After covering the NFL and the NBA over the past two weeks, it is now time to move on to Major League Baseball.
More than any other major sport, baseball managers have to always be on the lookout for the man with the pink slip of paper because teams change managers these days like my wife changes clothes (which, I might add, always look great whatever she finally decides).
By my unofficial count, there will be seven new managers sitting in the dugouts when the 2011 season begins. That’s almost a 25% turnover and that doesn’t count the changes made during the season last year. Most of these came through firings but one came via retirement and that man needs special attention.
Since I stipulated when we began these lists that the coaches/managers had to be holding their position currently, that eliminated one manager from this list that would have been at the top, if not the man I considered the best manager in baseball. That man is, of course, the great Bobby Cox.
Before his separated stints as manager of the Braves, Cox managed the Toronto Blue Jays but he is known for his success here in Atlanta. Cox accumulated over 2,500 wins ranking him fourth on the all-time wins list for managers. Only the legendary Connie Mack, John McGraw and Tony LaRussa have more wins
Cox has been named Manager of the Year on four different occasions and, of course, he holds the distinction of being the only manager in major league history, and I believe this is one record that will never be broken, to lead his team to a division title fourteen straight years.
Cox has another record that may be a little less noteworthy- he has been ejected more than any manager in history. He’s been thumbed 158 times plus three more in post-season play but that’s also the reason his players loved him- they knew he had their back.
His only flaw, and this is solely my opinion, is that in spite of those division titles, he only won one World Series.
Having said that, he is still, without question, one of the best managers of all time. Now, on to the current list.
#5: Charlie Manuel
A heart attack, bypass surgery, and cancer survivor, Manuel is also a survivor on the field. His best job of managing may have been last year when he led the Phillies to their fourth straight division title in spite of the massive number of injuries they had to key players. Of course, having Roy Halladay on your pitching staff doesn’t hurt. The Phillies, under Manuel’s direction, won the World Series in 2008 in five games over the Tampa Bay Rays. Manuel was the hitting coach for the good Cleveland Indians teams of the 90’s before taking over as manager in 2000. Once criticized for not pitching lefty Cliff Lee in a crucial World Series game, Manuel charged back at the reporter, “Would you rather see his arm fall off? He’s only had three days rest!” Then, after a slight pause, “Of course, after that decision, I may have all of next year to rest myself.”
#4: Mike Scioscia
A very solid catcher for the Dodgers with over 1,100 hits in his career and two All-Star selections, Scioscia has proven to be a very capable field general as well. This will be his eleventh year in the dugout for the Anaheim Angels (at least that’s their name as of today). He led them to a World Series victory in 2002 over the Giants and former manager teammate, Dusty Baker.
He won Manager of the Year Award that same year. He’ll crack the 1,000 win mark sometime this year and he’s done all of this with relatively little fanfare. He’s not controversial and he’s not flamboyant. He just gets the job done.
#3: Tony LaRussa
His career statistics pretty much say it all. He’s managed the White Sox, the A’s, and the Cardinals and during that time has won over 2,200 games. He’s also won two World Series rings along with five Manager of the Year Awards. LaRussa has had a couple of run-ins with the law for alleged drunk driving but his on-the-field decisions are usually first-rate.
There was a little talk last year when Cox announced his retirement that the Braves would go after LaRussa but, obviously they went in a different direction. That would have been neat, though, to go from one Hall of Fame manager to another.
#2: Ron Gardenhire
Easily, the most underrated manager in the game. Despite being in a small market franchise and not being able to spend the big bucks like other teams, Gardenhire always seems to have the Twins at the top of their game. He has six division titles in his nine years with the Twins and last year he was finally recognized for his excellence by winning Manager of the Year after finishing second five previous times. Gardenhire has a .550 winning percentage with only one losing season, that coming in 2007. Another manager who lives by the “steady as she goes” philosophy that seems to reap big dividends for the Minnesota faithful.
#1: Terry Francona
Francona’s overall record may not be as good as some of the other managers in the league but that’s because he spent three years with the Phillies when they were, well, lousy. Since he’s been at Boston, his seven year totals show him with a .577 winning percentage. Even more impressive is his post-season percentage of.710 which accounts for his two World Series rings. Francona was an average major league player but he did have some success in college when his team, the University of Arizona, won the College World Series and he was named the tournament MVP in 1980. For you trivia fans, Francona was manager of the minor league Birmingham Barons the year that Michael Jordan played there. But, of course, his big success has been with the Red Sox.
Francona has the luxury of managing for an owner who is not afraid to spend some money and a General Manager who isn’t afraid to go after the big-name free agents each year keeping his team stocked with great players. Francona has suffered through some personal health issues and he had to put up with Manny Ramirez for a few years but he is the best in baseball today in the managing ranks.
Next week, we’ll look at the college ranks and, by the way, timing is everything. Just a few days after I submitted last week’s column covering the NBA’s Top 5 coaches and listing Jerry Sloan as #5, he upped and resigned on me.
Randy Blalock is a columnist for The Barrow Journal. Send comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.