Baker and Francona are strengthening their Hall of Fame credentials

September 27, 2016 No Comments »
Baker and Francona are strengthening their Hall of Fame credentials

Let’s play a facts game about baseball managers.

FACT: Every man elected to the Hall of Fame as a manager won at least three pennants.

FACT: Only four managers who have won at least three pennants have not been elected to the Hall of Fame. Their names are Bruce Bochy (4), Charlie Grimm (3), Ralph Houk (3), and Jim Leyland (3).

FACT: Only four managers have led two different franchises to a World Series title. Those guys are Sparky Anderson, Bucky Harris, Tony La Russa, and Bill McKechnie.

FACT: Only three managers have led four teams to the postseason: clubhouse nomads Davy Johnson, Billy Martin, and Dusty Baker.

FACT: Ten managers have led at least two teams to the postseason multiple times each. That list of managers consists of Anderson, Bochy, Baker, Terry Francona, Whitey Herzog, Johnson, La Russa, Joe Maddon, Lou Piniella, and Joe Torre.

FACT: Both Baker and Francona have guided their teams to the postseason in 2016 and can add to their managerial résumés.

Francona has already won two world championships, both with the Red Sox. He can join the three pennant club this October and add a third title, a feat that would most certainly ensure his place as a Hall of Fame manager. That would make him also the fifth manager to win titles with two teams.

You probably haven’t thought about Dusty Baker as a Hall of Fame manager much. He has a lot of things going against him: he’s managed four different teams, three in the last decade; he’s had strained relationships with a few of his team owners, most famously not having his contract renewed after winning the pennant with the Giants in 2002; he has a poor postseason record, he’s lost six of the nine postseason series he’s been in, and with Cincinnati his team collapsed in the postseason three times.

Yet, Baker can win a second pennant with a second team, and he’s already only the third skipper to pilot four different teams to the postseason. Under Baker, the Giants, Cubs, Reds, and Nationals have all made it to the postseason. Twice in his first season with a team he led them to a first place finish and in his very first season as a manager (in 1993 with San Francisco), his team won 103 games only to lose the division by one game.

For Francona a third pennant would be golden. As explained above, three pennants seems to be the magical number for managers and the Hall of Fame. Two of the four managers who have won three pennants who are not in the Hall (Bochy and Leyland) are certain to be elected someday. Leyland won one World Series title and led two different teams to pennants, while Bochy has four pennants with two teams and three titles, all with the Giants in the span of five seasons.

The other two three-pennant managers who do not have plaques in Cooperstown (Grimm and Houk) are hampered by two different problems:

  1. Grimm posted a fine .547 career winning percentage but his teams lost all three World Series they were in.
  2. While he won a pair of titles, Houk took over a team (the Yankees) that many think could have won if Ralph Kramden were managing them, let alone Ralph Houk.

Baker and Francona are also adding wins to their ledgers. “Tito” will end the ’16 campaign with a little more than 1,380 wins, which places him in the top 30 all-time. Since he’s only 57 years old and well respected, Tito can probably manage as long as he wants to, which likely means 8-10 more years and at least 650-800 more wins. If he gets up to 1,800+ wins, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame, if Michael Jordan’s former minor league manager isn’t already.

Dusty is ten years older than Francona and has five more years of managing under his belt. Given prior health concerns, Baker probably won’t manage much past his current contract. But he has 1,760+ wins to his credit as the ’16 campaign comes to close, a figure surpassed by only 18 other managers in history. His winning percentage (.529) is not eye-popping, but it’s higher than that of Tommy Lasorda and Dick Williams, each of whom have been honored in Cooperstown. Should Johnnie B earn election to the Hall, his plaque could be the first to include a toothpick.

For Dusty and Tito, how well their teams do this postseason has long-term implications for their place in history. Baseball fans should watch with interest to see if they can add to their already impressive list of accomplishments.

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