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Ranking the top managers in the game; A-Rod update

Posted: Tuesday April 24, 2007 11:33AM; Updated: Tuesday April 24, 2007 12:12PM
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Bobby Cox is an elder statesman among today's managers, but is he the best skipper in the game?
Bobby Cox is an elder statesman among today's managers, but is he the best skipper in the game?
Rafael Suanes/WireImage.com
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The news last week that Braves manager Bobby Cox received a one-year extension shouldn't surprise anyone. He deserved it, and he should be allowed to decide when he goes out, if ever.

As his boss John Schuerholz said upon announcing the extension through 2008, "His place in history is well secured.''

That is fair to say. Cox is a winner and model for consistency.

But Schuerholz didn't stop there. He also said of Cox, "He's the best manager in baseball. He's been the key ingredient in this remarkable run of success we've had here for nearly 17 years.''

And that's where the debate begins. While there are a lot of folks who probably agree with Schuerholz, I think the longtime Braves GM might have gone 0-for-2 there.

I believe the key ingredient, at least among the decisionmakers, is Schuerholz. He's the one who procured the talent that won 14 division titles, five NL pennants and one World Series in Atlanta. (I'd say Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones are the real key ingredients.) And as for Schuerholz's other assertion, I doubt Cox is the best manager in the game now, and I question whether he ever was.

Cox has won a lot of games and his players love him. But let's not forget he had the most special nucleus in baseball (plus, the best rotation) for about a decade, and he turned that unequaled blend of talent into a total of one World Series championship. That he won just one title is not a testament to his great managing but a reason to question whether he got the most out of all that ability. And I'd assert that few teams underachieved like the Braves last year.

Schuerholz has his own rankings. But here are my much more official managerial rankings:

1. Tony La Russa
He put to rest the notion his players tighten up come October with one of the great managing jobs of our time last year. It's no easy thing to make an 83-win team believe it can win. Now he's made me believe. He's an original thinker who's unsurpassed strategically. "I have tried to guess along with him on what moves he'll make next,'' David Eckstein told me in spring training, "and it just can't be done.''

2. Jim Leyland
Perhaps he isn't the master strategist that La Russa is, but as a salesman and motivator, no one's better. His only blemish is his short time in Colorado, when his heart wasn't in it.

3. Mike Scioscia
Smart and solid, he's extremely even-keeled, and his players have bought into his aggressive, NL style.

4. Joe Torre
Fourth place for the four World Series rings. But can he please take it easy on his favorite relievers? He especially needs to be careful with Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.

5. Lou Piniella
He didn't do his best work in Tampa, and baseball people noticed. Plus, he's been cited by some for mishandling pitchers. He certainly can lose his cool, as well, but that's part of his charm. Wouldn't want to have to match wits against him in the postseason, though that might not be anyone's worry this year.

6. Cox
I'm sure most would rank him higher. But since the goal is to win titles, that has to be seen as a failing.

7. Grady Little
He was knocked hard for sticking with Pedro Martinez in the 2003 ALCS, when his critics apparently would have rather seen him turn the game over to a very iffy bullpen. He's a low-key guy who doesn't get the plaudits he deserves.

8. Willie Randolph
Aggressive and born to manage in New York, he will move up higher on this list with more experience.

9. Ozzie Guillen
It may look like he's managing on emotion, but few know the game better.

10. Terry Francona
The Red Sox skipper keeps his cool in a tough environment. He manages both the clubhouse and game well.

11. Ron Gardenhire
Always has the Twins hustling, just like in the Tom Kelly years.

12. Bruce Bochy
Knows the games and is particularly adept with pitchers. He seems to prefer veterans. Some observers think he could stand to improve his communication with players.

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