I’ve left several very successful and popular managers off this list, and no, I didn’t forget about them. The impact of a manager on his team varies depending on how much you believe in “intangibles,” but regardless these five are the ones I’d want as field general.
5: Buck Showalter
How can a guy who’s never been to a World Series be the fifth best manager in the game? Because, that’s why. He’s never had a lot to work with and has still done a fine job. The Rangers didn’t win with Alex Rodriguez, but it’s because they had about ten legitimate major leaguers on the roster. Now that they have a better team, it’s showing in the win-loss record.
Though not universally popular with players, Showalter is a meticulous student of the game who seeks every advantage. He gets his team prepared like no one else in the game.
4: Jimy Williams
Never popular with fans and often not popular with players, Williams is nonetheless a winning manager whose in-game strategy, roster-building, and pitching management skills put him at the top.
Better than Bobby Cox? Better than “the Genius?” Yes and yes. His teams have finished, in order, 4th (with an 86-76 record), 2nd, 3rd (87-75), (12-24 in 1989 before getting canned), 4th (78-84, his only full losing season), 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, and 2nd, and got everything he could out of those teams. Despite all the roster turnover and injuries in Houston (besides the Killer B’s), he’s kept the Astros in the hunt the last couple of years.
The man has worked hard and deserves another “m” in his first name.
3: Jack McKeon
A mediocre run in KC from ’73 to ’75, a bad run in Oakland with a wretched team in the late ’70s, good win-loss records in San Diego before getting a midseason firing, and a fair amount of wins in Cincinnati in the late ’90s. One manager of the year award and a lifetime of achieving with unimpressive rosters notwithstanding, if it weren’t for last year’s historic Marlins run he wouldn’t be on my list. He was absolutely brilliant last year and has been excellent this year, and he rightfully got his second Manager of the Year award, his first World Series crown, and lots of respect from David M. Beyer (which is secretly every manager’s goal) as he outmaneuvered the next guy on the list in the ’03 NL Championship Series, then did the same to manager #1 on the list in the World Series.
2: Dusty Baker
Dusty’s magic is certainly not his ham-fisted handling of pitchers or in getting the right guys to fill his bench. His magic is getting his players to believe his B.S.–that they CAN win, that the scrubs CAN contribute, and that everything WILL be okay. Dusty’s a man that players would follow into combat without hesitation.
Calling Dusty one of the best managers in the game isn’t going to stop me from complaining about him, though…after all, there’s still room to move up…
1: Joe Torre
It pains me to say so, but Torre is the best manager in the game. He always has his players believing in themselves. He never has problems with players thinking they are bigger than the team, surrounds himself with the right people, and lets those people make the decisions for which they’re most qualified. His success with the Yanks was a long time coming; his tenure in St. Louis, Atlanta, and New York were not as successful, but neither were his teams anywhere near as talented. Always gets his teams to fulfill or exceed their expectations.