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November 4, 2011

The BP Broadside

Exorcising the Ghost of Leo

by Steven Goldman

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Back in February, I wrote about how the Chicago Cubs had never had an iconic general manager. The dismissal of Mike Quade is an opportunity to ask a similar question of the Cubs. It’s not that they have never had a great manager—Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy got his start in the majors with Chicago, taking the team to the 1929 World Series, in the process becoming the first and last manager to get Hack Wilson focused on baseball, but McCarthy was forced out in a power struggle with Rogers Hornsby 71 years ago. That’s a lot of baseball under the bridge without a skipper putting his mark on the team in some way.

Some might point to another Hall of Fame skipper, Leo Durocher, who coached the team from 1966 to 1972, but despite the Lip’s helping the Cubs go from 50-103 in 1966 to 92-70 in 1969, he never did win anything with the Cubs, clashed with key players such as Ron Santo, and wasn’t exactly focused, wandering off on the team from time to time to deal with personal matters that somehow seemed more important than his job. Durocher is also, correctly, far more identified with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants than he is with the Cubbies.

Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker, Don Zimmer, Charlie Grimm, and Jim Frey all had their moments, and of course Frank Chance and Gabby Hartnett shone as player-managers, but the Cubs have never had the great skipper that dominates the memory of other clubs. Instead, they’ve had Bob Scheffing, Bob Kennedy, the College of Coaches, Jim Essian, and now—fairly or unfairly—Mike Quade.  

In the general manager’s piece, I offered each franchise’s great builder, it’s iconic general manager. Let’s try something similar with managers:

Baltimore

Boston

New York AL

Tampa Bay

Toronto

Earl Weaver

Terry Francona or Open

Casey Stengel, Joe Torre

Joe Maddon

Cito Gaston

Chicago AL

Cleveland

Detroit

Kansas City

Minnesota

Al Lopez,

Ozzie Guillen

Al Lopez

Sparky Anderson

Whitey Herzog

Tom Kelly

Los Angeles AL

Oakland

Seattle

Texas

 

Mike Scioscia

Dick Williams or Tony LaRussa

Lou Piniella

Still Open?

 

 

Atlanta

Florida

New York NL

Philadelphia

Washington

 

Bobby Cox

 Open

Gil Hodges,

Davey Johnson

Charlie Manuel

or Open

Felipe Alou or Open

 

Chicago NL

Cincinnati

Houston

Milwaukee

Pittsburgh

St. Louis

Open

Sparky Anderson

Still Open

Open

Jim Leyland

Whitey Herzog

Arizona

Colorado

Los Angeles NL

San Diego

San Francisco

 

 Open?

Open

Tommy Lasorda

Open

Open (SF only)

 

You can see that not all icons are created equal, and you can dispute some of these choices, but for the most part, these managers really made a difference to their teams. The Cubs have not had that manager in three-quarters of a century, despite bringing in some big names from time to time. This underscores the inseparable relationship between managers and the talent supplied to them—you can’t have a great manager without at least a competent general manager, and since the Cubs haven’t had the latter, they’ve also missed out on the former.

Of course, the time for the former may be done. The once great procession of managing has devolved into a cesspool of conventional thinking and decisions made according to how the media will react to them. There is no galvanic Herzog to create a wide-open style of dashing baseball, no Stengel to create elaborate platoons, no Weaver to do away with the Hit and Run sign and just hit, or even a McCarthy, whose signature was crushing offense and demanding leadership but might have been more interesting for having eschewed a conventional starting rotation (something emulated by Stengel). The closest we have today is Joe Maddon, who uses Ben Zobrist’s flexibility to platoon at two positions. There will be a great deal of speculation as to who the Cubs manager will be, but the field is such a drab lot it might not matter at all beyond receiving a certain basic competence.

For the Cubs, that basic competence includes an awareness of on-base percentage. The Cubs have consistently been a non-walking, low-OBP team for decades, with the result that they have often been outscored in their own generous ballpark. Since 1950, Cubs have been outscored by their opponents at Wrigley in 37 of 61 seasons.

