The election to the Hall of Fame of Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre, the third, fourth and fifth winningest managers in major league history, has created some controversy because all of them, but particularly LaRussa, managed steroid users and either were sufficiently not in control of their teams not to notice, or turned a blind eye those activities. Nonetheless, they were among the most successful managers ever. Torre also had a borderline Hall of Fame career as a player as well the fourth most World Championships of any manager in history.
Torre, Cox and LaRussa combined for eight World Series wins and 45 post-season appearances. The election of these three managers raises the question of whether any other recent could join them in Cooperstown. There are two groups of recent or current managers who have chance at the Hall of Fame. The first group includes those whose candidacies will rest on longevity. Only one manager with more than 1,900 victories, Gene Mauch with 1,902, is not yet in the Hall of Fame. No active manager has 1,900 wins, but three recently retired managers, Lou Piniella (1,835) Jim Leyland (1,769) and Dusty Baker (1,671) are close.
None of those managers will manage in 2014, but they could manage in the future. Baker has the hardest path ahead of him as he would probably need to manage three more seasons to get to 1,900 but without a World Series victory, even that would not be a guarantee. Clark Griffith, Al Lopez and Wilbur Robinson are all in the Hall of Fame with fewer than 1,900 wins and no World Championships, but they are from a different era. Leyland and Piniella would seem to have much better chances as they both have one World Series victory and are about one or two seasons away from 1,900 wins. It is not clear whether either of them want to manage again, but if they, do they could probably find work for a year or two; and that could put their candidacies over the top.
Two other intriguing Hall of Fame manager candidates are Bruce Bochy and Terry Francona. They are 58 and 54 years old, and so have more years as managers left than the others. They have also both each won two World Championships, but Bochy has only won 1,630 games while Francona has only won 1,121. Bochy and Francona are both still managing so they have the opportunity to increase their total number of wins and both have an outside chance at winning another championship. If Bochy manages four more years, he will have well in excess of 1,900 wins and will have a strong Hall of Fame candidacy. Francona will need to mange for nine or 10 more years go get to 1,900 wins, so despite being younger he has a more difficult challenge.
Francona and Bochy will also both benefit from the story lines behind their World Series wins. They both took franchises that had not won a championship in more than fifty years and quickly won two championships for those franchises. Francona did it with teams that were not exactly surprises, but the 2004 ALCS was probably the greatest comeback in baseball history. Bochy's San Francisco Giants in both 2010 and 2012 were not expected to win much, thus bolstering his reputation as a great post-season manager. Additionally, if either of these managers win one more World Series they will be all but guaranteed election to the Hall of Fame as the only nine managers who have won three or more World Series are all Hall of Famers.
It is very unlikely Bochy, Francona, Baker, Leyland and Piniella will all get into the Hall of Fame. It is easy, however, to envision at least two and as many as four of the remaining managers, being elected to Cooperstown. Piniella and Leyland would both benefit from a few more years in which to accumulate wins, but in many respects already compare favorably to several Hall of Fame managers. Bochy and Francona have already laid down the foundations of solid Hall of Fame candidacies.
If even two of these managers, a low estimate, make it into the Hall of Fame that will mean that for a period from 1995-2010, in many years one out of six big league managers were future Hall of Famers. If three, a realistic estimate, make it, then fully 20 percent of managers during many of these years will have been Hall of Famers. It seems like few people during those years thought that baseball was going through a golden age of managers, but that may the verdict of a Hall of Fame electorate and structure that continues to keep players from that era on the outside looking in.
Follow Lincoln Mitchell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LincolnMitchell