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Those Who Can't Play, ManageŚRight?
2005-09-07 20:02
by Mike Carminati
All managers are losers, they are the most expendable pieces of furniture on the face of the Earth."
— Ted Williams, right before he was named the Senators manager in 1969.

Ted Williams is not remembered as a great manager. Teddy Ballgame is the epitome of star player turned impatient, saturnine manager. The old aphorism goes that star players don't have the patience or understanding to pilot a team of mere mortals. They don't have the facility to train inferior players.

Williams' managerial career is actually more of a mixed bag than people tend to remember. He won the AL Manager of the Year award in his first season with the Senators. Overall, however, his record is far from sterling—273 wins against 364 losses for a .429 winning percentage. His teams got worse, considerably worse, each season after he won the manager award.

I thought of Williams when the Pirates passed the managerial baton from Lloyd McClendon to Pete Mackanin. That is, from one scrub to an even worse one. McClendon, a backup catcher in his playing days, at least had glimpses of offensive prowess. Mackanin was atrocious at the plate though he was able to start a few seasons in Montreal and Minnesota back in a pitcher's era in which second baseman apparently did not need to hit.

I wondered if that was a good omen for the Bucs. The current thinking seems to be that the worse a manager was as a player, the better he will be as a manager. Though the Pirates were breaking with the other trend of using backup catchers-cum-managers. No one's perfect.

Of course, the larger issue is if that mentality has any basis in reality. Remember that a number of Hall of Famers have had more than their share of success in the manager's role. From Cap Anson to Frank Robinson, some great players have made pretty good managers.

So what's the rule and what's the exception? Is it Williams or is it Anson and Robinson?

I ran the numbers for all managers. I looked at there wins, losses, and winning percentages as managers as compared to their Win Share totals as players. Here are how the best players fared as managers (all data through 2004):

ManagerWLPCTWin Shares
Ty Cobb479444.519722
Honus Wagner14.200655
Cy Young33.500634
Tris Speaker617520.543630
Eddie Collins174160.521574
Walter Johnson529432.550560
Ted Williams273364.429555
Pete Rose412373.525547
Mel Ott464530.467528
Frank Robinson9131004.476519
Rogers Hornsby701812.463502
Nap Lajoie377309.550496
Kid Nichols8088.476478
Eddie Mathews149161.481450
Christy Mathewson164176.482426
John Ward412320.563409
Pud Galvin717.292403
Fred Clarke16021181.576400
George Davis107139.435398
Bill Dahlen251355.414394

Now, here are the career wins leaders among managers with their career Win Shares as players:

ManagerWLPCTWin Shares
Connie Mack37313948.48661
John McGraw27631948.586207
Sparky Anderson21941834.5457
Bucky Harris21572218.493133
Joe McCarthy21251333.6150
Tony LaRussa21141846.5343
Walter Alston20401613.5580
Leo Durocher20081709.540121
Bobby Cox20021531.56716
Casey Stengel19051842.508159
Gene Mauch19022037.48314
Bill McKechnie18961723.52472
Joe Torre17811570.531315
Ralph Houk16191531.5145
Fred Clarke16021181.576400
Tom Lasorda15991439.5260
Dick Williams15711451.52065
Clark Griffith14911367.522273
Earl Weaver14801060.5830
Lou Piniella14521325.523164

You might notice that both lists run the gamut. The best players can be very good managers or lousy managers. The best managers—at least based on wins—could have been very good players, scrubs, or even bush-leaguers who never made it to the bigs.

Maybe a closer look by groups of managers might help. I organized them by career Win Shares and then totaled each group's wins and losses, took the overall winning percentage, and the average winning percentage. I used 100-Win Share bands but also isolated those players without enough major-league experience to merit one Win Share. Finally, I added a group for the managers who were Hall of Fame players:

ManagerWLPCTAVG PCT
500+ WS45664646.496.472
400-499 WS27912252.553.488
300-399 WS84748337.504.424
200-299 WS3045030487.500.447
100-199 WS3545034637.506.520
1-99 WS6809969917.493.457
0 WS3313632682.503.417
Total182966182958.500.447
HoFers2250521277.514.469

Again, I don't know if I can see any direct relationship between a good players and good managers. It seems to alternate within the groups.

Let's see if there's a correlation between the different data. I ran the numbers between total managerial wins and total Win Shares as a player. They correlated ever so slightly (.094 coefficient). Next, I used managerial winning percentage and Win Shares. They had even less of a correlation (.041 coefficient).

So where are we? Basically, nowhere. There is no real relationship between success as a player and success as a manager. All we have is anecdotal evidence from which we can pick and choose. It just seems more interesting to go with the Teddy Ballgame worldview.

Comments
2005-09-09 08:02:34
1.   doncoffin
There is one fairly large, and apparently statistically significant blip. Every group, sorted by win shares and by other categories (e.g., HoF members) has a winning percentage close enough to .500 not to matter...except one. Players with 400 - 499 WS have a fairly remarkable .553 record as managers...So the data do, actually, tell us something.
2005-09-12 13:19:18
2.   Mike Carminati
Don,

Yeah, but look at the avg winning percentages. The 400-499 WS group is below average. The 100-199 group owns an average winning percentage of .520.

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