Major League Baseball's Top 10 Managers of All TimeJune 4, 2018
Major League Baseball's Top 10 Managers of All Time
Tony La Russa ranks top-10 in Major League Baseball history in games managed, wins, playoff appearances, pennants and World Series titles, but was that enough for him to claim the No. 1 spot in our ranking of the best managers of all time?
The difficult—effectively impossible—part of putting together a list like this is determining whether team success was due to great players or great leadership.
Did the 1920s New York Yankees dominate because of Miller Huggins or in spite of him? What about Joe McCarthy and the 1936-43 Yankees? Or Casey Stengel and the 1950s Yankees? Or Joe Torre and the Yanks who made history from 1996 to 2003?
All four of those retired greats made it into our top 10, in large part because they each won at least three World Series with the Bronx Bombers. Where they ranked in the top 10, though, depended on how well they fared at the other stops in their careers.
Number of seasons managed, career winning percentage (regular season) and postseason success were the three primary data points considered. Where possible, preference was given to managers who had a wider range of success, as opposed to those who made all of their postseason appearances in the span of a decade.
Bochy won World Series titles in San Francisco with the "Even-Year Giants" in 2010, 2012 and 2014. However, he entered the 2018 season with a career record two games below .500, and he has yet to post more than four consecutive winning seasons in his career.
Lasorda's career started out with a bang. After taking over for Walter Alston at the end of the 1976 season, he immediately reached back-to-back World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers and won it all in year No. 5. He only got there once more (and won) in his final 15 seasons, though, which wasn't enough to stack up with the top 10.
Though he only managed the team for 17 years, Weaver led the Baltimore Orioles to four AL pennants and the 1970 World Series title. His career winning percentage (.583) ranks third among guys who managed at least 2,500 games. And he has to be top-10 on the list of career ejections. But because his career was shorter than most and he only won one championship, an honorable mention is the best we could do.
Francona entered the 2018 season on a 13-year streak of winning records, including 2004 and 2007 World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox and a trip to the Fall Classic with the 2016 Cleveland Indians. But he is perhaps best known for two collapses, blowing a 3-1 lead against the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 World Series and going 7-20 in September 2011 to fall one game shy of a postseason berth. By the time Francona retires, though, he'll likely belong on this list.
Tampa Bay was a laughingstock before Maddon, but he turned the Rays into an annual contender in a division where that shouldn't have been feasible. He also did the unthinkable by leading the Cubs to a World Series title after a 108-year drought. But that was Maddon's only championship, and he isn't anywhere close to some of the career win totals in the top 10.
10. Bobby Cox
Years Managed: 29 (1978-81 Atlanta Braves, 1982-85 Toronto Blue Jays, 1990-2010 Atlanta Braves)
Career Record: 2,504-2,001 (.556 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): 16 (five)
World Series Won: One (1995)
As far as regular-season success is concerned, there weren't many dynasties better than the Bobby Cox-led 1991-2005 Atlanta Braves.
With the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season, Atlanta won its division in each of those 15 years. The Braves won at least 101 games in six of those seasons—something the team has not done since and a win total the franchise had not previously reached since it was the Boston Beaneaters in 1898.
Factor in the trips to the postseason in 1985 and 2010, and Cox has been to the playoffs more times than any other manager in MLB history.
But he's only No. 10 on our list because he had some dreadful luck, winning the World Series in just one of those 16 Octobers.
In 1991, the Braves lost both Games 6 and 7 of the World Series in extra innings. In 1996 and 1999, they ran into the New York Yankees, at the time arguably the most unstoppable team in the past three decades among the big four leagues. And in 1998, Atlanta won a franchise-best 106 games before the bats went ice cold in the NLCS against the Padres.
Cox was still a great manager, though he's also well-remembered for his affinity for getting ejected from games. He finished his managerial career 503 games above .500, which is the third most in MLB history. His 2,504 wins are also the fourth-most ever. Had one or two of those postseasons worked out better, he'd be a no-brainer for a spot in the top five.
9. Connie Mack
Years Managed: 53 (1894-96 Pittsburgh Pirates [as player/manager], 1901-50 Philadelphia Athletics)
Career Record: 3,731-3,948 (.486 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): Eight (nine)
World Series Won: Five (1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930)
Connie Mack's claim to fame is rooted in longevity more so than excellence.
