Grady Little, Dodgers.
Don't let that Southern twang and folksy charm fool you. This guy can manage a game, and he can manage people even better. He won consistently in Boston and tied for first his first year in Los Angeles, two teams with history and places with pressure.
It helps that the players actually seem to like him. Little's trick? "Players know they're playing for someone whose priority is them, and not himself, every day," Little says. "The players have enough pressure on themselves. None of that pressure comes from me."
Little's accent and speech patterns, which can sound a little like Forrest Gump, can cause folks to underestimate him. It's not a strategy, though, just something that comes naturally. "What you see is what you get," he says.
What you usually get is the right call. The move to let Pedro Martinez keep pitching in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees is the one folks remember, though.
"It'll be something people talk about for a long time," Little says. "To get the point where we're in the seventh game, I was sitting in the dugout. A lot of people are forming opinions and making comments, but they weren't in that dugout." Runner-up Manager: Ron Gardenhire, Twins.
Derek Lowe, Dodgers.
This guy is one of the best pitchers in baseball nobody ever talks about. He's clutch, he's durable and he's versatile. Plus, he's a major winner.
Since 2002, the three biggest pitching winners in baseball are Roy Oswalt with 84 victories, Randy Johnson with 80 and Lowe also with 80. One of them no one guesses.
"I think if anyone was asked to give the top 10, I wouldn't be mentioned in the top 30," Lowe says. "You can't change people's opinions. Guys who have electric stuff but are inconsistent get talked about."
He says he doesn't know why that is, but he has an idea. "I think it's all about the perception of the strikeout. Guys who strike guys out are remembered," Lowe says. "A guy can go seven and strike out ten or he can go seven and get 15 groundballs. What are people going to remember?"
Like a lot of much bigger stars, Lowe went through a tough breakup with Boston. He blames himself more than anyone. "I didn't pitch very good. I tried too hard to have a career year," says Lowe, who followed an awful 2004 regular season with a 3-0 postseason.
Yet he also decries the system in Boston, where star players' flaws are sometimes aired in the paper before they are let go. He understands the fans' need to know is insatiable in Boston. But that doesn't mean he enjoyed reading what his bosses thought of him.
"The sad thing about being in that market, they have to give the fans reasons why they keep guys or don't keep guys," Lowe says. "As the year went on, I'm reading all this negative stuff. If you want to know where you stand, just read the papers in Boston. When you play in a market like Boston, you know your fate.
"It's too bad they can't ease you out the door," he adds. "They have to slam the door."
Lowe recalls that Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, Martinez and Roger Clemens, to separate degrees, also experienced uncomfortable breakups in Boston (and it appears the same may be happening to Curt Schilling). "They said Clemens was washed up, and he's won four Cy Youngs since then," Lowe remarks.
With Lowe, the knocks in the papers were related to off-field issues. "They didn't think I was reliable or trustworthy," he says. "I think a lot of the things they said were incorrect." Incorrect or not, they were wrong to think Matt Clement would be a suitable replacement for Lowe, who remains as reliable and trustworthy as almost anyone on the field, where it counts.
Runner-up Starter: John Lackey, Angels.
Unsung or unheralded, maybe, but I have a difficult time calling a pitcher earning $36 million "unappreciated." Besides, Lowe is our Opening Day starter, a distinction he's earned by virtue of his consistency and durability. Dodger fans can appreciate that.