An Advanced Management Class: Miami Wins It in 9th Inning To Earn a Rare Series Victory
Joe Torre, far right, speaks at a news conference with Tony La Russa, left, and Bobby Cox after it was announced the retired managers were unanimously elected to the baseball Hall of Fame during the MLB winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.(AP Photo/John Raoux)
Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel sits on the bench as the Braves bat in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Thursday, July 24, 2014, in Atlanta. Miami won 3-2 and Kimbrel was credited with a loss. (AP Photo)
Considering only 21 managers have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s out of a pool of more than 700, considering that almost half of them were deceased at the time of their induction and considering the Hall has never admitted three managers in the same year, Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y., will stand alone in history.
But then consider further that Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, not only very alive but also peers, rank No. 3, 4 and 5 on the all-time victories list and despite being adversaries for the better part of three decades, have remained friends. This simply hasn’t happened before. Dating to 1978, they began bumping into each other all over the map and before they were done, Cox managed 304 games against Torre and La Russa teams (plus 20 more in the postseason).
Torre won more World Series (4), La Russa won more games (2,728) and Cox had the better win percentage (.556). And yes, Cox has a winning record against the other two.
At times, their trails have been complicated. When the Braves fired Cox in 1981, Torre was named his successor three weeks later. When Torre was fired in St. Louis in the middle of the 1995 season, La Russa took his place four months later. Four times, their teams met in October.
And Cox won once.
“Joe and Tony don’t come any sharper,” Cox said. “They’re in there with the Sparky Andersons and the Gene Mauchs and guys like that.”
Then again, they weren’t always. Fired by the Mets, Braves and Cardinals with a five-year TV gig in between when no one would hire him, Torre took the Yankees job in 1996 and the New York Daily News immediately headlined him “Clueless Joe.” Criticized for winning just one championship in Oakland with the famed Bash Brothers clubs (1988-90) — and that one title came after an earthquake at the opposing team’s field — La Russa might have been content to remain with the small-market A’s because of his close relationship with the Haas ownership family. After 10 seasons, he left only after Walter Haas’ death in 1995 and the franchise’s ensuing sale.
Cox’s record as a manager — three winning seasons in eight years — hardly jumped off the page when in 1990, he was asked by then-Braves president Stan Kasten to leave his general manager’s office and return to the dugout. The teams that Cox as GM constructed were an aggregate 171 games under .500 in 4 1/2 seasons. Then after Cox returned to the field, those ‘90 Braves went 40-57.
But in their 50s, all three were transformed because, as Brian Jordan said, “That’s what good managers do.”
Jordan holds the unique perspective of having played for all three. Cox and La Russa, he believes, to be “oppositely talented.”
“Bobby was more laid back and lets the game take care of itself, where Tony La Russa, he was totally different,” Jordan said. “He wanted to control every aspect of the game, which in a sense kind of delays the game. It’s almost like he out-thinks the game. But I’m going to tell you, he’s a terrific manager because he made average players good and good players great.”
And Torre, under whom Jordan broke into the majors with St. Louis in 1992?
“Just like Bobby. He was more of a teacher, though. He had a very young team in St. Louis and he’d say, ‘You guys play hard and I’m going to sit back and analyze you and I’m going to help you get better.’ He was the guy who was going to call you in and say, ‘Look, this is what you’re doing. You need to try this and try that.’ ”
Though Cox won the fewest World Series — the 1995 championship, a thin harvest from all those Octobers — he holds a winning record against his fellow inductees. In 19 years of head-to-head competition dating to when Cox managed the Blue Jays and La Russa ran the White Sox, Cox accumulated a 94-67 (.584) record against La Russa’s teams.
“Tony was a little different, but Tony was studious and he would pick brains,” Cox said. “He wanted to do everything absolutely right. And that’s the way you should do it.”
Against La Russa’s eight division-winning clubs in games in St. Louis, Cox held a 36-23 edge. In 15 seasons at Turner Field, his Cardinals were 37-52 (.378).
“I had many more games against Bobby, with a losing record by the way,” La Russa said during a winter visit to Cooperstown. “He never forgets there’s a score.”
