J. D. Thorne, speaker and author of the new book Baseball’s Winning Ways (Available on Amazon Books).

Longevity in Baseball, Part 2

Earlier this week, 76 year old Chicago White Sox Manager Tony La Russa recorded a milestone by passing the legendary player and New York Giants manager John McGraw in career victories. It turns out that the Elias Sports Bureau, which is the official keeper of MLB statistics, credits McGraw with many more wins. The additional wins were tallied when the fiery manager was absent due to illness. This was reported by the MLB itself. Accordingly, McGraw is officially credited with 2,840 wins, which keeps him ahead of La Russa. So as of last Sunday, La Russa is still 77 games shy of McGraw, but even that is a figure he is sure to pass if he returns next season. One has to wonder whether the press will care enough to issue many follow-up stories on the record or whether they believe the “record-breaker” on June 6 is true enough and let it go at that.

It is a remarkable feat to win 2,764 games. La Russa’s wins so far in 2021 are noteworthy for someone who had not managed for ten years since winning his third World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. Regardless of how  you look at the McGraw mark, La Russa’s wins still place him well behind Connie Mack, who won 3,731. Mack managed so long he also accumulated 3,948 losses. Of course, unlike La Russa, Mack owned the team he managed.

This week, I wondered if there were any common personality traits between McGraw and La Russa?  McGraw’s childhood was tragic. He was nicknamed, “Little Napoleon.” McGraw could be “arrogant, abrasive, and pugnacious.” He “outgeneraled” his opponents while abusing them, sometimes with his fists. But his players suffered his “tyranny” as the price of victory. They were proud to be Giants. In his 29 full seasons as Giants Manager, he finished first or second 21 times, winning 10 pennants and three World Series.

La Russa is self-deprecating in his description of his role. La Russa described his current regular game day duties as being more of a “cheerleader,” just writing out the line-up, and watching the hitting coach work batting practice and pitching coaches prepare the starting pitcher and relievers. Easy peasy?

Baseball was different in McGraw’s time. During McGraw’s playing days he was most often at third base. He was notorious for blocking, tripping, or otherwise obstructing the baserunners while the lone umpire watched the flight of the ball. To control this style of play, MLB added a second umpire to watch the bases. Like the player McGraw, the manager McGraw looked for every possible edge. He swaggered though the league, battling opposing teams, managers, owners, umpires, and league officials. He often incited crowds and the Giants quickly became the most despised team in the league, sometimes having to dodge rocks and bottles as they left enemy ballparks.

However, McGraw had a sharp eye for talent. He traded players daringly, and often got useful play from problematic players others had given up on. Through tips from his many loyal friends, he found many bright young stars from bush leagues across the country. He won three consecutive pennants from 1911 to 1913. Beginning in 1921 he won four consecutive pennants, besting the cross-town Yankees of Babe Ruth in 1921 and 1922. That is good shooting.

La Russa’s style is different, he keeps his competitive fire inside, but fans know he is keenly competitive. He let his inner McGraw loose against the Brewers in 2011. His Cardinals bested a good Brewers squad in the play-offs to make the World Series. There may be more of it to come if his White Sox race for the World Series again.

Like McGraw’s Giants, there was no team more enjoyable to beat than those “dirty Red Birds,” too!

My Book:

Baseball’s Winning Ways is written for enjoyment, inspiration, and information by the author of The 10 Commandments of Baseball, J. D. Thorne. Winning Ways explores baseball history and high profile players both current and past. American history highlights provide a more complete point of reference. The drama of the game, its history, baseball superstitions, statistics explained, and more provide features of interest to all fans from age 12 on up. The central theme of the book is baseball’s winning ways, those principles essential to the game itself–values that parents, grandparents, teachers and coaches want to pass down that are as important now as ever.