Top NL skipper debate starts with Tracy

Top NL skipper debate starts with Tracy

The conversation about National League Manager of the Year in 2009 starts with Colorado's Jim Tracy. The dialogue also includes legendary skippers Tony La Russa of St. Louis, Atlanta's Bobby Cox and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre. There's also talk about Florida's Fredi Gonzalez and Philadelphia's Charlie Manuel.

Baseball's award season is often preceded by debate season, but in this case, the discussion is likely to end where it starts.

Tracy, the man who turned around the Rockies after taking over for Clint Hurdle on May 29, is the favorite for the NL Manager of The Year as voted by members of Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). The winner will be revealed Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET. Here's why: The Rockies were 18-28 and in fifth place in the NL West after 46 games this season under Hurdle. With Tracy at the helm, they finished 92-70, setting a franchise record for wins and earning the NL wild card.

Tracy was named the NL Manager of the Year by The Sporting News last month. The publication also named Angels skipper Mike Scioscia the Manager of the Year in the AL.

The ballots for the BBWAA's NL Manager of the Year award were submitted prior to the start of the postseason.

"I had the opportunity of being with these guys from Day 1 of Spring Training and had a real good pulse as to how this organization functioned," said Tracy, who was promoted from bench coach. "I came to the conclusion that because of the talent I saw on the field, this club was underachieving. Did I think we'd be playing at the pace of 30 games over .500? No. I'd be lying to you if I said that. But I thought I could get this club to play a little bit better with a different mental approach. I thought I could do that."

One of the first things Tracy gave to a team in turmoil was stability. He gave his players a reason to trust him and a reason to believe in winning again. He gave Ian Stewart the job at third base, Clint Barmes a shot at second base and showed confidence in starter Jason Hammel. The emergence of Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa and an All-Star season from Jason Marquis didn't hurt, either.

"It's been an absolute pleasure playing for [Tracy]," Hammel said. "He brings a lot of experience to the table. The way he goes about his business and the expectations he puts on the board, it keeps it nice and calm in the clubhouse, but it also keeps guys competitive. He's a good role model."

Tracy's biggest competition for the award comes from the biggest names in baseball. It's been quite a year for the NL's top skippers.

THE FAVORITE

Tracy: When Tracy took Colorado's bench-coach job last winter, he did so with the blessing of then-manager Hurdle. The Tracy-led Rockies roared through the final month of the season, earning a playoff spot before being eliminated by the Phillies in the NL Division Series.

Tracy's players said he was easy to play for, and the results back up their claim. The Rockies finished 22 games over .500.

THE CONTENDERS

La Russa, Cardinals: The additions of Matt Holliday, Julio Lugo, Mark DeRosa and John Smoltz bolstered an already loaded club, and La Russa managed the lineup superbly. His use of Colby Rasmus, and Skip Schumaker's shift from the outfield to second base are among the many moves that worked out in the club's favor.

La Russa's resume speaks for itself. Including this season, the Cardinals have made the postseason eight times in 14 years under La Russa. The Cardinals were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Dodgers.

Cox, Braves: Cox, who ranks fourth on the all-time wins list, plans on retiring after the 2010 season but has shown no signs of slowing down. His Braves made a charge for the Wild Card in the final month of the season but came up short.

Consistency has been his team's trademark, and like their manager, the Braves didn't quit until after the final game was played.

THE DARK HORSES

Torre, Dodgers: The Dodgers were without Manny Ramirez for 50 games and plagued with inconsistent starting pitching in the second half of the season, but they took control of the NL West and never let go. Torre's team struggled to clinch the division title at the end of the season but made it two rounds into the playoffs before being eliminated by the Phillies in the NLCS.

Manuel, Phillies: With three NL East titles in a row, Manuel has a track record of success. Under his leadership, the Phillies were able to overcome offensive struggles by Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez along with average performances from pitchers Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels. In short, he refused to let his team "play down" to its competition and expected nothing short of excellence from his team. The results were almost ideal. Manuel's team made it to the World Series for the second consecutive year but was defeated by the Yankees in six games.

Gonzalez, Marlins: The payroll (small) and the division (NL East) led some to believe that the Marlins would not even come close to a playoff berth in 2009. They proved the doubters wrong by staying in the hunt for the NL Wild Card until the final weeks of the season, and Gonzalez deserves credit for getting them there.

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