This annotated week in baseball history: Jan. 17 – Jan. 23, 2010

This week Richard received his copy of Chris Jaffe’s Evaluating Baseball’s Managers. In honor of the work, he attempts to assemble the “All-Manager Team.”

Before we begin this week’s column, a brief update on last week’s “Baid Billy” mystery. One reader pointed out that Wikipedia—and when is that wrong?—lists his nickname as “Bald Billy” and even has photographic evidence of his baldness. On the other hand, another reader notes that Barnie is a traditional Scottish name, and that “Bad Billy” through a Scottish brogue could easily be written as “Baid Billy.” So for now, the mystery continues.

As for this week’s column, the idea came to me when I was flipping through my copy of fellow history nerd Chris Jaffe’s Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, which I would recommend even if my name weren’t in the acknowledgments section. Chris has done an extraordinary amount of research, and while it may not answer the question of the best manager of all time, no book has come closer.

One section that caught my eye was a discussion of how, in recent baseball history, managers and general managers are essentially drawn from two entirely different pools of talent. Managers are (generally speaking) ex-players, while Kenny Williams of the White Sox is the only former player to currently serve as a GM.

This got me thinking about what kind of team you could assemble, trying to combine the best managers who had also been great players. It is an often repeated truism that the best managers are not great players, and there is truth in that. In the past decade, there has been one manager with an MVP award (Joe Torre) but also two with less than 300 career MLB games (Tony LaRussa and Charlie Manuel) and one who never played in the majors at all (Jack McKeon).

Joe Torre, learning the managerial ropes (Icon/SMI)

Nonetheless, as Torre proves, some great players have also had success as managers. In that vein, I sought to assemble a team composed of men who were in that company. On the other hand, I tried to strike a balance between them. Longevity matters in both cases, which is why Yogi Berra and Walter Johnson—both brilliant players—don’t make the managerial list.

Catcher: Joe Torre

When it comes to managers, catcher is an embarrassment of riches. Torre is a nine-time All-Star (albeit some of those after he moved off catcher), and no manager has more playoff appearances. Notable managers who started behind the dish range from Connie Mack to Joe Girardi, Mickey Cochrane to Mike Scioscia. But none combines the talents of Torre as player and manager, so he earns a coveted spot on the team.

First base: Frank Chance

Well, who else would it be? The Peerless Leader was a career .294 hitter and a threat for both power and speed. His five-year peak, running from 1902 through 1906, saw Chance post a .314/.419/.426 line; that OPS was topped by only Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie. Meanwhile, he also managed the Cubs to four pennants and two World Series titles, and during his time in Chicago the team’s winning percentage comes out to an average of 107 wins in the 162-game schedule.

Second base: Miller Huggins

This one surprised me. Not in the quality of Huggins’ managing, of course. Mighty Mite helped establish the Yankees as the premier team in baseball. He managed the team for 11 full seasons and won a pennant in six of them, with three World Championships. But I did not realize Huggins was also a quality second baseman, finishing as high as sixth in MVP voting during his time at the keystone and ending his career with a 107 OPS+. That’s enough to boost him over Davey Johnson for the spot.

Third base: John McGraw

McGraw was a manager a long time ago, and a third baseman even longer ago than that. But he was really good at both roles, and that’s enough to make the list. As a player, McGraw’s strength was his batting eye. Six times he drew 85 or more walks, and he still has the third-highest career on-base percentage. As a manager, meanwhile, Little Napoleon won three titles and 10 pennants, including three in a row on two separate occasions.

Shortstop: Joe Cronin

At the age of 26, Joe Cronin took over as manager of the Washington Senators, a team for which he was already playing shortstop. Cronin led the Senators to the pennant, doing so while batting .309, leading the league in doubles and finishing second in the MVP vote. The next season the Washingtonians dropped to seventh in the standings—Cronin’s managerial career in a nutshell. His teams finished first or second six times, and sixth or worse four times. Meanwhile, Cronin continued to hit—he ended his career with more than 500 doubles, 100 triples and 2,200 hits. After his in uniform career ended, Cronin served as both general manager of the Red Sox and president of the American League.

