Melvin deflects praise amid award-worthy year
DETROIT -- There are at least three exceptionally viable candidates for Manager of the Year in the American League. The final 2012 chapters of these managerial stories are yet to be written, but as we speak, the candidacy of Oakland's Bob Melvin is as impressive as any.
You won't, of course, get anywhere at all suggesting this notion to Melvin. He is in the moment and of the group. The most important event is today's game, and the only useful focus is the team.
It does not matter that Melvin has already won this award in the other league. In 2007, he was the National League Manager of the Year with the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a remarkable managing job, winning 90 games and a division title with a team that was outscored. Melvin says that these awards are won by good players and by supportive front offices, supplying the managers with additional good players.
"Those for me are because of players," Melvin said Thursday in an interview with MLB.com. "Players get managers elected Manager of the Year. This is all a group thing; I was lucky to get it once."
The A's snapped a three-game losing streak Thursday with an impressive 12-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Oakland, with the best record in the AL since the All-Star break, is currently in position to claim one of the two AL Wild Card berths.
This performance places Melvin squarely in the Manager of the Year discussion, along with Buck Showalter, whose Baltimore Orioles are currently in possession of the other Wild Card position, and Robin Ventura, rookie manager of the White Sox, who currently lead the AL Central.
All of these clubs have substantially exceeded expectations, effectively qualifying their managers for serious consideration in the Manager of the Year derby. But it can reasonably be argued that the degree of difficulty has been greatest with the Oakland club.
Platoons at four positions. Four rookies in the starting rotation, now five. Crucial injuries and major departures. Starters who weren't rookies were an endangered species. Bartolo Colon was suspended for using a performance-enhancing substance. Brandon McCarthy was struck in the head by a line drive. On Wednesday night, the one remaining starter who wasn't a rookie, Brett Anderson, suffered a Grade 2 right oblique strain. He will not pitch again during the regular season.
And let us not forget that this was a team that had traded three All-Star pitchers -- two starters and one closer. But there seems to be an almost limitless supply of capable pitching replacements, even if the replacements are on the youthful, inexperienced side.
"We feel like we have good, young depth," Melvin said. "You look at us right now with Anderson out, and everybody's a rookie in the rotation, and everybody's under 25 years old and everybody's good."
Anderson had been pitching superbly after returning from Tommy John surgery. He has hopes of returning for the postseason.
"I liked the way I was throwing the ball," he said. "If I'm healthy, I think I give us a chance to win some ballgames. You've got to be optimistic about it. I've never been to the postseason, never played meaningful games in September. I'm going to come in, do the [rehab] work and try to get in the best shape possible to help this team win some games.
"Our guys have done a tremendous job of throwing quality innings when they've been put into pressure situations. We've got talent that's going to step in and hopefully fill the gap."
It was this sort of talent that impressed Melvin long before anybody else boarded the A's bandwagon. In Spring Training, when many prognosticators appeared to be picking the Athletics to finish in the Pacific Coast League, Melvin was a minority voice, speaking optimistically about his club. What did he see that the rest of world was missing?
"Good young pitching, across the board, and I liked what I saw offensively from our team in Spring [Training]," Melvin says. "If you go back and look at our offensive numbers from Spring Training, they were good. Now sometimes that's not indicative obviously, and we got off to a much slower start than I would have anticipated. But I thought we had some potential offensively.
"Also," Melvin adds with a smile, "you're talking to a guy who thinks we're going to win no matter what. I've never been on a team whether I've played or coached or managed that on that particular day, that you don't think you're going to win. That's just the way I'm wired."
This team is an anti-hype operation, relentlessly focused on winning the next game. Any discussion of any matter further down the road is deeply discouraged. Congratulations cannot be accepted. Melvin would be highly organized and supremely motivated in any setting, but with the Oakland club, there seems to be even more at stake.
"There is a pride factor involved when you're doing something at home," Melvin says. "I've come full circle. You know, I grew up in the Bay Area. I played for the Giants. And now I've come full circle, back as a manager. It's very noticeable to me that I am home and there is a pride factor involved, doing this job in your hometown. And I love it. I love being here. I love wearing this uniform. I want to be here and I care about being here."
It is too early to celebrate, but it is not too early for Melvin to give credit to everybody else: The A's players, the Oakland front office, and here's a frequently under-recognized group -- the coaches.
"The coaching staff is very good here, and very important, especially with younger players getting to the big leagues," Melvin says. "We feel like we're still teachers here. You're seeing that at the big league level more and more with the influx of younger players. One of the reasons we put together this staff was that we knew we were going to have to teach some.
"[Pitching coach] Curt Young has done an unbelievable job with the pitching staff, has done it here and has done it in the past, as well, with young pitchers. We brought in [hitting coach] Chili Davis. Big respect factor comes with his career, and he's another guy that has some Bay Area ties, which I think is important.
"[Bench coach] Chip Hale is the best teacher that I've been around, and he coordinates all our instruction. He's very organized and prepared and the players feel very organized and prepared. [Third-base coach] Mike Gallego has Bay Area ties, too, with the A's, and that's very important. [First-base coach] Tye Waller has been in this organization for quite a while, and players know him throughout the system. [Bullpen coach] Rick Rodriguez has been in this organization for a while, too. So we have a staff that is, one, kind of locally grown, and two, teachers."
One way or another, the 2012 season to date for the Oakland A's has been a first-rate coaching, teaching and managing performance.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.