The first wave of inductees for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame class have been announced. The Veteran's Committee has decided to induct managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and Tony La Russa:
The newest members of the @BaseballHall of Fame: pic.twitter.com/BUaGGvtBGl— MLB Public Relations (@MLB_PR) December 9, 2013
All three managers were inducted unanimously by the 16-man committee, and absolutely no one should be shocked. They are all extremely well-loved in baseball circles and rank 3rd (La Russa, 2,728), 4th (Cox, 2,504), and 5th (Torre, 2,326) all-time in managerial wins.
Torre managed for 30 years, but it took 15 years and three different stints with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals before he found any success outside of the 1982 NL West title in Atlanta (a team which was promptly swept out of the NLCS). He thought that all his bridges were shot since those three teams were the three that he played with during a stellar 18-year playing career which actually was strong enough to merit serious Hall of Fame consideration on its own. However, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner gave him a chance to manage in Torre's hometown after the team parted ways with Buck Showalter following their crushing 1995 ALDS loss to the Mariners.
Torre took the job, and the rest is history. From 1996-2007, he skipped baseball's most revered franchise and guided them to four World Series titles in his first five years, achieving playoff success that he never experienced in his previous 36 years in the game. It was glory beyond wildest dreams as those dominant Yankees teams romped through the playoffs year after year despite the difficult three-round format and somehow because the first team since the 1972-74 Athletics to win three championships in a row (they were also two outs from winning four in a row in '01). The Yankees never missed the playoffs during his 12-year stint as manager, and in addition to the four titles, they won six AL pennants, 10 AL East titles (nine in a row from 1998-2006), and 1,173 regular season games, a .605 winning percentage. Torre won co-AL Manager of the Year in '96 and outright AL Manager of the Year in '98, a dominant 114-win season that will long be remember in Yankees history.
Although Torre's strategies justifiably began to fall under heavy criticism by the latter years of his tenure, most notably his destruction of bullpen arms Scott Proctor, Paul Quantrill, and Tom Gordon due to overuse, he was always well-respected within the clubhouse and brilliant at keeping a cool head despite his irritable owner's frequent rage outbursts. The tension grew too much by the end of '07 though, and Torre and the Yankees ended their 12-year association. He went on to manage three more years with the Dodgers, winning back-to-back NL West titles in 2008-09, though they lost to the Phillies in the NLCS both years. I've certainly had my qualms with Torre in the past, but since managers are honored in Cooperstown, he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
While I don't really want the Yankees to retire his number since retiring managerial numbers is kind of silly anyway, it feels inevitable that his #6 could be honored in Monument Park next season. Don't reserve your tickets yet though; the Steinbrenner family is reportedly seething that Torre will be enshrined before patriarch George Steinbrenner, who gave Torre his shot. "The Boss" was also on the ballot, but the Yankees' owner for 37 years did not receive the requisite 12 votes for induction. Classy, Steinbrenners.
The Yankees did win seven World Series titles under his ownership, they also went through a 14-year streak without even making the playoffs, partially due to his meddling with bad player signings and trades and the infamous streak of 17 managerial changes in 15 years from 1978-92. He was also suspended from the game twice due to illegal contributions to presidential campaign and hiring an investigator to dig up dirt on one of his own friggin' players, Dave Winfield. Yankees fans reviled him by the early '90s. Points in his favor are the seven titles and his stature as the first owner to truly embrace free agency; his early signings of big names Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson paved the way for free agency to truly explode. Either way, his case is far from open-and-shut, and I don't bear ill will toward the Veteran's Committee for being unsure about whether to induct him to the Hall of Fame or not. In the end, Steinbrenner probably deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, but I'm not heartbroken that he's absent, either. Anyway his whole impact on free agency is predicated by Marvin Miller's efforts to even make free agency happen, so Miller should get in long before Steinbrenner. Miller was snubbed again, but we'll get to that.
