Lobbying for Managers

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
January 9, 2007

Immediately following last year's Hall of Fame voting, I naturally defended those players who I voted a "2" for that nevertheless fell off the ballot.  Today, I'd like to talk about three candidates who fell off our ballot despite my voting just a "1" for them.  All three of these candidates are primarily managers.

Dick Williams

Most everyone knows Dick Williams as the manager who guided Oakland to two of its three consecutive World Series titles in the 1970's.  I assume part of the reason he's neither in Cooperstown nor in our Hall of Fame is that the A's were able to win that third World Series title without him.  How valuable could he have been?

On the other hand, he did turn the A's team that had been 80-something game winners between 1968 and 1970 into 101 game winners in 1971, his first year with the franchise.  Those Athletics were famous for being a disagreeable, ornery bunch, but Williams somehow managed to form them into a cohesive unit, and one of the greatest dynasties of all time.

The other knock on Williams is that despite his being the 17th winningest manager of all time, his career winning percentage was just .520.  But after his tenure with the A's, Williams took on four coaching jobs with recent expansion franchises.  He was quite successful with the Montreal and San Diego ballclubs, but failed with the lackluster California and Seattle franchises.  In fact, if you eliminate his tenure with the Angels and Mariners, his career winning percentage jumps to .543.  Will history condemn Lou Pinella for his three years in Tampa Bay that dipped his winning percentage below Williams' .520 mark?  It's a tough question to answer, and part of the reason that I wish Dick Williams was still on our ballot.

I'd also like to point out that in 1984, Williams led the Padres to the first victory in a five-game postseason series coming from a 2-0 deficit.  In fifteen years of division series play prior to that comeback, no team had ever done what Williams' Padres did.  I'm not saying that Terry Francona should automatically gain entrance for the Hall of Fame based solely on his 2004 postseason and 3-0 deficit comeback against the Yankees.  But won't that be factored in when we evaluate his career as a whole?

Again, I'm not certain that all of these accomplishments add up to a spot in the Hall of Fame for Williams.  If I was, I'd have voted him a "2."  But he certainly had a noteworthy career full of unique accomplishments, and I regret not being able to consider them any longer.

Charlie Grimm

Grimm has the 16th best winning percentage for all managers with over 1,000 career victories.  He is perhaps best known for managing the Chicago Cubs in their last World Series appearance in 1945. 

Looking solely at Grimm's managerial achievements, he is but a borderline Hall of Famer.  However, for five of his 19 managerial seasons, "Jolly Cholly" was a  player/manager.   He played a total of 20 seasons as a first baseman, collecting 2,299 hits en route to a .290 career batting average.  He did not have good power numbers for a first baseman of the 1920's and 30's, but he did lead hid league in fielding percentage seven times.

Does 20 seasons as a useful major league player bump Grimm up to Hall of Fame status?  Evidently not, as he is now ineligible for our ballot.

Leo Durocher             

This is one of the only instances form last year's ballot that I regret not voting a "2" for someone.  Leo Durocher is one of nine men in all of history to win 2,000 games as a major league manager.  It is true that in 24 managerial seasons, Durocher only got his team to the postseason three times, and that his 1969 Cubs suffered one of the most egregious collapses in baseball history.  But I think that a little perspective is in order.

During a span of over 40 years in which Wrigley Field was the only park not to have lights installed, the Cubs made the postseason just once (1984).  Between 1947 and 1988 (when lights were finally installed at Wrigley), the Cubs finished with a winning record exactly eight times.  One of those times was the aforementioned 1984 season, and another was in 1963 when manager Bob Kennedy led them to a whopping .506 winning percentage.  The other six occasions were from 1967 to 1972, with Leo the Lip at the helm.

After that string, the Cubs would not have back-to-back winning seasons again until 2003 and 2004.  Durocher must have been doing something to counteract the inevitable tiring of baseball players who play only day games at home.  Obviously, the Cubs still struggled even as they gradually phased night games in, as frequent day games following night games necessitated a stronger bench than most teams required.

Basically, the man is the ninth winningest manager of all time and proved that he could succeed consistently in a situation where no one else could.  It is an absolute travesty that he is not eligible for our Hall of Fame, and I officially submit Leo Durocher's name for re-nomination.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.