Monday February 20, 2012
Douglas ‘Chuck’ Booth:
Let’s face it, we live in a right here, right now world. With this motto, baseball manager have great expectations for instant results.
This rule even applies to managers who have a great track record. The template from yesteryear was simple, hire a manager that had been coaching in your organization for years.
This way, it would be an easy transition into the Manager role. When the managers were hired, they were given years to shape the team.
It wasn’t unheard of for managers to be with a Major League Team for 20-30 years, when you factored in coaching and Manager positions of elevation.
Today we take a look at four skippers who personify this philosophy: Tommy Lasorda, Tony La Russa, Cito Gaston and Sparky Anderson.
One of the best managers of all time is Tommy Lasorda. This long time skipper guided the LA Dodgers to World Series pennants back in 1981 and 1988.
Lasorda’s voice greeting still states “If you don’t bleed Dodger Blue, there is a good chance you won’t get into heaven.” This man is the true definition of ‘Organizational Man.’
Lasorda was fresh off a brilliant minor league pitching career and even won a World Series with the Major League Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955. ‘Tommy’ worked as a scout from 1961 to 1965.
He then managed several tiers of the Dodgers Minor League umbrella, culminating in the 1972 PCL Championship with the Albuquerque Dukes.
In 1976, Lasorda made his way to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He won 5 division titles in his 20 years of coaching. Lasorda also coached 9 ‘Rookie of the Year’ players in this time frame.
Lasorda, when interviewed a few years back on XM Radio Home Plate said, “the reason why I was so successful as a coach was because I knew I would be the manager of the club the for as long as I wanted.
This kind of stability promotes a great team run every few years because of the continuity.”
Bravo to your statement Mr. Lasorda. This is exactly why I am writing this article today.
The man has the third most wins all time. He has also managed 5,097 games.
La Russa spent 8 seasons with the Chicago White Sox from 1978-1986 where he complied a manager of the year, a playoff berth in the 1983 ALCS versus the eventual World Series winner Baltimore Orioles.
Tony was fired after a rough start in 1986 before going on to manage the A’s 3 weeks later.
Under the tutelage of the skinny and tallman, the A’s appeared in 3 straight World Series from 1988-1990.
While La Russa’s A’s were prohibitive favorites in each of these Series, he was up-ended in ’88 by the Dodgers and ’90 by the Reds.
In the 1989 Bay Bridge Series, the A’s flexed their muscle over the regional rivals the San Francisco Giants.
The A’s remained a powerhouse in the early to mid-Nineties.
An ownership change forced La Russa to leave for St. Louis in 1996. Right off the bat, the team made the playoffs.
However, it was a tough time to match up against the Atlanta Braves every year during this era.
The stability of Larussa’s leadership saw the Cardinals become a threat for the next 15 seasons.
The team won 2 World Series (2006, 2011) in three appearances,with their only loss to the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
La Russa has been aided by many amazing baseball players in their prime, including: Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley and Chris Carpenter. He retired at the end of last year. The man is as consistent as they come.
Added to the mix has been Pitching Coach Dave Duncan, who receives a lot of credit for helping La Russa in his years of managing with his magician like performances from league ‘castoffs.’
Sparky Anderson burst onto the scene in the early 70’s with the Cincinnati Reds.
Instantly Sparky put his stamp on the club with a World Series appearance versus the Baltimore Orioles in 1970. The team lost, but had the foundation for ‘The Big Red Machine.’
Armed with the likes of: Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Ken Griffey Sr., Dave Conception and George Foster, the Sparky-led team was blitzing the rest of the NL en route to consecutive World Series titles in 1975 and 1976.
The team started aging after this with a couple of 2nd place finishes to the LA Dodgers in 1977 and 1978, which prompted GM Dick Wagner to fire Sparky. The move was considered ‘foolish.’ Sparky was hired in the next season by the Detroit Tigers.
