Monday, August 18, 2014
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.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Sure, we've seen our fair share of former Sox players go into the Hall during our lifetimes. If you watched Sunday's ceremony, you saw a few of them in attendance -- Carlton Fisk, Roberto Alomar and Tom Seaver. Heck, Tony La Russa, who was inducted into the Hall on Sunday as a manager, also made significant contributions to White Sox history.
But it's different with Frank Thomas. Unlike Fisk, Alomar and Seaver, all of whom have significant ties to other teams, Thomas is one of our own. He's the pride of the South Side. The first White Sox player to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. The best player in team history. Even though he had brief stints with Oakland and Toronto late in his career, Thomas is a White Sox -- the most well-known player associated with the organization over the last quarter century. Watching him go into the Hall on Sunday was a moment of great joy for me, as it should have been for all Sox fans.
His numbers speak for themselves, but we'll repeat them again. A lifetime career batting average of .301, to go along with a .419 on-base percentage, .555 slugging percentage and a .974 OPS. 521 career home runs. 1,704 career RBIs. Four Silver Sluggers, two MVP awards, the 1997 batting title and a 2005 World Series ring.
How's that for a career?
If there is one thing that separated Thomas for every other hitter I've seen, it would be his legendary plate discipline. He simply didn't swing at bad pitches, and that was the case from the first day he entered the big leagues. I've seen other hitters through the years develop that patience and discipline (think Barry Bonds) at the plate as their careers move along, but you just don't see that often from guys at age 22 -- which was how old Thomas was when he joined the Sox in 1990. It usually takes time for a young hitter to develop that knowledge of the strike zone. Thomas had that the day he walked in the door. That was his edge, his gift.
Thomas led the league in walks (138) and on-base percentage (.453) in 1991, his first full season in the majors. Who does that? Not too many. Later in his career, Thomas was more of a pure power hitter, but in his White Sox heyday, he was a great hitter who just happened to hit his fair share of home runs. He hit 41 home runs while striking out just 54 times during his MVP season of 1993. Again, who does that? You don't see too many guys hit that many home runs without giving up some of their ability to make contact.
Thomas was a great contact hitter, a great power hitter and a guy who would take his walks. That combination is so very rare, and I don't know if all of us realized it at the time just how good he was.
Here's the number that, for me, sums up Thomas' greatness. His on-base percentage the first eight years of his career was .452. Only two players in the history of the game can claim to have been better -- Ted Williams (.488) and Babe Ruth (.467). That's elite company.
On Sunday, Thomas also was in elite company, joining Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre in one of the greatest Hall of Fame classes of all time.
Thomas' acceptance speech was the most emotional of the six. Plenty of tears were shed as he spoke about his parents, his brother and countless others who helped him during his early years and baseball career. Perhaps the most heartfelt moment of the day came when Thomas spoke of his late father, Frank Thomas Sr.
"Thanks for pushing me and always preaching to me, 'You could be someone special, if you really work at it.' I took that heart, pops, and look at us today," Thomas said.
The speech also featured a "verbal montage" to former teammates, during which Thomas mentioned 138 names of guys he played with during his 19-year career. During his playing days, Thomas was often portrayed as selfish and sometimes aloof. On this induction day, he proved otherwise with a speech full of humility and gratitude. White Sox fans should be proud to claim him as one of their own.
I don't agree with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on much, but I applaud him for proclaiming Sunday as Frank Thomas Day in Illinois. This is a day for celebration.
Bravo, Frank Thomas. Congratulations on your induction into baseball's Hall of Fame. Chicago is proud of you.