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The best managers in White Sox history

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Little mention is made in the team annals of Jimmy Dykes, who is unquestionably the South Side’s greatest skipper

Top Notch: Jimmy Dykes in 1934, the year he became manager of the Chicago White Sox.
Sporting News and Rogers Photo Archive via Getty Images

In a baseball world increasingly defined by advanced stats, with WAR as an end-all, one major figure on the field gets somewhat overlooked: the manager.

The task here is to dig deep into 118 Chicago White Sox seasons, assign a managerial WAR (let’s label it mWAR) for every season, in order to determine the best and worst managers in team history.

How do you do that? Well, one method is to use pythagorean records (the number of wins a team should have based on run differential), and that is incorporated in the research here. (In a media world increasingly comprised of free writing and research, I’m not going to delve deeper than that and give away the secret sauce.) But suffice to say each season’s manager is assigned a WAR figure, plus or minus, based on how his team varied in performance from the statistically-expected.

It could all be ascribed to luck, sure. Or, this could be considered General Manager WAR, Owner WAR, Chemistry WAR, Pregame Meal/Postgame Spread WAR, or some such. But in this case, the “intangible” WAR is tucked into the pocket of the manager.

And brother, the results in the White Sox’s case are not too hot. There are only nine managers in team history with a positive career WAR, which means only about one-third of White Sox managers have been good ones.

(If you’re a masochist, or like your bad news first, jump right over to the Worst Managers in White Sox History.)

Anyway, let’s get to it!

Best managers in White Sox history, mWAR per season

(per-game WAR adjusted for a 162-game season)

  1. Jimmy Dykes (1934-46) 3.0 mWAR. Dykes, who was a player-manager through 1939, presided over just five winning seasons, and never finished better than third in the American League. But the key with mWAR isn’t whether a manager won, it’s whether he outperformed his talent. In 13 seasons helming the White Sox, Dykes had only three negative-mWAR seasons. The skipper saved his best for last: Over his last three full seasons with the White Sox, he provided nearly 25 mWAR. For any manager, that’s nuts; for a White Sox manager, it makes him a legend.
  2. Ted Lyons (1946-48) 1.9 mWAR. The White Sox were still infected with great luck, or Dykes’s overachieving mojo, when Lyons took the club over. He proved an outstanding manager as well, with no negative mWAR tallies in two-plus seasons as manager. Perhaps his most outstanding work came in 1948, for a White Sox club whose .336 winning percentage remains the second-worst in team history; Lyons added 0.2 mWAR to as ragtag a bunch as has ever worn a White Sox uniform.
  3. Al Lopez (1957-65, 1968-69) 1.44 mWAR. Lopez’s 64-game encore in the late 1960s did him no favors, but as the manager who presided over the greatest winning stretch in White Sox history, mWAR reveals el Señor only aided the White Sox’s greatness. He had just one season worse than -0.7 mWAR, and three negative seasons overall.
  4. Fielder Jones (1904-08) 1.40 mWAR. Unsurprisingly, Jones’s greatest managerial work came in 1906, when the Hitless Wonders upended the heavily-favored Cubs to win the South Side’s first World Series. Such overachievement is exactly what mWAR rewards.
  5. Clark Griffith (1901-02) 1.39 mWAR. Not many of the remaining managers really stand out on a per-season basis. Griffith managed just two seasons, with 1902 providing the bulk of his value.
  6. Ozzie Guillén (2004-11) 1.0 mWAR. The most controversial manager in White Sox history (although Dykes was feisty as hell, as well) provided massive value in his first four seasons, but just one positive-mWAR season after that. Ironically, that positive came in his universally-panned surrender season, 2011. In other words, Guillén, going through the motions and with his mind off somewhere in Miami, still managed to provide 2.3 mWAR — he could have had a career-best year as manager, if he was only trying.
  7. Bob Lemon (1977-78) 0.9 mWAR. Interestingly, Lemon provided more mWAR in the season he was fired by Bill Veeck (1.1) than he did in the storied South Side Hit Men season of 1977 (0.8). Lemon must have had the golden touch in ’78, as he was hired by the New York Yankees a month later and became the first manager taking over in mid-season to win the World Series.
  8. Tony La Russa (1979-86) 0.5 mWAR. In Chicago, La Russa was developing the style that brought him World Series wins with the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals. But with the White Sox, he was an uneven manager, basically having a plus-mWAR one year, negative-mWAR the next. His best season came in 1983, a 4.9 mWAR season.
  9. Kid Gleason (1919-23) 0.1 mWAR. Gleason took over for the tragic 1919 season and presided over the aftermath of the gutting of the White Sox. How the Sox went, so went Gleason; in Chicago’s tremendous 1919 and 1920 campaigns, he was outstanding, but after that, his performace sunk along with his club’s.

