6-22-09: Top 5 Managers

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to another work-week. I hope your weekend was a good one. As far as I know, everybody involved in the Trench Extravaganza managed to survive it without any major injuries. A few jammed fingers and several sore muscles are par for the course, and are nothing some ice and Advil can't fix. All in all a very fun time.

Sunday wasn't quite as profitable at the Track, but it's hard not to have fun while you're there!

So I had a solid weekend and as I said, I hope yours was good too!

Speaking of good weekends, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa won his 2500th game as a big league skipper. That puts him 3rd on the all-time list behind only legends Connie Mack and John McGraw. And that got me to thinking... if I ran a ball club, who'd be the top 5 guys I'd target to manage my team, assuming everyone was available? I'll discuss...

Let's shake off the weekend rust and get after this thing!

"I am no more humble than my talents require."
- Oscar Levant (1906 - 1972), American pianist, composer, author, comedian, and actor

My talent level? Most people, including me, would agree that it's entirely average. My humility level? That's going to depend on who you ask.

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On the other hand, you'll find all kinds of agreement about Tony LaRussa's humility level. Let's just say you'd have to have a sizable chart to measure it.

But you can't argue with his success. 2500 wins as a manager is outstanding. Think about it. 100-win seasons are rare. And you'd have to pile up 25 of those to get to where Tony is today.

So, as I mentioned earlier, that got me thinking about ranking the current managers. At least to a point where I can bring you a Top 5 list. My criteria were rather subjective. I basically sat down and thought, "if I were running a team, who would I want managing it?"

Here's what I came up with:

1. Bobby Cox: 2359 wins, 5 pennants, 1 World Series title

Currently with the Atlanta Braves, Cox's 29-year managerial career includes a 4-year run with the Toronto Blue Jays. Often older managers have trouble relating to younger players. Culturally, they just can't connect. But Cox seems to be one of the exceptions to that rule.

He's been as consistent as any manager in the game. Sure, LaRussa has more wins. But he's also worn out his welcome on two different teams, and he's currently testing the patience of a third. Cox seems to have a situation where he can stay in Atlanta as long as he likes.

What I like most about him is his ability to develop pitching. And pitching is the core of any team. It's true they've been down the last couple of years, but Atlanta was a veritable pitching factory for a long stretch of time. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery, Mark Wohlers, Mike Hampton, and now Jair Jurrjens have all had the best years of their careers under Cox's guidance.

I want my club to have a steady, experience hand at the wheel. Cox fits that mold as well as anyone.

2. Joe Torre: 2197 wins, 6 pennants and 4 World Series titles.

Speaking of steady, experienced hands, I give you Joe Torre.

There are those who would say that his success is due more to his landing the Yankee job in a timely manner. I'd counter that by pointing out that he guided the Dodgers to the playoffs last year, and has them sitting atop the NL West with the best record in the big leagues this year.

What he proved in New York is that he was capable of taking a locker room full of various ethnicities, cultures and egos and meld them into a functioning unit. And that skill is more important than ever today. Today's successful manager has to not only be able to get his team to be fundamentally sound, he has to be able to do it in English, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. Okay, Torre doesn't speak all those languages, but my point is, that he has had to figure out a way to communicate what he wants with those language barriers in tact.

Winning 4 World Series titles in New York is not easy. Sure you've got more tools in your toolbox. But you've also got exponentially more back-seat drivers telling you how you should be using them.

Torre's patient, measured approach is exactly the kind of leadership I'd want on my club.

3. Tony LaRussa: 2500 wins, 5 pennants, 2 World Series titles.

Yeah, I sorta ripped him earlier, but 2500 wins is 2500 wins.

The knock on LaRussa is that while his baseball IQ is higher than most, it's not as high as he thinks he is. This was the guy who thought batting his pitcher 8th was a great strategy. Re-inventing the wheel anyone? Let's just say, it didn't work.

The main reason I'd want LaRussa steering my ship, is because he brings Dave Duncan with him as pitching coach. Duncan has revived more pitching careers than Quentin Tarantino has acting careers. His most recent reclamation job was on former Twin, Kyle Lohse. Lohse has had some injury trouble last year, but quite literally saved his career with a fantastic year last year.

Jeff Weaver's only consistent year was with St. Louis under Duncan's guidance. And if you go back to LaRussa's days in Oakland, Duncan took a washed-up starter by the name of Dennis Eckersley and helped turn him into a Hall of Fame closer.

I'll live with LaRussa's "I'm a genius, just ask me" moments if it gets me Duncan as part of the deal.

4. Jim Leyland: 1364 wins, 2 pennants, 1 World Series title

Leyland is the definition of "old school". He gives memorable quotes like, "Our guy was good, but their guy was better." And he's one of the few skippers who'll sneak up to the clubhouse for a quick heater between innings*.

(* - The Sports Take officially discourages the practice of smoking. Though management does wish that the government wasn't so restrictive about it. You want to tax the hell out of it? Go right ahead. But when you start telling people when and where they can or can't use what's still a legal product, it gets a little silly. Rant, fin.)

Plus, Leyland's melt-downs are iconic. While not quite as volatile as the guy coming up at #5, Leyleand definitely gets his money's worth. What's best about them is their timing. Leyland doesn't just go out there to go crazy for no reason. Every melt-down is calculated for effect. Whether it's to light a fire under his club, or to keep one of his players from getting themselves run out of the game, each time Leyland gets tossed, he's got a plan.

If you want to know how good this guy is, consider the fact that he got Pittsburgh to the NL Championship Series and lost on a dramatic play by the Braves (and Bobby Cox), and his World Series title came while he managed the Florida Freaking Marlins. If you can have success with those two franchises, you can skipper my club any day.

5. Ron Gardenhire: 657 wins, 0 pennants, 0 World Series title

I can picture my buddy Josh rolling his eyes and muttering something involving the word "homer" as he reads this.

And while I'll admit freely that I'm a Twins fan, and a fan of the work that Gardy's done with the club, I believe there are at least 25 or so teams out there that'd love to have him at the helm.

With limited resources, and more than his fair share of injuries, all Gardenhire's done is guided his club to 3 division titles. And there hasn't been a year with him at the helm where the Twins haven't been in contention.

I once wrote a bit calling him the "MacGyver" of managers, because of the number of times he's had to string together line-ups with paper clips and chewing gum, and yet he always finds a way to stay competitive.

Granted, he'll need to push a team over the top and get himself a pennant and a World Series title before he'll be considered amongst the greats in Twins history (TK has two of each), and confirm my confidence in putting him on this list.

If you want a team that plays fundamentally sound baseball, you could do a lot worse than Ron Gardenhire.

So there you have it. Those are my Top 5. Anybody want to argue about somebody I've left off the list? Scroll down and attach a comment. I'd love to hear it.

That's all for today. I'm back on Wednesday with more Sports Take goodness for you.

Until then, thanks for reading!

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