As the 2021 World Series is in full stride, now may be a good time to consider the career of one of the managers who is not sitting on an MLB bench this time around. In fact, Tony La Russa’s current team, the Chicago White Sox failed to advance beyond the first time for the second year in a row.
His Sox lost to an Astros team managed by Dusty Baker, who, ironically, has the most wins ever by a manager who has failed to win the Fall Classic. That said, one question that will be asked by fans in the future will be this: Where does Tony La Russa stand on the list of all-time MLB managers?
If you ask White Sox fans who were disappointed in the way the 2021 playoffs ended, their opinions of La Russa may be lower than those of fans outside the Windy City. There is just no getting around the fact that fans had high hopes for 2021. However, in spite of those disgruntled Sox fans, it would be grossly to assess La Russa’s career by looking at just one season.
So, we are going to take a step back and look at the whole body of his work as an MLB manager and put it all into context. How does La Russa stack up to other MLB managers?
Tony La Russa: By The Numbers
While numbers do not tell the whole story, baseball is the most statistically-driven sport in the world. Looking at numbers can be a valuable way of comparing managers, coaches, or players, for that matter. To that end, La Russa has put up some outstanding numbers in his managerial career. Some may be more meaningful than others, and fans will no doubt have their own thoughts about statistics. Yet, we believe that looking at La Russa’s career numbers offers great insight into his effectiveness as an MLB manager.
Wins And Losses: Regular Season
So, one measure of effectiveness would be the number of wins. In looking at regular-season totals, Tony La Russa ranks second on the all-time wins list behind only Connie Mack. La Russa has a total of 2,821 wins, compared to Mack’s 3,731. Nobody will ever come close to catching Mack on this list. However, in comparing winning percentages, La Russa checks in at .537, while Mack stands at .486. Meanwhile, John McGraw finished his managerial career with 2,763 wins and a winning percentage of .586. So, McGraw’s and La Russa’s numbers are fairly comparable.
Interestingly, in terms of postseason accomplishments, Mack had a won/loss percentage of .558, while La Russa sits at .538. Meanwhile, McGraw was under .500 at .481. To put these numbers into a larger perspective, only 11 managers have won 2,000 or more games. La Russa is right in the middle of these 11, in terms of postseason winning percentage. Those ahead of him include Mack, Joe Torre, Sparky Anderson, Joe McCarthy, and Bruce Bochy. As far as World Series titles go, La Russa is tied for sixth place with three titles. Mccarthy and Casey Stengel top the list with seven, while Mack won five times. Torre and Walter Alston are tied for fourth place with four titles each.
Putting The Numbers In Context
All of the numbers above need a little context if we are to evaluate La Russa fairly and objectively. Mack and McGraw both managed in many different eras when the game was played very differently than today. Each iteration of baseball has presented its own challenges, to be sure. With that said, Tony La Russa matches up pretty well with both of these managing legends. While it would be impossible to compare the three managers with total certainty, it would be difficult to say that La Russa’s career is grossly inferior to those of Mack and McGraw.
The other side of this assessment would include a look at the careers of La Russa’s peers, those managers whose careers also covered the divisional era. In this group, we find Torre, Anderson, Bochy, Baker, Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella, Terry Francona, Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia, and Tommy Lasorda. Obviously, La Russa leads this class in wins. As far as percentages go, La Russa ranks fifth out of 11. However, except for Cox, the other three ahead of La Russa are only ahead by three points or less.
Looking at postseason winning percentages, La Russa ranks fifth, trailing Torre, Anderson, Bochy, and Francona. For that matter, La Russa is third in the number of postseason games managed in this group, trailing only Cox and Bochy. So, he has plenty of postseason experience, although nobody will ever match Cox’s record of 14 straight division titles. Finally, championships are as good a measure of managers as any other measure. Within this group, only Torre has more than La Russa, with four titles. La Russa is tied with Bochy and Anderson at three, while Francona and Lasorda each have two. Leyland, Piniella, Cox and Scoscia have one each. Baker is hoping for a 2021 miracle to score his first World Series title.
So, Where Does La Russa Stand?
In the final analysis, baseball fans invariably will look at winning as the criterion for evaluating managers, fair or not. While there are always intangibles involved, baseball is a bottom-line sport, and everybody loves a winner. In light of that, and considering the different eras of baseball, establishing Tony La Russa’s place in the all-time managing ranks can be challenging. However, by any objective measure, La Russa must be accorded a spot in the top 10 all-time managers.
Exactly where he stands is open to debate; however, it is hard to imagine any objective fan taking all of the above into account, and suggesting otherwise. He is far from perfect, and his White Sox team may come up short in 2022, as well.
Yet, Tony La Russa is undeniably one of the very best all-time MLB managers, no matter what criteria one may use. While White Sox fans would love to see him add one more title to his illustrious career, his place in MLB history is already assured. Well done, Tony.
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