreshingly devoid of any pretensions or attitudes. He keeps it simple. He also keeps the championships coming.

Tony La Russa, Cardinals: The argument inherent in the aforementioned view of typical candidates is that no one who has an Albert Pujols in his lineup should be considered for the award. The counterpoint says that anyone who has overcome the absence of a Scott Rolen to post the Majors' top record is deserving.

La Russa must defer credit for some of the Cards' success to pitching coach Dave Duncan, who has been with him even longer than Mazzone has been with Cox, for nursing both Chris Carpenter and Matt Morris back to headliner status.

But at some point, La Russa has to stop being a victim of his own track record. Sure, his resume glows with 2,202 wins and 10 division titles. However, the last two springs all we heard were Cubs and Astros, and here are the Cardinals, in another runaway.

La Russa has earned Manager of the Year citations every place he has been, with the Chicago White Sox (1983), the Oakland A's (1988, 1992) and St. Louis (2002).

Frank Robinson, Nationals: Yes, the emotional juice of dropping anchor in Washington had something to do with snapping the franchise to life. But F. Robby also deserves a lot of credit for a turnaround season in which his team matched its 2004 win total with 34 games remaining.

The Nationals have been as tormented by injuries as the Braves, if not more. But despite the overcrowded disabled list, Robinson had them in first place for 61 days, and as late as July 25.

He is a demanding throwback leader who commands respect with his background and his demeanor. He can prohibit music and cell phones in the clubhouse without igniting a players revolt. Players respond to him, and, simply put, there is nothing more flattering that you can say about any manager.

Robinson was the AL Manager of the Year in 1989, with the neighboring Baltimore Orioles.

Jerry Narron, Reds: Took over a club playing .386 ball in late June and turned around its mind-set and fortunes. The Reds have gone 36-31 under Narron, who has the right priorities and some good ideas.

Phil Garner, Astros: He has kept Houston in the Wild Card hunt despite not having Lance Berkman until early May and doing without Jeff Bagwell since. But if the turnaround he engineered last season got him only two first-place votes (and a fourth-place finish), it would seem his chances this year would be slim.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.