An Easy Call

Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox were such no-brainer selections that even the Hall of Fame couldn't screw it up. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox were such no-brainer selections that even the Hall of Fame couldn't screw it up. (USA TODAY Sports Images)

ORLANDO, Fla. — There are a lot of tough decisions surrounding the Hall of Fame, but this wasn’t one of them: Managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa were all voted in unanimously by the Veterans Committee on Monday.

The Hall has relatively few managers — 18 prior to Monday, compared with 205 players — so it’s striking to see three go in at once. But it’s hard to argue with 2,326 wins (Torre), 2,504 wins (Cox) and 2,728 wins (La Russa). La Russa notched six pennants and three World Series titles over 33 seasons in the dugout; Cox’s teams won five pennants and one World Series over 29 seasons; Torre had six pennants and four championships (all with the Yankees) in his 30 years of managing. (Cox also holds the all-time record for ejections via umpire with 158, which probably didn’t factor into the committee’s decision, but certainly serves as a notable career flourish.)

Cox and La Russa played only a few seasons each, while Torre was arguably pretty close to Hall of Fame level as a catcher back in the day, and is the only person to manage the neat trick of 2,000 hits and 2,000 managerial wins, but never got more than 22% of the vote. Even he will be remembered more for his work in the dugout than on the field.

Manager may be the toughest position for observers to evaluate accurately, which is why Manager of the Year awards so often just turn into the Guy Whose Team Did Way Better Than We Expected In March plaque. Beat writers often have a pretty good sense of what their team’s skipper does, but even then, so much of a manager’s work goes on behind the scenes — working with players one-on-one, evaluating his team’s options based on info that the media and public often don’t have. Leadership matters, but it’s impossible to quantify, especially when trying to evaluate its importance in relation to pure talent.

Still, over the course of careers this long, success is no fluke. These three men were largely the faces of their respective franchises during era-defining stretches of success, and if they can’t take all or even most of the credit for that success, at the very least, they enabled it.

Who the Veterans Committee didn’t vote in is equally interesting. Also on the ballot were Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Billy Martin, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons and George Steinbrenner. OK, so Quisenberry and Simmons are no surprise. But Steinbrenner and Martin are thorny Hall of Fame cases: Fascinating and mercurial personalities — with “mercurial” putting it mildly in Martin’s case — with a panoply of successes and failures to their credit. Steinbrenner did plenty of damage to the team before the Yankees’ 1990s-2000s glory years, but when compared to some of the other owners in the Hall, he feels like a giant (looking at you, Tom Yawkey).

Most of all, it continues to be a joke that longtime, groundbreaking MLB Player’s Association head Marvin Miller still didn’t get voted into the Hall –especially since his hapless foil Bowie Kuhn inexplicably is already there. However, toward the end of his life Miller made it very clear that the Hall could go shove, and inducting him as soon as he died would have been pretty galling in its own right.

He should have been in long ago, but it’s too late now. That wrong can’t be properly righted anymore. Fitting enough: It was always an adversarial relationship between Miller and MLB. All we can do now is make sure that people know how important a figure he was, what he accomplished, and what baseball fans as well as players owe him.

The BBWAA has been roundly criticized for its voting process lately, and rightfully so, but the Veteran’s Committee is a seemingly arbitrary group in its own right. It’s currently made up of former players Rod Carew, Andre Dawson, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Frank Robinson; executives Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, David Montgomery and Jerry Reinsdorf; and historians Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jack O’Connell and Jim Reeves. That’s a mostly impressive group of men, but a fairly random one.

The choices of Torre, La Russa and Cox are clear-cut, and the committee did its job in recognizing them. But over the next few years, with such an overstuffed ballot, the BBWAA will be handing them a lot of tough decisions. Is there any reason to think they’ll handle the thornier issues any better than the writers have?

4 thoughts on “An Easy Call

  1. Cox in the HOF? Not worthy…a monkey with an etch-a-sketch could have managed the Braves during that run they had with the players they had. Cox was a huge failure in that he was only able to muster 1 World Series championship in 14 years out of all of that talent.

    • A monkey with an Etch-ah-Sketch, you’ve got to be kidding me. Cox is a HOF’er, it’s a no brainer. What difference does it make what players he had, you play with the ones the GM got you. In fact, Cox was the GM when many of the “worst to first” players from the early 1990’s were brought up through the farm system. Cox, Torre and LaRussa all deserve to be in the Hall. Congratulations to all three, three of the greatest managers we’ll ever see.

  2. What do you mean “Quisenberry and Simmons was no surprise” in that they didn’t get elected? Simmons was one of the best hitting catchers of all time! A respected baseball person like Peter Gammons tweeted out yesterday that he’s dumbfounded that Simmons is not in the HOF already. Look up his stats before you insult him in what you think is a funny one-liner. As for Quisenberry, he was better than Bruce Sutter and he sailed into the HOF. Obviously Emma Span is like one of those voters who have never watched baseball.

  3. From what I’ve heard none of the other candidates besides the three electees got any more than 6 votes (37.5%). There’s something wrong with that! To me, keeping Tommy John out of the HOF with his eye-catching 288 career wins is an obvious oversight and as the author indicated, keeping Marvin Miller out is a mortal sin.
    Hopefully for next year’s election the HOF will use more experts (writers, historians, statisticians) and less players on the 1947-1972 committee. Remember what happened when in the 2000s decade when Hall Of Fame players owned most of the Veterans Committee votes? – No one got elected in about four consecutive elections, as the HOF players refused to let anyone into their exclusive club. The 7 HOF players and 1 HOF manager that were on this year’s committee are far too many votes in the hands of individuals that are likely to reject candidates.
    Concerning next year’s election – it’s time they put Minnie Minoso in the Hall Of Fame. He was the first black Hispanic to reach the majors and first in that category to become an all-star. The HOF voters should give Minoso at least as much consideration (and by that I mean give him just as good of a break) as they gave Larry Doby, who finally gained election in 1998, 39 years after he played his final major leagues game.. Both were forced to start their careers in the Negro Leagues because the racial barrier had not yet fallen when they started to play professionally as young men and delaying the beginning of their major league careers hampered their cumulative stats. Minoso was a Negro leagues all-star third baseman, but then converted to the outfield to plug a defensive gap for the Paul Richards-managed Chicago White Sox in the early 1950s. He would become a 3-time Gold Glove winner as an Outfielder. Minoso still made 7 major all-star teams even though he was already past 30 for most of his peak years due to his racial barrier-imposed late start.
    It seems to me that he has never gotten the same consideration as Monte Irvin and Doby, stars that despite splitting time between the Negro Leagues and the majors, like Minoso, still had a lot less trouble receiving HOF recognition than Minnie has had.
    Let’s not forget that Minoso was a trailblazer just as much as Jackie Robinson or Doby..He succeeded on the ballfield despite the triple whammy of racism, language and cultural barriers. His success paved the way for Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and wave upon wave of Latinos Of Color who have followed him to the big leagues for six and a half decades since Minoso debuted in the majors on April 19, 1949.