This Could Be The Year Of The Manager

CHEYENNE, Wyo.—At the end of last season, Braves manager Bobby Cox let it be known that he would return in 2010 for one final managerial fling.

With Joe Torre, Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa in the final years of their contracts, too, it’s possible that each of those veteran managers could decide to fill out their final lineup card this season.

They could turn 2010 into a glory year for managers. All four are legitimate Hall of the Fame managerial candidates. All four are in the final year of their contracts. And all four could walk away at the same time.

Nothing like that has ever happened before. Of the 19 men elected to the Hall of Fame for their managerial efforts, just two—Connie Mack and Joe McCarthy in 1950—called it quits in the same year.

Rarely have any of the managerial greats even retired in the same decade. The 1990s saw the end of the managerial careers of Whitey Herzog (1990), Sparky Anderson (’95) and Tommy Lasorda (’96). In the 1950s, along with Mack and McCarthy, Bucky Harris called it a career after the 1956 season. And in the 1900s, Frank Selee (’03), Billy Southworth (’05) and Ned Hanlon (’07) filled out their final lineup cards.

La Russa (third), Cox (fourth) and Torre (fifth) rank among the five winningest managers in history, behind only Connie Mack and John McGraw. Piniella checks in at 14th.

The current managerial roster includes six others who rank among the 80 winningest managers in history, and Jim Leyland (22nd), Dusty Baker (27th), Bruce Bochy (39th), Mike Scioscia (62nd), Terry Francona (66th) and Ron Gardenhire (79th) all have time to make major moves up the list of winners.

The only time in history that as many as eight potential Hall of Fame managers were managing was in 1982, when La Russa, Cox and Torre were joined by Herzog, Lasorda, Anderson, Dick Williams and Earl Weaver.

Just like with players, there are some key stats that figure into managerial election. Only two managers have earned 1,300 regular season wins and a World Series title without getting inducted: Ralph Houk and Chuck Tanner. Tanner had a losing record. No manger in the Hall of Fame, however, managed in fewer than two World Series, which is an accomplishment that has so far eluded Piniella, among others.

Glowing Resumes

Cox has shown an ability to multi-task. A former third baseman, he not only guided the Braves to a professional sports record 14 consecutive first-place finishes, but also guided Toronto into the playoffs for the first time in that franchise’s history (1985). What’s more, as Atlanta’s general manager (before he returned to the dugout) he revitalized the organization. He did take the Braves to five World Series during the 1990s, but only once did the Braves win the championship, 1995.

La Russa has compiled a winning record with all three teams he has managed, advancing into the postseason with each, and has two World Series championships in seven playoff appearances. In eight years with the White Sox, he took them to the ALCS once, 2003. He guided Oakland to four postseasons in 10 years, including a championship in 1989. And St. Louis has advanced to the postseason in eight of his 14 seasons, including winning the World Series in 2006.

Torre emerged as an elite manager thanks to a career-saving opportunity with the Yankees. In 14 years as a manager with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals, Torre had an 894-1,003 record and only one postseason appearance.

In the last 14 years, however—12 with the Yankees and two with the Dodgers—he has compiled a 2,263-1,352 record, advanced to the postseason every year, and guided the Yankees to championships in 1996, ’98, ’99 and 2000.

Piniella presents an interesting debate. He took the Mariners to their only four playoff appearances during his decade in the Pacific Northwest, and he won the only World Series  he went to, stunning La Russa and Oakland with a sweep in 1990 as the Reds’ skipper.

He debuted with the Yankees,  surviving 2½ seasons of George Steinbrenner, and after the stints in Cincinnati and Seattle said he wanted to get closer to his Tampa home. Three losing seasons with the Rays were all he could take, however, and he is now entering his fourth year with the Cubs. He won division titles in his first two years, but hasn’t won a playoff series and missed the postseason altogether last year.