There is a saying in baseball that, for the most part, great players do not make for a successful manager. There are a handful of people that have been able to becomes big successes as both a player and manager.
Kirk Gibson , the current manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks , is out to prove that he can indeed be one of those rare figures in baseball that have performed both duties and performed them extremely well.
While Gibson did have a stellar career–mostly with the Detroit Tigers–he is best known for hitting two of the most dramatic home runs in World Series history. The home run he hit off Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland A’s to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers consistently ranks as one of the top 5 moments in Major League Baseball history. He also sealed Game 5 and the 1984 Series for the Tigers with his home run off Rich Gossage of the San Diego Padres. Gibson won the 1988 MVP award with the Dodgers and finished in the top 20 on three other occasions. He nearly had two 30-30 seasons with the Tigers, missing on the home run portion by a total of three. Fellow National League West Manager Don Mattingly–who enjoyed a better career than Gibson–is also trying to leave his mark as a skipper. Most other current managers in baseball did not have spectacular playing careers but have had much success as the man in charge.
So who would be the greatest player/manager combination of all-time? I think it comes down to two names: Frank Robinson and Joe Torre. Robinson is one of the top 20 players ever, a man who won MVP awards in both leagues, a Triple Crown winner and at the time of his retirement, fourth on the career home run list. As a manager, he never guided his teams to the postseason. However, he was the 1989 Manager of the Year with the Baltimore Orioles, engineering a 33 game improvement from the previous season. He also managed the Montreal Expos as they became the Washington Nationals. In two of the final three seasons in Montreal, his teams finished over .500, no small feat considering the organizational circumstances which included ownership by Major League Baseball.
Joe Torre was a borderline Hall of Fame player winning an MVP in 1971 and driving in over 100 runs five times. He also was a 9-time All Star whose career batting average was .297 while a good portion of his playing days were spent at catcher. Torre, like Robinson was a player-manager toward the end of his career. Torre’s managerial run is best known for his four World Series Championships with the New York Yankees. In addition, he reached three National League Championship Series–two with the Dodgers and one with the Atlanta Braves.
So who has the better pedigree, Robinson or Torre? It is almost too close to call. I suppose it depends on which part, playing or managing, you weigh more. For argument’s sake, I’ll go with Robinson. He was dealt some really rotten teams as a manager and made them respectable. For Diamondback fans, their hope is Kirk Gibson can win as many World Series as Joe Torre.
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