2014 Veteran’s Committee: the Managers

LaRussa as Cardinals manager

LaRussa as Cardinals manager

And now my look at the four managers on the newest Veteran’s Committee Ballot. Again, they are listed alphabetically.

Bobby Cox did something I’ll bet a bunch of you don’t know. He managed the Toronto Blue Jays to a division title. Cox is so tied to Atlanta that most people don’t know he spent part of his managerial career in Toronto. In the beginning he was less than successful. He managed Atlanta between 1978 and 1981, never finishing above fourth and producing one winning season (1980). He managed four years in Toronto finishing second in 1984, then breaking through to win the American League East in 1985. Up three games to one against Kansas City, the Blue Jays lost three in a row to end their season (and the Royals won the World Series).

He returned to Atlanta as general manager in 1986. The team wasn’t all that successful, but as general manager he picked up a number of players for the team that were instrumental for future Braves teams. In 1991 he appointed himself as Braves manager and remained until his retirement in 2010. His first team (in his second stint with Atlanta) went from last to first in the National League and squared off against Minnesota in one of the great World Series’ ever. They lost, but it was the beginning of a great run in the NL. Cox’s Braves made 15 playoff appearances, won five pennants, and the 1995 World Series. During his career he was four-time Manager of the Year, once in the AL and three times in the NL (one of only four to win the award in both leagues). His career winning percentage was .556.

Ton LaRussa is the third winningest manager ever behind only John McGraw (2nd) and Connie Mack. He is also one of the four managers to win Manager of the Year in both leagues (Jim Leyland and Lou Piniella are the others). He began his managerial career late in 1979 with the Chicago White Sox. He brought one AL Western Division title to Chicago in 1983. The ChiSox started slow in 1986 and he was canned.

Oakland picked him up for the last 45 games of the year and he stayed there through 1995. He won a division title, two pennants, and the 1989 World Series with Oakland. In 1996 he went to St. Louis where he immediately won a division title. By his retirement at the end of the 2011 World Series he had won five division titles, one pennant, and the 2006 and 2011 World Series. This gave him 14 playoff appearances, six pennants, and three world championships. He secured four Manager of the Year Awards and had a career winning percentage of .536. He was also known for being so obsessed with the “book” that he would change pitchers between pitches and slowed games to an absolute crawl. Because he continued to win, his system has become common.

Billy Martin is the oldest of the four managers and is also the only one not living. He played in the 1950s, primarily for the Yankees, then began managing in 1969 with the Minnesota Twins. He took them to a division title, but they lost to Baltimore in the first American League division playoffs. He got into a fight with one of his players and was fired. He picked up his next managing job in 1971 with Detroit. He picked up a division title in 1972. He was fired in 1973 for ordering his pitchers to learn the spit ball. Texas picked him up to complete the season. He stayed into 1975 when he was fired after a confrontation with the owner. He was picked up by the Yanks, his dream job. He spent four terms with the Yankees, winning a pennant in 1976. His team was drilled by the Cincinnati “Big Red Machine”, but won the 1977 World Series over the Dodgers. He clashed with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (more on him in another post) and resigned in 1978. He was rehired for the last 55 games of 1979 then was dumped again after his infamous fight with a marshmallow salesman. He also spent time in 1983, 1985, and 1988 as New York manager. Between his 1979 and 1983 terms in New York, he managed Oakland to a 1981 split season division title. He died on Christmas Day 1989 in a truck accident. Over his career he won two pennants, one World Series and took his team to five playoff appearances. He ended with a .553 winning percentage. For most of his managerial career there was no Manager of the Year Award (it began in 1983). Over his career he was known to overwork his pitching staff and thus cut short the careers of several of his starters.

Joe Torre was probably the best player of the group, winning and MVP award in 1971. He began managing the Mets in early 1977 as player-manager. He remained in New York through 1981 finishing as high as fourth in the 1981 split season. He was picked up by Atlanta (replacing Bobby Cox) in 1982 and promptly won a division title. He lost the playoff and his team regressed each of the next two seasons. In the broadcast booth from 1983 through 1990, St. Louis picked him up late in the season. He stayed there until early 1995 when he was fired. In 1991 he got the Cardinals as high as second.

In 1996 he replaced Buck Showalter (who had just won a division title) as Yankees manager and won the World Series. He won consecutive World Series’ in 1998-2000, lost the Series in 2001 (and 2003),  picked up division titles in 2002 and 2004-2006, and won two Manger of the Year Awards. In 2008 he left New York, ending up in Los Angeles (and in a slew of TV commercials). He stayed three years winning two division titles. For his career he made 15 playoff appearances, won six pennants, and four World Series titles. His career winning percentage is .538. Torre was, by his own account, a miserable manager with the Mets, a “genius” at Atlanta, and lucky with the Yankees. The labels were applied when some reporter asked him why he was doing so well with the Yanks (proving Torre also has a good sense of humor). He was good enough as a player to be a borderline Hall of Famer, but he’s supposed to be considered here strictly on his managing career.

All of which brings me to the obvious question, “so what do I think?” Well, I have no problem with any of these managers being enshrined. Each has a valid case as a Hall of Fame candidate (I think Martin’s is weakest). But if I had a ballot, I’d vote for  two of these men only: LaRussa and Torre. Both were proven winners with multiple championships. LaRussa has the distinction of being third in wins among managers. For Cox and Martin I have two words: Danny Murtaugh. Murtaugh has as many championships as Cox and Martin combined, two. And another two words would be: Tom Kelly. He has twice as many wins as either Cox or Martin (as does Ralph Houk). Until the men with more championships get in, then I can’t see voting for either Cox or Martin. And let’s be honest about it, championships count. If they don’t you have to ask yourself where’s Charlie Grimm (1200 wins .547 winning percentage, but no World Series titles)?

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