Monday, November 12, 2012

Top 10 Managers of All Time

The job of a major league manager is hard enough on a daily basis.  Put yourself in the shoes of Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager, during Game 1 of this year's World Series.  A week ago you were celebrating sweeping the Yankees to advance to the World Series.  You had this series set up perfectly with the best pitcher in baseball, well rested, starting Game 1.

In the top of the fifth you're already behind 3-0.  Verlander hasn't pitched horribly.  He gave up a home run in the first with two outs and two strikes.  In the third he had two outs and two strikes when the ball hits the third base bag allowing a runner to reach second on what is normally a ground ball out.  The next batter has two strikes and fights off every good pitch Verlander makes, then loops a hit to score two runs.  Verlander has thrown 98 pitches and is due up this inning. 

As you pace the dugout, hands in your pockets to fight off the chill in the San Francisco air,  you need to make a decision.  Do you accept that this is not Verlander's night, pinch hit for him in the hope of jump starting your offense and trusting a bullpen that has been shaky for the last month?  Or do you trust that Verlander can hold the Giants long enough for Jackson, Young, Cabrera and Fielder to get you right back into this?  Regardless of what you choose, one outcome is certain:  you'll have to explain this to the world in a few minutes and many of them won't accept your explanation.

As the manager you have to make the decision to sit your overpaid superstar, who is 0 for the last 24, for the good of the team.  Every move you make is torn apart and critiqued within moments.  Every move you decide not to make is pointed to as the one move everyone is certain would have won the game. 

If having to explain every minor decision isn't hard enough, imagine you have to defend decisions that aren't yours.  Players try to steal without permission and get caught.  Batters decide they can sneak in a bunt in for a base hit and ruin a scoring chance.  This all falls on the manager and no manager who wants the respect of his players would ever blame the player publicly for this.  The manager silently takes the blame.

It is a lonely job.  A job that you accept knowing that you have a shelf life.  Earl Weaver managed the Baltimore Orioles from 1968 to 1982.  Since he left the team after the 1982 season the Orioles have had only one manager last more than two years.  That would be their current manager Buck Showalter who has been there for 2 1/3 years.

What makes a manager great?  A manager has to be able to make the tough decision to sit a star player who is slumping or to tell a legend that someone younger can do the job better and be able to back up the decision with confidence.  A manager has to deal with a fan base that rebels when the ownership refuses to pay the star players big money and leaves them with a shallow talent pool  but Olympic sized expectations.  A manager has to deal with his own success and the perception that because you have made the playoffs five years in a row you have to make it a sixth year in a row or the year is a failure and you are the reason.

A manager has pressure from five sides:  the players, the owners, the press, the fans and themselves.

Despite all of these pressures some thrive in the job.  Here are the ten I consider the best of all time*:
10.  Earl Weaver:

Teams Managed:  Baltimore Orioles 1968-1982
Years in Playoffs:  1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979
World Series Appearances:  1969, 1970, 1971, 1979
World Series Victories:  1970
Manager of the Year: 0 (Manager of the year was not awarded until 1983)
Earl Weaver was best known for arguing with umpires and being a cranky old man.  What he is also known for is winning.  Weaver developed "the Oriole Way", an organization wide philosophy that taught fundamentals from rookie ball all the way through to the big league team.  He also was a great judge of talent and use of the entire roster through player platoons.  During his time in Baltimore he managed hall of fame players such as Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken.  His run of success nearly ended on a high note.  In 1982, his Orioles made a late season run to catch the Brewers in the AL East race.  The season came down to a four game series head to head in Baltimore.  The Orioles had to take all four to win.  They came up just short.  Weaver was also known for using foul language.  During a particularly tough stretch for the Orioles batters, Weaver went on a dugout tirade.  One player approached Earl and said "Earl, I'd like to see you walk with the lord." Weaver froze, stared down the player and said: "I'd f---ing like to f---ing see you walk with the f---ing bases loaded."

