- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I got my notice via email that I will be one of the baseball writers voting on the National League Manager of the Year award.

Can I vote for Davey Johnson again?

Each chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America has members who are asked to vote on the various honors the BBWAA awards every year — Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year — in each league.

It is a sometimes gratifying, sometimes controversial exercise. It’s also a level of power that some believe writers shouldn’t have. Some newspapers refuse to allow their writers to vote for these awards.

Others treat their writers as adults.

It is a responsibility, with implications, some of which are financial. Players typically have clauses in their contracts with financial bonuses for winning these awards. Also, it is their legacy, and years from now, often becomes part of the conversation for entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame, especially for the generations to come who never saw these players — or managers — in action.

Lately, these awards have sometimes become the sports version of the O.J. trial. Sabermetric jihadists have turned them into a holy war, a declaration of the validation of the numbers they believe should determine the outcome, and will wage internet attacks on writers who don’t fall in line with the new religion.

Today, the votes — and the voters — are often public knowledge, which is fine. And the process should be as well.

My responsibility is to determine who is the 2014 NL Manager of the Year.

Remarkably, another Nationals manager — Johnson won the award in 2012 — is a top candidate. A first-year manager, no less.

Matt Williams is a legitimate contender for the honor. In fact, it may be a two-manager race.

There may be some consideration for Don Mattingly, who has guided the Los Angeles Dodgers through some rough waters early in his tenure to put his very talented team where they belong — among the best teams in the NL.

But, at least in my consideration, part of the process is not just looking at who has managed the team with the most success, but who has done so in the face of the most challenges — who has the toughest road to leading a championship team.

Using those standards, the favorite for the award right now is likely Ron Roenicke, the Milwaukee Brewers manager, who has his team on top of the tough NL Central Division, ahead of three other playoff contenders — the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.

There is an inherent belief that can’t be ignored that the Dodgers, with their astronomical $235 million talent-laden team, are right where they should be. But the Brewers, in a division with the Cardinals and Reds, are considered an underdog, with a payroll of less than half what the Dodgers have spent — $103 million.

But what about Matt Williams and the Nationals?

Washington was picked by many observers to be one of the NL playoff favorites going into the season. The expectations were high — even with a first-year manager. So one could make the similar argument against Williams that you could against Mattingly — he’s got the team where it should be. While the Brewers were expected to compete, no one would have said with conviction they expected Roenicke’s squad to be where the Cardinals are typically — on top of the NL Central.

But the burdens put on Williams shoulders to get this Nationals team where it is now — with one of the best records in the NL, comfortably on top of the division — put him right there with Roenicke.

This rookie manager lost most of his lineup to injuries at various points throughout this season — his starting catcher, Wilson Ramos; his young superstar outfielder, Bryce Harper; and, several times, the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman — yet never changed his demeanor, never showed a sense of panic, and kept this team, patched up at times, where it was supposed to be.

And, speaking of Harper, we only saw the “Big Marine” — Williams‘ nickname during his playing days as a demanding, hard-nosed teammate — surface once, with the benching of Harper for not hustling. As things turned out, Williams has managed the young, sometimes, struggling superstar with the right touch of tough love and support.

With 35 games left to go in this season, one of the two managers may struggle enough to fall out of favor, or a new candidate may emerge with a September run. But right now, Matt Williams is a candidate for NL Manager of the Year — which is a win for Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.