With the likes of: Jack Morris, Alan Trammel, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson, the Tigers were saddled with MVP candidates everywhere.
The team stormed out of the gate 35-5 in 1984 before coasting to a team record 104-58.
The team won the World Series over the San Diego Padres and Sparky Anderson felt he had been vindicated from his Reds firing.
An incredible last week of 1987, including a Toronto Blue Jays collapse, saw the Tigers win the division again.
They ultimately lost in the playoffs to the Minnesota Twins in the ALCS.
For the next few years the team’s talent eroded, this did not stop Sparky from achieving the most from his bunch. Perhaps 1991 is the best illustration of Sparky’s managerial skills.
The team was last in every pitching and hitting category, yet they were nose-to-nose with the Toronto Blue Jays until the very last week of the season.
The Tigers from 1992-1995 were a declining baseball team but it had more to do with General Manager decisions rather than Sparky’s coaching.
Sparky won 1000 games in each the AL and NL, plus a World Series with both clubs he managed.
Sparky was great at praising his players to the media which made him one of the most popular skippers all time.
In 1989, the Toronto Blue Jays got off to an abysmal start of 12-24. It was a team that had been one of the better baseball clubs over the last five years.
George Bell was a top-5 offensive player in the Majors, plus Dave Stieb was the winningest pitcher of the decade. Then skipper Jimy Williams was fired.
Gaston (the hitting coach back then), had so much respect for Jimy that he declined the original offer to manage the club.
After the players encouraged him to take the job, he led the club to a 77-49 record and the team outlasted the Baltimore Orioles for the division title. The team lost to the powerhouse Oakland A’s in the ALCS.
The bash brothers and Rickey Henderson always saved their best for the Canadian club in the playoffs.
Cito was a master at teaching hitting. He fixed glitches in the swings of George Bell, Kelly Gruber, Fred McGriff, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield. All of these players had MVP type seasons at one point for the franchise .
The team made the playoffs again in 1991 before being losing to the Minnesota Twins.
The Jays were amongst the highest payrolls in the early nineties because they were drawing 4 million fans a year at the Skydome.
In 1992, the team brought in Dave Winfield because Cito believed in the aging slugger.
Winfield enjoyed his best year in a long time with a 100 RBI season. Winfield’s leadership came through in the playoffs as well.
The Jays finally won the World Series versus the Braves on his big double in extra innings.
The team repeated in 1993 versus the Phillies when Joe Carter homered off Mitch ‘Wildthing’ Williams.
The next few years, the team was plagued by the lockout/strike and players abandoning the team for bigger opportunities down south. Roberto Alomar leaving really escalated the team’s decline.
Instead of offering patience with the man, Cito was fired in the last week of the 1997 season. He would never manager another club despite having a resume that was so solid.
Gaston returned to the Jays in a special advisory capacity years later. He then took over the manager job from John Gibbons after the team went 35-39 to start the 2008 campaign.
Gaston led the club to a 51-37 finish that featured a 10-game winning streak.
A few years later, Gaston would help Jose Bautista with his swing. He took an average player and turned him into a superstar with incredible power.
Gaston walked away from the team for good with an 85-77 record in 2010.
I personally believe that Cito was given a raw deal when the Jays fired him in 1997. I was so happy for Gaston to have a chance to redeem his status with the organization.
All of these men had their struggles at some point during their career.
When the baseball teams stuck with them, they were ultimately rewarded with World Series wins. It should be the new/old path for hiring new managers.
A memo to Major League Baseball organizations: Hire someone from within your organization and give them the leeway, plus space to cultivate the talent.
Please don’t be so irrational to fire them after a rough stretch of games. It is just a thought, yet somehow I think the argument will continue to fall on deaf ears.
*** Thank you to our Baseball Writer- Douglas “Chuck” Booth for preparing today’s feature on MLB reports. To learn more about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames” and Chuck Booth, you can follow Chuck on Twitter (@ChuckBooth3024)
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