| Detroit Free Press
When the 2020 World Series ended Tuesday night, there were three managerial openings in Major League Baseball. Those teams didn’t waste any time completing their searches: By the end of Friday, three openings had become one, with the Chicago White Sox hiring Tony La Russa and the Detroit Tigers hiring A.J. Hinch.
Both hires were reunions, of sorts. La Russa managed the White Sox for eight seasons — 1979-86 — winning 522 games and the 1983 AL West title, before going on to win World Series titles with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals. Hinch, meanwhile, was a member of the 2003 Tigers, which set an AL record with 119 losses (though Hinch took the field for just 16 of those, in 27 games total). He’s gone on to better days, though, winning 570 games as a manager with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Houston Astros, in addition to three AL West titles, two AL pennants and the 2017 World Series.
More impressively, the hires have transformed the AL Central into a, to borrow a beloved baseball phrase, “Murderer’s Row” of managers. With the addition of Hinch and La Russa, AL Central managers are tops in regular-season wins, World Series appearances and World Series titles. We did some number-crunching — what, you thought we were watching Falcons/Panthers on Thursday? — and here’s how they break down.
During the season
La Russa, of course, is the big addition, with 33 seasons as a big-league skipper and 2,728 wins with the ChiSox, A’s and Cards. He’s replacing Rich Renteria, who had 309 wins with the White Sox and Cubs. Hinch, at 570 wins over parts of seven seasons, doesn’t quite match up to his predecessor. Ron Gardenhire won 1,200 games in 16 seasons with the Tigers and Twins before suddenly retiring a week before the end of the 2020 season. Still, Hinch’s winning percentage tops Gardenhire’s by a decent margin: .558 to .484.
When you add La Russa’s and Hinch’s win totals to those of the Indians’ Terry Francona (1,702), the Royals’ Mike Matheny (617) and the Twins’ Rocco Baldelli (137), you get 5,754 victories. Not only is that tops among all divisions, it’s more regular-season wins than all 15 National League managers combined. AL West managers are the next winningest, by the way, with a combined 4,878 victories; more than 3,100 of those belong to two managers who joined the division for the 2020 season: the Astros’ Dusty Baker (1,892) and the Angels’ Joe Maddon (1,278). The rest of the divisions: NL East (2,349), NL West (1,872), AL East (868) and NL Central (755). Even if the Red Sox re-hire Alex Cora, whom they fired earlier this year for his role in the Astros’ cheating plot, that would only add 192 wins to the AL East total.
The AL Central’s managerial dominance continues with World Series appearances. Of the five Central skippers, only Minnesota’s Baldelli hasn’t made the Fall Classic as a manager. Matheny made it in 2013 with the Cardinals; Hinch in ‘17 and ’19; Francona in ’04, ’07 and ’16; and La Russa in <deep breath> ’88, ’89, ’90, ’04 (when he lost to Francona), ’06 (when he beat the Tigers) and ’12.
That’s good for 12 combined pennants, or three more than the five other divisions combined. NL West managers, thanks to the Dodgers and former Tigers farmhand Dave Roberts, have three pennants, as do AL West managers (two by Maddon, one by Baker). NL East managers check in with two pennants — one each for the Phillies’ Joe Girardi and the Nationals’ Dave Martinez — and the AL East has one, the Rays’ Kevin Cash this season. (Cora, of course, would be another for the AL East.) The NL Central managers are still looking for their first pennant, and understandably so, with the Brewers’ Craig Counsell as the senior skipper with six seasons under his belt.
Top o’ the World (Series)
We’re down to a mere 60% of the AL Central managers with World Series titles: Matheny lost in 2013, but Hinch won in ’17, Francona in ’04 and ’07 and La Russa in ’89, ’06 and ’12. That’s six combined titles (including three in four seasons in the mid-2000s). The rest of MLB’s managers combine for just four Series rings, with one each won by Girardi (’09), Maddon (’16), Martinez (’19) and Roberts (’20), though Cora (’18) is still out there.
Why so few active managers with championships? The reason is two-fold. First, two of the managers — Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost — who combined for four of the past 11 titles retired after the 2019 season. Second, the job of manager has increasingly gone to younger candidates recently as the job has become less about years of finely honed baseball instincts and more about translating the discoveries of front-office analytics staffs into results on the field.
Hinch’s reported skill at doing that during his time with the Astros is one of the things that makes him appealing to the Tigers. But still, as Cash’s much-derided early hook for lefty Blake Snell in Tuesday’s Game 6 suggests, there’s still a need for old school baseball savvy, which is where La Russa’s skills lie. Add it all up, and not only will the AL Central feature a “Murderer’s Row” of managers in 2021, it should serve as a testing ground for the most important skills needed by 21st-century skippers — and perhaps produce another World Series winner.
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