Ringolsby: The Baseball Hall’s Incomplete Managerial Picture

Image credit: Davey Johnson (AllSport)

During his term as the Reds’ interim manager in 2018, Jim Riggleman was glancing at a list of the men who had held the job prior to him, impressed with the résumés of many of them. Then it hit him. Yes, Sparky Anderson was enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a manager for his time with the Reds, which included back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and ’76, and then the Tigers, who won the 1984 World Series.

And there was fellow Hall of Famer Bill McKechnie, the first man to manage three different teams to a pennant—the 1925 Pirates, 1928 Cardinals and 1939 and ’40 Reds.

What caught his attention more than Anderson and McKechnie, however, were Dusty Baker, Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella.

“They had really nice careers as players and as managers,” Riggleman said. “You could argue they could be in the Hall of Fame as players or managers, but if you consider their entire career, as a player and a manager, it would seem they pass the Hall of Fame test.”

The managerial inductees to the Hall of Fame may be the least refined process. It is based so much on won-lost record, but does that really supply the best gauge of a manager’s ability?

Think about the case of Joe Torre, a Hall of Fame manager. After managing the Mets, Braves and Cardinals to a cumulative .471 win percentage, he was hired to manage the Yankees in 1996. The decision was so unpopular, headlines in the New York tabloids included references to Clueless Joe.

But Torre became a hero in the Bronx, compiling a 12-year record of 1,173-768 (.605), claiming six American League pennants and four World Series titles.

It’s about being in the right place at the right time.

The case of Gene Mauch underscores the difficulty in evaluating managers.

Mauch’s career winning percentage in 26 seasons was .483. He never managed in a World Series. In a managerial career that included extended employment by the Phillies, Expos, Twins and Angels, he is best remembered for the 1964 Phillies, who were overtaken in the final days of the season by the Cardinals for the National League pennant.

Yet, the overall mediocrity of the 1960s Phillies makes the 1964 accomplishment all the more notable. The club won 92 games that season, which was a modern franchise record until the Mike Schmidt Phillies of the mid-1970s came along.

Mauch’s career record took a hit because he managed the Expos in their first seven years of existence, 1969 to ’75, back when expansion teams did not have that opportunity for a quick fix.

Mauch had a brilliant baseball mind, and a dry sense of humor. The man who created the fifth-infielder defense tried that approach in the 10th inning of a game with the Twins against the Angels, and the Twins lost the game on a wild pitch.

“Gene,” then-Twins beat writer Patrick Reusse asked, “a fifth infielder?”

Mauch took a puff on his cigarette then said, “I should have had a second catcher.”

The idea that multiple World Series championships are key to a manager being enshrined in Cooperstown is even more questionable in this area of the expanded postseason.

It was one thing to claim a World Series back when the World Series was the entire postseason. Today managers must navigate three rounds to win the ultimate prize.

As for those three managers who caught Riggleman’s attention:

Davey Johnson led the Mets to the 1986 World Series title, the franchise’s first since 1969. He led the Reds to division titles in 1994 and ’95 but was fired because then-owner Marge Schott was upset he lived with his fiancée before they were married. He took the Orioles to the postseason in his two full seasons as their manager, ending the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought that dated back to the 1983 World Series.

He suffered the only losing record of his managerial career in the first of his two seasons with the Dodgers, and then guided the Nationals to the NL East title in 2012, what was only the second postseason appearance in the first 24 years of the franchise’s history.

Piniella, who managed for 23 years, guided the Reds to the 1990 World Series championship, won back-to-back division titles with the Cubs, and had a winning record in seven of 10 seasons in Seattle, including a record-tying 116 wins in 2001.

Baker managed teams to a winning record in 14 of his 22 years filling out lineup cards. He was let go by the Giants after 95 wins in 2002, the year they won the NL pennant; the Reds after seasons of 97 wins in 2012 and 90 wins in 2013; and then the Nationals, after taking them to division titles in his only two seasons with the franchise in 2016 and 2017. While he had a losing record in four years with the Cubs, he took them to the postseason in 2003.

“And they were all-stars as players,” said Riggleman, who will serve as the Mets’ bench coach in 2019. “I have to wonder if their complete big league résumés should be considered.”

It’s worth thinking about—at least.

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