[Some other manager’s mWAR per season, for perspective:

  • Bobby Cox, 1.63
  • Dusty Baker, 1.62
  • Sparky Anderson, 1.3
  • Earl Weaver, 1.0
  • Ron Gardenhire, 0.3
  • Joe Maddon, -0.8]

Best single-season mWAR

  1. Jimmy Dykes (1943) 10.11. Without Dykes, this 82-72 White Sox team would have been under .500.
  2. Jimmy Dykes (1944) 10.06. In 1944, the White Sox dropped to 71-83, and yet Dykes duplicated his extraordinary 1943 season to keep the White Sox well shy of 90 losses.
  3. Al Lopez (1959) 8.4. Several factors put the White Sox over the top in 1959; inarguably, Lopez’s managerial performance was the most important.
  4. Jeff Torborg (1990) 7.7. Many of us are old enough to remember the season where, seemingly overnight, potential blossomed into wins. The White Sox were a shock contender that put a scare into the A’s juggernaut, and that would be in large part due to Torborg’s work behind the wheel. It would be Torborg’s only positive-mWAR season with the White Sox.
  5. Kid Gleason (1920) 6.8. For a team reeling in the aftermath of the Black Sox scandal, Gleason had his finest managerial season.
  6. Ozzie Guillén (2005) 6.5. After contending for a division title in his rookie season of 2004, Guillén put it all together in 2005. This mWAR merely measures the regular season, so tell pitching coach Don Cooper to keep his paws off Guillén’s bounty. Surely as well, Ken Williams gets credit for moves that put Tadahito Iguchi, Bobby Jenks, Cliff Politte, Neal Cotts, Scott Podsednik and others on the White Sox roster, but still, it was Ozzie behind the wheel, and it was wondrous.
  7. Fielder Jones (1906) 6.1. One hundred years earlier, Jones accomplished an even more massive upset, as Jones took a team that couldn’t hit its way out of a paper bag and led it to a world title.
  8. Chuck Tanner (1972) 5.96. In Dick Allen’s MVP season, and bolstered by Wilbur Wood’s yeoman work in the rotation, Tanner took a mediocre roster and made a run at another A’s juggernaut.
  9. Jimmy Dykes (1939) 5.92. Dykes’s worst mWAR season came in 1938 (-5.7), and this great manager pieced together 1939 as his bounce-back. It was also his final season as a player.
  10. Al Lopez (1965) 5.1. From 1962-68, the White Sox had strong-to-outstanding pitching, with one exception: 1965. With an identical offense to that of his 98-win 1964 sluggers, Lopez guided this pitching-poor 1965 edition to 95 wins.

Best White Sox career mWAR

  1. Jimmy Dykes, 34.4
  2. Al Lopez, 13.3
  3. Ozzie Guillén, 8.0
  4. Fielder Jones, 6.2
  5. Ted Lyons, 5.1
  6. Tony La Russa, 3.4
  7. Clark Griffith, 2.3
  8. Bob Lemon, 1.4
  9. Kid Gleason, 0.2