The Apotheosis of Bobby Cox

So we now say good-bye to Bobby Cox and watch him ride off into the sunset (or the cruise the announcers made such a fuss about). He’s certainly going to the Hall of Fame shortly, and that’s probably fair. He’s also been deified in the last several months. It’s as if baseball was putting up a Managerial Mount Rushmore and Cox was one of the four faces to go there. Maybe he should. Then again maybe he shouldn’t.

No knock on Cox, but I’m not sure how you quantify a great manager. You can’t just look at won-loss records, because Connie Mack ended up with a career losing record and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t think he belongs in Cooperstown. It can’t be titles because Tom Kelly and Danny Murtaugh aren’t Hall of Famers and they have the same number of titles as Tom LaSorda and Bucky Harris (2) and more than Whitey Herzog (1). Is it taking a bad team and winning with it? Nope, can’t be that either because Casey Stengel couldn’t make either Brooklyn or Boston (the Braves not the Red Sox) into competitive teams (not to mention what happened with the Mets) and everybody agrees he’s a Hall of Famer because of his Yankees years.  If it’s taking a bad team and making them contenders, then where’s Gene Mauch who had a habit of doing just that? And Cox? well, he’s got a lot of division championships, but only one World Series title, same as Herzog and less than Kelly or Murtaugh. I wonder if that makes him a lesser manager or not.

I’m very serious about this. I have no idea how you determine a great manager. I’m tempted to say that Stengel and Joe McCarthy were the greatest. They each won the World Series seven times, but how hard was it to write “Ruth” and “Gehrig” into McCarthy’s early lineup, then replace Ruth with “DiMaggio”? And it must have been tough as Stengel agonized about “did I do the right thing” when he wrote in “Mantle” or “Berra.” Great talent like that makes looking like a great manager easy. And as this post was started by referencing Cox, how tough was it to write in “Maddux”, “Glavine”, “Smoltz” three out of every five days? Geez, even I might win a few games with those three rosters.

So here’s a serious plea from me to you. Can we figure out how to determine agreat manager before we haphazardly anoint Saint Bobby of Cox? Frankly I think Cox deserves a seat at the great manager table but I don’t really know how we determine that.

My personal choice for the manager’s Mount Rushmore? Based on personal preference rather than true evaluation they would be (alphabetically) John McGraw, Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, and Harry Wright (with apologies to Connie Mack).

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3 Responses to “The Apotheosis of Bobby Cox”

  1. sportsphd Says:

    To give a series of answers to the questions you raise:

    If I was voting for managers for the Hall of Fame, I would start with the managers who won the most World Series, and then I would work my way down. World Series are clearly not a perfect judge of managers, but I am not sure I see a better one. Writing Ruth in the 3 hole makes it easier to win a World Series, to be sure, but it also helps if you have the skill necessary to get him to the field sober enough to play.

    Given that approach, I would support both Murtaugh and Kelly ahead of Cox, even though deep down I think Cox is probably a better manager than Kelly. (I really do think Murtaugh is the best of the three, however.) Of contemporary managers, then, I would vote for Joe Torre first, then Tony La Russa (even though if I had to guess, I think he is the best of the lot), and then the already forgotten Cito Gaston. Only at that point would I move to Cox. Ignoring of course Terry Francona, who already has had more playoff success than Cox.

    For my Mount Rushmore of managers:
    Harry Wright, John McGraw, Casey Stengel, and Joe McCarthy.

  2. vterranova Says:

    If you look at the record, the main difference between the best teams and the worse is one game in ten. The worse team will win about forty percent of their games no matter, and the best will lose forty percent, like clockwork. It’s the other twenty percent where the manager has the most opportunity to make a difference and it’s in those situations that we should observe the results in making our judgements.
    One of the main things I look for in a manager is the ability to get the best out of the talent he has to work with and if he can turn a loser into a winner in a short time. Two of the very best at this were Earl Weaver and Billy Martin. Rarely, did they make a move, no matter how seemingly against the odds, that it didn’t pay off. You never knew what they’d do next, but when they did, it seemed to always work in their teams favor and added more wins than would normally be expected.

  3. William Miller Says:

    That’s a great question. For me, it is very unscientific. A great manager is one whose team is seriously competitive year after year, even with significant changes in roster. The Braves, Cardinals and Yankees of recent years have fit that description, so that’s why I think that Cox, LaSorda and Torre (with the Yanks) have been great managers.
    It would be easy for someone to point out that each of these teams were fortunate to have competent G.M.’s at the helm, but do we say, for example, that Grant and Sherman were simply “lucky” to have had Lincoln providing the building blocks of a great army? Some managers (and generals) have had a lot of talent to work with (on paper) but their teams (or armies) never amounted to much of anything.
    That’s my take on it, for what it’s worth. Bill

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