Monday, August 18, 2014
Fire the manager? Not so fast ...
It's easy to fall into that line of thinking if your favorite team is an also-ran as we hit the dog days of August. A lost season is always frustrating. However, calling for a manager's head isn't always the smartest thing to do.
Let's take a look at the careers of Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre. They were the best managers of a generation, combining to win eight World Series championships. From 1988 through 2006, 14 of the 19 World Series featured at least one of those three managers.
It's no mystery why all three of them went into the Hall of Fame last month. First, all three managed for a long time.
Most games managed in MLB history:
1. Connie Mack 7,755
2. La Russa 5,097
3. John McGraw 4,769
4. Cox 4,508
5. Bucky Harris 4,410
6. Torre 4,329
Secondly, all three won with great frequency.
Most games won by managers in MLB history:
1. Mack 3,731
2. McGraw 2,763
3. La Russa 2,728
4. Cox 2,504
5. Torre 2,326
But here's something you may not have known about these three men: They all lost frequently early in their managerial careers. I recently read a Sports Illustrated article that pointed out that La Russa, Cox and Torre all had losing records and no playoff appearances after four years in the dugout:
Record through four years:
La Russa: 238-244 (.494)
Cox: 266-323 (.452)
Torre: 245-358 (.406)
None of these three men reached the World Series in their first managing jobs. They were all let go for various reasons. La Russa won at his second stop in Oakland. Cox was on his second tour of duty in Atlanta before he won. Torre was fired three times before winning four championships as manager of the New York Yankees.
This is all food for thought if you're one of those impatient fans who thinks a manager should be fired if he doesn't win right away, or if you're one of those fans who thinks a manager should be fired because he doesn't have "enough experience." Your impatience may, in fact, be costing you a guy who is or will become a good manager.
La Russa was managing the White Sox when I was a young kid, and I vividly recall him getting booed at Comiskey Park. There were a lot of people who wanted his head, even after he led the Sox to the 1983 American League West Division title.
The Sox finally fired La Russa in 1986. Time has shown that move was foolish. Team owner Jerry Reinsdorf continues to call La Russa's firing the biggest regret of his life.
Right now, the Sox have another manager without much experience -- Robin Ventura. He isn't winning enough. His record is 207-241 entering Monday's play. He's got a .462 winning percentage as he nears the end of his third year at the helm.
Some say Ventura should be fired, which is an easy argument to make with the Sox on their way to a second consecutive losing streak. And, obviously, it would take quite a leap of faith to believe Ventura's managerial skills will ever be mentioned in the same breath as La Russa, Cox or Torre. That's extraordinarily unlikely.
I bring up those three Hall of Fame guys to make one simple point: Three years isn't long enough to determine whether a guy is going to succeed or fail over the long haul as a manager. The jury is still out on Ventura, and given the rosters he's been handed with the White Sox, I can't pin the team's losing ways on him over the past two seasons.
Managers are no different than players. They can and do get better with more experience. I don't think it's ridiculous to say Ventura still could improve in his role as Sox manager. It's just that most people today don't have that kind of patience, which is unfortunate, because you never know just how close a younger, developing manager might be to becoming a good manager you could win with in the years to come.
Keep that in mind if you're one of the people in the "Fire Ventura" camp, or if you're a fan of another team that is struggling this season.