In Appreciation of Dodgers' Hall of Fame Manager, Walter Alston
Today we pay homage to Walter Alston, arguably the greatest manager in Dodgers history, and unquestionably the most accomplished.
Compared to the other major sports, baseball allows for the longest of memories, with a the-heart-grow-fonder kind of thing. But for some reason, when it comes to Alston, there seems to be a rather unfortunate degree of forgetfulness. Well, no longer. Not if I have anything to say about it. And I do.
For a franchise that dates to 1884, that required nine name changes before finally settling on “Dodgers,” and one that endured 71 championship-less seasons before a certain young man from Darrtown, Ohio came along, October disappointment was simply a part of life. A sigh and a "wait till next year," right?
The “lost-the-last-game-of-the-season” line is an expression for today; and it’s a good thing, because 71 is a lot of “lost-the-last-game-of-the-seasons.” It’s only 31 for the current-day Dodgers. Can you imagine 71 years between parades? And how does a wait till 2060 sound?
The Brooklyn Robins won National League pennants in 1916 and 1920, losing in the World Series to the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, respectively. After a 20-year stretch without a league flag the Brooklyn Dodgers won the 1941 pennant, only to lose to the Yankees in the World Series, four games to one.
Another Brooklyn pennant in 1947 followed by another defeat at the hands of the Yanks in the Fall Classic, this time in seven games. Then a five-game Series loss to New York in ’49, a full-seven defeat in ’52 and a five-game loss in ’53. Each to the New York Yankees.
That’s the Yankees over the Dodgers in the World Series four times in seven years, if you’re scoring. Damn Yankees indeed. Alston replaced Charlie Dressen at the helm in 1954, and bam, the very next year the Dodgers are champions of the world. Coincidence? I think not. And an actual World Series triumph in Brooklyn.
From there, we’re talking another NL crown in 1956; World Series victories in 1959, 1963 and 1965, and two more pennants in 1966 and 1974. That’s seven pennants – good for fifth place in baseball history, behind Casey Stengel, John McGraw, Joe McCarthy and Connie Mack – and four world championships (Joe Torre also had four), of which only McCarthy (7), Stengel (7) and Mack (5) have more.
Alston won 2040 games in his managerial career, which puts him in tenth place on the all-time list. For easy comparison, Tommy Lasorda won 1599, with of course, half as many rings. That’s no knock on Tommy. Tommy was great. Great. But it ought to provide a bit of perspective.
Earl Weaver won 1480, Miller Huggins 1413, and Whitey Herzog, who for some reason is in the Hall of Fame, managed all of 1281 while winning a single solitary ring. Also for comparison, Tony LaRussa stands in third place with 2728 wins, behind only McGraw’s 2763, and Mack, with 3731.
Winning percentage? For example, see Lou Pinella (.517), Dick Williams (.520), Lasorda (.526), LaRussa (.536), Torre (.538), Sparky Anderson (.545) and Bobby Cox (.556). Alston tops them all at (.558). With a lifetime mark of 2040-1613.
Upon closer inspection we find that among managers with 1000 wins or more, Alston ranks 12th out of 64 in winning percentage. And he’s third among winners of 1500 or more. We can debate pitcher wins until we’re Dodger blue in the face, but there’s no argument that can minimize manager victories. You win 2040 games, seven pennants and four World Series, you are a god among men. And a leader of men.
Walter Alston; 23 years at the helm in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, on 23 one-year contracts. Forgotten by some, perhaps, but celebrated here, at Sports Illustrated. Thanks for the memories, Smokey.
And remember, glove conquers all.
Howard Cole has been writing about baseball on the internet since Y2K. Follow him on Twitter.