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La Russa and the great managers

After Tony La Russa announced he was retiring as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday morning, and presumably retiring from managing altogether at the age of 67, I started looking at some managerial history.Tony La Russa speaks to the crowd at Busch Stadium on Sunday at a celebration honoring the World Champion Cardinals.La Russa is one of only 10 managers in baseball history to win 2,000 or more games. He’s third on the all-time list with 2,728 victories, behind John McGraw (2,763) and Connie Mack (3,731).

Sports fans are always eager to quantify where an athlete, coach or manager stands among the all-time best. In this case, you can’t just look at wins. I would say La Russa is one of the five or six greatest managers in baseball history. Consider that in his 16 seasons in St. Louis, the Cardinals had only three losing seasons. They finished first or second in the National League Central 10 times and were in the postseason nine times, including eight of the past 12 years.

La Russa’s 16 seasons with the Cardinals coincided with the greatest stretch of St. Louis baseball in history, in my opinion. Before La Russa arrived in 1996, the Cardinals had made it to the postseason three times in the previous 28 years. And all of those came under Whitey Herzog – in 1983, 1985 and 1987. The Cardinals went to the World Series in each of those seasons and won a world championship in 1982.

Here are some facts about the other nine managers in the 2,000-win club:

Connie Mack (53 years), 3,731-3,949 (.486), nine pennants, five World Series champions – Mack was able to hang around so long with the Philadelphia Athletics because he was also the team’s owner or part-owner for most of his managerial career. Mack finally retired in 1950, when he was 87 and 20 years after his last world championship. His last team, by the way, was 52-102.

John McGraw (33 years), 2,763-1,948 (.586), 10 pennants, three World Series champions – McGraw managed most of his seasons with the New York Giants (1902-32) and was a player-manager for the 1905 Giants team that won a world championship.

Bobby Cox (29 years), 2,504-2,001 (.556), five pennants, one World Series champion – Cox had the luxury of sending Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine to the mound for much of his career in Atlanta, but the winning percentage is impressive. The one World Series title isn’t.

Joe Torre (29 years), 2,326-1,997 (.538), six pennants, four World Series champions – Torre failed to distinguish himself as an elite manager with the Mets, Atlanta and St. Louis before taking over the New York Yankees, where he won four world championships. As you’ll notice, quite a few of the game’s most successful managers padded their resumes with the Yankees.

Sparky Anderson (26 years), 2,194-1,834 (.545), five pennants, three World Series champions – It was impressive to see Anderson win a championship with the 1984 Detroit Tigers after winning two with the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati during the 1970s, managing some of the finest teams in major league history.

Bucky Harris (29 years), 2,158-2,219 (.493), three pennants, two World Series champions – Harris won a world championship as a player-manager with the Washington Senators in 1924. Twenty-three years later, he won a title as manager of the Yankees.

Joe McCarthy (24 years), 2,125-1,333 (.615), nine pennants, seven World Series champions – Simply amazing success. But it was mostly with the Yankees, although McCarthy did lead the Chicago Cubs to a National League pennant in 1929. Still, he was 1,460-867 while managing some great Yankees teams from 1931-46.

Walter Alston (23 years), 2,040-1,613 (.588), seven pennants, four World Series champions – One of the most underrated managers in history, probably because of his laid-back style. The Los Angeles Dodgers were a consistent force under Alston.

Leo Durocher (24 years), 2,008-1,709 (.540), three pennants, one World Series champion – “The Lip” jumped around quite a bit during his career, but he was always colorful and almost always successful with the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs and, for just more than a season, the Houston Astros.

Nine other managers reached the 1,500-win plateau:

Casey Stengel (25 years), 1,905-1,842 (508), 10 pennants, seven World Series – Stengel did most of his winning as the manager of the New York Yankees from 1949-60. With the Yankees, he was 1,149-696, a .623 winning percentage. In 11 seasons combined with Brooklyn, the Boston Braves and the New York Mets, Stengel was 756-1,146.

Gene Mauch (26 years), 1,902-2,037 (.483), no pennants. A native of Salina.

Bill McKechnie (25 years), 1,896-1,723 (.524), four pennants, two World Series champions. McKechnie won with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925 and the Cincinnati Reds in 1940.

Lou Piniella (23 years), 1,835-1,713 (.517), one pennant, one World Series champion. I’ll bet he’d like to forget his three seasons in Tampa Bay.

Ralph Houk (24 years), 1,619-1,531 (.514), three pennants, two World Series champions. A native of Lawrence.

Fred Clarke (19 years), 1,602-1,181 (.576), four pennants, one World Series champion. Clarke, who spent some of his life in Winfield, was a player-manager on a Pittsburgh team that went 110-42 and won a championship in 1909.

Tom Lasorda (21 years), 1,599-1,439 (.526), four pennants, two World Series champions. Followed Alston in style and continued the Dodgers’ winning ways.

Jim Leyland (20 years), 1,588-1,585 (.500), two pennants, one World Series champion. Still managing with the Detroit Tigers.

Dick Williams (21 years), 1,571-1,451 (.520), four pennants, two World Series champions. Won twice in Oakland with some of the most colorful teams in baseball history.

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