5) Bobby Cox
I realize he only won one World Series, but very few have ever won as consistently as Cox did. He first led the Atlanta Braves from 1978 to 1981, and then managed the Toronto Blue Jays from 1982 to 1985. He later rejoined the Braves in 1986 as a general manager. He moved back to the manager’s role during the 1990 season and stayed there until his retirement following the 2010 season. The Atlanta Braves have since retired the number 6 in commemoration of Bobby Cox. He led the Atlanta Braves to the World Series championship in 1995. He holds the all-time record for ejections in Major League Baseball with 158 (plus an additional three post-season ejections), a record previously held by John McGraw.
Cox has been named Manager of the Year four times (1985, 1991, 2004, 2005) and is one of only four managers to have won the award in both the American and National League. He is also the only person to have won the award in consecutive years. Cox has also been named Manager of the Year by The Sporting News eight times (1985, 1991, 1993, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005).
4) Tony LaRussa
As a manager, La Russa guided his teams to three World Series titles, six league championships and twelve division titles in 33 seasons. His 2,728 wins as a manager ranks third all-time in major league history, behind Connie Mack and John McGraw. La Russa was named manager of the White Sox in the middle of the 1979 season and guided the White Sox to an American League West division title four seasons later. Despite being fired in the middle of the 1986 season, the Athletics hired him less than three weeks later, and La Russa led the A’s to three consecutive American League championships from 1988 to 1990 and the 1989 World Series title. He left Oakland following the 1995 season to manage the Cardinals, and led the team to three National League championships and the 2006 and 2011 World Series titles. La Russa retired after winning the 2011 title and 33 seasons as a major league manager.
3) Connie Mack
Nobody will ever come close to Mack for longevity. He holds the records for wins, losses and games managed, and won almost 1,000 more games than any other manager. But he was regarded as a master tactician who believed in intelligence as much as ability. One of the first to reposition his fielders during a game.Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics for the club’s first 50 seasons of play, starting in 1901, before retiring at age 87 following the 1950 season, and was at least part-owner from 1901 to 1954. He was the first manager to win the World Series three times, and is the only manager to win consecutive Series on separate occasions (1910–11, 1929–30); his five Series titles remain the third most by any manager, and his nine American League pennants rank second in league history. However, constant financial struggles forced repeated rebuilding of the roster, and Mack’s teams also finished in last place 17 times. Mack was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.
2) Joe McCarthy
McCarthy has the numbers. His winning percentage is the best all-time for managers with more than 300 games. He won 792 games more than he lost. He’s the Yankees’ all-time leader in wins (1460). He was a low-key leader, and was once described as a push-button manager. But he obviously knew which buttons to push on teams with Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and, later, Ted Williams. Only once team (1922 in the minors) did he manage a team with a losing record or below fourth place. McCarthy’s career winning percentages in both the regular season (.615) and postseason (.698, all in the World Series)are the highest in major league history. His 2,125 career victories rank eighth all-time in major league history for managerial wins, and he ranks first all-time for the Yankees with 1,460 wins.
1) John McGraw
His teams finished 815 games over .500, the most ever. He still holds the record for wins in the National League. His style was small-ball, perfect for baseball’s dead-ball era. He favored the hit-and-run and sacrifice bunt, and often got the most out of older players that other teams had given up on.
Despite great success as a player, McGraw is most remembered for his tremendous accomplishments as a manager. In his book The Old Ball Game, National Public Radio’s Frank Deford calls McGraw “the model for the classic American coach—a male version of the whore with a heart of gold—a tough, flinty so-and-so who was field-smart, a man’s man his players came to love despite themselves.” McGraw took chances on players, signing some who had been discarded by other teams, often getting a few more good seasons out of them. Sometimes these risks paid off; other times, they did not work out quite so well. McGraw took a risk in signing famed athlete Jim Thorpe in 1913. Alas, Thorpe was a bust, not because he lacked athletic ability, but because “he couldn’t hit a ball that curved.” McGraw was one of the first to use a relief pitcher to save games. He pitched Claude Elliott in relief eight times in his ten appearances in 1905. Though saves were not an official statistic until 1969, Elliot was retroactively credited with six saves that season, a record at that time.
McGraw believed that he had to eliminate any potential distractions that could cause his teams to lose. For example, Casey Stengel, who played for the Giants from 1921 to 1923, recalled that McGraw would go over the meal tickets at the team hotel, and wasn’t shy about telling his players that they weren’t eating right. For most of his tenure, he set a curfew for 11:30 pm. According to Rogers Hornsby, who served as a player-coach for the Giants in 1927, either McGraw or one of his coaches would knock on the players’ hotel room doors at 11:30 sharp—and someone was expected to answer. He was known to be extremely competitive; he would fine players for fraternizing with members of other teams and would not tolerate smiling in the dugout. According to Bill James, with McGraw “the rules were well understood.”