Cox needed time to catch Torre after his Mets went 26-16 against Cox’s Braves from 1978-81. Only when Torre went to Los Angeles to finish his career with the Dodgers (2008-10) and the Braves beat them 13 times in 21 tries did Cox secure a winning head-to-head record: 72-71.
“I love Joe,” Cox said. “He is one of the nicest human beings.”
“Joe was the best example of teaching a team the right way to win and lose,” La Russa said. “He never embarrassed you because they beat you and I can’t say the same for other teams or other managers. Joe was first-class.”
The discussion changes, of course, when it moves to October. Cox faced both La Russa and Torre twice in the postseason and won only one series.
Their World Series records create more separation. Torre’s Yankees played in six World Series in an eight-year span and won four of them. He became the first manager to win three straight world championships (1998-2000) since Casey Stengel won five consecutive (1949-53) for the same franchise.
La Russa took two franchises to a combined six World Series over a 24-year period and went 3-3. He is the only manager besides Sparky Anderson to win championships in both leagues.
Cox’s five World Series appearances all came within nine years. His World Series record (11-18) is skewed by the Braves losing the last eight games he managed in the Fall Classic, all of them to Torre’s Yankees.
The 16-member Expansion Era Committee elected all three unanimously from a 12-man ballot last December.
“What makes it even better,” Torre said on the day’s announcement, “is to go in with these two guys. We waged a lot of battles against each other and it’s a great, great feeling.”
While Cox places his 1995 championship season above all other memories, two Octobers clashes with La Russa and Torre the following fall stand out - and for different reasons.
The Braves’ chance to defend their world title was made possible only because the team’s coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat La Russa’s Cardinals in the 1996 NLCS.
“I remember we had a meeting when we got to St. Louis and, God, I felt good about the meeting,” Cox said. “I mean, we had our top three (John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine) going. We won three straight games I don’t know how many times that year.”
When the Cards could have clinched at home in Game 5, the Braves beat them 14-0 to take the series back to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Maddux allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings to win Game 6 3-1, giving Glavine a chance to close it out Oct. 17. La Russa’s Cards went down 15-0.
“And it ended in the first inning with the bases loaded when Glavine hit a little pop-up to left field,” said Jordan, St. Louis’ center fielder that night. “Ron Gant (an ex-Braves then with the Cardinals) goes and dives for it and it gets by him. All those runs score. Glavine gets a triple, game over.”
Then game the 1996 World Series, which to this day defines the franchise’s frustrations of that era. After outscoring the Yankees 16-1 in taking the first two in the Bronx, the Braves lost four straight while Torre won his title. But while many Braves fans link that defeat to Jim Leyritz’s eighth-inning two-run homer off Mark Wohlers in Game 4 (which only tied the game), Cox thinks harder about what happened two innings before.
“(Denny) Neagle was pitching a one-hitter and we had a nice (6-0) lead,” Cox said. “And it got away. The umpire (Tim Welke) got in the way of (right fielder) Jermaine Dye and he couldn’t make the catch (on a Derek Jeter foul pop-up). The game would have been over at that point.”
Neagle gave up three runs, was pulled without recording an out and the Yankees closed to 6-3, setting up the later sequence that re-directed both franchises fate. Not that Cox thinks about it so much.
“Oh, no. That’s the one that I remember,” he said. “Then Wohlers gave up the home run, but that’s just part of the game.”
ALL-TIME WINNING MANAGERS
1.; Connie Mack; 3,731-3,948; .486
2.; John McGraw; 2,793-1,948; .586
3.; Tony La Russa; 2,728-2,365; .536
4.; Bobby Cox; 2,504-2,001; .556
5.; Joe Torre; 2,326-1,997; .538
-Tony La Russa
World Series titles; 3
League titles; 6
Division titles; 12
Manager of the year; 4 (1983, 1988, 1992, 2002)
World Series titles; 1
League titles; 5
Division titles; 15
Manager of the year; 4 (1985, 1991, 2004, 2005)
World Series titles; 4
League titles; 6
Division titles; 13
Manager of the year; 2 (1996, 1998)