This Saturday, an oddball bit of trivial baseball history will silently happen. For the first time in the big leagues since July, 1984, two rival managers will face off against each other in the regular season for the 200th time when Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals host Dusty Baker’s Cincinnati Reds, which should happen on Saturday, Sept. 3.
(Sort of. Baseball-Reference.com and other sources give LaRussa credit for managing the entire 2011 season, though he missed a bit with a case of the shingles, and that bit included a three-game series against the Reds. He was still officially the team’s manager but wasn’t on hand for those games. Ignore that, and the 200th match up between LaRussa and Baker will come early next year).
Are they sick of seeing each other yet?
At any rate, in honor of the upcoming 200th meeting between Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker (it’ll happen eventually, regardless of how you count it), let’s look up some of the highs and lows of managerial matchups across baseball history.
For this column, I researched the career managerial matchups for all Hall of Fame skippers plus everyone with over 2,000 games (except Jack McKeon, who snuck up on me and just crossed the 2,000-game marker in the last two weeks).
Based on that research, here’s 10 things I didn’t know about managerial matchups.
1. Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker are the greatest managerial rivals of our time
Managers used to face each other over 200 times with some regularity. For a long time teams played each other 22 times a year, so it took barely over nine years in the same league to have 200 meetings.
Then came expansion and divisional play. Now managers not only have to survive for a longer time, but have to spend a lot of that time in the same division, which is tricky to achieve. In 40-plus years of divisional play, only one pair of managers has faced each other 200 times—Chuck Tanner and Dick Williams.
Chuck Tanner went 101-117 vs. Dick Williams.
LaRussa and Baker are the best managerial rivalry of the divisional era, even better than Williams and Tanner.
First, their teams are consistently pretty good. That helps. In the 15 years they’ve been alongside each other in the NL, they’ve had only eight losing records. Baker’s teams are almost 100 games over .500, and LaRussa’s Redbirds are over 200 games above the breakeven mark. Twice their teams made the postseason in the same year, and in 2002 they faced off in the NLCS, won by Baker’s Giants, four games to one.
Second, LaRussa and Baker are evenly matched up. Including the shingles series, LaRussa leads, 101-97, so far. And if you throw in the postseason, it’s even closer still. Thanks to Baker’s triumph over LaRussa in the 2002 NLCS, their combined regular-and-postseason record is 102-101, with LaRussa keeping a razor-thin edge.
Third, their teams don’t like each other very much. That’s true these days at least, as evidenced by the brawl last year on Aug. 10, featuring the Johnny Cueto kick line.
Last, but certainly not least, Baker and LaRussa don’t seem to like each very much. Not at all, in fact. They have very different styles. Baker is the nice guy, and LaRussa the red ass. Their teams have constantly had to go up against each other in the same division, heightening any rivalry they had.
But here’s an interesting thing: Baker once played for LaRussa. Yeah, LaRussa’s been managing a while, hasn’t he? LaRussa was Baker’s last manager, with the 1985-86 Oakland A’s. Essentially, LaRussa was the manager who shoved Baker out of an everyday role in baseball, casting him aside for a rookie named Jose Canseco.
Would Baker harbor any resentment? Perhaps not. It’s been a long time, and Baker was declining as a player anyway. But perhaps. Part of the psychology of a ballplayer is to think he’s the best even when the numbers say otherwise. It helps to have that confidence. Besides, as a manager Baker has always been willing to let the veteran prove he can play.
2. John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson are the greatest managerial rivalry of all time.
As nice as the Baker-LaRussa rivalry is, it’ll never be as good as the McGraw-Robinson rivalry. Same division? Heck, McGraw and Robinson spent 18 years managing in the same town—Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers and McGraw with the New York Giants.
Baker and LaRussa may not like each other, but their animosity will never be as visceral as the one McGraw and Robinson shared. Mugsy and Uncle Robby shared a special kind of anger, one only former friends could have.
They got along famously, playing together on the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. When McGraw became manager of the new AL Orioles in 1901, he brought along Robinson as a coach. But when McGraw left midway through 1902, they had a falling out and never repaired their breach. Long story short, Robinson felt McGraw misled and betrayed him, and he never forgave or forgot the slight.
And this duo managed quite a bit more than 200 games against each other. There were 376 match-ups in all, the most by any pair of skippers in NL history. (Connie Mack and Bucky Harris top everyone at 453 games, but there’s no compelling rivalry, and their teams were usually pretty bad).
