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Are these recent baseball managers Hall of Famers?
Tony LaRussa retired after leading his St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series victory over the Texas Rangers, in what many say was the best managerial job of his long career. He went out on top, that's for sure, with a team that sat 10 1/2 games out of a playoff spot in August. The Cards earned their way to the Series, beating the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers to get there, then staging an improbable comeback to beat the Rangers in a seven-game classic.
LaRussa is a definite first-ballot Hall of Fame manager, with an impressive list of credentials: 2878 regular season wins, 14 playoff appearances with three different franchises, six pennants and three World Championship teams, the 1989 Oakland A's, the 2006, and 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. He was also named Manager of the Year four times, and had as much to do with the endless pitching changes that have become standard today. He made the major league bullpen a strategic part of the game, far more than any other manager in history. He was the one who turned so-so starter Dennis Eckerlsey into a Hall of Fame closer. In fact, he and pitching coach Dave Duncan should go in the Hall together, for all their fine work in turning around suspect pitchers into winners.
But there are other managers of recent times who belong in Cooperstown, too. I will run down a list of men who have recently retired or are still managing who should enter the hallowed Hall.
Bobby Cox is another lock for the Hall of Fame. The man, who retired after the 2010 season, led his Atlanta Braves to 14 straight playoff appearances (save for the 1994 strike season), all of those division-winning teams, which is a record that will never be broken. He was a four-time Manager of the Year, and led his teams to 15 division titles (including one with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1985), five National League pennants, and one World Championship in 1995.
It's that last stat that is his Achillies' heel. One World Championship in all those years. Earl Weaver had the same knock on him, and the two compare favorably in my estimation. Both were take-charge guys without an abundance of superstars who developed some of the greatest pitching staffs of their time and whose teams played good solid fundamental baseball. Too much was made of the one World Title and not enough of the 14 straight division titles in his time in Atlanta. I'd take Bobby to manage my team anytime.
And to think that his second go-around with the Braves almost didn't happen. He left the Blue Jays in 1986 to become the Braves' general manager, during which time he restocked the much-depleted farm system, only to find that he couldn't get a manager to lead the Braves anywhere but the cellar. So, he took over in 1991 and took a last-place team from 1990 to the pennant. And the rest is history.
Joe Torre is well-known as the man who won four World Series titles as a manager for the New York Yankees. But he really had a Hall of Fame career as a player, and nobody noticed. Joe was an 8-time All-Star catcher and third baseman for the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, two teams he later managed. He was also the 1971 National League Most Valuable Player, winning the batting title with a .363 average.
But Torre will get to the Hall of Fame based on his managerial record. If you had said this prior to his taking over the Yankees in 1996, somebody would've locked you up. Torre's managerial career up to that point was unimpressive. His Mets never finished over .500, and he only won one divisional title, in 1982 with the Braves, ironically enough as Bobby Cox's successor in Cox's first reign as Atlanta's manager. He was run out of town two years later.
His Cardinals' tenure was uneventful, and he was fired from that job during the 1995 season. At that point, he was ready to become a broadcaster for the Yankees when Buck Showalter's questionable moves during the American League Division Series against the Mariners led to his dismissal. Torre got the job.
I compare Torre to Casey Stengel in the way both had mediocre managerial careers prior to getting the Yankee job, but both wound up winning titles like crazy in New York. Torre was not a strategist like Stengel. He was basically a low-key guy who kept everybody happy. One thing he did do was bring "National League" baseball to New York, de-emphasizing home runs in favor of speed and using the hit-and-run often. Torre left New York in 2008 to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers and won back-to-back division titles there in 2008 and 2009. Torre is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
Jim Leyland is one guy you never hear about when it comes to Hall of Fame managers, but he keeps moving up the list, and he's still managing the Detroit Tigers, a perennial contender in the American League. Leyland has won 4 division titles, and has led his teams to six playoff appearances, and guided the Florida Marlins to its World Championship in 1997 (although umpire Eric Gregg's humungous strike zone had a lot to do with that).
One thing that sticks out about Leyland is his fire. He is clearly in charge of his team. The best example of that would be in spring training of 1992, when Barry Bonds was complaining about his contract, and was being lackluster about his duties in camp. Leyland got in his face in front of the cameras covering Bonds' unhappiness and told him in effect to stop bitching and get his act together. It worked. The Pirates won their third straight divisional title, and Bonds was the National League Most Valuable Player.
The only rap on Leyland is his teams have a tendency to underachieve in the post season. The Pirates blew the 1991 and 1992 National League Championship Series and Leyland's Tigers lost in the 2011 American League Championship Series. But he is one of the best managers in the game, has won 1588 major league games, and he will continue to win in Detroit. I would put him in the Hall of Fame.
He also has his lighter moments, such as when a reporter asked him to describe pitcher Doug Drabek's excursion from first to third base on a hit. He said, "He (Drabek) looked like the pearl in the Prell commercial."
Lou Piniella is an interesting case. He has one World Series ring as a manager, but it's generally thought that his teams underachieved. True, he led the Seattle Mariners to a major league record 116 wins in 2001 only to fall short in the American League Championship Series to the Yankees in five games. Piniella's Mariners seemed to get to the post season at a regular clip but fade out once they got in there.
