The Hit List: Top 11 baseball managers of all time
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.
5. Joe Torre (1940- ). Say what you want. “That cat had the benefit of the players,” “He just sat there, and the guys did the work,” or “Another Yankees guy?!” When it comes to Joseph Paul Torre, the numbers speak for themselves — 2,326 wins, .538 winning percentage, 29 years as a manager, 114 wins in 1998, six AL pennants, four World Series. Oh yeah, he won a ring in his first year with the Bronx Bombers. Considering he had a roster full of mostly divas earning dozens of millions of dollars (and he had to deal with that Steinbrenner dude), he had to really earn respect, trust and admiration. Torre was known as a journeyman among baseball managers but with that kind of record, that path will lead him straight to Cooperstown. Someday.
4. Tony LaRussa (1944- ). Player. Manager. Lawyer. Douchebag. LaRussa is many things to many people, but among those who love baseball managers, he is known as “awesome.” He is third among baseball managers with 2,728 wins all time and second in games managed — only one of two managers to manage more than 5,000 games. LaRussa was very cerebral with managing a team being one of the leaders to use statistical analysis (take that, Billy Bean disciples). In fact, the guy sometimes took the pitcher out of the nine-hole in the batting order, just for kicks. He was known for his infatuation of the utility man, which is why he would routinely pay the old has-been and make him into a still-now-and-running (e.g., Dave Stewart, Scott Sanderson, Chris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan). As the first manager to win a pennant in both leagues (i.e., Oakland and St. Louis), LaRussa won 12 division titles, five pennants and two World Series with three different organizations.
3a. Joe McCarthy (1887-1978). Among the top 10 of baseball managers, and we have our fourth Yankee. Damn. Despite my Texas Rangers’ homerism, this guy was amazing. With nine pennants and seven World Series titles, it is easy to understand why this guy is among the greats to manage the game. Not to mention, with 2,125 wins (eighth overall) and 1,333 losses, his .615 winning percentage is the best among all baseball managers. “Push-Button” Joe, as he was dubbed because the guy’s lineup was automatic, managed the Yankees from 1931 to 1945. Oh, for those in Chicago who rarely have good news, he also managed the Cubs to the 1929 pennant, so Mazel Tov. Consider this guy had Gehrig, Ruth, Lazzeri, DiMaggio, Gomez and Ruffing every day at his disposal. Hell, he had more HOF busts in his dugout than the Yankees had in the outfield memorial. In the World Series alone, he was 16-3. Joe DiMaggio once said, “Never a day went by when you didn’t learn something from McCarthy.” Case closed.
3b. John McGraw (1873-1934). His nickname was “Little Napoleon.” Doesn’t that say it all? McGraw, known as a tyrant in the dugout, has 2,763 wins (second all time), a .586 winning percentage (fourth all time) and his teams finished a whopping 815 games over .500 (best all-ever). Perfect for the dead-ball era (low-scoring games and limited homers), McGraw was the leading proponent of small ball, which this fan adores. He was big for the hit-and-run and even the sacrifice bunt. And oh yeah, he was a career .334 hitter. While he managed the New York Baseball Giants, his team placed first or second 21 of 29 times. With 10 NL pennants and three World Series, McGraw knew what it took to win and made his players
do it … eh, believe it.
2. Connie Mack (1862-1956). No one among baseball managers will sit on the pine longer. Ever. “Mr. Mack” retired at the all-too-young age of 87. And of his octogenarian status, he managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 53 years of it amassing 3,776 wins — the most in MLB history. Again, ever. That’s more than 1,000 games than anyone else. He was the first manager to win the World Series three times, and he never had the blessing of great players. Much like the A’s of today, the Athletics then were very cheap and very broke. Mack had to sell his players after he believed they peaked. Why? Trade bait, of course. You like the utility man in baseball? Thank Connie Mack for that. He was the first to reposition his infielders during a game. You like corporate savvy in baseball? Thank Connie Mack for that, too. He openly discussed and viewed baseball as a business — not a game. His mastery of the game won him nine pennants and five World Series. Oh, and he had to rebuild his team 17 times — the most in … well, you get the idea.
1. Casey Stengel (1890-1975). “The Old Perfessor” is unmistakably the cornerstone of baseball managers. He is the only manager to win five consecutive championships (1949-1953), and then won again in 1956 and 1958. You know, because he could. No one in baseball is quoted as much as the man behind “Stengelese,” unless you count the man name Yogi, whom Stengel managed behind the plate of his army of right-handed and left-handed pitchers (a first in baseball). Stengel managed Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and future dust-kicker Billy Martin. In the 12 years Casey Stengel managed the Yankees, he set MLB records – most years as a championship manager (10), the most consecutive first-place finishes (five), the most World Series games managed (63), and the most World Series wins (37). And Pat Riley can suck it. Five-peat anyone? That, too, is a record, and like Connie Mack’s longevity, that track record of success will never be matched. To quote “Dutch” about baseball, how about this: “Without losers, where would all the winners be?” See, he was great and optimistic, too.