Managers take center stage at Cooperstown

The baseball Hall of Fame inducted six new members today. Among the inductees were managers Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox (the others were Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine).

One thing about inducting managers: you don’t have to worry about whether their performance was enhanced by drugs.

There was a time, though, when it seemed like La Russa was managing on steroids. That time was the early 1980s when, as Barry Svrluga puts, La Russa would “splice together the final four innings of a game with six or seven pitchers.” Or so it seemed.

The objective was to get the best matchup, not just in the ninth inning, but throughout the latter stages of a game. All runs count equally regardless of when they are scored. Thus, baseball games can be won or lost as easily in the seventh inning as in the ninth.

These days, managers tend to pre-assign innings to pitchers. There’s a seventh inning guy, an eighth inning guy, and a closer who works only the ninth (and only if his team is ahead and the lead isn’t more than three runs).

I prefer La Russa’s less formulaic 1980s approach.

Cox and Torre did their best managing after 1994 when I stopped following baseball closely. Thus, I have fewer impressions of their methods.

Torre, of course, had a run of success rivaled only by his Yankee predecessors, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel. Torre’s managerial career more closely resembles Stengel in that they both experienced failure before coming to the Yankees. Torre’s teams had losing records in nine of the 14 seasons he managed prior to taking the helm in the Bronx.

Cox’s career reminds me of Walter Alston’s — success year-after-year based on terrific pitching. Alston won three World Series compared to Cox’s one. But in Alston’s day, it took less to win the championship. For most of his career, there were no playoffs to navigate.

The winning percentage of Cox (.556) is almost identical to that of Alston (.558). But I give Cox extra credit for succeeding with more than one club. He guided Toronto to the World Series in 1985, before guiding the Braves to five of them.

I’ll conclude by noting an oddity. Torre succeeded Cox as the Braves manager in 1982 and La Russa took over the Cardinals in 1996, the year after Torre had managed them for the first 47 games of the 1995 season (Mike Jorgensen served out the remainder of that campaign).

Today, they all went into the Hall of Fame together, and appropriately so.

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