9.   Dusty Baker

Teams Managed:San Francisco Giants (1993-2002), Chicago Cubs (2003-2006), Cincinnati Reds (2008-Present)
Years in Playoffs: 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2010, 2012
World Series Appearances: 2002
World Series Victories: 0
Manager of the Year:  1993, 1997, 2000
It seems blasphemous to think that one of the great Dodger players of the 1970's and early 1980's started his managing career as a Giant.  Although it has been a short managerial career compared to some other managers on this list, Baker has turned around three of the traditionally strong organizations in the history of the game.  Between 1958 when the Giants moved to San Francisco and 1993 when Baker took over, there were few bright years in the bay area.  Baker turned the rarely playoff bound Giants into a consistent force in the NL West pushing them one game short of a World Series ring.  After leaving the Giants he led the Cubs to their first playoff series victory (and if not for a fateful inning to their first World Series) since 1945.  Since leaving the Cubs he has turned the Reds into a two time playoff team in the NL Central (and they appear set to dominate the division for quite some time).  For some reason he doesn't seem to have the support of the Reds fan base but they will surely recognize his importance when he is gone.

8.   Joe Torre

Teams Managed: New York Mets (1977-1981), Atlanta Braves (1982-1984), St. Louis Cardinals (1990-1995), New York Yankees (1996-2007), Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-2010)
Years in Playoffs: 1982, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009
World Series Appearances: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000,  2001, 2003
World Series Victories: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000
Manager of the Year: 1996, 1998
It may be hard to believe that Torre is not higher on the list.  The criticism of Torre was always that he had an unlimited budget to work with and anyone could win with the talent he was given.  That may be true but he certainly did more with less in 1982 in Atlanta and 2008 and 2009 with the Dodgers.  Torre's critics claim that he sat back and watched the Yankees win but Torre was constantly working his magic.  It takes a special manager to juggle the egos of David Wells, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and any other random overpaid, under performing player Steinbrenner decided to drop on him.  Many of his coaches have gone on to become successful managers including Willie Randolph, Lee Mazzilli and Don Mattingly.

7.   Bobby Cox

Teams Managed: Atlanta Braves (1978-1981), Toronto Blue Jays (1982-1985), Atlanta Braves (1990-2010)
Years in Playoffs: 1985, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010.
World Series Appearances: 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1999.
World Series Victories: 1995
Manager of the Year:  1985, 1991, 2004 and 2005.
Sometimes a manager has a good group of players who are used to being told they can't win.  It's up to the manager to change the culture of the organization.  When Cox took over in Toronto they were in a division with the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, Brewers and Indians.  At the start of every season they would be predicted to finish 6th if they were lucky (it was a dismal time for the Indians as well).  Cox changed all that and took Toronto to the playoffs for the first time in the history of the poor organization.  The Jays were one win away from reaching the Series when the 1985 Royals did what they do best and rallied (see the previous article Greatest World Series Moments: The Most Controversial).  1985 was the first year the LCS round was a best of seven as it had always been best of five.  The joke has always been that the Blue Jays didn't realize the series kept going after they reached three wins.  When Bobby Cox took over for Russ Nixon as manager of the Braves midway through the 1990 season, few thought the last place team had enough talent to get out of the cellar within the next ten years.  (See the previous article Greatest World Series Moments: Greatest Game Ever 2) Over the next 20 years Cox would continually develop players and recognize talent to fit into the Braves system.  Growing talent like David Justice, Ron Gant, Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Javy Lopez, Kevin Millwood and Chipper Jones he was also adept at finding small time players like Rafael Belliard, Mark Lemke, Jeff Blauser, Ryan Klesko and Alejandro Pena to fill roles.  Along with this he had the ability to find talent that had been discarded by other teams and resurrect their careers.  Among the long list are Terry Pendleton, Lonnie Smith, Sid Bream, Charlie Leibrandt, Mike Deveraux and Walt Weiss.

6.   Al Lopez

Teams Managed: Cleveland Indians (1951-1956), Chicago White Sox (1957-1965 and 1967-1969)
Years in Playoffs: N/A. (Yearly playoffs did not begin until 1969.  Until then the league winners would advance straight to the World Series)
World Series Appearances: 1954 and 1959
World Series Victories: 0
Manager of the Year: 0 (Manager of the year was not awarded  until 1983)
Probably one of the most forgotten great managers of all time.  Lopez was forced into an awkward position in taking over the Indians.  He replaced a fan favorite in Lou Boudreau and was dropped into a brewing feud between the Indians' GM Hank Greenberg and the Cleveland press.  Lopez rewarded Greenberg in 1954 by leading what many consider one of the top 10 teams of all time, the 1954 Indians.  Cleveland set the mark for most wins in a season but were swept out of the World Series by Willie Mays and the Giants in one of the greatest upsets of all time.  Lopez moved on to the White Sox and led them to their first World Series appearance since the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  Lopez was the first major league star to come out of the Tampa, FL area leading the way for players like Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Tino Martinez and Luis Gonzales.  Why is he this high on the list when he only reached two World Series?  Compare the years he reached the World Series with the manager at number 4 on the list.  Lopez may not have the career wins of some of the people left off the list but he truly was the perfect example of getting more out of less.