He was a manager for 53 years, which is a full two decades longer than the next-closest man on the list. Because of that tenure, he managed 2,658 more games than anyone else has. Heck, there are only 10 other guys who have managed as many total games as the number Mack won in his career.
But Mack ended up with a career record 217 games below .500. In 25 of those 53 seasons, his team lost more than half of its games played.
Yes, the Athletics won nine pennants and five World Series under Mack, enjoying some great runs with guys like Jimmie Foxx, Rube Waddell, Eddie Collins, Lefty Grove and Al Simmons on the roster. But they also finished dead last in the American League 17 times.
From 1909 to 1914, Philadelphia won at least 90 games each year and won three World Series. That run of dominance was followed by 10 consecutive losing seasons, including five years with at least 100 losses.
Because Mack was at least a part owner of the Athletics for the entire half century that he managed the team, he never had to worry about getting fired during those rough patches. But all those bad years make it tough to rank him any higher than this, even though he does have 968 more wins than any other manager in MLB history.
8. Casey Stengel
Years Managed: 25 (1934-36 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1938-43 Boston Bees/Braves, 1949-1960 New York Yankees, 1962-65 New York Mets)
Career Record: 1,905-1,842 (.508 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): 10 (10)
World Series Won: Seven (1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958)
Figuring out Casey Stengel's spot on this list was the biggest challenge.
Initially, it was tempting to put him at No. 1. Stengel is tied with John McGraw—in eight fewer seasons as a manager, no less—for the most pennants won, and he is tied with Joe McCarthy for the most World Series titles. He did all of it in his 12 years with the Yankees, winning at least 92 games in all but one of those years. Overall, he had a .623 winning percentage with the Bronx Bombers.
But who among us wouldn't have won a few titles with the likes of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Gil McDougald and Whitey Ford at our disposal?
Sure, we can have the chicken or the egg debate in just about every situation where a manager had multiple eventual Hall of Fame players on the roster. But in Stengel's case, there are 13 other seasons to try to gauge how much value he brought as a manager, and the evidence isn't in his favor.
Stengel never won more than 77 games in a season with Brooklyn, Boston or the New York Mets, and he only once won better than 46.7 percent of games, going 77-75-1 in his first year with Boston. His cumulative MLB record when not with the Yankees was 756-1,146 (.397 winning percentage).
Still, seven championships are hard to ignore.
7. Miller Huggins
Years Managed: 17 (1913-17 St. Louis Cardinals [first four years as player/manager], 1918-29 New York Yankees
Career Record: 1,413-1,134 (.555 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): Six (six)
World Series Won: Three (1923, 1927, 1928)
Much like Casey Stengel, Miller Huggins probably wasn't as much a great manager as he was someone who benefited from being in the right place at the right time. But Huggins had some success outside of his run with the Murderer's Row Yankees of the 1920s, so he lands one spot ahead of Stengel.
Huggins never won a pennant in St. Louis, but he did finish above .500 in two of his five seasons with the Cardinals. That was enough for him to get an interview with the Yankees when they decided to move on from Bill Donovan after three disappointing years.
Huggins compiled a record 18 games above .500 in his first two years in New York, and things ramped up in a hurry once the Yankees bought Babe Ruth prior to the 1920 season. They won at least 94 games in each of the next four seasons, and they secured the AL pennant in 1921 and 1922 and grabbed a World Series title in 1923.
Once Lou Gehrig and Earle Combs got rolling in the second half of the 1920s, Huggins' Yankees were unstoppable. They went 302-160 (.653 winning percentage) from 1926 to 1928, winning it all in 1927 and 1928.
Save for the 1925 season when Ruth played just 98 games and wasn't himself due to a mysterious illness, Huggins won at least 57 percent of the team's games in each of his final 11 seasons with the Yankees. His career would have lasted longer than 17 years had he not passed away late in the 1929 season at the age of 51.
6. Joe Torre
Years Managed: 29 (1977-81 New York Mets, 1982-84 Atlanta Braves, 1990-95 St. Louis Cardinals, 1996-2007 New York Yankees, 2008-10 Los Angeles Dodgers
Career Record: 2,326-1,997 (.538 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): 15 (six)
World Series Won: Four (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000)
In Joe Torre, we find yet another manager who had a phenomenal run with the Yankees, propping up what was otherwise an average career, at best.
