Friday, February 19, 2010
Who belongs on managerial Mt. Rushmore?
Prompted by a quote from Mike Scioscia about Bobby Cox belonging on a "Mt. Rushmore of managers," Big League Stew wonders who would appear on such a monument ...
If you go by the list of all-time wins, Cox would be included with 1,930 victories and would join the three guys in front of him — Connie Mack, John McGraw and Tony La Russa.
He'd also be in if you rightly attach a lot of importance to Atlanta's 14 straight division titles, which were achieved in the time of free agency.
But if you include Cox and La Russa, you also exclude Hall of Fame skips like Sparky Anderson, Casey Stengel, Joe McCarthy, Walter Alston and, maybe one day, Joe Torre.
I don't think bare statistics should determine who's on our managerial Mt. Rushmore any more than bare statistics should determine who's in the Hall of Fame.
Or at least not statistics as bare as career wins.
Connie Mack managed in 53 seasons and his teams won five World Series. Yeah, he's got a losing record but I still believe you start with him. He's the George Washington on baseball's Mt. Rushmore.
But I'm sure someone would like to argue about Mack, and I would happily argue about just about every other candidate. Well, except for John McGraw. I'll argue, but I won't be real happy about having to bother. McGraw managed for more than 30 years, and won 10 National League pennants and three World Series. He was also responsible for building his teams before the advent of assertive general managers.
Oh, and McGraw gets bonus points for being one of the game's three or four most famous figures during most of his managerial career (along with Cobb and Ruth).
So we've still two slots. And yes, it's hard to see those two slots not going to two of these guys: La Russa, Stengel, McCarthy, and Cox.*
*Sorry, but in such company I'm dropping Sparky Anderson (only five postseasons), Walt Alston (impeccable record, but fairly or not he's never been considered the key to all those winning teams), and Joe Torre (too many losses while managing Mets and Cardinals).
I'm on record arguing that Joe McCarthy is the greatest manager ever, but my standards for managerial Rushmore are somewhat different. If McCarthy had managed to win a pennant while managing the Red Sox, or if he'd been able to stay off the sauce and manage a few more years ... But he didn't, so I'm going to drop him, however reluctantly, from the list.
We need someone from the post-World War II era, though, and it's hard to imagine a better candidate than Stengel, who was in the 1950s what McGraw was in the Dead Ball Era. Yes, I know that Stengel won only when he managed the Yankees, who probably would have won nearly as many pennants if someone else had been managing them. But again, this isn't all about numbers or even greatness; it's about whose face you'd want to see on the side of a mountain. And with all those lines and crags, Casey's face was made for granite.
The Tall Tactician. Little Napoleon. The Old Professor ... I'm happy with that trio. One too many old-timers, you might think. But those men were colossal figures, larger-than-life even. Has the same been true of any managers since Stengel? Perhaps, but it's probably too eary to tell. That's the problem with La Russa and Cox (and Torre, another future Hall of Famer): we just don't have any perspective on their places in the game.
If we're going to choose one, though? I think it has to be La Russa. Bobby Cox didn't win 14 straight division titles. He won three, then missed one in 1994, then won another 11 straight. That's still incredibly impressive, but (again) we're in rarefied territory here. And however bad his (and the Braves') luck might have been, just one World Championship doesn't seem like a lot for the side of a mountain. Meanwhile, La Russa's got a dozen division titles -- coming with three different franchises -- and two World Championships. His record's no different from Cox's, really.
Here's the thing, though ... Cox is retiring after this season. La Russa's still going strong, and it takes a long, long time to blast away all that granite. Sure, let's go ahead and get started on the three dead guys. And in the dozen or so years it takes to identify a suitable escarpment and carve the old-timers, maybe No. 4 will make himself obvious. Maybe Joe Torre will win another World Series, or maybe La Russa will. We don't need to decide anything quite yet.