In the history of the game of baseball, there have been 659 field managers (Sports Reference, 2008b). All of these managers have enjoyed some measure of success, but some have done it much better than others. Some managers have experienced short term success in a career that might generally be considered unsuccessful in terms of wins and losses. Other managers have experienced continued long-term success over the lifetime of a full career.
As of the 2008 season, Phil Garner was the 58th winningest manager in the game’s 140 year history. Although he has had more wins than 601 other managers, Phil Garner cannot really be considered a successful baseball manager. His .483 winning percentage means that he has lost more games than he has won (Sports Reference, 2008c). Despite his lack of long-term success, Garner managed the Houston Astros during the 2004 season when they won 36 of their last 46 games; an accomplishment unmatched since the New York Giants finished the 1951 season by going 35-8 (Ortiz, 2006, p. 89). This string of wins came shortly after Garner took over the club from the previous manager. After this fabulous run, Garner experienced only mediocre success and was relieved of his duties as the Houston Astros manager less than three seasons later (Sports Reference, 2008c).
Other managers experience on-going success throughout their career. Few managers exemplify this like Tony La Russa. Writing about La Russa’s explosive temper in his early days as a manager, George Will (1990) says that “the best balm is winning” (p. 30). And winning is exactly what Tony La Russa has done. He is the third winningest manager of all time, behind Connie Mack and John McGraw (Sports Reference, 2008a). Now in his 31st season, La Russa has only had to endure nine losing seasons (Sports Reference, 2008d). La Russa humbly claims that for him, “good fortune has been a constant teammate” (Bissinger, 2005, p. xxi). Despite La Russa’s self-effacement, it is difficult to believe that success over 4,475 games is merely the product of fate (Sports Reference, 2008d).
The job of a baseball field manager is to win games. Short-term success does not necessarily translate into long-term productivity. Even the most successful long-term managers, must deal with short-term failure. After all, even Tony La Russa has had nine losing seasons (Sports Reference, 2008d).
Bissinger, H. (2005). Three Nights in August. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Ortiz, J., Jr. (2006). Houston Astros: Armed and Dangerous. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing.
Sports Reference. (2008a). Manager Index. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/
Sports Reference. (2008b). Managerial Register. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/register.shtml
Sports Reference. (2008c). Phil Garner Manager Record. Retrieved April 29, 2008 from http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/garneph01.shtml
Sports Reference. (2008d). Tony La Russa Manager Record. Retrieved April 29, 2008 from http://www.baseball-reference.com/managers/larusto01.shtml
Will, G. (1990). Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball. New York: Macmillan.