This is a song I’ve played before, mainly because it’s true. Selective Cubs in the postwar years have been few and far between, with the 2011 unit ranking 10th in the league in OBP. It’s the obvious, obvious, bleeding need, but few with the Cubs have wanted to see it. Theo Epstein, with his grounding in good sabermetrics, will undoubtedly be aware of it, and his managerial choice will subsequently be made aware of it if he doesn’t come equipped with religious feelings about selectivity. In the short term, though, little is going to change. Short of holding Alfonso Soriano at gunpoint in each plate appearance, he’s not going to change his ways and suddenly become patient at 36 years old.

That means that Epstein will have to have patience with his hire; it’s going to take some time to get this right. In the past, Cubs GMs have covered for their massive failure to staff the team correctly by displacing blame onto the managers. This has led to a great deal of turnover. The last manager to last five seasons with the club was Jim Riggleman from 1995 through 2000. The last manager to last more than five seasons was Durocher. In this century alone, 21 of the 30 teams have had at least one manager complete a term of five or more years. Only the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Reds (Dusty Baker will enter his fifth season next year), Marlins, Astros, Royals, Pirates, and Blue Jays join the Cubs in this distinction. When the Yankees have a more stable cast of managers than you do, you know you’re doing something wrong.  

One of the reasons Epstein took the Cubs job is because of the historic opportunity to be the man who ended two of the game’s great championship droughts. Unless he hires Terry Francona, the manager won’t have the same opportunity, but the chance to be the man who can dine free in Chicago for the rest of his life is not insignificant. More than that, though, this hire can put a stamp on the franchise that’s as indelible as any single player acquisition.

The Cubs haven’t won 100 games since 1935. They haven’t lost 100 since 1966. Despite six playoff appearances from 1984 to present, they have mostly rolled along in the bland area between unexcitingly good and unexcitingly bad. One of the reasons the managers of those 21 clubs lasted five or more years is that they were seemingly good enough that their worth transcended transient swings in standings or the fluid nature of modern-day baseball rosters—even if team hadn’t won this year, this was the guy who gave you the best chance of winning next year.  Putting aside the perennially perverse problem franchises that are the Orioles, Royals, and Pirates, the Cubs are one of only six “serious” teams that has, at no time in the 21st century, had enough confidence in their own personnel evaluation to feel that they had hired that guy (it is odd that the failure of a manager to hold his job is somehow the players’ or the manager’s fault rather than a sign of yet more bad judgment by a problem general manager). It’s hard to believe, but then, much about the Cubs’103-year championship drought is hard to believe. Epstein may or may not break that streak, but at the very least he can bring the Cubs on-field leadership that they feel like they can stick with for the first time since the days of Durocher.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

25 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

bumphadley

Doesn't Walter Alston have to be added for the Dodgers? And it seems wrong that the greatest manager in the history of the game is not also linked with the Yankees.

Nov 04, 2011 07:10 AM
rating: 3
 
kmbart

Steve, were you drinking heavily while writing this piece? The reason I ask is that you seem to have "draughts" on the mind when you should have been thinking about "droughts". I can see where you might have gone astray if the local watering hole was offering cheap drafts...

Nov 04, 2011 08:08 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

More like sleepless. I'll fix 'er up, and thanks.

Nov 04, 2011 08:27 AM
 
buddaley

I was going to mention Alston. And of course, McCarthy should definitely be included in the Yankee pantheon. Indeed, one could make a case for Miller Huggins as the first really successful manager of the franchise and even Ralph Houk for his association with the 1961 team.

I think you might consider Danny Murtagh for the Pirates.

Nov 04, 2011 08:35 AM
rating: 0
 
formersd

I'd consider Bochy for San Diego. I realize he won a WS in San Francisco, but he was very successful in San Diego for a long time.

Nov 04, 2011 09:25 AM
rating: 0
 
onegameref

Might batting Soriano in the eight slot allow him a few more free passes? He may also get more on base in front of him once in a while. It might also encourage him to steal a base now and then. I still think he should be shifted to first base since he did work that side of the infield most of his life. He is the same size as Ernie Banks who turned out to be a pretty decent first sacker.

