Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

December 13, 2013

La Russa, Cox and Torre built Hall of Fame careers on leadership

When managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre were elected to the Hall of Fame, there was universal agreement that the honor was deserved. Not much to debate when the call is unanimous.

If anything was strange, though, it was that the trio was elected at the same time. Previously only 18 managers had been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., so to get three at once was a first. Maybe that's because understanding the reasons for a manager's success is trickier than admiring the athletic prowess of a power hitter or a starting pitcher.

Cox, La Russa and Torre - baseball’s  winningest managers over the past four decades - coached for a combined  91 years. Their teams played a combined 13,934 games, according to Baseball-Reference.com, a site that tracks the sport’s statistical history.

They leave the big leagues ranked third, fourth and fifth in all-time wins by a manager – La Russa (2,727), Cox (2,504) and Torre (2,326). They are topped by Connie Mack, who had 3,731 wins and John McGraw with 2,763.

Mack is most interesting, not just because he wore a gray suit and a straw hat in the dugout, but because he had an overall losing record. His teams lost 3,948 games – a 48.6 winning percentage.

Mack didn’t worry much about getting fired; he owned the team. Few others have enjoyed such job security in a sport where if the shortstop makes throwing errors or the clean-up hitter slumps, it’s the manager who gets fired.

Statistics bear that out. Just nine of the 30 managers heading into spring training next year will have 10 or more years’ experience managing a major league team. Four have not yet filled out a lineup card, and six have two years or less experience on the job. The average tenure is 6.4 years.

Cox, La Russa and Torre were strong leaders – effective executives off and on the field. Fans can argue the decisions each made during a game - a pitching change or a player's failure to advance a runner in an obvious bunting situation. That’s one of the game’s most endearing attractions: We all think we’re managers.

It’s the decisions made away from the field – ones the fans don’t see or understand – that explain why some managers succeed and others fail.

Spotting talent and developing players were trademarks of the three managers who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 27. Each was an outstanding motivator - an under-appreciated task when facing the grind of a 162-game season.

Cox was noted for his patience in turning promising athletes into big-league stars. Some managers don’t get the opportunity to build a winning team; the pressure to win today is too great to worry about tomorrow. He did it with Atlanta before moving on to Toronto, where he made the Blue Jays contenders, and then returned to the Braves where they were again playing for championships. He claimed a Series crown in Atlanta, where he also won 14 consecutive division titles.

La Russa, who won three World Series titles, was somewhat different. He was smart, even earning a law degree, and developed a reputation as a manager who looked at the game in unorthodox ways. Consequently, he’d experiment, such as batting the pitcher eighth or using eight pitchers in a game.

Torre had success as a player and later as a manager – more than 2,300 hits and 2,300 wins. While his Yankee squads were packed with all-star level talent, Torre as a manager parlayed winning into enormous popularity. The spotlight of fame shines brightly in New York, and he was able to handle it - a point not to be minimized, especially with George Steinbrenner looking over his shoulder. The bottom line: Four championships in the Bronx.

Current Giants manager Bruce Bochy is now the game’s senior statesman. He has managed for 19 years, winning exactly half of the 3,060 games his teams have played. Most noteworthy, he has won two World Series championships.

It’s questionable whether future managers, even Botchy, will be able to survive dealing with the big salaries and big egos today’s players bring to the park. Expecting others to manage across the decades like Cox, La Russa and Torre did is hard to fathom.

History tends to repeat itself. But in this case, it won't.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • News in brief, 07/31/14

    About 450 marijuana plants were confiscated during an eradication effort in Lawrence County on Tuesday.

    July 30, 2014

  • 0731facelift1.JPG Painters finishing up work at ACTC

    When Ashland Community and Technical College students return to campus Aug. 18, they will find fresh paint, clean windows and pressure-washed brickwork on the college’s original building on College Drive.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Night Moves on tap for First Friday

    A chance to enjoy an evening run through the streets of Ashland will be among the things to do during the First Friday ArtWalk and Downtown Live for August from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

    July 30, 2014

  • Fairview school district being investigated

    State education investigators were scheduled to arrive in the Fairview school district this morning to interview school officials.

    July 30, 2014

  • Advisory committee on landfill to meet

    Members of the county’s new advisory committee regarding Big Run Landfill enforcement are encouraged to attend the group’s first meeting next week.
    Committee facilitator Mike Clevenger of Cannonsburg said the panel will meet the first Monday of each month, starting next week. For now, all meetings will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Boyd County Community Center.

    July 30, 2014

  • Highway dedicated in Morehead man’s name

    During Wednesday morning’s highway dedication ceremony for late airman Daniel N. Fannin, 30, of Morehead, the man was honored as a Kentucky hero for dedicating his life to the U.S. Air Force until his untimely death last year.

    July 30, 2014

  • Stumbo questions Noah’s Ark incentives, backs off on expanded gambling

    Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo on Wednesday questioned the constitutionality of state incentives for a Noah’s Ark tourist attraction in Grant County.

    July 30, 2014

  • Night Moves for First Friday

    A chance to enjoy an evening run through the streets of Ashland will be among the things to do during the First Friday ArtWalk and Downtown Live for August in downtown Ashland from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

    July 30, 2014

  • ‘Arts in the Vines’ will be in conjunction with U.S. 60 Yard Sale

    Offering a different taste of life in Carter County, the owners of RockSprings Winery are inviting locals and visitors to the U.S. 60 Yard Sale to spend some time in their vineyards during the first “Arts in the Vines” from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday.

    July 30, 2014

  • Grimes zeroes in on women’s issues with latest ad

    Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes is out with a third television ad posing questions from Grimes’ supporters to Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

    July 30, 2014