5.   Sparky Anderson

Teams Managed: Cincinnati Reds (1970-1978), Detroit Tigers (1979-1995)
Years in Playoffs: 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1984
World Series Appearances: 1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1984
World Series Victories: 1975, 1976, 1984
Manager of the Year: 1984
Sparky may not have been an all star player but he was one of the brilliant strategists in the history of the game.  Anderson managed a short list of hall of famers (Bench, Morgan, Perez) and a long list of people who should be in the hall of fame (Griffey Sr, Concepcion, Trammell and Morris).  He also became the first manager to win a World Series in both the American and National League.  Sparky also managed three of the greatest teams in the history of the game:  1975 and 1976 Reds (see previous article Greatest World Series Moments: The Greatest Game Part 1) and 1984 Tigers.  His biggest contribution to the game was his use  of the bullpen.  Known as Captain Hook because of his habit of quickly pulling a pitcher, he was the first manager to truly use every pitcher available in every game.  Anderson is well known for his entertaining sound clips.  After the 1976 World Series he told the press that Thurman Munson was a great catcher "but don't never do no one the disservice of comparing 'em to Johnny Bench." (It's amazing that someone who can use that many double negatives in one sentence can pronounce disservice). In the 1984 World Series he told Kirk Gibson that Goose Gossage wasn't afraid of him.  "He don't wanna walk you."  Then, when Gibson hit a three run home run Anderson was yelling like a little kid: "No, don't walk 'im!  Don't walk 'im!"

4.  Casey Stengel

Teams Managed: Brooklyn Dodgers (1934-1936), Boston Braves (1938-1943), New York Yankees (1949-1960) and New York Mets (1962-1965)
Years in Playoffs: N/A  (Yearly playoffs did not begin until 1969. Until then the League winners advanced directly to the World Series)
World Series Appearances: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960
World Series Victories: 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958
Manager of the Year: N/A (Manager of the year was not awarded until 1983)
The "Old Perfesser" was a jumbled up mess to the outside world but somehow managed to get the most out of his players.  It was like watching an episode of Mr. Magoo.  No one could explain it but somehow he succeeded. He was the first manager to successfully use a platoon system by switching right handed hitters vs left handed pitchers and left handed hitters vs. righties.  He was also unbelievably good at playing hunches.  He once decided to switch the rightie vs lefty system and played a Hank Bauer vs a right hand pitcher.  Bauer usually only played when lefties were pitching but he got a hit in each of his first three at bats.  When the other team brought in a lefty Stengel sent up Gene Woodling, who usually only hit agains righties. Woodling was furious at having sat the whole game and now only hitting against a lefty.  Bauer was furious at not getting a shot to get a fourth hit.  Stengel's explanation to Woodling:  "You'll play your position and do whatever the hell I tell you."  Stengel's explanation to Bauer:  "You ain't no 1.000 hitter.  And you're not a .500 hitter.  In fact, Mr. Bauer, you ain't even a .333 hitter.  So you had your 3 hits for the day and that's all it was gonna be.  That was your quota."  Stengel was fired after the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series in seven games.  Stengel was fired because he was seventy years old.  He told a reporter "I'll never make that mistake again."  He then took over the comical 1962 Mets.  When preparing for the expansion draft a reporter asked where you need to start building a team.  Casey's answer was a catcher, "otherwise you'll have to chase the ball the way to the backstop."  Before he passed away Casey would routinely attend old timers games where he once said "it's wonderful to meet so many friends I never used to like."

