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The good news? Tony La Russa is a great manager

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For all the legitimate criticism of the hire, his record is hard to dispute

Sports Contributor Archive 2019
Manager Tony La Russa of the Chicago White Sox looks on during an MLB game at Comiskey Park during the 1986 season.
Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

So, knowing how much all of you seem to love the innocent little more-information-is-better-than-less experiment that is managerial WAR (mWAR), I ran old/new White Sox manager Tony La Russa through the number-cruncher ... and the results are truly eye-opening.

But first, let’s review. mWAR is a product of a team’s pythagorean record and roster WAR. In other words, if a team outperforms (or underperforms) its expected record by run differential (pythagorean record) and/or its total individual player WAR, I ascribe those differences in record, good or bad, to the manager. Sure, in reality those factors could involve many things: injuries, luck, schedule, player morale, and so on. But for the sake of argument, because managing all of those factors falls to ... the manager ... for me, it’s mWAR.

In White Sox annals, La Russa could be seen as having a better reputation than he deserves, interestingly. Most of us would consider him an all-time great White Sox manager, probably better than anyone since Al Lopez (give or take an Ozzie Guillén). And the truth is, La Russa is an all-time great — but that’s much because of his first tenure on the South Side as the fact that the balance of White Sox managers have been ... bad.

To wit: Only eight White Sox managers in history have a career (CAREER!) mWAR of 1.0 or more. Yes, that means taking into account careers (not single seasons), only eight men have been worth an extra win or more:

Jimmy Dykes 34.4 mWAR
Al Lopez 13.3
Ozzie Guillén 8.0
Tony La Russa 6.6
Fielder Jones 6.2
Ted Lyons 5.1
Clark Griffith 2.3
Bob Lemon 1.4

If La Russa had been a wizard on the South Side, as everyone presumes (HOW could Hawk have canned him!?!), his number for 1,035 games should be MUCH higher. (Consider the guys right behind La Russa: Fielder Jones, with 6.2 mWAR n 719 games, and Ted Lyons, with 5.1 mWAR in just 318 games.)

I mean, White Sox managers all-time have cost the franchise almost 60 wins — yep, career totals of -59.4 mWAR.

So given the poor competition, La Russa IS an all-time great White Sox manager.

The better news? He was much, much, MUCH better in Oakland and St. Louis.

La Russa sports a career total of 69.7 mWAR, which is the best I have ever tabulated in this fledging exercise. While it doesn’t mean that La Russa is the best manager in baseball history, the sheer lack of mentors who’ve come near his longevity record is short.

(For example, Sparky Anderson managed for 26 seasons: 32.8 mWAR; Cap Anson, 21 seasons, 51.2 mWAR; Bobby Cox, 29 seasons, 45.4 mWAR.)

In La Russa’s 1,035 games in Chicago, he put up a mere 6.6 mWAR. But in Oakland, in 1,471 games, he amassed 19.6 mWAR. And in St. Louis, in 2,591 games, it was 43.5 mWAR. Per game, those rates are .006 mWAR/g in Chicago, .013 in Oakland and .017 in St. Louis.

(And don’t bother with the idea that hey, Brett, of course Tony’s marks were better with the A’s and Cardinals, his teams were better! That’s not how this works. Each season, the manager is measured against the sum of his players and their run differential; individual team talent is isolated from this process.)

Leigh Allan’s “controversial” takedown of A.J. Hinch’s actual managing skill per mWAR — where we sort of hoped that the only thing we’d have to worry about in getting Hinch was that he was a cheater — revealed that he wasn’t a very good manager, either.

In La Russa’s case, while we can wring hands over age or the utter lack of an honest hiring process, the Hall-of-Famer can’t be criticized for getting extra wins out of his teams. Almost 70, to be exact.

Or, look at it another way: La Russa, in 33 years as a manager, has produced almost 70 extra wins for his teams. The White Sox franchise, active since 1900, has employed managers who have cost the White Sox some 60 losses.

Winning Ugly, baby.