Is Tony La Russa The Greatest Postseason Manager?

CINCINNATI, OH: St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa argues a call with first base umpire Mike Everitt during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Oddly, nobody ever seems to talk about managers' postseason records. Shoot, I couldn't even find them anywhere. Not even at Baseball-Reference.com (granted, sometimes I just can't find stuff because there's so much there). So I compiled the records myself, punching in every postseason series managed by every manager who managed in at least six postseason series.

See, you have to draw the line somewhere. But it's worth mentioning that Dick Williams managed in only five postseasons, Bill McKechnie and Billy Southworth in only four, and Leo Durocher and Bucky Harris in only three; all five of those men are in the Hall of Fame as manager.


Tony La Russa Retires As Cardinals Manager

One manager who will not be lauded for his postseason accomplishments -- not any time soon, anyway -- is Ron Gardenhire. Among those 18 managers with at least six postseason appearances, Mike Scioscia ranks 17th with a .467 winning percentage: 21-24 in 45 games.

Gardenhire is 18th, with a .222 winning percentage: 6-21 in 27 games. And where Scioscia's Angels have won five of 10 postseason series, Gardenhire's Twins are one for six. In 2002, Gardenhire's first year leading the Twins, they beat the Athletics in their Division Series, three games to two. Since then, the Twins have lost six straight postseason series and won only three games in those series. Since winning the first game of their 2004 Division Series with the Yankees, the Twins have lost 12 straight postseason games.

That's neither easy to do, nor fun.

Does Gardenhire's postseason record mean anything, though? Yeah. It means the Twins weren't as good as the Yankees, it means the Twins have been particularly unlucky for a while now, and it means Ron Gardenhire isn't among our candidates for Greatest October Manager.

Who is?

Here are the top 10 postseason winning percentages:

1. Joe McCarthy (30-13, .698)
2. Terry Francona (28-17, .622)
3. Sparky Anderson (34-21, .618)
4. Joe Torre (84-58, .592)
5. Casey Stengel (37-26, .587)
6. Charlie Manuel (29-22, .569)
7. Earl Weaver (26-20, .565)
8. Connie Mack (24-19, .558)
9. Tony La Russa (68-55, .553)
9. Miller Huggins (18-15, .545)
10. Ron Washington (18-15, .545)

The others, in order: Jim Leyland, Walter Alston, Whitey Herzog, Tom Lasorda, Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox, John McGraw, Mike Scioscia, and Gardenhire. Excepting Gardenhire, all of those guys are right around .500 in their careers.

Now, here are the top guys ranked by series winning percentage:

1. Joe McCarthy (7-2, .778)
2. Casey Stengel (7-3, .700)
3. Sparky Anderson (8-4, .667)
4. Joe Torre (19-11, .633)
5. Connie Mack (5-3, .625)
6. Walter Alston (5-3, .625)
7. Tony La Russa (16-11, .593)
8. Tom Lasorda (7-5, .583)
9. Lou Piniella (6-5, .545)
9. Charlie Manuel (6-5, .545)
9. Jim Leyland (6-5, .545)

It's probably not coincidental that Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, and Joe Torre appear prominently on these lists and managed the New York Yankees. McCarthy and Torre both had tough times reaching the postseason while managing other teams, while Stengel never reached the postseason while managing other teams. And when those guys did reach the postseason with the Yankees, they generally had the better team in each series they played.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that what we're trying to reach here isn't a conclusion about how well managers managed, but simply how successful they were. I can't tell you, right now, that Tony La Russa out-managed Ron Washington in the 2011 World Series. What I can tell you is that La Russa was, however slightly, more successful than Washington.

Finally, one more list because I like lists and it's not like you've anything better to do on the first Monday after the World Series ... Manager ranked by postseason games managed:

1. Joe Torre (142)
2. Bobby Cox (136)
3. Tony La Russa (128)
4. Casey Stengel (63)
5. Tommy Lasorda (61)
6. Jim Leyland (61)
7. Sparky Anderson (55)
8. John McGraw (54)
9. Whitey Herzog (51)
9. Charlie Manuel (51)

It would be wonderful if one manager appeared at the top of each list. It would be wonderful if one manager appeared at the top of each list and didn't manage the Yankees.

Or perhaps it even more wonderful that this exercise isn't nearly so easy.

Five managers do appear on all three lists: Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Casey Stengel, and Joe Torre. And I've gotta throw Joe McCarthy back into the mix, since he managed in nine World Series and won seven of them. Sure, he managed only 43 postseason games ... but it's not exactly his fault that his teams swept three of them; oddly, only one of those nine World Series lasted more than five games.

Enough build-up, yeah? Based on all of the above, plus an admixture of whim and intuition, here are my top five postseason managers in major-league history:

1. Joe Torre
2. Sparky Anderson
3. Joe McCarthy
4. Tony La Russa
5. Casey Stengel

I suppose it's well-known that Joe Torre's Yankees won three straight World Series. But more impressive is this: from 1996 through the 2001 American League Championship Series, Torre's Yankees won 14 of 15 postseason series. I don't care how good your team is, that's a phenomenal accomplishment. Even if you have the best team in the tournament, as Torre often did.

Could La Russa move up on this list? Sure. Another World's Serious or two might do it. But catching Joe Torre will be little easier than passing Connie Mack on the all-time wins list.

* The above was written before La Russa's retirement announcement was made Monday morning; click here for complete coverage of La Russa's retirement.

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