Every year when the finalists for the Baseball Writers Association of America Awards are announced there are a few surprises and omissions, I generally just let them pass. However, I happened to be working on this piece about Nationals manager Dave Martínez when the following was released from MLB:
Look, I get that these votes are cast before the postseason begins, but even at the start of the postseason it was pretty clear that Martínez had pulled a rabbit out of his hat in Washington, D.C. The Nationals were 19-31 on May 24th. They finished the season 93-69. To accomplish that they went 74-38 down the stretch. Taking a team from 12 games under .500 to 36 games over .500 is the most impressive thing any manager did in 2019. Oh, and their schedule wasn’t soft in the final months of the season, take a look at this September:
I’m really not sure how anyone looks at that and doesn’t put it in the top three managerial jobs in 2019. I’m also not entirely sure what Craig Counsell or Mike Shildt did that is more impressive. I guess in a weird way that’s a backhanded compliment to the Cubs, indicating that the BBWAA voters thought their seasons were particularly impressive due to their competition in the NL Central? Who knows. I’m reaching here.
Martínez is still young and the BBWAA will certainly get a mulligan on this. However, the other thing that jumped out at me here is that at a time where Latino managers are ascendant, there hasn’t been a Latino manager of the year since 2005 when Ozzie Guillén won with the White Sox. As you can imagine, the overall number of Latino Managers of the Year is small.
That will certainly change in the coming years. The Nationals win over the Astros marked the third time a Latino manager has won the World Series. Incredibly, it also marked the first time that Latino managers have won back-to-back World Series. Alex Cora was the second Latino manager to win a World Series when the Red Sox beat the Dodgers in 2018.
The upper ranks of baseball have a well known diversity problem. While I’ll leave the state of front offices for another day, I’m cautiously optimistic that finally in 2019 there appears to be movement on the managerial front. I need to stress caution here. As recently as 2016 there was one Latino manager in the AL and zero in the NL. We clearly have long way to go. However, last offseason La Vida Baseball sat down with the four Latino managers at winter meetings:
[Alex] Cora, [Charlie] Montoyo and Martínez, a native of Brooklyn, have Puerto Rican roots. [Rick] Renteria is a Mexican American from a suburb of Los Angeles. They stood out as the 29 current managers posed for pictures with their respective league’s managers Wednesday.
“For me, in this game there’s a lot of Latinos, former players that understand the game and get the game,” said Martínez, the only Latino manager in the National League.
Latinos comprise nearly a third of the players in Major League Baseball, which has cultivated talent from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, Panama and Mexico for decades. Organizations haven’t been quite as quick to duplicate that diversity when hiring Latino managers.
Four managers out of 30 spots is hardly diversity. Those numbers will improve slightly for 2020. The Mets have already hired Carlos Beltrán and the Giants are still considering Joe Espada among their final candidates, although it appears that Gabe Kapler has the inside track in San Francisco.
In a league that is as obsessed with any competitive edge as it is reliant on international talent, it’s advantageous for teams to consider the intangible benefits that come from leadership that understands the culture of its players. In an impromptu moment that was one of my favorites immediately following their World Series win, Nats ace Max Scherzer credited the Latino culture in the clubhouse for their notable team chemistry:
Scherzer shout out to Latino culture and my heart is full. pic.twitter.com/jBkxlpjQ6Y— Sara Sanchez ⚾ (@BCB_Sara) October 31, 2019
Dave Martínez may not be the 2019 NL Manager of the Year, but the outstanding job he did this season is setting up something much bigger. It is playing a key role in paving the way for the next generation of baseball managers. And that future is Latino.