In honor of Phil Jackson's retirement -- or, at least, his impending one-year hiatus and return in 2012 when the Lakers sign Dwight Howard and Chris Paul -- I present my list of the 10 greatest managers of all time.
10. Davey Johnson
Record: 1,148-888 (.564), 5 division titles, 1 pennant, 1 World Series title
Johnson managed fewer games than the other guys on this list, but he's also the only who has the track record of turning around three different teams. When he took over the Mets in 1984, they hadn't had a winning season since 1976. He won 90 games and two years later a World Series. When he was fired, the Mets fell apart. He took over the Reds midway though 1993 and they won division titles in 1994 and 1995. He left and they fell back under .500. He took over an Orioles team that had been under .500 in 1995, made the playoffs two seasons, left and the team hasn't been over .500 since. His final two-year stint with the Dodgers wasn't quite as successful, although he did win 86 games his second year there. In the end, not an easy guy to get along with, but he won ballgames.
9. Sparky Anderson
Record: 2,194-1,834 (.545), 7 division titles, 5 pennants, 3 World Series titles
He guided the Big Red Machine to the 1975 and '76 championships and then the '84 Tigers. Sure, you can argue that it was easy to manage guys like Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose, but Sparky also made the necessary moves, such as moving Rose to third base to find room in the lineup for George Foster, and managing a staff that didn't have a true ace. Known as "Captain Hook" for his willingness to yank his starters, he was one of the first managers to use his bullpen so extensively -- the Reds finished last in complete games in four of his nine seasons there. Even though he was just 61 when he retired, there was a feeling he did hang on too long -- five of his final seven Tigers teams finished with losing records.
8. Joe Torre
Record: 2,326-1,997 (.538), 13 division titles, 6 pennants, 4 World Series titles
Sure, you can give credit to George Steinbrenner's payroll, but Torre had a great track record -- nine consecutive division titles, three World Series titles in a row (a stretch in which the Yankees went 33-8 in the postseason). Few managers have commanded the respect from his players like Torre did, and let's not forget he also won division titles with the Braves and Dodgers. And only three managers have won more World Series titles.
7. Walter Alston
Record: 2,040-1,613 (.558), 1 division title, 7 pennants, 4 World Series titles
He famously managed the Dodgers with 23 consecutive one-year contracts. Alston won 90-plus games 10 times and was in his second year at the helm when he pegged Johnny Podres to start Game 7 of the 1955 World Series for Brooklyn. He also gave the ball to Sandy Koufax for Game 7 in 1965 -- on two days' rest, over a more rested Don Drysdale -- and Koufax pitched a shutout. After Koufax retired, however, he made the playoffs just once in his final 10 seasons.
6. Tony La Russa
Record: 2,659-2,309 (.535), 12 division titles, 5 pennants, 2 World Series titles
He's not everbody's cup of tea, but he's been doing this 33 years now and only had nine losing seasons (and lost 90 games just once). He's oddly infatuated with guys who can play multiple positions and not hit at any of them, and blame him if you want for the rise of the LOOGY, but he won with three different organizations. His strength (along with pitching coach Dave Duncan) was the reclamation of veteran starters, a long list that includes guys like Dave Stewart, Scott Sanderson, Chris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan and others.
5. Earl Weaver
Record: 1,480-1,060 (.583), 6 division titles, 4 pennants, 1 World Series title
Weaver's only losing season was his final one. From 1969 to 1980, the Orioles won at least 90 games all but two seasons and topped 100 five times. He lived on great starting pitching, great defense and the three-run homer. He was ahead of most his peers in understanding the value of on-base percentages, worked some terrific platoons, and kept track of things like how his hitters fared against opposing pitchers in the days before computers. His Orioles teams of the early '70s were arguably the greatest defensive squads of all time with Brooks Robinson at third, Mark Belanger at short, Paul Blair in center field and Davey Johnson and then Bobby Grich at second.
4. Joe McCarthy
Record: 2,125-1,333 (.615), 9 pennants, 7 World Series titles
He managed the Yankees from 1931 to 1945, winning eight pennants and his seven World Series titles. (He also managed the Cubs to the 1929 pennant.) He was known as "Push-button Joe" because for the most part he'd pick his eight regulars and play them every day. With the likes of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio, Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez, he had six Hall of Famers to build around, but he did a pretty good job of it: His '36-'39 Yankees went an amazing 409-201 over four seasons, plus 16-3 in the World Series, and his .615 winning percentage is the best ever.
3. Bobby Cox
Record: 2,504-2,001 (.556), 15 division titles, 5 pennants, 1 World Series title
It's easy to say he won simply because he had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, and easy to criticize because he won just the one World Series, but the man won 11 consecutive division titles and 100-plus games six times. He won 101 games in 2003 with an aging Maddux, no Glavine and Smoltz in the bullpen. His strength was trusting in and developing young players. Among the young players he broke in with the Braves: Steve Avery, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Ryan Klesko, Kevin Millwood, Javy Lopez, Mark Wohlers, John Rocker, Mark Lemke, Jermaine Dye, Jason Heyward, Rafael Furcal, Tommy Hanson, David Justice, Mike Stanton, Adam LaRoche and others. But that track goes back to his days in Toronto (Tony Fernandez, George Bell, Jesse Barfield, Jimmy Key) and even his first stint in Atlanta (Dale Murphy, Bob Horner). Yes, it takes a farm system to produce the talent, but Cox was never afraid to play the youngsters.
2. John McGraw
Record: 2,763-1,948 (.586), 10 pennants, 3 World Series titles
During McGraw's time -- he managed from 1899 to 1932 -- the manager often ran the whole show. McGraw scouted players, signed them, developed them and traded them. From 1903 through 1931, he suffered just two losing seasons. McGraw loved young players; his 1921 and '22 World Series champions had the youngest lineups in the league. He loved speed and athleticism and was pugnacious and a product of a different era (he played for the infamous 1890s Orioles, known for their bloody, spikes-up style of play). For much of his career, he was undoubtedly the most hated man in the National League. In 1923, Heywood Broun wrote, "I suppose it was an important part of McGraw's great capacity for leadership that he would take kids out of the coal mines and out of the wheat fields and make them walk and talk and chatter and play ball with the look of eagles."
1. Casey Stengel
Record: 1,905-1,842 (.508), 10 pennants, 7 World Series titles
While he finished barely over .500 for his career, his winning percentage with the Yankees was .623 and he won 10 pennants in the 12 seasons he managed them. Yes, he had the best talent in the league with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, but he was also a mad scientist of sorts. He loved to platoon, was a master at juggling his rotation and mixing in veteran starters, and as Bill James pointed out he always had a double-play combination that was terrific at turning two. You can't deny the great record in the World Series. The Yankees did win four more pennants after he retired, but his World Series record (in a more competitive era than the one in which McCarthy managed), puts him No. 1 for me.