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Revisiting The Bill James Guide To Baseball Managers

John McGraw with the 1894 Baltimore Orioles

A decade ago, Bill James published an excellent study of the history of baseball managers, which I happened to re-read recently.  It’s a decade-by-decade breakdown of the evolution of baseball, focused sharply on the leading managerial figures along the way. 

In it, James ranks managers in a variety of ways, including one point-based system he devised to reward achievment of goals that all managers aim for.  Without getting into the specific formula here, winning a World Series, pennant or division title drew merits.  Likewise, a 100-win season, finishing twenty games over .500 or, simply, a winning record.

The beauty of his admittedly imperfect approach was that every manager that earned at 32 points in his system is in the Hall of Fame, while the vast majority of those who fell short are not.

When James published his book after the 1996 season, the managers with at least 32 points were:

John McGraw (pictured above – 79), Connie Mack (72), Joe McCarthy (71), Casey Stengel (52), Walt Alston (51), Sparky Anderson (49), Earl Weaver (42), Harry Wright (42), Leo Durocher (38), Bill McKechnie (38), Miller Huggins (37), Frank Selee (36), Fred Clarke (35), Cap Anson (34), Tommy LaSorda (33), Al Lopez (32)

While no active managers made the short list when the book was published, that has changed a decade later.  Here is the new top-ten (active in CAPS), through 2006, plus a point to Torre for already clinching a winning 2007.

79 – John McGraw

72 – Connie Mack

71 – Joe McCarthy


52 – Casey Stengel


51 – Walt Alston


49 – Sparky Anderson

42 – Earl Weaver & Harry Wright

No real surprise, but James’ formula indicates that Cox, Torre & La Russa have already done enough to merit plaques in Cooperstown.  Torre will move into sole possession of fifth-place all-time by this measure if the 2007 Yankees stay at least twenty games over .500.

Fourteen other current managers have earned at least one point in James’ system.  The top ten are:

Lou Piniella (22), Jim Leyland (19), Mike Scioscia (13), Bruce Bochy (12), Ron Gardenhire (12), Terry Francona (8), Ozzie Guillen (7), Jim Tracy (7), Charlie Manuel (6), Grady Little (5)

When you consider that the maximum point gain a manager can experience in a dominating, world championship season is six, none of these men are particularly close to joining the all-time greats.  Needless to say though, it will be interesting to check back in another 10 years.


One other fascinating aspect of The Bill James Guide To Baseball Managers is his analysis of the types of men hired for the job.

James checked at fifteen-year intervals to see what percentage of managers had been good or outstanding major league players, dating back to 1885. 

His initial results were as follows:

1885 = 38%

1901 = 56%

1916 = 43%

1930 = 53%

1945 = 82%

Clearly, managers who’d been at least good major league players were becoming increasingly common.  But look what happened after that.

1945 = 82%

1960 = 57%

1965 = 40%

1990 = 39%

When James’ book came out, he wondered if the percentage was dropping because many of baseball’s best players have been African-American or Latino since the 1950’s, two groups who historically had a hard time getting managerial opportunties.  With that starting to change around the time of the book’s publication date, James speculated that the percentage may start rising again.  Let’s check 2005, the next fifteen-year interval.

Fourteen of the thirty-five men who managed major league teams in 2005 were good or oustanding big league players, or 40%, virtually unchanged from 1990.  It wouldn’t be accurate to say the decline has abated or that the turnaround has begun though.  Two years later, in 2007, the percentage has declined to 29% (10 of 34).

Someday, in another blog post, we’ll try to figure out why.

By Malcolm Allen


DID YOU KNOW? – On April 22, 2002, two managers from the Dominican Republic faced off for the first time in major league baseball history.  Tony Pena’s Kansas City Royals beat Luis Pujols’ Detroit Tigers 6-0, thanks in part to Dominican second baseman Carlos Febles’ home run.


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