10 things I didn’t know about managerial match-ups

This Saturday, an oddball bit of trivial baseball history will silently happen. For the first time in the big leagues since July, 1984, two rival managers will face off against each other in the regular season for the 200th time when Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals host Dusty Baker’s Cincinnati Reds, which should happen on Saturday, Sept. 3.

(Sort of. Baseball-Reference.com and other sources give LaRussa credit for managing the entire 2011 season, though he missed a bit with a case of the shingles, and that bit included a three-game series against the Reds. He was still officially the team’s manager but wasn’t on hand for those games. Ignore that, and the 200th match up between LaRussa and Baker will come early next year).

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Are they sick of seeing each other yet?

At any rate, in honor of the upcoming 200th meeting between Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker (it’ll happen eventually, regardless of how you count it), let’s look up some of the highs and lows of managerial matchups across baseball history.

For this column, I researched the career managerial matchups for all Hall of Fame skippers plus everyone with over 2,000 games (except Jack McKeon, who snuck up on me and just crossed the 2,000-game marker in the last two weeks).

Based on that research, here’s 10 things I didn’t know about managerial matchups.

1. Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker are the greatest managerial rivals of our time

Managers used to face each other over 200 times with some regularity. For a long time teams played each other 22 times a year, so it took barely over nine years in the same league to have 200 meetings.

Then came expansion and divisional play. Now managers not only have to survive for a longer time, but have to spend a lot of that time in the same division, which is tricky to achieve. In 40-plus years of divisional play, only one pair of managers has faced each other 200 times—Chuck Tanner and Dick Williams.

Chuck Tanner went 101-117 vs. Dick Williams.

LaRussa and Baker are the best managerial rivalry of the divisional era, even better than Williams and Tanner.

First, their teams are consistently pretty good. That helps. In the 15 years they’ve been alongside each other in the NL, they’ve had only eight losing records. Baker’s teams are almost 100 games over .500, and LaRussa’s Redbirds are over 200 games above the breakeven mark. Twice their teams made the postseason in the same year, and in 2002 they faced off in the NLCS, won by Baker’s Giants, four games to one.

Second, LaRussa and Baker are evenly matched up. Including the shingles series, LaRussa leads, 101-97, so far. And if you throw in the postseason, it’s even closer still. Thanks to Baker’s triumph over LaRussa in the 2002 NLCS, their combined regular-and-postseason record is 102-101, with LaRussa keeping a razor-thin edge.

Third, their teams don’t like each other very much. That’s true these days at least, as evidenced by the brawl last year on Aug. 10, featuring the Johnny Cueto kick line.

Last, but certainly not least, Baker and LaRussa don’t seem to like each very much. Not at all, in fact. They have very different styles. Baker is the nice guy, and LaRussa the red ass. Their teams have constantly had to go up against each other in the same division, heightening any rivalry they had.

But here’s an interesting thing: Baker once played for LaRussa. Yeah, LaRussa’s been managing a while, hasn’t he? LaRussa was Baker’s last manager, with the 1985-86 Oakland A’s. Essentially, LaRussa was the manager who shoved Baker out of an everyday role in baseball, casting him aside for a rookie named Jose Canseco.

Would Baker harbor any resentment? Perhaps not. It’s been a long time, and Baker was declining as a player anyway. But perhaps. Part of the psychology of a ballplayer is to think he’s the best even when the numbers say otherwise. It helps to have that confidence. Besides, as a manager Baker has always been willing to let the veteran prove he can play.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

2. John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson are the greatest managerial rivalry of all time.

As nice as the Baker-LaRussa rivalry is, it’ll never be as good as the McGraw-Robinson rivalry. Same division? Heck, McGraw and Robinson spent 18 years managing in the same town—Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers and McGraw with the New York Giants.

Baker and LaRussa may not like each other, but their animosity will never be as visceral as the one McGraw and Robinson shared. Mugsy and Uncle Robby shared a special kind of anger, one only former friends could have.

