Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 11/16/11
PHOENIX When Kirk Gibson took the lineup card to the plate before a game in Detroit last summer, he told the opposing manager that he loved him. Jim Leyland had that much of an impact on Gibson. Today, Gibson joined mentors Leyland and Sparky Anderson and another manager he admires greatly, Tony La Russa, in select company when he was a landslide winner of the National League Manager of the Year award, as chosen by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Gibson received 28 of the 32 votes after leading the D-backs to their first NL West title and playoff appearance with a 94-68 record, a 29-game improvement from the previous season. Milwaukees Ron Roenicke got three first-place votes, and La Russa received one. Gibson received a higher percentage of votes than Leyland, Anderson or La Russa received while winning their nine combined awards. Gibson has said most of what he knows about the game the way to play it, the respect it commands comes from his long associations with Leyland and Anderson. Leyland was Gibsons first minor league manager, at Class A Lakeland in 1978, and managed him at other stops in the Detroit system. Anderson won the award twice with Gibson as an integral part of his team. Gibson hit 29 home runs as Andersons right fielder in 1984 and hit 24 homers as the Tigers left fielder when Anderson was a repeat winner in 1987. Gibson is the first manager to win the award in his first full season since Floridas Joe Girardi won the NL award in 2006. Gibson served as the D-backs interim manager in the second half of 2010 before wowing new general manager Kevin Towers in a series of late-night conversations on the final road trip of 2010, after which Towers hired him without interviewing any other candidates. Towers said it was an easy choice. I saw somebody who had been planning for a long time if he ever had that opportunity, how he would run that organization. Had been in the game long enough to know, Towers said. The people who had taught him, guys like Jim Leyland and Sparky Anderson . . . you know, the fruit doesnt fall too far from the tree. When you are around those guys your entire life, as successful as those managers were, I think he knew how you lead. We bonded well. I liked the fierce competitor that he was, the focus that he had. The minute he walks through that clubhouse door, its all baseball. There is no BS. There is no kindergarten play. Its baseball until the minute he leaves. Thats Tony La Russa-like, Bobby Cox-like. The great managers, I think thats the way they approach the game. Andersons 1984 Tigers opened the season 35-5 and won the World Series. Leyland won the award three times, in Pittsburgh in 1990 and 1992 and Detroit in 2006. La Russa, the only four-time winner, won the initial AL award while with the Chicago White Sox in 1983. He also won in Oakland in 1988 and 1992 and with St. Louis in 2002. La Russa got 25 of the 28 AL votes in 1992. Gibson assembled an All-Star coaching staff that included Don Baylor, Alan Trammell and Matt Williams, and he was effusive in his praise for the help they gave him. Words cant describe how dedicated they are and how well theyve stuck with the program and how much guidance and advice and wisdom theyve given me, Gibson said after the D-backs clinched the NL West in September. Ultimately I have to make decisions, and some of them maybe they disagreed with, but they stuck behind me. I can tell you a lot of decisions I make is because I listen to that wealth of information. They are dedicated. They are all real people. There are no phony people around here at all. It means a lot to me, because I do wake up at 3 oclock in the morning. I do climb Camelback sometimes when it is dark out. I try to get it right. Gibson is the fourth former MVP to win a Manager of the Year award. Joe Torre was the NL MVP with St. Louis in 1971 and the AL manager of the year with the Yankees in 1996 and 1998, tying with Texas Johnny Oates in 1996. D-backs hitting coach Baylor was the AL MVP with the California Angels in 1979 and the NL Manager of the Year with Colorado in 1995. Frank Robinson was the NL MVP with Cincinnati in 1961 and the AL MVP with Baltimore in 1966 before becoming the AL Manager of the Year with Baltimore in 1969.
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