And let’s add in one last fun factoid on the McGraw-Robinson rivalry. They ended their 18-year war with a perfect .500 record: 186-186-4. They fought each other to a draw.
Folks, this should not have happened. No way McGraw’s Giants should have gone .500 against Robinson’s Dodgers. From 1914-31, when they managed in the NL opposite each other, Robinson posted a .506 overall winning percentage while McGraw’s Giants had a .575 winning percentage.
According to odds ratio, McGraw should’ve gone 212-160-4, 26 more wins than he actually had. Didn’t happen. McGraw’s squads outscored Robinson’s teams, 1,599-1,498, but Pythagorean wins don’t count in the standings. Robby had his revenge, which is helps make this the best rivalry of them all.
3. Another nice .500 rivalry.
There is no great back story here. One never managed the other, and neither hated the other’s guts. But they didn’t need the soap opera. Their teams constantly fought each other for the pennant.
From the time Chance took over the Cubs in mid-1905 until the time he stepped down after the 1912 season, neither his Chicago club nor Fred Clarke’s Pirates squad ever finished worst than third place.
In 1907, the Cubs won the pennant with the Pirates coming in second. In 1908 the Cubs repeated while Pittsburgh tied for second, just one game behind Chicago. In 1909, the Cubs won 104 games, but finished second to Clarke’s Pirates.
How nice that they fought each other to a draw over seven-plus seasons.
4. The worst rivalry of all-time: Joe McCarthy and Bucky Harris
Flipping it around, the ultimate meeting of hammer vs. nail was the record longtime Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy had against Bucky Harris, who managed many teams, usually the Senators.
These two faced each other 299 times, and the result was a pure rout, with McCarthy coming out ahead 202-92-5.
A .687 winning percentage over nearly 300 games is pretty extreme. There’s only one rivalry featuring 100 or more games with a higher winning percentage. John McGraw went 69-30-1 over Burt Shotton for a .697 mark, but that was in exactly 100 games, while the McCarthy-Harris thing was over 300 contests.
Harris’ longest winning streak against McCarthy was three games, and he never swept a three-game series. For his part, McCarthy had a winning streak of four games or more against Harris 16 times, including 10 in a row in 1940-41.
Oddly enough, Harris won five of their first seven meetings. And then McCarthy claimed 25 of the next 30 decisions, setting the tone for the rest of the way.
5. Best record against Hall of Famers
Here’s another thing to look at: Who has the best and worst records against Hall of Fame skippers? I don’t mean who has the best mark against one particular Cooperstown manager, but add up how someone did against all Cooperstown-bound men, and see what the results are.
Please note, Hall of Famer skippers are defined as either: 1) one of the 20 guys currently inducted in Cooperstown, or 2) one of the three guys not yet eligible who certainly will go in – LaRussa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox.
The best record against them comes, not surprisingly, from Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy: 631-359-9 (.637). He has the best record in general, so it makes sense he tops out here. Then comes Billy Southworth (294-189-6, for a .609 percentage). He’s another guy with a really high winning percentage. Then there’s a big drop down to third place, Miller Huggins at .563 (324-252-2). Again, another Hall of Fame skipper.
In fourth place, you find the highest ranking non-HoF skipper, Charlie Grimm. He posted a .554 mark by going 341-274-6 against Hall of Famers.
6. Who did better against Hall of Famers than in general?
All the guys above scored high because they have really good overall records. Here’s another way of looking at it: Did anyone have more success against the immortals than their mortal peers?
That shouldn’t happen, as almost every Cooperstown manager has a winning record and most are well over .500, but let’s look.
Turns out five guys did it, including all four mentioned above.
McCarthy had two secret weapons in his favor: Harris and Mack. They’re the only Cooperstown managers with winning records, and they were McCarthy’s contemporaries. Mack had some great stretches, but he was pretty bad in almost all the time McCarthy was in the AL. Similarly, Harris won three pennants, but they all happened in years McCarthy didn’t manage. Mack’s problems also put Huggins on the list. Huggins was 163-85-1 against Mack’s White Elephants.
Grimm, especially, destroyed those two, going .658 (127-66-1) against McKechnie, and .679 (53-25) against Stengel. Southworth was a bit milder against McKechnie (90-57, .612), but leveled Stengel (59-21, .738).
But like I said, that’s only four of the five guys. The fifth guy actually had the biggest and most impressive disparity between his record against Hall of Famers and his overall record. Making it even more unusual, this guy has a career record under .500—just the sort of guy you wouldn’t expect to place here.
