25 August 2009

the evolution of the manager

one of the things that i liked about the dodgers as i was growing up was how well they stayed connected with their past, and how close their past was to their present. the stability of the core players and manager allowed the fans to get from garvey to hodges in just a few steps. call it 'six degrees of walter o'malley'.

this hasn't been the case so much in recent years, and really since the advent of free agency, which makes sense. still, it's worth celebrating, so let's trace the dodgers' managerial roots, shall we?

i'll begin with burt shotton, primarily because i just scanned his 1990 target dodgers card.shotton was the manager in 1947, and then from the latter part of 1948 to 1950. branch rickey picked shotton to replace the suspended leo durocher for the 1947 season, and then tapped him again to replace durocher on a permanent basis after durocher failed to maintain the success in 1948 that shotton had generated the season before. choosing to manage in street clothes (although he would wear the team jacket and hat), shotton won two pennants (1947 and 1949) and came close to a third in 1950. despite this success, he was a victim of the power struggle between branch rickey and walter o'malley, and was replaced by charlie dressen.

charlie dressen (1951-1953) also won two pennants (1952 and 1953) and came darn close in 1951. that, of course, was the year of the 'shot heard round the world'. as detailed in roger kahn's 'the boys of summer', dressen believed that his success should be rewarded with a multi-year contract instead of the one-year deals o'malley liked to hand out. o'malley disagreed, and dressen was replaced with walter alston. dressen, who had previously managed the reds, would go on to manage the senators, braves and tigers, but would not win another pennant.

walter alston (1954-1976) won seven pennants in his 23-year tenure as manager; two in brooklyn and five in los angeles. in 1955 he led brooklyn to its only world series championship, and then won three more (1959, 1963, 1965) after the Dodgers moved to los angeles. he retired with 4 games remaining in the 1976 season, and was replaced by tommy lasorda. the dodgers retired his number (24) in 1977, and he was elected to the hall of fame in 1983.

tommy lasorda (1976-1996)
lasorda won the pennant in his first two full seasons as manager (1977 and 1978) but did not win the world series until 1981. a two-time nl manager of the year, he led the 1988 team to another world series crown. he also won four other division titles during his tenure, and his 61 post-season games managed ranks fourth all-time behind bobby cox, casey stengel and joe torre. lasorda's final game as manager was a 4-3 victory over the astros at dodger stadium on june 23, 1996. the following day he suffered a heart attack and formally retired a month later. he was replaced by the heir apparent, bill russell.

bill russell (1996-1998) finished the 1996 season as manager, compiling a record of 49-37 and earning the nl wild card. unfortunately, the dodgers were swept in the playoffs for the second straight year. in 1997, russell led the team to another second place finish in the nl west, but out of the wild card and playoffs. he was a victim of the fox takeover in 1998, and was fired in june shortly after the bungled mike piazza trade which was made without the knowledge of russell or the gm, fred claire. the dodgers promoted aaa manager glenn hoffman to take over. although it was a smaller sample size, russell's .537 winning percentage is higher than any other dodger manager that served between walter alston and joe torre.

glenn hoffman (1998)
finished the season as the manager with a 47-41 record. he remained with the club as a coach after fox and the sheriff (kevin malone) decided they needed a bigger name at the manager position and hired davey johnson.

davey johnson (1999-2000) finished just over .500 in his two seasons at the helm, including the first losing season of his managerial career in 1999. he was fired after a second place finish in 2000 and replaced with the mild mannered jim tracy. it is worth noting that johnson was the last player to get a hit off of sandy koufax.

jim tracy (2001-2005)
had 4 winning seasons in his five years as manager, including 2 90-win seasons. he was what i figured alston was - kind of quiet and not much of a motivator, but the team won. i don't know if that is really a proper comparison, though. anyway, to me it seemed that tracy began to make some strange decisions late in his reign which corresponded with an apparent dislike for gm paul depodesta. during the 2004 season, a season in which the dodgers won 93 games and advanced to the nlds, tracy was seemingly distraught by the trade of paul loduca, and even switched his number from 12 to 16 in tribute to the steroid-aided catcher. after the dodgers lost to the cardinals in the nlds 3 games to 1 (lima time!), tracy led the team on the field for a post-game handshake a la little league. then, in 2005, he continued his strange allegiance to players like jason grabowski, jason phillips, oscar robles, and mike edwards while eschewing hee seop choi. not surprisingly, 2005 was a disaster, and tracy stepped down after the season ended. shortly thereafter, new gm ned colletti brought grady little in to replace tracy.

little (2006-2007)
led the dodgers to the nlds in 2006 where they were swept by the mets. in 2007, the dodgers had two significant slumps late in the season which doomed them to 4th place in the division. this was the year where the generational conflict occurred between veterans such as luis gonzalez (boo!) and matt kemp (yay!) over playing time. frank mccourt and colletti seemed to leave little twisting in the wind following the season as they publicly courted joe girardi and joe torre. in the end, little resigned clearing the way for joe torre to be the new manager.

it's so far, so good for joe torre (2008-present). in his first season as dodgers manager, he led them back to the nlcs for the first time in 20 years, and here in his second year he has them sitting atop the nl west with the best record in the national league. while i am not complaining at all about torre's performance, there is a part of me that wishes russell could have continued the tradition of longevity as the dodger manager, but it wasn't meant to be. it would at least have been nice to hire a dodger like mike scioscia. it looks like he knows what he's doing.

thanks fox.


Captain Canuck said...

don't ya love it when a big media conglomerate buys your team away and ruins it?
and here i felt like my team was the only one going through that...

GOGOSOX60 said...

The long journey of Dodger despair and darkness all started with that infamous 1990 ESPN night game where the Dodgers had 8 run lead over the Phillies into the 9th inning and still lost the game 12 to 11. Then the Fox ownership and crummy managers through Grady Little has made that whole period of Dodger baseball forgettable. NOW, will they hold their 2 game lead through the rest of the season??????????

zman40 said...

Wow, I hadn't realized that there has been so many managers since Tommy stepped down.

Tony said...

If you truly want to see something horrible for a Dodger fan, check out this on youtube.