Whether or not the Montreal Expos win the National League East, they have made 1987 an award-winning year for Manager Buck Rodgers.
Despite the loss of Andre Dawson, the four-week absence of Tim Raines, and assorted holes in the pitching staff, Rodgers not only kept the Expos out of the cellar but made them contenders.
"Rodgers should be a lock for Manager of the Year," said Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson. "If he doesn't get it, they ought to stop giving out the award."
"He's done the best managing job not only for this season but for many a season," added Pittsburgh skipper Jim Leyland.
Anderson appears especially well qualified to judge Rogders' performance. For one thing, he managed against him in 1980, '81 and '82, when Rodgers ran the Milwaukee Brewers. More importantly, Anderson's Tigers shared some characteristics with the Expos when this season began.
Each team had lost a quality free agent, Dawson from Montreal and Lance Parrish from the Tigers. Each club retained a free agent who would have preferred to go elsewhere, Raines in Montreal and right-hander Jack Morris in Detroit.
Instead of letting the offseason settle the pennant race in April, both managers produced winners.
"Look at the job he's done," Anderson said of Rodgers. "Here's a guy who didn't have a pitching staff this spring. And now look at them. It's just amazing."
A native of Delaware, Ohio, who hit .232 in 932 games with the Angels, Rodgers became a big-league manager in 1980. His Brewers won the second half of the American League East in the strike-split 1981 season.
"It was a team that was supposed to win it and we won it," Rodgers said.
Milwaukee lost to the Yankees in a special playoff deciding the division title. He was fired 47 games into the 1982 season, and his successor, Harvey Kuenn, took the Brewers to the World Series.
Rodgers resurfaced in 1985 with the Expos. This spring he gave no impression of concern, even though Montreal looked like one of the worst teams in the majors. Somehow he made his players believe they could win.
"The first part was not to let anyone give up," Rodgers said. "Give us a chance to see what kind of club we had. If we can hang in there, we're going to get people like Raines back."
Raines returned and played well enough to make the All-Star team. In addition, the pitching that looked so unpromising in spring training improved. Left-hander Neal Heaton delivered a career year. Dennis Martinez and Pascual Perez, two pitchers driven from the game by personal problems, have re-established their careers. The bullpen has excelled, despite the trade of Jeff Reardon. First baseman Andres Galarraga and third baseman Tim Wallach make the Expos strong at the corners.
"We're very happy about where we are," Rodgers said. "We feel now more than ever that we're legitimate contenders. We've gone from month to month trying to get our people healthy.
"We passed all the tests. We were 8-4 (on a recent trip that included the West Coast), then we beat the Cardinals (three straight), then we lost two out of three in Chicago. That was a minor setback. We still feel good about ourselves. We can look back and say we've done a heck of a job. We've put ourselves into a contending position and now we've got to take the final step.