With Joe Torre passing Sparky Anderson last night to move into fifth place on the all-time list of managerial victories, it strikes me that we have a Mount Rushmore of managers that are working right now.
Three of the top five winningest managers in history are active: Tony La Russa (third at 2,496 victories), Bobby Cox (fourth at 2,357) and Torre (fifth at 2,195).
Connie Mack, of course, is unassailable in first place. When you talk about “a record that will never be broken” in baseball, Mack’s 3,731 victories, over 53 seasons as a manager (I repeat: 53 seasons as a manager ) might not be at the top of the list (I’ll take Will White’s 75 complete games in 1879 as the record that will truly never be broken), but it’s right up there. Mack is 968 wins ahead of No. 2 John McGraw (2,763 wins) and 1,235 ahead of La Russa, who turns 65 in October. To catch Mack, La Russa would have to average 90 wins a season for the next 13 seasons, and then win 65 more games, at age 78. It’s not going to happen. And remember — La Russa was 34 years old when the White Sox hired him in 1979. How many managers get a chance to start their victory clock that young?
However, one of these three active managerial titans could realistically catch McGraw. And rising up the ranks is Lou Piniella, in 14th place at 1,732. He’s 276 victories from cracking the top 10, and if the Cubs don’t drive him over the bend, he should get there.
At a time when many record-breaking players are finding their numbers tainted by steroids allegations, we should celebrate the historic managers who are active today. Although I know someone is going to scream about La Russa: He managed Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire; he’s tainted, too.
I’m not prepared to go there. Castigate the player, but I don’t think we can downgrade the manager because some members of his team were using steroids, in an era when steroids use was rampant. I’m having a hard enough time sorting out how to rank players from the steroids era without having to figure out how much to diminish their managers.