With the retirements of Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Jim Leyland in recent years, Major League Baseball lost three of its all-time great managers. However, their replacements proved to be more than worthy of the position. In fact, there are several great young managers along with the old-school names who excel at the job. Here are the seven best active MLB managers.
7. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals
Filling the shoes of legendary Tony LaRussa proved to be no problem for the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny. He led his team to the playoffs in his first two years as manager of St. Louis, including a trip to the World Series in a sparkling 2013 campaign. Matheny has shown he’s adept at managing young players and playing the hand he’s dealt; he also proved to be a great motivator for a team that excelled in hitting with runners in scoring position. He placed fourth in the 2013 Manager of the Year voting.
6. Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles
Tough as nails and 100 percent committed, there is never a question of Buck Showalter’s value from the dugout. Upon being hired as manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 2010, Showalter began to turn a last-place team into a contender. By 2012, he took the team to the playoffs following an epic end-of-year battle with the Yankees for first place. That year ended in a riveting playoff loss to New York in the American League Division Series, but Showalter placed second in Manager of the Year voting in 2012.
Showalter has twice taken MOTY honors. He is also famous for building up the New York Yankees to its dynastic potential through 1995. The following year, New York began its run, winning four of the next five World Series. Showalter’s tenure in Arizona had a similar trajectory. The year after leaving the team in 2000, the Diamondbacks won the World Series.
5. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves
Like Mike Matheny, Fredi Gonzalez had the near-impossible task of replacing one of baseball’s immortals in Bobby Cox. Gonzalez has quickly proven his worth as manager of the Atlanta Braves, placing fifth in Manager of the Year voting in his first season in 2011. Since then, he’s climbed steadily on the list, placing fourth in 2012 and third in 2013. The Braves are the second team in Gonzalez’s managerial career. He started out with the Florida Marlins, where he proved skilled at handling young players and a notoriously difficult owner.
4. Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
For some Boston Red Sox fans, Terry Francona can do no wrong. Francona broke the 86-year drought (curse?) of the Red Sox by leading the team to the World Series in his first year as Boston’s manager in 2004. He followed that triumph in 2007 with another title, making him the most successful Red Sox manager in a century. His tenure ended in Boston following the embarrassing 2011 season, but Francona has found new life as manager of the Cleveland Indians.
Francona seemed to single-handedly turn around the Indians’ culture in 2013, leading the team to the playoffs in his first year. He was awarded Manager of the Year honors for his effort.
3. Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
How could Joe Girardi fail with his collection of superstars? For proof of his mettle, the impressive Yankees manager contended with five All-Star players on the disabled list in 2013, including first baseman/cleanup hitter Mark Teixeira, shortstop Derek Jeter, center fielder Curtis Granderson, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Somehow, Girardi stewarded a patchwork squad to a few games short of a playoff spot but wasn’t in the top three in American League Manager of the Year voting.
Bloomberg Sports showed how the Yankees outperformed expectations by more than eight games in 2013, the third best among all MLB teams. Girardi will likely never win Manager of the Year at the helm of the Yankees with that unique bias against him. The only way to get a fair assessment is to see what he’s done outside of the pinstripes. Girardi’s other stint as manager was with the Florida Marlins in 2006. The result? He was named Manager of the Year.
2. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
Clint Hurdle’s effect on the Pittsburgh Pirates has been immediately palpable. The Pirates’ 20-year drought ended when Hurdle led the team to the playoffs in 2013 following a remarkable 94-win season. Though the run ended in division playoffs, there is no question the Pirates are a rejuvenated franchise. Hurdle is deserving of a great deal of credit for that achievement.
His prior stint as manager of the Colorado Rockies included an improbable run to the World Series in 2007. Helming the Pirates in 2013, Bloomberg Sports stats showed Hurdle was the only manager to get more out of his players than they proved capable of achieving in the past. Hurdle was named Manager of the Year in the National League for the effort.
1. Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays
Always unconventional in tactics and lighthearted in spirit, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon is a favorite of owners, fans, and the media. Somehow, he takes a team with one of the lowest payrolls and competes for a playoff spot among the titans of the American League East.
In 2013, Maddon’s team bested the Yankees for a playoff spot, and the Rays have done the same damage to the Red Sox on multiple occasions. A perennial Manager of the Year candidate, Maddon won the award in 2008 and 2011 for his work as skipper of the Rays. He’s changed the way many managers do their business.
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