Monday, December 9, 2013

Torre, Cox, LaRussa Headed to MLB Hall of Fame

Between the three of them, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and Tony LaRussa managed for 91 years, accumulated 7,558 wins, 40 division titles, 14 pennants, 9 manager of the year awards, and 8 World Series championships.

With numbers so similar it is apropos that the three be inducted in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame next Summer. The three were selected unanimously by the Expansion Era Committee (Former players Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, and Frank Robinson; Major League executives Paul Beeston of the Blue Jays, Dave Montgomery of the Phillies, Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox and Andy MacPhail, formerly of the Twins, Cubs and Orioles. They were joined by historians Steve Hirdt of Elias Sports Bureau, Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and Jim Reeves, recently retired from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)

Torre was the only one of the three who also had amajor career as a player. He was the 1971 NL MVP as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals when he led the league with a .363 batting average, 352 total bases, 137 RBI, and 230 hits, and was named an All-Star in half of his 18 seasons.

As a manager, however, Torre struggled at the helm of the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, and St. Louis Cardinals. His big break came when George Steinbrenner and manager Buck Showalter didn't see eye to eye after the 1995 season and Steinbrenner hired Torre instead of giving Showalter a new deal.

The local papers crucified Torre calling him "Clueless Joe" after his lack of success with the three aforementioned teams, but Torre showed the media who was really clueless. In his first year in New York the Yankees won their first World Series title in 18 years and Torre captured his one and only manager of the year award. He went on to win three more titles in the next four years and was a major influence on youngsters Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte.

His steady hand and calm demeanor was credited with keeping a team of star players happy even when they were sitting on the bench. The Yankees made the playoffs in all 12 seasons Torre managed them, but he and the front office had an acrimonious split after the 2007 season. (They have kissed and made up since.) Torre went on to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2008-2010, winning a pair of division crowns before losing back to back NLCS battles to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Torre was hired by MLB as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations in 2011 and runs his "Safe at Home" organization which combats domestic violence.

Not many younger fans know that Bobby Cox was a Yankees minor leaguer and later a Major League base coach for them. He played in 220 Major League games for the Bronx Bombers (1968-1969), but the third baseman's lifetime batting average were a mere .225.

Prior to the Yankees, Cox played minor league ball for the Dodgers, Cubs, and Braves. He finished his playing career in Venezuela before returning to the US to become a minor league coach and manager in the Yankees farm system. He then won a ring as the first base coach on the 1977 Yankees under manager Billy Martin. That off-season he was hired as manager by the Atlanta Braves, but finished above .500 just once in his four seasons at the helm.

Cox was fired after the strike shortened 1981 season and was replaced by Torre, who led the Braves to the 1982 NL West crown. (That's not a typo; MLB had some geographical issues over the years)  The Toronto Blue Jays immediately scooped up Cox, whose teams went from sixth to fourth to second to first in the four seasons he managed the Jays. The 1985 playoffs were the first in which the division series was expanded from five to seven games. The Jays lost the best of seven contest to the KC Royals after being up 3 games to 1.

Cox went back to Atlanta after the season as their general manager. He held the position from 1986 to June, 1990 when he appointed himself as manager. He took a sixth place team to the World Series a year later and his Hall of Fame managerial career kicked off in earnest. He retired after the 2010 season.

Tony LaRussa received his law degree from Florida St. University after his playing career ended in 1977, but baseball took priority. As a player he made his Major League debut as an 18-year old second baseman for the KC A's in 1963, but it would take five more years before he played in the big leagues again. All told he hit .199 in 132 games over six seasons with the A's, Braves, and Cubs. (He also played in the minors for the White Sox, Pirates, and Cards.)

1978 was a busy year for LaRussa, in addition to receiving his law degree he was named manager of the White Sox Double-A affiliate in Knoxville, TN. A year later he was the skipper of the Chicago White Sox after manager Don Kessinger got fired with 54 games left in the season.

The team steadily improved until 1983 when LaRussa led them to the post-season for the first time since 1959. The White Sox finished out of the money the next two seasons and LaRussa was let go after a 26-38 start in 1986. He wouldn't even have to wait until the following season to get a managerial job. The Oakland A's fired manager Jackie Moore after 73 games and hired LaRussa full time after Jeff Newman's 10 game stint as interim manager.

Two years later the LaRussa led A's won the first of three consecutive pennants and captured the 1989 World Series championships against their brothers across the bay, the San Francisco Giants. LaRussa decided he needed a fresh start after the team was sold following the 1995 season. He was hired by the Cardinals to take over in 1996 replacing, you guessed it, Joe Torre.

LaRussa won three more pennants and two championships in 16 years in St. Louis, including the 2011 title in his final season as manager.

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