Nov 04, 2011 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
69wildcat

I wouldn't think moving Soriano to first base is the answer; then you just have a hacktastic, low OBP first baseman instead of the outmaker in the leftfield. Anyway, if Soriano is a terrible fielder (I don't know if he is or not), moving him to first base would result in him being involved in many more plays than if he stays in the outfield. Batting him eighth is probably not a good idea either; the one thing he does bring to the plate is power and hitting in front of the pitcher would just take the bat out of his hands. The Cubs are either going to have live with Soriano in LF for the remainder of his contract or pay some other team to take him off their hands.

Nov 04, 2011 09:44 AM
rating: 1
 
roughcarrigan

Not a biggie but McCarthy left the Cubs 81 years ago, not 71, unless you want to say it was tailgunner Joe coaching those yankee teams in the 30's.

Nov 04, 2011 09:53 AM
rating: 0
 
USHOCK

In my opinion, Jim Leyland was a very good manager for the Buccos but Danny Murtaugh managed four different stints with the Bucs including two World Series wins in 1960 and 1971. The 71' Bucs had a lot of different personalties and were the first team to have an all black lineup. You could also make a case for Fred Clarke, he managed the Pirates for fifteen seasons after the turn of the century with four National League championships plus a World Series win in 1909. I would consider either one to be better than Jim Leyland.

Nov 04, 2011 10:38 AM
rating: 2
 
bbienk01

maybe I'm unclear on the criteria, but is San Francisco really open? Even limiting it to San Francisco, I think Roger Craig and/or Dusty Baker would qualify, right?

Nov 04, 2011 13:27 PM
rating: 1
 
dodgerken222

I have got to believe that any fan who has been around long enough to remember Walter Alston from 1959 onwards, especially a Dodger fan, would have to give the nod to Alston over LaSorda. (Okay...so I'm dating myself). If only the '62 Dodgers (second only to the '55 club in terms of talent) hadn't blown that final playoff game, Alston's record of dominance would be clearer to all. Taking the '65 and '66 clubs to the Series was a remarkable achievement. Aside from Koufax and Drysdale, those were pretty ordinary teams. Not to mention 1959. Show Walter some respect.

Nov 04, 2011 19:02 PM
rating: 1
 
orlandoca7

Gene Mauch Expos, Angels
Paul Richards, Angels
Bobby Valentine, Rangers & Mets?
Chuck Tanner, Pirates
Red Schoendiesnt, Cardinals
Branch Rickey, Cardinals
Miller Huggins, Yankees, Cardinals
Bill Terry, Giants

Nov 04, 2011 19:45 PM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

Paul Richards? He managed the Orioles for a long time, but not the Angels. I strongly agree Dodgers/Alston, Cardinals/Schoedienst, and Pirates/Murtaugh & Tanner should be included. Obviously, some of us are older than Steve and have the images of those teams and those managers firmly tattooed into our psyche. The same can be said of Bill Rigney and the Angels.

Nov 04, 2011 20:43 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Man, it's good to know that there are people older than me! Sometimes I'm not so sure. I definitely buy the argument on Murtaugh. Not being a Pittsburgh guy, I have to judge by how much play these guys made nationally, and I feel like you hear less about Murtaugh than you do about, say, Chuck Tanner. Not that that's how it should be.

Nov 05, 2011 08:57 AM
 
Isaac Lin

Though Mauch was the Expos's first skipper, Felipe Alou would be my pick for the team's iconic manager, with more games managed and wins than any other in the team's history, and a personality that made him a fan favourite and a media darling (in spite of his at-times abrasiveness towards reporters).

Nov 05, 2011 08:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BROTHERZIP

Danny Murtaugh is most definitely the iconic manager in Pittsburgh.

Nov 05, 2011 03:42 AM
rating: 1
 
dodgerken222

It's dangerous to make the manager list based on "how much play these guys made nationally" because of the change in the nature of the media over the last half century. Lasorda certainly self-promoted himself better than anybody, and had the media with which to do it. Thing is, even if Alston had the media's ear, he wasn't the kind of guy that would have been interested in exloiting it. Same thing with Murtaugh. I'd also like to give a shout-out to the Reds' Freddie Hutchinson. (I agree with the selection of Sparky, but Hutch was pretty iconic in his day.)