Joining Torre in Cooperstown next summer will be Cox and La Russa, both easy Hall of Fame choices. A former Yankees player in the "Horace Clarke era" and coach for the '77 World Series champion team, Cox spent the first nine years of his 30-year managerial career with the Braves and Blue Jays from 1978-85. His first stint with the Braves didn't have much success, but in '85, he won the AL Manager of the Year Award for guiding the Blue Jays to the franchise's first division title in a 99-win season that just barely beat out Don Mattingly's 97-win Yankees. The team blew a 3-1 lead in the ALCS to the eventual champion Royals though, and Cox departed Toronto after the season to take a job in the Braves' front office. There, he played a big role in bringing aboard the players who would become cornerstones of the amazing 1991-2005 Braves teams, like Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Cox returned to the dugout in the second half of a last-place 1990 season, then spent the better part of the next two decades raising division flags in Atlanta. He took home NL Manager of the Year honors in '91, '04, and '05.
The Braves won 14 division titles in a row under Cox, claiming the 1991-93 NL West titles and after both realignment and the '94 players' strike which cancelled the playoffs, they won the 1995-2005 NL East titles. That streak will probably never be broken. Cox's teams won 100 games six times and went to the World Series as the NL champions in '91, '92, '95, '96, and '99. They gained a bit of a Buffalo Bills-type reputation for constantly falling short of the ultimate prize though; during this 15-year stretch of success, they won just one World Series title, a six-game victory over the championship-allergic Indians in '95. The Yankees did the honors of booting the Braves themselves in a stunning six-game victory in '96, and a tidy four-game sweep in '99. By the time the division title streak entered the 2000s, first-round one-and-dones became an Atlanta tradition, as they lost in the Division Series in 2000, '02, '03, '04, and '05. The streak came to an end when the Mets won the '06 NL East title, and the Braves spent the next four years strangely out of the playoff picture. In Cox's announced final season of 2010, they returned to the playoffs as the Wild Card, but the Giants sent them home in four games. That led to this very cool moment of the Braves' home crowd applauding Cox and the Giants interrupting their celebration to bid Cox farewell:
La Russa managed longer than even Cox and Torre; from 1979-2011, he managed 35 seasons in the majors, finding success everywhere he went. He took over a regularly-under-.500 White Sox team in '79, and by '83, he had them AL West champions, back in the playoffs for the first time since 1959. The Orioles ousted them in four games though, and just three years later, disagreements with GM Hawk Harrelson (yes, THAT Hawk Harrelson) led to Hawk firing LaRussa, an idiotic move that should have made him banned from the organization. La Russa quickly hooked on with the Athletics, and it was there that he began to change the game. He turned longtime starter Dennis Eckersley into a closer, but instead of constantly relying on "Eck" for multiple innings as had been the tradition with closers like Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage, he tried to limit Eckersley's appearances to one inning apiece, two at most. The decision was a masterstroke; Eckersley became one of the most fearsome relievers in baseball history, clinching a spot in Cooperstown and paving the way for future short-inning closers Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman. Behind the bullpen and players like Dave Stewart, Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco, the A's won three AL pennants in a row from 1988-90. They were surprised by the Dodgers and Reds in the '88 and '90 Fall Classics, but they brought home Oakland's only championship since the early '70s with a four-game sweep over the Giants in '89.
Oakland slipped to fourth behind the AL West champion Twins in '91, but returned to the top in '92 with a division title. The Blue Jays bounced them in the ALCS though, and La Russa never made another playoff appearance with the A's. La Russa left Oakland for the Cardinals in '96 and immediately skipped them to their first playoff appearance in nine years. The NL Central champions blew a 3-1 NLCS lead on Cox's Braves though, and La Russa went home empty-handed. Four years later, the Cardinals returned to the playoffs and from 2000-11, they had remarkable success thanks in large part to La Russa and a young slugger named Albert Pujols. They made eight playoff appearances, won six NL Central division titles, brought the World Series title back to St. Louis for the first time since 1982 with a five-game victory over the Tigers in '06, and in La Russa' final year at the helm, stunned the Rangers with a classic seven-game triumph in 2011. La Russa became the first manager in baseball history to retire a champion, as the 66-year-old called it a career following his third World Series title.
La Russa and Cox were easy Hall of Famers, but just keep these tweets in mind whenever anyone references the Hall of Fame's nebulous "character clause ":
Just a reminder that Bobby Cox was arrested for domestic abuse, Tony LaRussa for DUI. Jeff Bagwell's just hanging out, being a decent dude.— Mike Bates (@commnman) December 9, 2013
I'm looking forward to explaining to my son why Tony LaRussa is in the HOF, but Mark McGwire, who helped him get there, isn't.— Mike Bates (@commnman) December 9, 2013
So... yeah. Don't think for a second that Cox and Torre were not beneficiaries of the efforts of PED-aided players, either. But, you know, moral high ground and all.