They got along famously, playing together on the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. When McGraw became manager of the new AL Orioles in 1901, he brought along Robinson as a coach. But when McGraw left midway through 1902, they had a falling out and never repaired their breach. Long story short, Robinson felt McGraw misled and betrayed him, and he never forgave or forgot the slight.

And this duo managed quite a bit more than 200 games against each other. There were 376 match-ups in all, the most by any pair of skippers in NL history. (Connie Mack and Bucky Harris top everyone at 453 games, but there’s no compelling rivalry, and their teams were usually pretty bad).

And let’s add in one last fun factoid on the McGraw-Robinson rivalry. They ended their 18-year war with a perfect .500 record: 186-186-4. They fought each other to a draw.

Folks, this should not have happened. No way McGraw’s Giants should have gone .500 against Robinson’s Dodgers. From 1914-31, when they managed in the NL opposite each other, Robinson posted a .506 overall winning percentage while McGraw’s Giants had a .575 winning percentage.

According to odds ratio, McGraw should’ve gone 212-160-4, 26 more wins than he actually had. Didn’t happen. McGraw’s squads outscored Robinson’s teams, 1,599-1,498, but Pythagorean wins don’t count in the standings. Robby had his revenge, which is helps make this the best rivalry of them all.

3. Another nice .500 rivalry.

Before moving on, there’s another nice managerial rivalry worth noting that ended at exactly .500: Frank Chance and Fred Clarke, who went 82-82-2 against each other.

There is no great back story here. One never managed the other, and neither hated the other’s guts. But they didn’t need the soap opera. Their teams constantly fought each other for the pennant.

From the time Chance took over the Cubs in mid-1905 until the time he stepped down after the 1912 season, neither his Chicago club nor Fred Clarke’s Pirates squad ever finished worst than third place.

In 1907, the Cubs won the pennant with the Pirates coming in second. In 1908 the Cubs repeated while Pittsburgh tied for second, just one game behind Chicago. In 1909, the Cubs won 104 games, but finished second to Clarke’s Pirates.

How nice that they fought each other to a draw over seven-plus seasons.

4. The worst rivalry of all-time: Joe McCarthy and Bucky Harris

Flipping it around, the ultimate meeting of hammer vs. nail was the record longtime Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy had against Bucky Harris, who managed many teams, usually the Senators.

These two faced each other 299 times, and the result was a pure rout, with McCarthy coming out ahead 202-92-5.

A .687 winning percentage over nearly 300 games is pretty extreme. There’s only one rivalry featuring 100 or more games with a higher winning percentage. John McGraw went 69-30-1 over Burt Shotton for a .697 mark, but that was in exactly 100 games, while the McCarthy-Harris thing was over 300 contests.

Harris’ longest winning streak against McCarthy was three games, and he never swept a three-game series. For his part, McCarthy had a winning streak of four games or more against Harris 16 times, including 10 in a row in 1940-41.

Oddly enough, Harris won five of their first seven meetings. And then McCarthy claimed 25 of the next 30 decisions, setting the tone for the rest of the way.

5. Best record against Hall of Famers

Here’s another thing to look at: Who has the best and worst records against Hall of Fame skippers? I don’t mean who has the best mark against one particular Cooperstown manager, but add up how someone did against all Cooperstown-bound men, and see what the results are.

Please note, Hall of Famer skippers are defined as either: 1) one of the 20 guys currently inducted in Cooperstown, or 2) one of the three guys not yet eligible who certainly will go in – LaRussa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox.

The best record against them comes, not surprisingly, from Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy: 631-359-9 (.637). He has the best record in general, so it makes sense he tops out here. Then comes Billy Southworth (294-189-6, for a .609 percentage). He’s another guy with a really high winning percentage. Then there’s a big drop down to third place, Miller Huggins at .563 (324-252-2). Again, another Hall of Fame skipper.

In fourth place, you find the highest ranking non-HoF skipper, Charlie Grimm. He posted a .554 mark by going 341-274-6 against Hall of Famers.

