The Hit List: Top 11 baseball managers of all time
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Over the weekend, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post wrote about the pending retirement of Davey Johnson. He’s been a player and a manager. As a second baseman (mainly for the Baltimore Orioles and the Atlanta Braves), he was good — not great — but very good. (Maybe that ranking will be on the Hit List soon.)
He helped the Orioles earn four AL pennants and two World Series rings. He then parlayed that winning mentality into the dugout, where he earned AL Manager of the Year in 1997 for his work with the Baltimore Orioles and NL Manager of the Year in 2012 while with the Washington Nationals. However, his proudest moments was leading the “Miracle Mets Part II” to the World Series in 1986.
As a manager, he was just as good — if not better. And there’s my muse: Who are the top 10 baseball managers of all time?
10. Leo Durocher (1905-1991). When fans think of baseball managers, Durocher’s name tends to come up with history nuts, statistician hounds and old farts gumming their jello at the VFW. DYK: He was 10th all-time in wins with 2,009 with a .540 win percentage? Another distinctive number to his repertoire was 95, as in ballgames in which he was ejected. Dude had a temper but it was fueled in passion, which translated into team success — and created his nickname “The Lip.” As a player, his feud with Babe Ruth is legendary. As a manager, his feud with Yankees owner Larry MacPhail led to a season-long suspension in 1947. Nonetheless, Durocher’s greatest legacy is helping to erase the color barrier in baseball. He was an outspoken critic of segregation, and was the manager of the Dodgers when Jackie Robinson made his major-league debut. That’s putting a bad lip to good use.
9. Miller Huggins (1879-1929). Had Miller Huggins not died at the age of 50 of erysipelas (a lethal skin infection back then), he may be higher on any rank of best baseball managers. Many people consider the 1920s Yankees among the best in MLB history. Huggins managed Ruth, Gehrig and the gang. Besides his winning percentage of .555, “The Rabbit” earned six AL pennants and three World Series championships. How? He was never happy with his lineups, so even though he had an insane amount of talent at his disposal, he made “managing” part of the job and part of baseball manager history. Don’t believe me? Just ask Babe Ruth who said of Miller Huggins, “He was the only man who knew how to keep me in line.”
8. Walter Alston (1911-1984). One of the greatest Dodgers of all time, “Smokey” (dubbed by his father because of Walter’s fastball) was the only manager to win a World Series for Brooklyn. His .558 winning percentage is 12th all time and his 2,040 wins are ninth. He was NL AP manager of the year six times, All-Star Game winning manager seven times and MLB manager of the year three times in 23 years. And in those 23 seasons while other baseball managers were protected for their work, he did so with 23 consecutive one-year contracts. What the what!? Was George Steinbrenner that damn old? In one of the most glorious decades of baseball — the 1970s — Alston was the first manager during that decade named to the Hall of Fame. And although this list wasn’t long enough to circumnavigate a certain belly, Alston personally handed over the team to his third-base coach, one Tommy Lasorda.
7. Bobby Cox (1941- ). During his 19 years among baseball managers, this guy was routinely voted as the most respected manager in the game. He loved fundamentals, as seen with his trifecta of greatness from the mound in Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux. He also did it all in one city — Atlanta. Cox took the Braves to 14 straight division titles, five NL pennants and one World Series ring. Although he lost four others, Cox kept coming back for more to the tune of 2,504 wins, which is fourth all time. As a respected and beloved manager, Bobby Cox also was a little hothead. Well, forget little. He was a colossal hothead — the kind that makes Billy Martin look like a Xanax commercial. He leads Major League Baseball with the most ejections, a title he took from someone else on this list. Who knew? Every umpire he met, that’s who.
6. George Lee “Sparky” Anderson (1934-2010). Many people know Sparky as the man behind the Tigers, but he was also responsible for the “Big Red Machine“ in Cincinnati. Imagine overseeing Bench, Morgan and the all-too-often scorned Rose. Sure that was easy but someone had to coach them up, and Sparky made being what baseball managers did look easy. No ace to be found, which is why Sparky earned another nickname, “Captain Hook.” The guy would yank any starter at any time. As a matter of fact, he was responsible for creating a diverse and multifaceted bullpen. People considered Sparky wouldn’t make it as a manager, given his batting average was .218. However, when he got started, it was obvious that while he may not have had a bat for the game, he definitely had a brain. Even if he refused to ever step on the foul line.
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