3.  Connie Mack

Teams Managed:  Pittsburgh Pirates (1894-1896), Philadelphia Athletics (1901-1950)
Years in Playoffs: N/A (Yearly playoffs did not begin until 1969. Until then the League winners advanced directly to the World Series)
World Series Appearances: 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1930, 1931
World Series Victories: 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930
Manager of the Year: N/A (Manager of the year was not awarded until 1983)
It is definitely not a typo.  Connie Mack managed the A's for 50 years.  Many experts would probably place Mack at either number 1 or 2 on the list.  The reason I did not place him higher was due to the long stretches of truly terrible years between the World Series appearances.  Mack's golden years came in two separate eras.  The first was the era of the "$100,000 Infield" of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry and "Home Run" Baker as well as the great pitching of Eddie Plank, Eddie Rommel and Jack Coombs.  The second era in the late 1920's to early 1930's included the great teams of Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove.  (See previous article Greatest Player Never to Win a World Series) Unfortunately, after he disbanded his 1914 World Series team (there are varying explanations why) he struggled to make enough money to rebuild.  He often signed great talent but had to sell them to other teams (usually Boston or New York) to offset another year in the red.  He finally rebuilt the team in the late 1920's but the Great Depression forced him again to sell off his stars.  From 1932 until the A's jumped to Kansas City there were few highlights.  Mack was the first manager to shift the position of his players in the field on a pitch by pitch basis.  He would stand on the top step of the dugout and waive his scorecard to direct his players into position.

2.  Tony LaRussa

Teams Managed: Chicago White Sox (1979-1986), Oakland Athletics (1986-1995), St.Louis Cardinals (1996-2011)
Years in Playoffs: 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011
World Series Appearances: 1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2006, 2011
World Series Victories:  1989, 2006, 2011
Manager of the Year: 1983, 1988, 1992, 2002
LaRussa went out on top but he started at the bottom.  He took over a White Sox team in 1979 that had not made the postseason since Al Lopez (see number 6) led the "Go-Go White Sox" to the World Series in 1959.  The organization was in a tail spin but LaRussa got them back on track and by 1983 had them in the playoffs.  His White Sox team had Carlton Fisk and a young Harold Baines but few other stars, yet LaRussa guided them to a division title.  He was so highly regarded for his work in Chicago that the A's immediately fired their own manager and hired LaRussa when LaRussa left the White Sox in mid season 1986.  While in Oakland, LaRussa built a team that became one of the greatest of all time.  It combined aging greats like Don Baylor, Dave Parker and Willie McGee with young future greats like Canseco, McGwire and Terry Steinbach.  He also had a habit of claiming players that others had given up on and turning them into stars like Carney Lansford, Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley.  After taking Oakland to the playoffs in 4 out of 5 seasons (including 3 Series appearances and one Series win) LaRussa moved on to St.Louis where he replaced Joe Torre (see number 8)  as the Cardinals manager.  He had an immediate impact and took St.Louis  to a 3-1 NLCS lead over the Braves.  The Braves, led by Bobby Cox (see number 7) came back and won that NLCS.  He continued his ability to identify young talent like Albert Pujols and Rick Ankiel and resurrect players that others had given up on like Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker and David Eckstein.  During his 16 years in St.Louis they reached the playoffs 9 times, reached the World Series 3 times and won it twice.

1.  John McGraw

Teams Managed: Baltimore Orioles (1899, 1901-1902), New York Giants (1902-1932)
Years in Playoffs: 1908 (there was a one game "replay" at the end of the season because the Cubs and Giants were tied.  In one of he most famous moments in the history of the game, a regular season game was declared a tie game because of a protest by the Cubs). 
World Series Appearances:  1905, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1917, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924.
World Series Victories:  1905, 1921, 1922
Manager of the Year: N/A (Manager of the Year was not awarded until 1923)
Few people in baseball history were as polarizing as John McGraw.  The list of players and managers who had long running feuds with "Mugsy" is like a  hall of fame roster.  Tinker, Evers, Chance, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby and Bill Terry all despised the man (some of them even played for him). His supporters are equally as impressive.  Christy Mathewson, Fred Lindstrom, Fred Merkle, Ross Youngs, Mike Donlin, Fred Snodgrass and a million others. The man himself was a paradox.  When he died his wife found a list of African American players he secretly wished he could have signed to play for the Giants, yet at the same time he carried a piece of string that had been used in a lynching as a good luck charm.  He was easy to hate.  There are rumors galore that he was involved in attempts to bribe other teams into throwing a few late season "meaningless games" the Giants' way.  He owned several pool halls with his business partner, Arnold Rothstein, the big money behind the Black Sox scandal.  Regardless of his personal life he was by far the most consistently successful manager in the game.  Connie Mack may have had two distinct eras of success but McGraw was constantly at the top of the league.  His list of World Series appearances could have at least three more years.  In 1904 his Giants won the National League but McGraw chose not to enter the World Series because he didn't feel he had to jeopardize his championship by playing "an inferior" American League.  In 1908 his team had one more regular season win than the Cubs but the Cubs protested a technicality and the game was ruled a tie.  When the season ended the teams were tied and played the first ever one game playoff, won by the Cubs.  In 1919, the year that would end in the Black Sox scandal, McGraw's Giants had a late season collapse.  Oddly, when the punishment from the gambling investigations came out McGraw lost his thirdbaseman and firstbaseman to life time bans.  No one who knew McGraw would ever accuse him of throwing games.  Anyone near him after a loss would tell you it wasn't pretty.  He also could have had two more World Series wins.  In 1912 one game was called a tie because of darkness (there was no night baseball at the time).  Game 8 was played in Fenway parking giving the Red Sox an extra home game, which they won.  McGraw argued that should have been played at the Polo Grounds.  In 1924, if it weren't for some supernatural assistance (see previous article Greatest World Series Moments: The Most Supernatural) he would have won another title.  Regardless of all the controversy McGraw was flat out the best manager of all time.

