With all due respect to the Cardinals Tony LaRussa, the National League Manager of the Year award was the easiest in the bunch. On Wednesday, Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy was announced as the winner of the prestigious honor.
The choice was easy, Tracy took over for the fired Clint Hurdle on May 29th. The Rockies were 10 games under .500 and already 15 games out of first place in the National League West race. At that point their 18-28 record was second worst in baseball, only better than the Washington Nationals.
Tracy's impact was felt immediately. The Rockies started playing better, winning 17-out of-21 games to start the climb back to respectability and ultimately, the playoffs. It was evident that much of the Rockies early season failures were due to players pressing on the field, knowing that their manager, and close friend, Clint Hurdle's job was on the line.
Hurdle had done a fine job in his time with the Rockies. Despite an overall losing record, 534-625, Hurdle had been the captain of the ship as the Rockies decided to build from within. He was the leader who helped young players find their way in the big leagues. His greatest success came in 2007 when he convinced a very young team that they were good enough to ploy their way back into contention in September and steam roll to the franchise's first pennant.
Hurdle's greatest strength was also his greatest weakness. The young athletes eventually matured into veteran baseball players and no longer looked to Hurdle for how to conduct themselves, or what approach to take at the plate. Hurdle's boisterous personality had grown old in the clubhouse.
In stepped Tracy, a cast off from both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2009 he was, in every single way, the opposite of Hurdle.
Tracy rarely is seen in the clubhouse. He gave the reins over to the team veterans and leaders. His attention to detail could not go unnoticed. Where Hurdle would manage with his heart, often playing the hot-hand, Tracy managed by the book. This created stability in the bullpen and allowed relief pitchers to know their roll and prepare accordingly.
Hurdle was known for rewarding veterans for what they had done in the past. Quickly Tracy dumped that practice, sitting struggling and out of shape third baseman Garrett Atkins on the bench and planting up-and-coming slugger Ian Stewart in the lineup every day.
Tracy also made an important change with the starting pitchers. No longer was 100 pitches the benchmark. In the Hurdle era it was rare for a pitcher to go more than six innings due to his pitch count. With Tracy, a starter would often throw 120 or more pitches in a game. This led to the bullpen being more fresh, and also more consistently only having to bridge a one or two inning gap before turning the game over to closer Huston Street.
Under Tracy's guidance, the 2009 Colorado Rockies went 74-42, helping the team win a franchise record 92 games. The Rockies were not eliminated from winning the division until the second to last day of the season, a remarkable statement after being 15 games behind in early June.
While Tony La Russa helped his Cardinals to a division title when everyone picked the Cubs in April, no one did a better job of leading his team than Jim Tracy.