Is this a golden age of Hall of Fame managers?

Publish date:

INDIANAPOLIS -- Cubs manager Lou Piniella heard the news that Whitey Herzog was elected to the Hall of Fame on Monday, and as he watched on television as Herzog held a news conference, two questions came to his mind: How many games did Herzog win and how many World Series did he win? The answers are that Herzog won 1,281 games and one World Series.

Piniella has 1,784 wins and one World Series title. As he spoke in the lobby of the host hotel for the baseball winter meetings, Piniella was greeted by Tigers manager Jim Leyland, winner of 1,412 games and also one World Series.

The embrace between two active managers with more wins and as many World Series titles as Herzog made me think: Is this a golden age of Hall of Fame managers, and how many of today's managers someday will follow Herzog into Cooperstown? And just how hard (or easy) is it for a manager to get into the Hall of Fame anyway?

I served on the 16-person Veterans Committee for Managers and Umpires that elected Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey, both of whom are most deserving of the honor. I remember when I covered the Mets in the 1980s how the New York players were acutely aware of who was in the St. Louis dugout running the game during their rivalry with the Cardinals. It was a fascinating dynamic to me: that players regarded the opposing manager, not just the opposing players, as an element they needed to overcome to win a baseball game. Such was the respect Herzog commanded for his grasp of the game and his fearlessness.

Remember, too, that those of us on the committee are charged with considering the totality of a person's contributions to baseball, so Herzog's front office experiences, especially running the rich farm system of the New York Mets, are relevant to some degree.

Still, a manager's record is by far the single most important factor in his Hall of Fame candidacy. The basic requirement is at least 10 years on the job, the same minimum as for a player. How many of those eligible managers are Hall of Fame material? You might be surprised.

There have been 91 men who have managed at least 10 years in the big leagues, including 11 who are active, and thus not yet eligible for the Hall. Of the 80 eligible managers, 19 have been elected to the Hall of Fame primarily as managers and another 14 as primarily a player or executive. That means 33 of the 80 eligible managers are in the Hall of Fame, or 41 percent of those eligible, including 24 percent specifically as managers. And when you look at the active managers, those percentages almost certainly will rise.

Among today's managers, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre, who rank 3-4-5 on the all-time wins list, trailing only Connie Mack and John McGraw, are locks.

Piniella and Leyland have excellent chances to get in, too. Why? Only two managers ever reached 1,300 wins with at least one world championship and are not in the Hall: Ralph Houk and Chuck Tanner, who had a losing record. (Leyland is 25 games below .500.)

But wait; there could be even more company. Dusty Baker, already past the 1,300-win plateau (1,314) but without a world title, is on the doorstep. Mike Scioscia (900 wins) and Terry Francona (850) could be about five seasons from joining them. Bruce Bochy (1,182), Cito Gaston (809) and Charlie Manuel (667) also could enter into the discussion.

(One important disclaimer for Piniella, Baker, Bochy and Scioscia: No manager has made it into the Hall of Fame without getting to the World Series a second time.)

How is it possible that eight or more active managers could be Hall of Famers? It's happened before. In 1982, eight of the 26 managers were Hall material (La Russa, Cox, Torre, Herzog, Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda and Dick Williams). lists 663 men as having managed in the big leagues. That means roughly three percent of all managers are in the Hall, or between two and three times the rate of players who make it to Cooperstown. The road for managers to get there seems well paved: last long enough to be among the 14 percent with 10 years, because then you have about a one in two chance of getting in. Monday was a great day for Herzog, but it also was a good day for managers such as Piniella, Leyland and Baker.

Former Cubs manager Charlie Grimm received only three votes from the Veterans Committee, leaving him far short of election and proving that his excellent career as a player and manager has been lost to history. Consider these numbers for Grimm:

• There have been 18 managers with three pennants and a career record 200 games better than .500. All of them are in the Hall or, in the case of La Russa, Cox and Torre, on the way in, with one omission: Grimm.

• Grimm and Houk are the only eligible managers with three pennants not to be elected to the Hall.

• The last time the Cubs made it to a World Series without Grimm playing or managing was 1918. He helped get the Cubs to each of their five World Series since then.

• How does Grimm stack up to Herzog? He has more wins, a better winning percentage, more winning full seasons, just as many pennants and, with 2,299 hits, a far more accomplished playing career.

• Only six men had as many hits as Grimm and went on to win 1,000 games as a manager. All six are in the Hall or bound for it: Cap Anson, Frank Robinson, Frankie Frisch, Fred Clarke, Red Schoendienst and Torre.

• This is worth repeating: He went to the World Series five times with the Cubs.

For style points, Grimm was the opposing manager when Babe Ruth called his shot in the 1932 World Series and he was the manager who sat for the famed Norman Rockwell 1948 painting "The Dugout." (Then again, a manager named Grimm looking forlorn with a last-place, 90-loss outfit might not have been the best image builder.)

Bill James, writing years ago in his excellent book on managers, wrote of Grimm, "One of the biggest surprises to me, when I ranked the managers, was how high up the lists Charlie Grimm was. He ranks about even with Al Lopez, Whitey Herzog, Tony La Russa, Frank Chance, those kinds of guys. Not the 10 greatest managers in history, but the class right behind them."

Major League Baseball is making early plans to bring back an international barnstorming tour with All-Stars after the 2010 season. Following past trips to Japan, which set the stage for regular season games played there, MLB is exploring a tour that could visit South Korea and Australia, with the possibility of regular season games being played in Australia as early as Opening Day 2011, with the Red Sox mentioned as one likely team. ... The Mariners have inquired with Cubs officials about the makeup and health of free agent pitcher Rich Harden, who is developing a strong market despite his injury history. The Cubs shut down Harden at the end of the season in order to give starts to young pitchers but also because he was suffering from some arm fatigue after making 26 starts, his most since 2004. ... Angels owner Arte Moreno is convinced that to get past the Yankees -- not just win the AL West -- he needs an ace, which is why a baseball source said he is motivated to trade for Roy Halladay. (It doesn't hurt that Halladay is 18-4 with a 2.84 ERA against New York.) The Angels have the players to satisfy a trade with Toronto, but the trick is to do so without taking too much away from their major league roster and to convince Halladay to yield his preference to pitch for a contender with a Florida spring training base. ... The Cubs know they have to move outfielder Milton Bradley, but Pat Burrell, paired with Alfonso Soriano, another poor corner outfield defender, doesn't make sense. Chicago's top priority is to find a centerfielder -- they like Curtis Granderson -- and bullpen arms to replace and upgrade on Kevin Gregg and Aaron Heilman.