We don’t write often about managers here at By the Numbers. Frankly, it’s because we don’t know what to make of them.
Take Casey Stengel, probably the most lauded manager in major-league history. Stengel earned everlasting fame by managing the Yankees to 10 pennants and seven World Series titles in 12 years from 1949-60.
Oh, and he had a way with words — “the secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided” — that made him endearing.
But while Stengel looked like a genius as manager of the Yankees, in 13 years with other clubs he was 390 games under .500 and had a winning percentage of .395.
Give Stengel a Mickey Mantle and a Whitey Ford and he would win a World Series; give him Elio Chacon and Vinegar Bend Mizell and he would lose 120 games. Which probably could be said about every manager in history.
Sure, there are differences between managers. Some have a knack for putting players in a position in which they can succeed, although that is much easier in this era of extensive computer analysis. And some have an ability to relate to a clubhouse full of millionaires, which probably is the most important skill for a manager these days.
Then there was Maury Wills, who managed the Mariners for 83 games in 1980-81. Wills once filled out a lineup card with two third basemen and no center fielder; he once was suspended for instructing the groundskeeper at the Kingdome to surreptitiously expand the batter’s box; and he went 26-56 while managing to alienate every player on his team.
As Steve Rudman of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote upon Wills’ firing: “He made unconscionable, third-grade, sandlot mistakes.”
So, yeah, Maury Wills was a horrible major-league manager. But most of the guys who ascend to the job are from an indistinguishable, dime-a-dozen mold.
According to baseball-reference.com, there have been 679 managers in major-league history, and most of them have had little impact one way or another. It’s Hall of Famers who make the manager, not the other way around.
Statistically, the best manager in history was Joe McCarthy, who guided the Cubs, Yankees, and Red Sox for a total of 24 seasons. McCarthy won nine pennants and seven World Series, and his .615 winning percentage is the best in history. He never had a losing season, and his 1936-39 Yankees are probably the best baseball team ever assembled.
Of course, that was a long time ago. But one constant throughout the history of baseball seems to be that great players don’t make great managers. Ted Williams was unsuccessful as a manager; so were Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby, although Hornsby won a World Series as a player-manager.
In fact, while many players prior to 1950 won a championship as a player-manager, only two people who made the Hall of Fame for what they accomplished as players have managed a World Series winner after their playing career: Bob Lemon and Red Schoendienst.
Most of the best managers in recent years — Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, Sparky Anderson — had brief and forgettable playing careers. Joe Torre is an exception in that he was a great player, but he didn’t become a successful manager until long after his playing days had ended and he got his hands on a roster that had Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.
So, what do we make of managers? The answer is easy: Good players can make you look awfully smart.