6. Who did better against Hall of Famers than in general?

All the guys above scored high because they have really good overall records. Here’s another way of looking at it: Did anyone have more success against the immortals than their mortal peers?

That shouldn’t happen, as almost every Cooperstown manager has a winning record and most are well over .500, but let’s look.

Turns out five guys did it, including all four mentioned above.

McCarthy had two secret weapons in his favor: Harris and Mack. They’re the only Cooperstown managers with winning records, and they were McCarthy’s contemporaries. Mack had some great stretches, but he was pretty bad in almost all the time McCarthy was in the AL. Similarly, Harris won three pennants, but they all happened in years McCarthy didn’t manage. Mack’s problems also put Huggins on the list. Huggins was 163-85-1 against Mack’s White Elephants.

Southworth and Grimm also caught a couple of Hall of Famers in their down periods. It was the same pair of immortals for Southworth and Grimm—an aging Bill McKechnie and a pre-Yankee Casey Stengel.

Grimm, especially, destroyed those two, going .658 (127-66-1) against McKechnie, and .679 (53-25) against Stengel. Southworth was a bit milder against McKechnie (90-57, .612), but leveled Stengel (59-21, .738).

But like I said, that’s only four of the five guys. The fifth guy actually had the biggest and most impressive disparity between his record against Hall of Famers and his overall record. Making it even more unusual, this guy has a career record under .500—just the sort of guy you wouldn’t expect to place here.

It’s Tom Kelly. Despite a career .478 winning percentage, he was .513 against Hall of Famers. His secret was whumping on an aging Sparky Anderson, against whom he was 59-43 (.578).

Of course, some other rivals Kelly faced might end up in Cooperstown, ruining his score. Lou Piniella beat up on Kelly, going 76-41 against Kelly’s Twins. If Piniella enters Cooperstown (possible, but not a guarantee), Kelly leaves this list.

7. Who did the worst against Hall of Famers?

The real answer I’m sure is someone I didn’t check on, but of the 50-plus prominent guys I looked at, the answer is Mack, who lost almost 60 percent of his decisions to his fellow immortals. Not especially surprising.

The biggest comedown from overall record to HOF record is by Cooperstown’s very own Ned Hanlon. He went .530 overall in his career but only .420 against inducted ones. His problem was two-fold. First, there weren’t many Hall of Fame managers around in his prime. It was pretty much just rival Frank Selee, who got the better of Hanlon, 121-93-6 (.565).

Second, a past-his-prime Hanlon got torched by McGraw, his former player. McGraw destroyed his one-time mentor, 87-46-3 (.654).

8. Who faced Hall of Famers the most?

In terms of raw numbers, the most games against a Hall of Famer is not, shockingly enough, Mack. In an upset, Harris beats out the Tall Tactician, 1,218 to 1,206. Aside from them, only Jimmy Dykes (1,078), and McGraw (1,031) top a thousand (with McCarthy just missing at 999).

The real fun part is breaking it into percentages. The skipper who faced the highest percentage of his games against Hall of Fame rivals was Frankie Frisch. In all, 37.8 percent of Frisch’s games managed came against Hall of Famers.

Despite managing only 2,200 games, Frisch faced off against three different immortals over 200 times each—Southworth, McKechnie, and Leo Durocher. Plus he also saw Stengel 165 times and even faced Harris a little in his only season in the NL.

After Frisch, the next highest is Dykes, and then Joe Cronin. To put it simply, a lot of managers in the 1930s and 1940s ended up in Cooperstown. The guys in their primes then got in (Durocher, McKechnie, Southworth, McCarthy), there were some who hadn’t reached their prime (Stengel), and some holdovers from earlier days (Mack, Harris). So that’s why Frisch, Dykes, and Cronin top the percentage game.

9. The first and the last

Here’s a random one. Every field general has to have a rival manager for his first game, but who is the most frequent skipper to break in a prominent manager?

Well, not too surprisingly, the answer is Mack. Three times someone who went on to have a prominent career had his first game come against Mack: Wilbert Robinson on the 1902 Orioles, Harris with the 1924 Senators, and Cronin on the 1933 Senators.