Still, Lou's teams got into the postseason seven times, and won six division titles. As to the underachieving part, he directed his 1990 Reds to one of the biggest upsets in World Series history, destroying Tony LaRussa's Athletics in a four-game sweep. If you're gonna get on him about the Mariners, you have give him credit for that shellacking of one of the greatest teams of the last half-century.
Is he a Hall of Famer? I'd say it's 50/50. Had George Steinbrenner not been an ignoramus in the 1980's and let his baseball people run the show, Lou probably would've made his name as a manager for the Yankees. George (those of you who only know him from the 1996 era on don't know this) hired and fired Lou twice for no apparent reason. There was no other owner in baseball history so spiteful to work for than King George in the 1980's. It was his spite that caused Lou and Jack Quinn, and former General Manager of the Yankees, to bolt for Cincinnati, where they won it all in 1990. I'd say if you want to put him in, I wouldn't object to it.
Dusty Baker, unlike the men previously mentioned above, does not have a World Series ring as a manager. In fact, his teams had two of the most famous meltdowns in post season history. In 2002, his San Francisco Giants had a lead in the seventh inning of Game Six of the World Series, when he removed starter Russ Ortiz from the game, and told him to keep the ball as a souvenier of the Series' winning game (the Giants led the Series 3-2). The Angels saw this and proceeded to stick the ball where the sun didn't shine, pounding Giants pitching for six runs over the last two innings to force a Game Seven, which Anaheim won. Most of the Angels mentioned that incident as the reason they won.
And of course, his 2003 Chicago Cubs blew a sure win and trip to the World Series in the eight inning of Game Six of the National League Championship Series when Cubs' fan Steve Bartman made his famous deflection of a ball hit down the left field line, robbing Moises Alou of a sure out. The Cubs proceeded to have a full-blown flame out, giving up eight runs in the inning. The Cubs, leading 3-2 in games at the time, never recovered, and lost Game Seven at Wrigley Field to the eventual World Championship Marlins.
Still, Dusty wins wherever he goes, and five post season appearances under his managerial tenures, and has been a three-time National League Manager of the Year. I wouldn't put him in the Hall of Fame because I think he needs to win the big one to get there. But, he's still rolling, and he may get there some day.
Davey Johnson recently came out of retirement to manage the Washington Nationals, a team definitely on the way up, and he may get another post season appearance very soon. But is he a Hall of Famer?
He got his managerial start in the Mets' organization, and he led some rollicking 1980's Mets teams to a World Title in 1986 and a division title in 1988. However, Davey's team were constantly scrutinized by the aggressive New York press and were touted as underachievers. There is some truth to that pronouncement. The 1984-1989 Mets had as talented as roster as any team in history, with Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Lenny Dykstra, Doc Gooden, and others, but they just couldn't get over the hump very often. It wasn't just the partying atmosphere, though. It was also that Whitey Herzog was in the same division. And Whitey's Cards won three division titles (and three pennants) to Davey's two with what some would call inferior talent to the Mets. So that does fall on Davey's record.
He moved on to Cincinnati, whereupon he fell out of favor with the eccentric owner of the team, Marge Schott. She questioned Davey's lifestyle and drove him crazy. So after leading the Reds to the 1995 Central Division Title, he left for a team with an owner who wouldn't dare interfere in his business,....cough, cough,....Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles.
By an objective measure, Davey was successful, leading the team to two postseason appearances in 1996 and 1997, the latter team winning the American League wire-to-wire, never relinquishing the lead for even a day. But after a bitter loss to Cleveland in the American League Championship Series, Angelos fired Davey after a pique over monies given to a charity run by Davey's wife. The Orioles have never recovered, not even having a winning record since then.
Davey's career is a little short, in my estimation, to be a Hall of Famer. However, if he stays a few years and leads the Nationals to the promised land, he could make it. As for now, no.
Terry Francona is another interesting case. He has won two World Series, and led the Boston Red Sox to five playoff berths in his eight years in Boston after a lackluster tenure in Philadelphia. He's easily the best manager in Red Sox history. But he will be remembered for the collapse of 2011, as the Sox had an incredible meltdown over the last six weeks of the regular season. I hope he gets another chance next year with another team, because he has the highlights to get to the Hall of Fame, he just needs another 400 wins or so to be a lock.
And finally, why the hell isn't Billy Martin in the Hall of Fame? I know he last managed in 1988, and has been dead for 22 years, but he's is the classic example of being an undesirable doesn't translate into a Hall of Fame plaque. Billy was a drunk, an instigator, and burned out easily. But look at the record.
He took four different teams to the post season back when there were only two spots per league. He won a World Series in 1977 with the Yankees, had another pennant winner in 1976 with the same team, got the 1972 Tigers into the post season, which was probably a minor miracle considering how old that team was, and won everywhere he went.
Yeah, he wore out his welcome quite easily, punched a few players, once marshmellow salesman, that we know of, and fought with George Steinbrenner daily, but he could motivate a team like nobody else could. Look at the players who became stars around him and the lesser players who shone under his tutelage. He made Dave Boswell a 20-game winner, for gosh sakes! He could make an average player good, and a good player great. That's my idea of a great manager.
What do you think? Let me know with a comment.