Of course, some other rivals Kelly faced might end up in Cooperstown, ruining his score. Lou Piniella beat up on Kelly, going 76-41 against Kelly’s Twins. If Piniella enters Cooperstown (possible, but not a guarantee), Kelly leaves this list.
7. Who did the worst against Hall of Famers?
The real answer I’m sure is someone I didn’t check on, but of the 50-plus prominent guys I looked at, the answer is Mack, who lost almost 60 percent of his decisions to his fellow immortals. Not especially surprising.
The biggest comedown from overall record to HOF record is by Cooperstown’s very own Ned Hanlon. He went .530 overall in his career but only .420 against inducted ones. His problem was two-fold. First, there weren’t many Hall of Fame managers around in his prime. It was pretty much just rival Frank Selee, who got the better of Hanlon, 121-93-6 (.565).
Second, a past-his-prime Hanlon got torched by McGraw, his former player. McGraw destroyed his one-time mentor, 87-46-3 (.654).
8. Who faced Hall of Famers the most?
In terms of raw numbers, the most games against a Hall of Famer is not, shockingly enough, Mack. In an upset, Harris beats out the Tall Tactician, 1,218 to 1,206. Aside from them, only Jimmy Dykes (1,078), and McGraw (1,031) top a thousand (with McCarthy just missing at 999).
The real fun part is breaking it into percentages. The skipper who faced the highest percentage of his games against Hall of Fame rivals was Frankie Frisch. In all, 37.8 percent of Frisch’s games managed came against Hall of Famers.
Despite managing only 2,200 games, Frisch faced off against three different immortals over 200 times each—Southworth, McKechnie, and Leo Durocher. Plus he also saw Stengel 165 times and even faced Harris a little in his only season in the NL.
After Frisch, the next highest is Dykes, and then Joe Cronin. To put it simply, a lot of managers in the 1930s and 1940s ended up in Cooperstown. The guys in their primes then got in (Durocher, McKechnie, Southworth, McCarthy), there were some who hadn’t reached their prime (Stengel), and some holdovers from earlier days (Mack, Harris). So that’s why Frisch, Dykes, and Cronin top the percentage game.
9. The first and the last
Here’s a random one. Every field general has to have a rival manager for his first game, but who is the most frequent skipper to break in a prominent manager?
Well, not too surprisingly, the answer is Mack. Three times someone who went on to have a prominent career had his first game come against Mack: Wilbert Robinson on the 1902 Orioles, Harris with the 1924 Senators, and Cronin on the 1933 Senators.
Two other skippers introduced a pair of managers. In the 1920s, Reds manager Jack Hendricks was the opposing manager when two Hall of Famers made their debuts, Joe McCarthy and Billy Southworth. A half-century later, Bill Virdon faced off against rookie skipper Frank Robinson in 1975 and at the end of 1976 did likewise with Tommy Lasorda.
Really, Virdon has the knack of being on hand for not only the beginning of careers, but the end of them, too. When Walter Alston managed the last game of his Hall of Fame career in 1976, Virdon was the opposing manager. He did the same for Bill Rigney.
Actually, both Rigney and Alston retired in 1976. It’s just that for some strange reason the Dodgers let Alston go with four games left to play. So Virdon retired Alston, introduced Lasorda the next day, and then went to the last series of the year, where he saw Rigney’s last hurrah. Busy week.
Virdon saw plenty of comings and goings at the end of 1976.
Three other managers have retired a pair of prominent rivals. Anderson did it for Earl Weaver and Billy Martin. Cox was the final manager for Bobby Valentine and Piniella (well, unless Valentine comes back).
And a current manager has also done it, Charlie Manuel finished off Cox and Jim Fregosi. Well, sort of. Manuel managed against Cox in his last regular season game, but he faced Bruce Bochy and the Giants in the NLDS to end his career.
Cox: Showed others to the door and been shown there himself.
10. Most ties in a managerial rivalry
Here’s another random one: What managerial pairing has the most ties in it? I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer turns out to be some 1880s pair I haven’t looked up yet, but among those I have, the winner is an unexpected one. Match-ups between Frisch and Southworth resulted in nine ties.
Southworth and Frisch? Well, they managed 202 games against each other, which is a decent amount, but plenty of others top it. But that Frisch-Southworth had the knack for ties. They had two ties in 1942, another pair in 1943, and three in 1944. Seven of their nine ties went extra innings.
Nine ties in one rivalry: There’s a record unlikely to be broken anytime soon.
The Odds Ratio thing comes from Boss-man Studes. I personally have no idea how to do that math.