Major League Baseball manager Tony La Russa has just managed the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series. This marks the third National League pennant for the Cardinals in the past eight seasons. But a question arises from this latest feat: Can we proclaim La Russa the greatest manager of all time?
The Case for Tony La Russa
How many managers in baseball history have won World Series championships with both an American League team and a National League team? Other than La Russa, only one other managed to achieve that—Sparky Anderson! La Russa won World Series championships managing the 1989 Oakland Athletics and the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.
How many managers have led at least three teams to division titles? Billy Martin and Joe Torre are the only managers that come immediately to mind.
However, Joe Torre never won a pennant with any other team but the New York Yankees. And Billy Martin had just one World Series championship that could easily be chalked up to George Steinbrenner for his signing of Reggie Jackson in the offseason prior to the 1977 season.
Tony La Russa has 12 division titles and six pennants (1988, 1989, 1990, 2004, 2006, 2011) while leading three different clubs to the League Championship Series (Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals).
How many managers have had a 30+ year managerial career and never finished a season with 100+ losses? Even the legendary Casey Stengel finished a season with a stunning 120 losses with the 1962 New York Mets.
Connie Mack, the great Philadelphia Athletics manager in the early 20th century, had a disastrous 1916 season when the A's finished with 117 losses. Furthermore, three times in the final ten seasons of Mack's managerial career with the Philadelphia Athletics between 1941 and 1950 did his club finish with 100 or more losses.
The only two managers besides La Russa that had a 30+ year managerial career and avoided any 100+ loss seasons were Joe Torre and John McGraw. Torre did have a couple of seasons where his teams flirted with 100, falling short with 99 and 96 losses. McGraw did all of his great work with one franchise, the New York Giants.
The Case against La Russa
Pending the outcome of the 2011 World Series, La Russa has only two World Series championships. This puts him well behind managers like Casey Stengel, John McGraw, Joe Torre and Connie Mack, all who won a heck of a lot more than two. Stengel managed the Yankees to seven World Series championships! Connie Mack had five World Series championships!
Furthermore, La Russa's achievements in Oakland where the Athletics won three consecutive American League pennants from 1988 to 1990 get overshadowed by other circumstances. That powerful club he led to the Fall Classic during that three-year period included ballplayers who would later be among the most tainted during the Steroid Era, players like Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.
Additionally, the one World Series title Oakland captured during that period is most remembered for the devastating earthquake that delayed Game 3 of that series for several weeks while San Francisco recovered from the damage.
Despite more than 2,700 victories in his managerial career, Connie Mack and John McGraw remain very well ahead on that list. After all, Connie Mack managed for 50 years!
So the debate is set on the managerial greatness of Tony La Russa. Is he the greatest of all time? Or is there more he needs to achieve in order to remove all possible doubt?