Of the 20 managers currently enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, only three managed in the last quarter century – Whitey Herzog, whose last year with the Cardinals was 1990; Sparky Anderson, who finished with the Tigers in 1995; and Tommy Lasorda, who made it part way through the 1996 season with the Dodgers.
So Sunday’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., provides not only fresher faces to the category, but a complete update on who is represented in the Hall. Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre not only managed the modern game. They all but defined it, each in his own way.
Forget, for a moment, the winning – though with 40 division titles, 17 pennants and eight World Series championships among them, that’s nearly impossible. But the accomplishments are outgrowths of how each man managed both the games and the people in them, with a combination of competitiveness and tenderness.
La Russa and Cox, because they worked so long in the modern National League, all but redefined how modern bullpens are built and deployed. Each was a master at not only playing for matchups, but getting the matchup he wanted. Neither was afraid to go to the bullpen early and splicing together the final four innings of a game with six or seven pitchers, if need be. But relievers in their bullpens weren’t surprised, either, when they were called upon, because the roles were clearly defined.
Torre, of course, had the luxury of Mariano Rivera as his closer with the Yankees for 11 of his seasons in New York. His defining characteristic was more subtle, but every bit as important in the modern game. Torre knew New York and understood New York. No team in baseball, and perhaps in pro sports, is covered like the Yankees. And for his entire tenure with the franchise, which lasted a dozen years and produced 10 division titles, Torre never made a misstep with the media.
This might seem to be a minor point. It’s not. In the 2006 playoffs, for instance, Torre dropped Alex Rodriguez to eighth in the Yankees’ order against Detroit. The move was a bombshell for a guy like Rodriguez who, at age 30, was already a 10-time all-star and two-time MVP. Yet Torre took question after question, calmly, in both pre- and postgame sessions with reporters, just as he did on hundreds of issues prior to that moment and hundreds after. That sets the tone for an entire franchise.
So the enshrinement of three modern managers, all with ties back to old-school days, updates Cooperstown in an appropriate manner. But it also leaves us wondering: Who’s next?
Jim Leyland, who retired after last season with the Detroit Tigers, is of the same era as Cox, Torre and La Russa, and he won six division titles, three pennants and a World Series with three different teams. San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy, though understated, got some support for such an honor when he won his second World Series title with the Giants in 2012, and he’s only 59.
Modern statistical analysis often downplays the impact a manager can have not only on a game, but on a season. But even more than that, which managers going forward will be able to combine longevity with innovation and a deft touch – both in games and in the clubhouse – to warrant such an honor? Take a good look at Cox, La Russa and Torre on the stage Sunday in Cooperstown, because it’s almost certain there’ll never be a group like them again.