Picking baseball's top managers; Sabo leads NL rookie race

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Say tomorrow you were to take a quick poll among baseball people (meaning executives, players, and scouts) as to who is the games's best manager, no doubt Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals would be somewhere near the top of the list. Last year St. Louis won the National League pennant and extended the Minnesota Twins to seven games in the World Series. This season, however, Herzog's Cardinals are buried in the second division and have frequently looked like the Marx Brothers all sliding into third base at the same time. Does this mean Whitey has lost his touch, has forgotten when to change pitchers, or is suddenly afraid to use his bench?

Not really. What it means is that the Cardinals became a different team this year when slugger Jack Clark, their best hitter, went the free-agent route and signed with the New York Yankees. A number of key injuries, particularly to the pitching staff, completed the breakup.

Furthermore, if Whitey were to be fired tomorrow, he'd need to leave his phone off the hook to get any rest. Among the first to call, I'm sure, would be Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

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Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers, the only man ever to win 800 or more games in both the National (Cincinnati) and American Leagues, is another whose name has to be up there. But Sparky himself belongs to the school of thought that says it is the players who win pennants, not the managers.

``It helps if you can motivate, and it helps if you know when to change pitchers,'' he told me the other day. ``But if the talent isn't there, it doesn't make any difference what a manager does.''

Billy Martin, generally regarded as the best one-year manager of all time (because of how quickly he has been able to turn several losing teams around), has always been his own worst enemy. Organized, disciplined, and ready for anything on the field, Martin is a Page 1 fight waiting to happen the minute he changes into street clothes and goes bar hopping. But if you go by his record on the field and forget about his problems off it, he has to rank up there somewhere, too.

Dick Williams, fired earlier this season as the resident dugout dragon of the Seattle Mariners, has never been a favorite with his players. Too tough. But Dick's flair for winning is evident from the fact that he has led three teams (Boston, Oakland, and San Diego) into the World Series.

That there is no one formula for managerial success is evident from the differing personalities of the all-time co-leaders, Casey Stengel and John McGraw, who won 10 pennants each. Stengel, whose triumphs all came with the Yankees although he managed three other teams, played the press like a violin, liked to platoon, and had different rules for different players. McGraw, who spent 30 of his 33 years as manager with the old New York Giants and won all of his pennants there, was distant, disciplined, and preferred a set lineup.

Most managers played the game in their younger days with varying degrees of skill, and a lot of them (including Stengel and McGraw) were pretty good, but it's an old baseball adage that superstar players are not very good risks for managerial duties.

Hall of Famer Walter Johnson was mediocre as a manager, and Ty Cobb wasn't much better. More recently, Ted Williams had an overall losing record in three years at Washington followed by a disastrous 100-loss season when the team moved to Texas in 1972.

One theory for the problems encountered by such former stars is that because of their own great abilities, they had no concept of the limited skills of their players. They expected home runs from journeymen players whose stomachs did a victory rumble every time they got a single or avoided hitting into a double play. In fairness to Johnson, Cobb, and Williams, however, it must be noted that the ball clubs they were given to run weren't that good in the first place.

No system for rating managers is foolproof. But the idea of putting special emphasis on the talents of managers who have won division titles or pennants or World Series with more than one team has a lot of merit.

For example, Martin won with Minnesota, Detroit, New York, and Oakland, and Dick Williams had those three different pennant winners. In an earlier time, Deacon Bill McKechnie won with Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati.

Herzog led Kansas City to three division titles before moving to St. Louis, and Anderson, of course, has won not only division and league championships but the World Series as well in both Cincinnati and Detroit. Other double winners of at least division crowns (and we're not even naming all of them) include Yogi Berra (Yankees and Mets); Alvin Dark (Giants and A's); Leo Durocher (Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants); Joe McCarthy (Cubs and Yankees); Al Lopez (Indians and White Sox), and Bill Virdon (Pirates and Astros).

This is a neat formula, right? It is if you ignore Stengel and McGraw and forget that Connie Mack won nine pennants with the old Philadelphia Athletics, Walter Alston seven with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, and Miller Huggins six with the Yankees.

Me? I'll take vanilla. Elsewhere in the majors

Despite his current .345 average (trailing only teammate Wade Boggs and Minnesota's Kirby Puckett), Boston outfielder Mike Greenwell disagrees with those who think he'll someday win an American League batting title. ``I'm too much of a free swinger ever to win a batting championship,'' explained Greenwell, who has hit 16 homers and driven in a league-leading 80 runs.

Third basemen Chris Sabo of the Cincinnati Reds, the only rookie named to this year's all-star team, is the current favorite to be voted National Leauge Rookie of the Year. In the American League it's a tossup among several players, including pitchers Melido P'erez of the White Sox and Bryan Harvey of the California Angels, and shortstop Walt Weiss of the Oakland A's. Pitcher Al Leiter of the Yankees was also in the race until injuries ruined his chances.

Asked to explain the sudden success of California rookie pitcher Terry Clark after he spent 10 years bouncing around the minor leagues, Angel manager Cookie Rojas replied: ``Sometimes if you take a pretty good minor league pitcher and put him in a big ballpark with a team that plays good defense, he'll win big for you at the major league level. Some of those small minor league parks can really make it tough on a pitcher.''

Pitcher Danny Jackson, who came over to the Cincinnati Reds this year from Kansas City, practically owns the Philadelphia Phillies. Not only has Jackson beaten the Phillies four times already this season, he has allowed them only five runs in 33 innings of pitching.

Hall of Famer Stan Musial, commenting on his executive position with the St. Louis Cardinals: ``I have a terrific job, but please don't ask me what I do!''

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