Prior to his time in the Bronx, Torre compiled a career record of 894-1,003 (.471 winning percentage). In those 14 years, he made the postseason one time and did not win a game in that 1982 NLCS. He had five winning seasons, but he never reached 90 wins. He also took a managerial hiatus to do broadcasting from 1985 to 1989 after getting fired by the Braves.
But landing with the Yankees in the offseason before Derek Jeter won AL Rookie of the Year was one heck of a career boost.
The Yankees won at least 92 regular-season games in 11 of Torre's 12 seasons, including four with at least 101 victories. Torre was named AL Manager of the Year in both 1996 and 1998 and finished top-five in that vote in every year but one (1997).
Torre won the World Series in his first season with the Yankees, as well as his third, fourth and fifth years. Though they lost the World Series in 2001 and 2003, Torre got them there in six of his first eight seasons.
That's unheard of since the addition of the ALDS and NLDS in 1995. No other franchise has gone to more than three World Series in any eight-year span dating back to 1995, let alone six World Series. And thanks in large part to those extra wins from the ALDS and ALCS, Torre's 84 postseason wins are the most in MLB history.
5. Tony La Russa
Years Managed: 33 (1979-86 Chicago White Sox, 1986-95 Oakland Athletics, 1996-2011 St. Louis Cardinals)
Career Record: 2,728-2,365 (.536 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): 14 (six)
World Series Won: Three (1989, 2006, 2011)
Tony La Russa was a winner at every stop in his career. He won 50.6 percent of games in Chicago, 54.2 percent in Oakland and 54.4 percent in St. Louis. He also went to the postseason in 14 of 33 seasons (42.4 percent), putting together a career playoff record of 70-58.
His best five-year stretch came with the "Bash Brothers" in Oakland. With Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire leading the way—not to mention Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, Terry Steinbach and Dennis Eckersley—the A's averaged 97.2 regular-season wins per year from 1988 to 1992. La Russa managed them to the World Series in 1988, 1989 and 1990, winning it all in 1989.
There's no question La Russa got better with age, though.
His teams won at least 86 games in 16 seasons, nine of which came from 2000 to 2011. Granted, he had some great players at his disposal in St. Louis, too. Albert Pujols hit at least 32 home runs in each of La Russa's final 11 seasons. He also got to manage All-Stars like Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Yadier Molina, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jason Isringhausen for a significant portion of these dozen years.
While most of these great managers sputtered to the finish line and frequently missed the postseason late in their careers, La Russa went out on top. In fact, he's the only manager to retire in the offseason after winning the World Series.
4. Sparky Anderson
Years Managed: 26 (1970-78 Cincinnati Reds, 1979-95 Detroit Tigers)
Career Record: 2,194-1,834 (.545 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): Seven (five)
World Series Won: Three (1975, 1976, 1984)
Sparky Anderson's first gig as a manager in the big leagues was with Cincinnati right as it was becoming the Big Red Machine. The Reds had won at least 83 games in eight of nine seasons before Anderson's arrival, but they found another gear under his watch, winning a franchise-best 102 games and the National League pennant in his first season.
Following a sophomore-year slump (79-83 in 1971), they went 502-300 (.626 winning percentage) over the next five years, making the playoffs in four of them. The Reds fell just shy of winning it all in 1972 before getting the job done in 1975 and 1976. During the regular seasons of those World Series years, they won 108 and 102 games, respectively, meaning Anderson was the manager for the only three seasons in franchise history with more than 100 victories.
After posting the National League's best or second-best record in seven of nine seasons in Cincinnati, Anderson was fired in 1978 and moved to the American League the next season with the Detroit Tigers.
As was the case with Cincinnati, Anderson set the (still-standing) franchise record for wins in his seventh season with Detroit. En route to winning the 1984 World Series, the Tigers went 104-58.
Though he only made it to the postseason seven times, Anderson posted a winning record in 19 of his first 20 seasons. To that point in his career, he had an overall record of 1,699-1,254 (.575 winning percentage). Unfortunately, his final seven seasons with the Tigers were a different story, starting with the disastrous 59-103 campaign in 1989. His career winning percentage plummeted 30 points during that time.
Nevertheless, Anderson and Tony La Russa are the only managers to win a World Series in both the American League and the National League, and his first two decades of success more than made up for the disappointing finish.