The other people who were on the ballot were Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Billy Martin, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, Steinbrenner, and Marvin Miller. Of these nominees, I'm of the opinion that Simmons, John, and Steinbrenner should probably be honored in Cooperstown one way or another, but the biggest crime of all is the continued dismissal of the late Marvin Miller. It is a complete and utter joke that the Hall of Fame claims to honor the biggest figures in the history of baseball but has never done anything for Miller. Dayn Perry over at CBS Sports nicely sums up Miller's slam-dunk case:
Miller is the man who, armed with his training as an economist for the United Steelworkers of America, forged the MLBPA into something more than a handmaiden to ownership, something more than a "company union." Recounting the gains made by the players under Miller would take too much bandwidth (and keep in mind that bandwidth is not especially finite). Most notably, though, he methodically and relentlessly attacked the reserve clause -- the patently unfair system that yoked a player to one team for life or until the team was done with him.
Finally, in 1975, thanks to the "test cases" of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, the reserve clause was overturned by arbitrator Peter Seitz, and free agency in baseball was born. In part because of that and in part because Miller was able to persuade owners to accept salary arbitration, the average major-league salary increased tenfold during Miller's tenure. And that's to say nothing of the pension system he created -- one that's the envy of athletes in other professional sports.
All of those are good things, both on the principle of economic freedom and in terms of making MLB a more attractive destination for athletic talent around the world. Contrary to popular misconception, free agency also improved parity and competitive balance across the league.
The players' union was an absolute joke when Miller took over. By the time he left office, players had far more rights than ever before. The nigh-century old reserve clause was a complete injustice; Miller's hard-fought case against it eventually led to its elimination. Average salary increased by 1,616% during his tenure. (No, that is not a typo.) Players were previously unable to file grievances against owners. As previously mentioned, anyone arguing Steinbrenner's case better be arguing for Miller's too, since free agency, the very institution that Steinbrenner capitalized on, would not have been possible without Miller. Miller changed the game for the better, but his continued to exclusion is why people like Hardball Talk's Craig Calcaterra have legitimate reasons to completely dismiss the Hall's validity (emphasis mine):
The direct problem is one I’ve mentioned many times before, and that’s the horrendous exclusion of Marvin Miller. He’s been passed over multiple times now, and he’s probably never getting in. I’ve accepted that. I’ll never accept, however, that the Hall of Fame is anything approaching legitimate without Miller’s inclusion. Many owners, executives and commissioners — many feckless at best, some actively harmful to the game — are in the Hall. Very few of them if any have had as big an impact on how baseball operates than Miller.
Bowie Kuhn, the crappy commissioner who Miller constantly fought and triumphed over multiple times, is in the Hall of Fame while Miller remains outside. That is just completely baffling. What's worse is that Miller apparently received even fewer votes than he did during his last vote in 2010: six at most. Coincidentally, the 16-man committee had six former players on it. Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, and Frank Robinson better all have voted for Miller, if not only due to his effect on their salaries. The remainder of the committee consisted of managers Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda, historians Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jack O'Connell, and Jim Reeves, and executives Andy MacPhail, Dave Montgomery, Jerry Reinsdorf, and Paul Beeston. Even if all four executives on the ballot decided to screw Miller over for what he did to them over the years, the remainder of the voting bloc could still have inducted him with the requisite 12 votes. Hirdt, Jenkins, O'Connell, and Reeves don't deserve the title of "historian" if they didn't vote for Miller, given how much Miller did to impact baseball history (see this Jay Jaffe article for more). We might never see a Hall of Fame with Marvin Miller, and until he's elected, that gross fact likely stands as Cooperstown's biggest failure. I'll leave the final word on Miller to SBN's Jon Bois:
j/k, Marvin Miller was a tremendous advocate and American and way too baller for that shitty baseball musuem that's hard to get to— Jon Bois (@jon_bois) December 9, 2013
For now though, congrats to Torre, Cox, and La Russa, three deserving Hall of Fame managers. Get it right with Miller next time, Vets.