The recent Hall of Fame elections of legendary managers Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox is a fitting culmination to auspicious careers. Nobody has to remind me that these guys are baseball's winningest managers over the past forty years. All three won more than 2,000 games and were unanimously selected on all 16 expansion era committee ballots.
But the fact that they were able to finish their careers with heads held high—as heroes of the game—when they managed in the heart of the steroids era is straight bullshi*t.
On paper, these bench tacticians earned it. Torre’s won the most titles as a manager with the Yankees (4). He's the only manager to have more than 2,000 hits as a player and 2,000 wins in the trenches.
La Russa, known as the ultimate bench strategist, won World Series titles with Oakland in 1989 and St. Louis in 2006 and 2011, his final season as a manager. La Russa finished with the third most wins by a manager in baseball history with 2,728.
Bobby Cox was the old school, mastermind of those dominant, pitching-rich Atlanta Braves teams of the ‘90s. Cox was a silent assassin who could also go bonkers when the right buttons were pushed. He had few equals in the regular season, leading the Braves to 14 straight division titles, and he bagged a World Series championship in 1995.
That being said, it’s hard for me to feel good about a baseball community that vilifies players and denies them entrance into the Hall based on PED use/suspicion, but celebrates the managers of these same dirty players.
The induction ceremony on July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y., should be bittersweet for a baseball community whose on-the-field heroes are still being punished for the steroids era.
Seems like an unfair double-standard. Immortals such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens have compiled statistical careers worthy of Hall of Fame induction. However, the BBWAA has decided to punish any legend of that era rumored to be associated with PED’s. These players sacrificed their body and souls to help bring prestige and financial growth to MLB. The managers, owners and fans that supported these players also benefited from them in many ways.
Players of the steroids era didn’t work any harder or any less honorably than their managers did. In fact, the personality of any team considered under strong leadership was often a direct reflection of its manager. When Torre was interviewed by Karl Ravech following Sunday’s announcement, he sat on a podium with the other two managers and credited all of his former players with helping him become an icon.
“We can’t go through life alone, much less try to win a championship alone,” Torre said.
Those words struck me because he acknowledged that his success career was largely based on the talented players around him. Managers who rule franchises for decades usually dictate the clubhouse culture, and are privy to everything going on. Torre, La Russa and Cox are straight up baseball savages and have forgotten more baseball than most of us will ever know. So if players and managers are as intimately co-dependent as Torre admits, then how can we exonerate the managers as clueless victims of the PED epidemic and then credit them with being great leaders with an uncanny pulse on their teams?
These HOF managers were either total inhibitors in this process, or they didn’t have the game on smash as much as we give them credit for.
Either way, something has got to give. The managers have to take an L too.
While my modern day superheroes are denounced and shamed as cheaters despite years of dedicated MLB service, the managers who mentored them in life and guided their careers are free to play stupid, collect their cash and pass go with their legacy in tact.
Supreme basebrawlers who carried baseball on their backs, turned apathetic fans to ball chasing zombies and lifted baseball out of financial ruin, are now assed-out and looking for a get out of jail free card that’s not coming anytime soon.
La Russa owes his ‘89 championship with Oakland and much of his early success to the “Bash Brothers,” Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Canseco was the first player in history to steal 40 bases and hit 40 homers in the same season (1988). Canseco is an admitted steroid users who unapologetically dropped a bombshell of information revealing MLB's hidden drug culture in his tell-all book called Juiced.
Canseco states that he advised other players on how to use steroids, how much to use and how and when to use them. He named names, gave dates and places that shook the baseball world and sparked various debates, which often centered on how much the managers and owners actually knew about the epidemic.
McGwire went on to rejoin LaRussa in St. Louis, and with the help of PED’s, he broke Roger Maris’ single-season homerun record of 61 by smashing an unprecedented 70 bombs in 1998.
McGwire is one of the posterchildren for the steroids era and a main reason for those big checks LaRussa got for being a genius. With every PED-enhanced moonshot McGwire hit, La Russa’s money, power and respect increased.
When pressed with rumors of McGwire’s possible indiscretions, La Russa swore by McGwire’s innocence and work ethic, until The Mitchell Report and a shaky appearance in a congressional hearing exposed Big Mac as a juicer.
If I was La Russa and McGwire was my dawg, I’d feel pretty betrayed. Instead, when the baseball world turned its back on McGwire, LaRussa was there to give him a job as Cardinals hitting coach. That gesture was hardly the actions of a person who just found out they got played like a sucker.
Joe Torre dominated baseball with the Yankees. Known steroids cheats Roger Clemens, Andy Petitte, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez all played integral roles in Torre’s unfathomable rise to mythical coach status after the age of 55. Ironically, Torre’s managerial career directly coincides with the steroids era and the longevity and late-career success enhanced by PED use.
Torre managed the Mets, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals to average results, before getting his big break from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. When the Yankees hired Torre to replace Buck Showalter, Torre had a managerial record of 894-1003, and the Daily News called him “Clueless Joe.”
Torre’s career had a renaissance, which lasted from 1996 to 2007.
He defied the coaching odds, and as he got older seemed to get better and sharper as a manager. He made the postseason in each of those years. In ten of those twelve years, the Yankees were AL East champions. They reached as the wild card in the other two seasons. They won six pennants and four World Series.
Torre attributes his success to the warriors who banged needles in their asses, and without regard for the long-term effects, drank potions and witches brews concocted by quack scientists in illegal labs across the world. Nobody stopped them until Canseco blew the top off the operation. It’s impossible for any HOF manager not to know that his players were juicing. Even if he didn’t ask so he never had to tell… he still knew. The baseball rumor mill is always percolating.
Cox coached forever, so it’s safe to say he had more than a few PED cats under his wing while he was winning division titles like Taylor Swift gets vevo hits. Outfielder Andruw Jones’ name is often mentioned as a Braves player who may be on that sealed list of guys who failed those supposedly “confidential” PED tests that leaked and sparked the current anti-performing enhancing drugs crusade. Gary Sheffield is another who was caught up in the game. He played under both Cox and Torre during his MLB tenure.
In my eyes, a knock against any player for using PED’s is a knock against the manager that coached those players. It’s math 101 for baseball dummies. Clemens got acquitted, and he still gets no burn. How messed up has MLB gotten that they now value managers over the players who shaped the game? These managers—the silent facilitators of a chemical warfare that ransacked baseball—have to suffer as well. The baseball writers (haters) need to make a sweeping decision, but one with integrity. Let all statistically qualified willing participants of the PED era in the HOF—or burn it down and start all over again.