By: Jamie Samuelsen
Tony LaRussa managed the second most games in baseball history. He’s third all-time in wins with 2728. And he is one of only two men (Sparky Anderson being the other) who won World Series titles in both leagues (1989 in Oakland, 2006 and 2011 in St. Louis). Based on his credentials and his numbers, he’s a no-brainer for the Baseball Hall of Fame. And sure enough on Monday, he was unanimously elected along with former managers Bobby Cox and Joe Torre for entry into the Hall next summer.
But does anyone find it odd that LaRussa is heading in while players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens are being held out.
Those three have Hall of Fame numbers across the board. Bonds may be the greatest hitter who ever lived. Clemens may be the best starter. And McGwire, even though he hit just .263 for his career, still hit 583 homers, good enough for tenth on the all-time list. All three also used performance-enhancing drugs (McGwire admitted it. Bonds and Clemens are both guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.) So as a result, they have been left out of the Hall of Fame. This is the eighth year of eligibility for McGwire and the second for Bonds and Clemens. But based on the precedent, it seems awfully hard to picture the voters changing their stance on the perceived cheaters of the sport.
LaRussa didn’t cheat. But he also managed the likes of McGwire and Jose Canseco both in Oakland and in St. Louis (in McGwire’s case.) Just because a player cheats, it shouldn’t necessarily implicate the manager. But it does seem awfully convenient that LaRussa won a lot of those games and at least one of those titles thanks to some artificially inflated numbers.
When McGwire faced the PED charges back in his record-setting 70 home run season in 1998, LaRussa angrily defended McGwire against the fans and media who wondered if they could believe what they were seeing. “This guy goes to the gym every day and works. All that hard work is being tainted by crap like this,” LaRussa said back in August of that year. And he said that the first he knew of McGwire’s steroid use was when he finally came clean about it in 2010.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe LaRussa had the wool pulled over his eyes completely. He wouldn’t be the first person. And to be fair, the regular Hall of Fame electorate is made up of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America while a special “Expansion Era Committee” voted LaRussa, Cox and Torre in. Perhaps both bodies vote using different criteria. And perhaps it doesn’t matter that a manager won a certain number of games because his players were cheating the sport.
But it is ironic that Pete Rose is still being kept out of the Hall of Fame for actions he took when he was the Cincinnati Reds manager. As a player, he would have been a first ballot Hall of Famer all the way. Some things are easy to separate. Others aren’t.
And while LaRussa won as much as any manager in the history of the game, I’ll never be able to separate the fact that some of it was done using players who themselves aren’t worthy to enter the same Hall that their manager just gained acceptance into.