In its preseason preview today, the Chicago Tribune focused on managers, calling this the “Golden Age of Managing” (registration is free). I don’t mean to quibble, but this article bugs me for a couple of reasons.
One, the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were truly the Golden Age of Managing. In those days, there were no General Managers, and front office personnel were bookkeepers and the like. The manager truly ran the show. Think of Harry Wright, Connie Mack and Joe McCarthy. Those guys ruled the roost, and their impact on their teams was much larger than that exerted by today’s managers.
Second, the Tribune uses something they call the “Impact Factor,” which is a measure of how much managers have exceeded their “Pythagorean record” (that is, won/loss record based on runs scored and allowed). This seems like a superficial way to evaluate managers, in my opinion. If you want to exceed your Pythagorean record, just bring in your worst reliever during blowouts, and leave him in there so you can lose a couple of 20-4 games. That doesn’t prove much to me.
Bill James explored a more sophisticated approach in his 1995 Guide to Baseball Managers, effectively measuring how much managers kept their teams excellent year after year, which is a very hard thing to do. According to his methodology, Joe McCarthy ranked first. McCarthy didn’t even make the Tribune’s list.
I will say, however, that the Tribune’s pick of Bobby Cox as the top manager of all time could be a valid one. After all, he has kept his team atop the NL East for many, many years. When James published his book in 1997, Cox finished third in his analysis. It would be interesting to see how Bobby Cox would rate today.