Jim Leyland is heading back to the World Series. Already sporting an elusive World Series ring, could it be possible he will soon have one for each hand? No other current manager has more than one. With Tony LaRussa stepping down last year (he has three) and Joe Torre's retirement after the 2010 season (he has four), Leyland can become the only active manager with more than one. But does that make him an elite manager?
To be a member of the club you not only need lots of wins, but you absolutely must have at least one ring. Still there are some managers who own a ring but do not have a great number of wins. So what about two championships? Is that enough for elite status?
Rating managers can certainly be subjective. Wins and championships make it easy, but other factors like game strategy, likeability, evaluating player talent, winning in clutch situations and discipline can be up for discussion. Some managers are task oriented; others are passionate instrumental leaders. The great ones are both, and they win with great players or mediocre teams.
Let's take a look at the great baseball managers based simply on wins and championships.
Connie Mack, John McGraw, Tony LaRussa, Casey Stengel, Bucky Harris and Joe McCarthy combined many wins with championships. Mack has the most wins with 3,731 and has five championships, but he also has more losses than wins. McGraw is second in wins (2,763) with three championships. McGraw, who was a great player, also had a .586 winning percentage. LaRussa is third in wins with 2,728 and has won three championships. Old timer Bucky Harris, with 2,158 wins and three championships, is right there at the top.
Perhaps the greatest manager ever was Joe McCarthy, who is eighth in wins (2,125), owns a .615 winning percentage and won seven championships. Lefty Gomez once said that after he had pitched a four-hitter in the front end of a double header, he pulled out a fifth of vodka in the bullpen and was almost through it when “Joe Mac” came out to talk to him. He didn’t care if Gomez had guzzled the vodka. He told him "the other starter had hurt his arm and you have to pitch the second game as well.' Gomez said “there was just no way he could that man down.” The Hall of Famer went out and pitched another four- hitter. Joe McCarthy had that respect.
What about the charismatic Casey Stengel? He may be eleventh in wins (1,905), but he won seven championships. Stengel was such a colorful character that his personality alone made him a great manager. His players loved him.
Miller Huggins only has 1,413 wins but has three championships.
You can't overlook the great Dodgers managers. Walter Alston has 2,040 wins and four championships, Leo "The Lip" Durocher has 2,008 wins and four championships and Alston's protege Tommy Lasorda has 1,599 wins and has won three championships. The Dodgers have their very own elite club of managers.
The late Sparky Anderson is sixth on the list in wins (2,194) with three World Series rings. The late Dick Williams won two championships and is twentieth in wins (1,571). Both elite managers.
Recently retired managers LaRussa and Torre are right there with the elite, with Torre having 2,326 wins and 4 championships and LaRussa 2,728 wins and 3 championships. LaRussa coached for 33 years. Torre struggled early as a manager but proved himself in the late1990s, winning three World Series championships in a row from 1998-2000.
We must measure an elite manager by wins and championships, but what about one of the best player's manager ever, Bobby Cox? He only won one World Series but has 2,504 wins and five pennants. Most baseball people would say he is an elite manager.
As Jim Leyland waits for his attempt at his second World Series ring, he also awaits his shot at history. Leyland is fifteenth on the list of victories with 1,676. He has one World Series ring. The Detroit Tigers are poised to win the championship. Standing in their way will be either the Cardinals or the Giants.
The Giants have their own great manager in Bruce Bochy. With his Giants teetering on elimination, Bochy has 1,454 wins and one ring. He will be a formidable opponent should they get to the Series. He too would then be poised to accept elite status, but the elder Jim Leyland will be waiting.
Should the Cardinals get there under Mike Matheny, he will have his work cut out for him as a rookie manager. Leyland will be waiting for him too.