Two other skippers introduced a pair of managers. In the 1920s, Reds manager Jack Hendricks was the opposing manager when two Hall of Famers made their debuts, Joe McCarthy and Billy Southworth. A half-century later, Bill Virdon faced off against rookie skipper Frank Robinson in 1975 and at the end of 1976 did likewise with Tommy Lasorda.

Really, Virdon has the knack of being on hand for not only the beginning of careers, but the end of them, too. When Walter Alston managed the last game of his Hall of Fame career in 1976, Virdon was the opposing manager. He did the same for Bill Rigney.

Actually, both Rigney and Alston retired in 1976. It’s just that for some strange reason the Dodgers let Alston go with four games left to play. So Virdon retired Alston, introduced Lasorda the next day, and then went to the last series of the year, where he saw Rigney’s last hurrah. Busy week.

Virdon saw plenty of comings and goings at the end of 1976.

Three other managers have retired a pair of prominent rivals. Anderson did it for Earl Weaver and Billy Martin. Cox was the final manager for Bobby Valentine and Piniella (well, unless Valentine comes back).

And a current manager has also done it, Charlie Manuel finished off Cox and Jim Fregosi. Well, sort of. Manuel managed against Cox in his last regular season game, but he faced Bruce Bochy and the Giants in the NLDS to end his career.

Cox: Showed others to the door and been shown there himself.

10. Most ties in a managerial rivalry

Here’s another random one: What managerial pairing has the most ties in it? I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer turns out to be some 1880s pair I haven’t looked up yet, but among those I have, the winner is an unexpected one. Match-ups between Frisch and Southworth resulted in nine ties.

Southworth and Frisch? Well, they managed 202 games against each other, which is a decent amount, but plenty of others top it. But that Frisch-Southworth had the knack for ties. They had two ties in 1942, another pair in 1943, and three in 1944. Seven of their nine ties went extra innings.

Nine ties in one rivalry: There’s a record unlikely to be broken anytime soon.

References & Resources
Info comes from Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

The Odds Ratio thing comes from Boss-man Studes. I personally have no idea how to do that math.

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12 years ago

My recollection is that the Dodgers did not “let Alston go” with four games remaining in the season.  Rather, Alston announced his retirement some time in September of 1976, effective at the end of the season.  With four games remaining, the Dodgers announced that Lasorda would be the manager the next season.  Alston then decided to step down immediately and let Lasorda manage the last few games of the season.  Or at least that’s how I remember it being reported at the time.

Chris J.
12 years ago

Aaron – thanks for the info.  Always had trouble figuring that one out.

Bob Timmermann
12 years ago

Robinson and McGraw’s split came later than 1902. Robinson was McGraw’s coach until 1913. I don’t think the complete reason for their split is known.

Chris J.
12 years ago

Bob – interesting.  Not sure I’d heard that one before.

Bob Timmermann
12 years ago

Chris, the SABR Bioproject article on Robinson http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&pid=12082&bid=933 indicates that the two men just seemed to be getting into little pissy fights all during the 1913 season and it reached a head during the World Season.
Who would have thought John McGraw would have ever been a hard guy to get along with?

12 years ago

minor typo:
“Harris and Mack. They’re the only Cooperstown managers with winning records”
maybe you intended “without winning records”

Chris J.
12 years ago

Bob – interesting.  Thanks for the info & link.

gdc – yeah.  Sorry about that.  Thanks for the catch.

David P. Stokes
12 years ago

I’ve mentioned this before, but Alston retired on the 40th anniversary of his only major league at-bat.  I guess it could just be a coincidence, but I’d always assumed he picked that date on purposed.

Bob Timmermann
12 years ago

I think Alston stepped down for the last four games mainly because he hated Lasorda. I don’t think Alston felt properly appreciated by the Dodgers since the team was so eager to give Lasorda the job with other teams after him.