3. Walter Alston
Years Managed: 23 (1954-76 Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers)
Career Record: 2,040-1,613 (.558 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): Seven (seven)
World Series Won: Four (1955, 1959, 1963, 1965)
Walter Alston is one of three managers in MLB history with at least three World Series titles and a career winning percentage greater than .555—and the other two are the only men ranked ahead of him on this list. He's also the only top-10 manager who did it all with one franchise.
But if you win the World Series in your second season and win a total of four within 12 years, why go elsewhere?
Before Alston, the Dodgers had never won a title. They came close many times, representing the National League in the Fall Classic in 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953. It wasn't until 1955 that they won one, though. Once that seal was broken, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Co. laid claim to several more.
Speaking of Koufax, perhaps the most impressive feat of Alston's tenure with the Dodgers was bringing them back to relevance after the left-handed legend retired in 1966 at the age of 30.
Not surprisingly, the first two seasons after losing Koufax were two of the three least successful of Alston's career. But he led the Dodgers to at least 85 wins in each of the eight seasons after that, even though Don Sutton and early-career Steve Garvey were the only noteworthy multi-season players on those rosters. The Dodgers finished in either first or second place in the NL West in each of Alston's final eight years, including reaching the 1974 World Series.
Alston also left the franchise in excellent shape for his replacement, Tommy Lasorda, who led the Dodgers to the World Series in three of his first five years as a manager.
2. John McGraw
Years Managed: 33 (1899, 1901-02 Baltimore Orioles [as player/manager], 1902-32 New York Giants [first five years as player/manager])
Career Record: 2,763-1,948 (.586 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): Nine (10)
World Series Won: Three (1905, 1921, 1922)
There were three distinct peaks in John McGraw's managerial career, each lasting for three years.
From 1904 to 1906, he went 307-151-8, winning the 1904 NL pennant and the 1905 World Series. Half a decade later, McGraw won three straight pennants from 1911 to 1913, averaging 101 wins per year. And from 1921 to 1923, he won the National League all three years, including two more World Series titles.
But with the exception of going 69-83-3 in 1915, the valleys between those peaks were almost nonexistent. From 1903 to 1931, he had a winning percentage of at least .536 in 27 of 29 seasons.
It's just too bad he had some bad luck in the postseason, compiling a career record of 26-28 in October.
In 1924, McGraw's Giants lost Game 7 of the World Series in extra innings. A dozen years before that, they lost in extra innings of Game 8 of the 1912 World Series—which had eight games because there was a tie in Game 2. And in 1904, McGraw won the National League pennant with a career-best record of 106-47-5, but there was no World Series played that year.
McGraw has a record 10 pennants under his belt, and that's how close he was to joining the short list of managers in MLB history with at least four World Series titles. Combine that with an MLB-best 815 more wins than losses in his career, and there's a strong case to be made that McGraw was the greatest manager in the history of the game.
1. Joe McCarthy
Years Managed: 24 (1926-30 Chicago Cubs, 1931-46 New York Yankees, 1948-50 Boston Red Sox)
Career Record: 2,125-1,333 (.615 winning percentage)
Postseason Appearances (Pennants Won): Nine (nine)
World Series Won: Seven (1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943)
In 24 seasons as a Major League Baseball manager, Joe McCarthy never had a losing record. Even in 1946 and 1950, when he abruptly resigned from the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively, those teams were above .500 when he skipped town.
As a result, he never had a team finish in worse than fourth place in its league, and he went to the World Series nine times—once with Chicago and eight times with the Yankees. He couldn't quite get the Red Sox to the postseason, though, finishing one game out of first place in both 1948 and 1949.
Though his entire career was impressive, there's no question his apex came with the 1936-43 Yankees. McCarthy's best individual season was 1932 when the Yankees went 107-47 before sweeping the Cubs in the World Series, but he won six more titles during this eight-year stretch.
Led by Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Red Ruffing and Bill Dickey, those Yankees won 65.2 percent of regular-season games, averaging 99.9 wins per year. With the exception of missing the World Series in 1940, they won the American League by at least a nine-game margin each season.
McCarthy's career winning percentage during the regular season is the best in MLB history, and his postseason winning percentage (.698) is the best among managers who have been to the postseason at least three times.
Advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.
Kerry Miller is a multisport writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.