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January 4, 2010 at 11:56 pm ET
E4: Best Managers with Losing Records

While former 20-game winner Scott Erickson was on his way to 19 losses in 1993, one phrase we heard over and over was that “It takes a good pitcher to lose 20 games.”

That may sound strange, but when you think about it, makes senses. Only a pitcher with whom a manager has confidence gets an opportunity to take the ball every fifth day despite a lack of tangible results.

That philosophy holds true with regard to skippers, as well. In order to lose a lot of games, you need to have won a lot of games, because the ones who do nothing but fail won’t continue to get work.

This week’s E4 examines the best managers in baseball history who finished their careers with losing records. The prerequisite? One grand. Only 55 managers have won 1,000 games, so anyone yet to achieve that plateau was off the board. It was tough, but we found our four, some of which may surprise you. Two of them are enshrined at Cooperstown.

Coin flip

Tom Kelly v. Jim Leyland

Alright, no question that Leyland has won more games (1412), posted a higher winning percentage (.496), made more playoff appearances (5) than Kelly, and helped put Detroit back on the baseball map. But it all came down to two things: Leyland has only one World Series ring, and didn’t win it until he was handed the keys to an All-Star Florida club in 1997.

Kelly won it all twice. And when¬†presented with a choice of having¬†two championship rings or just one, we’ll take two every day of the week.

4. Tom Kelly (1140-1244, .478)

“Tom is an institution. He isn’t just another manager. It’s going to be tough without him. After all, when you say Twins, you say Tom Kelly.” — late Twins owner Carl Pohlad at Kelly’s retirement press conference

Kelly spent 16 years as a major league manager, all of them with the Twins, and though he may have only enjoyed five winning seasons, only 42 managers won more games than TK.

Minnesota won the 1987 World Series in Kelly’s first year at the helm, and repeated that feat in¬†an epic ’91 Series, which may have been the greatest ever played. Kelly also led the Twins to three second-place finishes in 1988, ’92 and 2001, the final year of his career.

The ’91 AL Manager of the Year was never really given teams with much of a shot following the ’93 season, and turned down offers to manage¬†in both Boston and Los Angeles, where he undoubtedly would have benefited from deeper talent pools and deeper pockets.¬†Kelly, though, remained with Minnesota, and continued to¬†preach “Twins Baseball,” helping to establish a franchise mentality that, make no mistake,¬†has largely contributed to the recent success of baseball in Minnesota.

3. Gene Mauch (1902-2037, .483)

“If you had the best club, you had a chance to beat him; if he had the best club, you had no chance; if the clubs were even, he had the advantage. I managed against him for a long time. I always had the better teams. Gene Mauch wasn’t aloof (a common accusation), he was only intense.” — Sparky Anderson from The Man in the Dugout (2000)

Over 26 years with Philadelphia, Montreal, Minnesota and California, Mauch earned enough victories to rank 12th on the all-time wins list. That figure, albeit impressive, is trumped a bit by the fact that Mauch also owns the fourth-most losses in big league history.

Many of them were of the hard-luck variety, however. Take the 1964 Phillies, for example,¬†a team that led the NL by 5.5 games on September 21, only to find themselves¬†one game back¬†on September 27. It was a collapse that Mauch¬†said was¬†¬†“like watching someone drown.”

Mauch posted losing records at every stop, save his last, where he¬†finally reaped the benefits of talent to accompany his baseball mind. Mauch enjoyed a winning record in Anaheim (379-332),¬†where he led the Angels to¬†a pair of AL Western divison crowns (1982 & ’86) and a second place run in ’85.

2. Bucky Harris (2157-2218, .493)

“Believe what you want; no manager ever resigns.” — Bucky Harris

As player/manager for Washington, Harris led an organization known for being “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League” to DC’s only baseball title in 1924, the first of back-to-back pennants for the Senators.

Harris enjoyed success early on, with winning records in each of his first four seasons, but only posted six more over his final quarter-century as a manager.

Harris reached the World Series a third time, when he guided the New York Yankees to the title in 1947. Elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1975, Harris ranks seventh on baseball’s list for managerial wins, but lost more games than all but one.

1. Connie Mack (3731-3948, .486)

“It is more profitable for me to have a team that is in contention for most of the season but finishes about fourth. A team like that will draw well enough during the first part of the season to show a profit for the year, and you don’t have to give the players raises when they don’t win.” — Connie Mack

What can we say? The man was ahead of his time. Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy was known for assembling championship teams, only to trade off the parts for money, and build them again. In fact, Mack was so adept at the tactic, he managed clubs that won 100 games 18 years apart, with the 1911 World Series-winning Philadelphia Athletics, and again with his championship squad of 1929.

Philadelphia lost its share of games as a result of that strategy, however, as the A’s suffered through ten 100-loss seasons under Mack’s watch.

Mack took over as owner and manager of the A’s in 1901, and didn’t relinquish his power until the age of 87, following the 1950 season.

Baseball’s all-time leader for both wins and losses, Mack led the A’s to¬†nine pennants and five championships, and managed the American League in the first All-Star Game held at Comiskey Park in 1933.

Mack was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1937, and you can see below, was still getting it done at 83 years of age.

Disagree? Make your case.

Previous E4‘s: Bronx Backstops, Midnight for Cinderella, Pitchers with the Most to Prove in 2010, and Sensational Submariners.

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2 Responses to “E4: Best Managers with Losing Records”
  1. Cam Martin says:

    Connie Mack’s win and loss totals are among the most unassailable in sports. Nice read, Lando.

  2. Eric R says:

    I was playing with some of the baseball-databank data on managers. I found all years where a manager managed the entire season for a team and did not manage the team either the year before or the year after 1920-2008. I took this data and summed it up and used >=400 games as the minimum sample size [ie, atleast three changes]

    I took the aggregate win%s for with and without and multipled the difference by 162 to get a +/- wins per 162 games.

    Gene Mauch +13
    Sparky Anderson +11
    Davey Johnson +11
    Jack McKeon +11
    George Bamberger +10
    Lou Pineilla +10
    Dick Williams +10

    Dave Bristol -6
    Terry Francona -6
    Danny Murtaugh -6
    Roger Peckinpaugh -6
    John McNamara -9
    Jimy Williams -10
    Paul Richards -12

    Some particulars:

    Joe Torre +6
    Grady Little +4
    Dusty Baker +2
    Jimmy Leyland +0
    Art Howe -2

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