12 years ago

Aaron is correct. Alston, then 64, official ‘retired’ with 4 games left in the season.

However, there has always been speculation that Alston was eased out of his job. The Cincinnati Reds had already clinched a second-straight division title (and would later win their second-straight World Series in the fall). Alston’s club had finished 20 games behind the Reds in 1975. The Dodgers would finish 10 behind in 1976 and hadn’t won a World Series in over a decade (remember, in 1976 there were only 24 clubs – and 4 of them were only 8 seasons old).

At the end of the 1975 season, the Montreal Expos had asked the Dodgers for permission to talk to Tommy Lasorda, who had been a star pitcher for the Montreal Royals of the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system.

Lasorda only wanted one managerial job: that of the Dodgers. Still, at the urging of Dodgers’ club president Peter O’Malley, Lasorda agreed to fly to Denver where he met with Expos’ president John McHale. McHale had fired Gene Mauch, blaming ‘the little general’ for the Expos’ failure to improve after the front office had traded outfielder Ken Singleton and pitcher Mike Torrez to the Orioles for an aging, injured, soon-to-retire Dave McNally and bench warmer Rich Coggins. McHale honestly thought the Expos, who did have a number of promising talent in the pipeline, should be challenging Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for the division title and Lasorda was his first choice to replace Mauch.

Lasorda, who was reportedly making $17,000 year as the Dodgers’ third-base coach, was offered a three-year guaranteed contract for $250,000 to manage Montreal. He turned it down. Less than a year later, Lasorda was the skipper of the Dodgers.

Alston had been the Dodgers’ manager since 1954. Although the Reds ran roughshod over the NL West for two years, the Dodgers had won the pennant in 1974. In the past seven seasons, they had finished no lower than second place and might have given the Reds a real battle in 1975 had it not been for serious injuries to Tommy John, Bill Buckner and Bill Russell. But Alston was a company man, the O’Malley’s had treated him well for over two decades and he was 64. So he retired.

Aftermath: Karl Kuehl, the Expos manager at their AAA club in Memphis, was given the job offered to Lasorda prior to Halloween in 1975. He didn’t last the 1976 season. Lasorda coached third base for the Dodgers again in 1976 of course started off winning two consecutive pennants in 1977 when the Big Red Machine self-destructed at the beginning of the free agent era. Lasorda had gotten TJ back full time while the Reds lost starting lefty Don Gullett to the Yankees and idiotically replaced him with Woodie Fryman by trading Tony Perez to the Expos.

For 1977 the Expos hired the critically acclaimed and widely praised Dick Williams. In addition to acquiring Perez, they signed Phillies star second baseman Dave Cash. In the outfield the Expos now employed future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, along with Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie – none of whom were older than 23. Also 23 were third baseman Larry Parrish and another future Hall of Famer, catcher Gary Carter, who socked 31 homeruns. And what did Dick Williams do with this collection of amazing talent? In 1977 he won the exact number of games Gene Mauch had won in 1975 without it: 75.

And Alston? Perhaps, just perhaps, he really wasn’t ready to retire and might entertain a comeback offer. Rumors were that when the firing of Billy Martin appeared imminent, while the Red Sox appeared to be coasting to the 1978 AL East division title, they were going to announce the hiring of Alston, then 66. Instead, they hired the suddenly equally unemployed Bob Lemon, who was fired by the White Sox on June 29th.

Whether Alston could have engineered the Yankees comeback in 1978 is doubtful. But if there was a manager who hated the lack of hussle as much as Martin, it was Alston. Wonder how Reggie would have fared with him? And if the Yankees did come back and won the pennant with Alston as skipper, imagine a Dodger-Yankee World Series with Lasorda and Alston as opposing managers.

More likely, though, without the low-key calming presence of Lemon after Martin, the Yankees would have fallen short of the Red Sox and after dispatching the Royals, Boston would have taken the Dodgers in six and in a few years George Steinbrenner would have been quoted as saying, ‘‘We are not going to win a championship with Bucky Dent as shortstop.’’