So I see Tony LaRussa has retired. He went out on top and there’s much merit to that. I know people who think he should stay for one more year so he can pass John McGraw as the second winningest manager in Major League history (Connie Mack is first). As of today, LaRussa is 35 wins short of McGraw and would make it easy if he managed one more season. Well, that’s LaRussa’s call and he’s made it. But the two men, LaRussa and McGraw, have a lot in common.
Both men managed about the same amount of time, although LaRussa changed teams more often than McGraw. Both were notorious micromanagers (although McGraw may not have ever used that word) who ended up winning almost exactly the same amount of games (as I said above). Both relied heavily on pitching but could count on good hitting if necessary. McGraw had to negotiate the transition from the Deadball Era to modern baseball and did it well. That lets us look at him managing the same kind of ball as LaRussa. Both won the same number of World Seires championships (3), although McGraw got to more Series’ than LaRussa (8 to 6) and McGraw had the 1904 pennant when there was no Series played (thanks primarily to McGraw himself). Both men unquestionably ran their team (meaning the weren’t “player’s managers”). Maybe that’s part of LaRussa’s legal training. In McGraw’s case it surely had to do with his background and size. They called him the “Little Napoleon” for a reason. Both were innovators, LaRussa with his bullpen and McGraw with his continual attempts to break the color line.
There are of course differences. McGraw had no Dave Duncan (and I wonder how much of LaRussa’s success had more to do with Duncan than LaRussa). Although McGraw adapted well to the power game of the 1920s, he never liked it. LaRussa seems to have embraced whatever game was thrown at him.
McGraw is an easy pick for the Hall of Fame and I’m sure LaRussa will be there shortly. I never liked his act (he could slow the game to a crawl), but he was good at what he did. So congratulations to him for a great managerial career and I hope he enjoys both his retirement and his well-earned trip to Cooperstown.