Same Phenomenon Among “The Greats”


The other day someone asked me to name the top five baseball managers who had great success who were also great stars of the game.

I thought long and hard and was truly stumped by the question.

Not only could I not come up with five great players who became great managers, but I had difficulty coming up with one.

Now, I realize I have used the over-used term “great” four times in the first three sentences (the fifth usage doesn’t count), but you get the idea.

Also, if you can add to the theme of this week’s missive, feel free.
We always invite opinions from our readers.

On the face of it, it would seem obvious that players who performed at the highest level of their sport would continue their success stories managing and coaching teams.
But it’s not the case. Not even close.

The fact is, after considerable thought and research, I could come up with only one man who had a highly distinguished playing career in baseball and followed it up as a championship manager.  That man is Joe Torre.

As a player, Torre was a batting champion, an RBI leader, a nine-time All-Star and a Most Valuable Player award recipient.

As a manager, Torre was a two-time manager of the year, and won six American League pennants and four World Series leading the Yankees.

Now, Torre was no instant success as a skipper. He flopped with the Braves and Cardinals before hitting on all cylinders with the Yankees.

Before you start bellowing, claiming anyone could manage the talent-laden Yankees to those titles, keep in mind that others have tried and come up short leading outstanding teams to championships.

Can you think of anyone else? 

When I run through the list of baseball managers who guided teams to many titles and were perennial contenders I come up with:
Tony LaRussa, Sparky Anderson, Walter Alston, Bobby Cox, and Casey Stengel.

You can add to that group but I think you’ll find they have one thing in common: Those mentioned had undistinguished careers as players.

Walter Alston, for example, had one at-bat in the big leagues. Alston managed the Dodgers to their first World Series triumph in Brooklyn, then won three more in Los Angeles. The Dodgers were contenders for the National League pennant for a decade under Alston.

You know of LaRussa’s legacy, capturing three world titles, including one in each league.

Anderson’s leadership of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine.

Cox and his brilliant career with the Braves, who were in the World Series or close to it for a decade.

Stengel, managed the Yankees to five consecutive World championships from 1949-1953. LaRussa and Cox are in the Hall of Fame as managers.

After considering how the top managers in baseball were not the big stars but the bottom-feeders of their respective playing rosters, I dipped my toe into the other major sports.

I found the same phenomenon.

In the NFL, I considered the greatest coaches in that sport’s history.

Bill Belichick, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Paul Brown, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs, John Madden, Hank Stram et al. 

Some were ordinary as players, some were less than that, others never played an NFL game.

Perhaps the best player who coached a Super Bowl champion was the Bears’ Mike Ditka.

Some outstanding  players have succeeded in front office roles such as John Elway in Denver and Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore.  But they never coached.

Onto the NBA where there’s a similar picture, with perhaps one exception, maybe two.

The top achievers in pro hoops history have gone by the names of Auerbach, Popovich, Riley, Kerr, Jackson, Daly, and Tomjanovich.

Some were good players, some were average, some never put on an NBA uniform.

Jerry West was a terrific General Manager, and as a coach did lead the Lakers to a conference final but never got to the Finals and was replaced.

The two exceptions to me are Billy Cunningham, a Hall of Famer who coached the 76ers to several big years including a World Title.

The other is Bill Russell who guided the Boston Celtics to back-to-back NBA championships as a player-coach.

Wayne Gretzky was an unspectacular coach for the Phoenix Coyotes after an iconic career on the ice.

The dominant coaches in the NHL have been led by Scotty Bowman, followed by others who weren’t household names as performers.

I’m sure by now you have figured out why the huge names and Hall of Famers of their respective sports have not been successful coaches and managers.

When you’re a talented player with worlds of talent, you go out and do your thing.

You get to the plate and deliver. Or you dominate the other nine on a basketball court.
You use your immense skills as a passer and throw for touchdowns. You run past people.
On the ice, you get in position to score, or set up others. You handle the puck with amazing dexterity and you know what to do with it.
It’s what you do.

When you sit at the end of the dugout or bench, you watch.
You think about what your manager or coach might do in a given situation.
You think about what you might do in the same spot.
Your head is in the game more than the star who grabs a bat and goes up to the plate to drive in runs.
Or you sit at the end of the bench thinking about substitutions and when to call a time-out, while the star is looking to get open for yet another shot and more points.

You actually become a coach or manager before you ever really become one.

You learn under other top-notch coaches, ask questions, formulate your philosophy.
You come up through the ranks.

Then, someday, you become Bill Belichick, Scotty Bowman, Gregg Popovich or Tony LaRussa. And in your field, you become as great as anyone who played the game.



A final word on the much ballyhooed battle between Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor this past Saturday.

Going in, this fight resembled to me, what has become a fan’s need for something different, something new, that is a departure from traditional interest in sports.

Something like the way the Home Run Derby on the night before baseball’s All-Star Game has superseded the excitement and anticipation of the game itself.

There is a thirst for something out of the ordinary.

So, the curiosity of a traditional boxer facing an MMA fighter grabbed the public’s fancy.
Mayweather won on a TKO in the 10th round.  The fight drew the full spectrum of reaction. Some claimed it was more exciting than anticipated. Many felt McGregor couldn’t compete against a traditional boxer who knew how to measure punches and score points. McGregor proved he could, until he proved he couldn’t.

Others said it wasn’t worth the money they spent on viewing the fight. And plenty was spent, without a doubt.

To this reporter, it was a “championship-billed” fight that proved one thing.
Mixed Martial Arts is big-time. It has a huge following.

But if there are two exciting, skilled boxers in the game, that match-up will always take center-stage. But you need two.

That’s a fact of the sport that will never change.

We don’t have that in boxing today. So the cross-over battle became the main attraction.

A final thought. Mayweather retired with a 50-0 record, topping heavyweight Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 in the 50’s.

I would have preferred Mayweather get his 50th against a traditional boxer.
But that’s me. A traditionalist at heart.




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