Nov 05, 2011 14:44 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

I don't think Hutchinson managed the Reds long enough for this status; he was their manager only in 6 years, and for not all of the last one owing to his sad final illness. He'd be at the top of my list of "tragic" figures among managers, right along with Dick Howser, but that's a different list.

Bill McKechnie is another Reds candidate, having managed them for longer and with equal or greater success (2 pennants, 1 WS win). However he is largely forgotten because that all happened 70 years ago. The problem with lists of "iconic" this-and-that is that people's views of icons tend to be rather short-range. Nobody has proposed Fred Clarke as Pittsburgh's iconic manager, for example, even though he managed the Pirates for far longer at a stretch than anyone else and had a couple of pennants and a WS win to show for it. Problem is, he did all that a hundred years ago, and almost nobody now alive -- quite possibly _exactly_ nobody -- saw him manage. Icons fade!

Nov 06, 2011 06:27 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

I stand corrected: I see that USHOCK did mention Clarke above. Still, it's very little advocacy for a guy who occupied that slot for a long, long time.

Nov 06, 2011 06:29 AM
rating: 0
 
Asinwreck

Steve, one of the reasons I enjoy your work is the extent to which you value history in your writing. I wonder if you are shortchanging the value of historical memory in places here. The Murtaugh/Leyland discussion is one example, given how beloved and successful Murtaugh was in da Burgh, and even 30 years later, Harvey Kuenn is revered in Milwaukee for the personality and success of Harvey's Wallbangers.

Those points (and a shout-out for how Bill Virdon's style utterly fit the technicolor Astros) aside, I enjoyed both this and the GM piece. My candidate for iconic Cub manager is the College of Coaches, followed by the immortal Lee Elia.

Nov 06, 2011 10:50 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Yeah, I vote Cedric Tallis over Joe Burke. Tallis was the guy who really built the Royals great team of the mid to late 70s - and he built them from the '68 expansion scratch. Burke was a lucky fill in until Schuerholz came in. I am currently doing a project on the expansion drafts and noticed Burke left Ruppert Jones unprotected. Jones was only 21 and just had a .366 OBA and .513 Slugging in AAA Omaha of the old American Association. He was both the first pick and best player to come out of the 1976 expansion draft that begat the Mariners and Blue Jays.

Nov 06, 2011 17:50 PM
rating: -1
 
John Carter

Woops, should have put that in the piece on GMs.

Nov 06, 2011 17:51 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Actually, my comment on Burke is a bit harsh. He deserves big credit for hiring Whitey Herzog, then later Dick Howser.

Nov 07, 2011 08:38 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Fred Clarke?

The first icon/manager was Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings who won 57 games without a defeat and 1 tie their first year as pros 1869. He took his stud brother George and a few key players to Boston when the National Association began and dominated that league, too, - in Red stockings - for the rest of that first Major League's existence.

The next icon/manager was Al Spalding of the Chicago White Stockings of the nascent National League. The only team that challenged their dominance was Wright's Boston Red Caps (now Braves). Eventually, Spalding moved up to the front office and handed the field duties to Adrian Anson - who became the most iconic manager ever: Cap Anson.

In the latter 1880s, the St Louis Browns of the American Association (now the Orioles?) had Charles Comiskey. The Browns not only won their league every year, they were the rowdiest and freshest mouthed team in baseball - and that was encouraged by and well participated by Comiskey. (Yes, that Comiskey.)

Back in the National League was a New York team that rose to prominence in 1888 - built by their innovative creative manager who was more of a showman and contract strategist than field tactician: Jim Mutrie. He was even the source of their nickname: Giants. How iconic is that?

To be continued . . .

Nov 06, 2011 18:29 PM
rating: 1
 
John Carter

Please, explain why this was dinged.

Nov 07, 2011 06:07 AM
rating: 0
 
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