*Author's Note:  In choosing this list I not only took into consideration the amount of wins by the manager but the consistency of winning, the amount of teams that were led to the playoffs as well as the state of the organization when the manager took over.  I also took into consideration any major long lasting impact on the game. It was only the top 10 so I did leave off many great managers like Lou Piniella, Frank Chance, Bucky Harris, Tommy Lasorda, Walter Alston, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson and quite a few others.  This is my list.  I am certain your list would look different.  I'm anxious to hear who you would put on yours.  Email me yours at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com or leave me a comment in the box below.


  1. What about Ozzie Guillen?! For sheer entertainment value, he's gotta rank high on anyone's list!

    If we were judging by first names alone, Sparky Anderson tops my list.

    Along with your stats, you should have included Amount Of Game Ejections.

    Do managers still kick dirt onto the umpires shoes/pants during arguments?


  2. Ozzie Guillen is a good manager but he has quite a ways to go before making the top ten of all time. Funny you should mention the ejections stats. For a long time Earl Weaver had the most ejections (some of the footage of his arguments with umpires are hysterical). There was an argument he had with an ump over whether or not the other team tagged his player. At some point Weaver thought the umpire had touched him. The argument then turned into an argument over whether or not the umpire had touched Earl. Of course Weaver got ejected. Weaver is no longer the all time leader. He was passed by Bobby Cox. I don't have any numbers on how many times McGraw got ejected but I'm sure he was right there with Weaver.

  3. I liked, "any other random overpaid, under performing player Steinbrenner decided to drop on him " and "leaves them with a shallow talent pool but Olympic sized expectations."

    I never stopped to think how hard it is to be a Manager, but your list gave me a new appreciation for what they do and what they have to deal with.

    1. Thanks for reading, as always. Steinbrenner, at times, seemed to feel that throwing money at the top rated free agents, regardless of how they fit into the team, and expected that they would just perform. Good examples of this are Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown and Raul Mondesi. I'm glad that the difficulties of being a manager came across in the article. The roadblocks that are put in the way of a manager's success make it amazing that some managers can have the longevity of these ten men.

  4. Another great article. I've often wonder how many good managers we never recognize because of the lack of talent. Case in point: Your theory on Connie Mack in the lean years of talent.
    What are your thoughts on Mike Scoscia? I think he is the best current manager in baseball. The managers's job has changed over the last 35 years because of the amount of money paid to the players. I guess there were always big egos by the players, but in this day and age there seem to be bigger than ever.

    1. I would agree that Scioscia is one of the top managers in the game. I would say that Baker is probably the top manager in the game and I was tempted to add Leyland to this list. This is actually a very strong crop of managers in the league: Boche, Girardi, Showalter and Manuel all have proven they are talented and newer managers like Konerko, Matheny, Freddie Gonzalez and Kirk Gibson look like they could also have strong careers ahead of them.

  5. Good post! It's interesting to read about the managers.
    I like Joe Torre- I used to always see him when I'd watch Yankee games. (Don't tell anyone I used to be a Yankee fan ;) haha) I always used to like to point out whenever he'd smile because he always looked so serious during the games.
    I also like Mike Scoscia. Did you see him on the Simpsons? He was on the episode called "Homer at the Bat." :)

    1. Thanks Nerissa! the "Homer at the Bat" is actually one of my favorite episodes. They did a great job of picking players to be on that episode. Mike Scioscia is a gret manager and was a great Catcher for the Dodgers during his carerr. You will probably hear more about him in a few weeks as I go through the next series of articles. And don't worry I'll keep your secret Yankee history safe.


Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.