Left field: Fred Clarke

Another man from a long time ago, and another extremely talented one. Despite having played his last real action in 1911, Clarke is still seventh all-time in triples, in the top 50 for stolen bases, runs scored and singles, and in the top 100 for hits and times on base. A longtime Pirates manager, he guided them to three straight National League Championships from 1901 to 1903 and won the 1909 World Series. Only five managers are more games above .500 for their career than Clarke.

Center field: Ned Hanlon

Hanlon never played a game in the 20th century—the only man on this list for whom that is true. And truthfully, his greatest success came as a manager before the 1900s rolled around. Hanlon won the NL title in 1900 with Brooklyn, but never finished higher than second thereafter. But before the turn of the century he won four league titles and had a winning percentage over .600. Hanlon was never a great hitter, but center field is a slim position for successful managers, so it is his place.

Right field: Billy Southworth

Maybe the most underrated manager his baseball history, Southworth is virtually unknown today, due in part to a relatively short managerial career. But in the 13 years he managed, Southworth won four pennants and two World Series, and only three men—Joe McCarthy, Frank Selee and Charles Comiskey—managed more games with a better winning percentage than Southworth’s .597. Like Hanlon, Southworth was a better manager than player, but he was a good enough hitter to earn the place.

Pitcher: Clark Griffith

In some ways, Griffith is the least successful manager on this list. He won only one pennant, the lowest total of any manager, and is one of only two to never win a World Series. (The other is Hanlon, who managed most of his career in the pre-World Series era.) But Griffith did win 1,491 games while in charge, good for 19th all-time. As a pitcher he won 237 games, including an average of 23 a year in the late 1890s, and led the NL in ERA at 1.88 in 1898. Griffith’s combination puts him on the mound.

That’s a pretty good team. And with that much managerial talent, you wonder if it couldn’t just run itself. I hope that’s the case, because finding someone to take the job of trying to tell nine of the best managers in baseball history what to do might be the greatest challenge in its own right.

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  1. Patriot said...

    First base: Frank Chance

    Well, who else would it be?

    It could have been an earlier first baseman/manager from the same franchise, Cap Anson.

  2. Jim C said...

    this of course begs for the mirror images lists: great player/lousy manager, (Ted Williams?); cup of coffee or less/great manager, (Walt Alston?) etc.

  3. Gilbert said...

    Lou Boudreau would be a close 2nd to Cronin at SS and Pete Rose might earn a (dis?) honorable mention at one of several postitions.

    And of course Billy Beane is another former player now GM.

  4. Richard Barbieri said...

    I did consider Anson at first base, but I thought Chance was probably playing better (or, at the least, more even) competition so he won the spot.

    The one I really think I missed is Rube Foster, who was a Negro League manager and pitcher.

  5. Bob Rittner said...

    I hesitate to call Ted Williams a lousy manager. The year he took over the Senators, the team record improved from 65-96 to 86-76 with basically the same lineup. In 1968, the year before he arrived, they scored 524 runs and allowed 665. in 1969, they scored 694 runs and allowed 644, moving from a 623 OPS and 91 OPS+ to a 708 OPS and a 103 OPS+. Every single starting position player improved his hitting, in most cases dramatically, and most of the reserves did as well.

    It is true that the following year they regressed dramatically and then got even worse in his last two seasons, but there were unusual circumstances that might have been factors in those failures including the disruptive influence of Denny McClain in 1971 and the move to Texas in 1972.

  6. Ed Buskirk said...

    I think it’s worth mentioning that every name on this list was a player-manager at some point in their career, and five of them had their greatest managerial success as player-managers.

    As we’ll never see another player-manager again, for mostly non-baseball reasons, this list is likely to remain set in stone.

  7. John Fox said...

    I’d put Gil Hodges at 1st, miracle 1969 season topped off by crushing the Orioles in the World Series, and he would have managed the Mets for years if not for the untimely heart attack. His playing stats were nearly identical to Hall of Famer Tony Perez

  8. Brent said...

    You mentioned Negro league pitcher/manager Rube Foster.  Another Negro leaguer who arguably belongs on this list is Oscar Charleston.  As a center fielder, Bill James lists him as the # 4 player of all time. That’s probably too high, but at his peak Charleston was an awesome hitter, fielder, and baserunner.  And as a manager, he presided over the 1932-37 Pittsburgh Crawfords team, one of the greatest teams of the Negro leagues.

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