If you look at our rules for electing managers, we left out something important that we included for players: the requirement to be fair to all eras during the game’s history. We did that purposely because with only 22 men to elect, it’s not always easy to strike balance. But more important, we are still asking questions about when the manager role became solidified and what it meant to be a manager at different times. Should we have more deadball managers because that was the time when managers had the most control over their teams? Or should we lean toward today’s managers because it’s harder to win nowadays than it used to be since it’s harder to find a big advantage than it was in Mac’s day?
The Adjustment Bureau
Well, the ease of winning in the old days is at least something we can account for, and why not? Is Jim Mutrie’s .611 winning percentage HoME-worthy or a mirage from his times? We can at least create crude estimates of what his record would look like today.
So let’s use what we learned in the first article of this series to make adjustments to the records of olde tyme managers to bring them into line with contemporary managers. They won’t be perfect, but, hey, they might help.
Trying to keep things simple, we can see from a chart from that first article that these days the best three teams have an aggregate winning percentage around .600 and have since the late 1950s.
By the same token, the worst teams have had around a .400 winning percentage since the expansion era began. So with that in mind, here’s my suggestion for any given season.
- For all .500 seasons, winning seasons after 1957 and losing seasons after 1964, no adjustment is made.
- For seasons above .500 prior to 1958:
( (.600 – .500) / (combined win% of top three teams – .500) * (team win% – .500) ) + .500
- For seasons below .500 prior to 1965:
( (.500 – .400) / (.500 – combined win% of worst three teams) * (team win% – .500) ) + .500
Basically, we’re making the adjustment only to a manager’s winning percentage above .500.
We’ve talked a lot about Charlie Comiskey, so let’s take a quick look at how this would be applied to him. As an example, here is his 1886 title-winning season. That year his AA St. Louis Browns went 93–46, a .669 winning percentage that equates to 108 wins in our modern schedule. They had MLB’s third-best record.
( (.600 – .500) / (.701 – .500) * (.669 –.500) ) + .500 = .584
A .584 wining percentage changes his record that year from 93–46 to 81–58. Or, if you prefer, it takes him down from a 108-win team to a 95-win team. This passes the sniff test, I think. In a given year, 95 wins could easily be the best record in one of the two leagues. In 2015, it would be the AL’s highest win total. It would win either the East or West divisions in the 2015 NL. In 2014, the Angels, Orioles, and Nationals won 98, 96, and 96 respectively to lead the majors. In 2013, two teams won 97 and two others 96. In 2012, we had a 98-win team, a 97-win team, and a 95-win team. In 2011 it’s a little less of a good fit with more high-achieving teams, but in 2010, we’re back to one at 97, one at 96, and one at 95. So this fits with real baseball teams.
Now let’s play this out over Comiskey’s entire managerial career. His career record was 840–541, good for a .608 winning percentage. His average squad equates to a 98-win team. In fact, he ranks 3rd all-time in winning percentage. Joe McCarthy is first (surprise!), but after him among the top 10, only Earl Weaver’s career began in the expansion era or later. Among the top 20, Mike Matheny is the only other post-expansion manager, and he’s only in his fourth year. In fact, among the top 20 in winning percentage, a full ten of them started their careers before 1900, another two before Babe Ruth went to the Yankees, and only two others than Weaver and Matheny began managing after the War (Eddie Dyer, 1946–1950, and Al Lopez 1951–1969). So when we make an adjustment to bring Comiskey to modern levels, his career record changes to 779–600, a .565 winning percentage. In 162-game notation, that’s a 92-win team. It’s about the same winning percentage as Davey Johnson (.562, 1372–1071).
Even the great Joe McCarthy needs a little adjusting. Doing so takes him from 2125–1333 (.615) to 2034–1424 (.588). For reference, he goes from averaging 100 wins a year to 95. A .588 winning percentage is comparable to and slightly better than Earl Weaver’s .583 percentage. If we run this on the top men on the managerial winning percentage list, we get a slight reshuffling. Here’s the top ten for all retired managers with at least 1000 games managed before adjusting and after:
- Joe McCarthy (d. 1926): .615
- Jim Mutrie (d. 1883): .611
- Charlie Comiskey (d. 1883): .608
- Frank Selee (d. 1890): .598
- Billy Southworth (d. 1929): .597
- Frank Chance (d. 1905): .593
- John McGraw (d. 1899): .586
- Al Lopez (d. 1951): .584
- Earl Weaver (d. 1968): .583
- Harry Wright (d. 1871): .581
- Joe McCarthy (d. 1926): .588
- Earl Weaver (d. 1968): .583
- Billy Southworth (d. 1929): .576
- Al Lopez (d. 1951): .572
- Charlie Comiskey (d. 1883): .565
- John McGraw (d. 1899): .564
- Davey Johnson (d. 1984): .562
- Jim Mutrie (d. 1883): .561
- Frank Selee (d. 1890): .561
- Frank Chance (d. 1905): .558
Yes, it’s the same guys, with Davey Johnson exchanged for Harry Wright (.542 adjusted), but now the more modern guys get a little more respect, and the percentages of the olde tyme managers at least look comprehensible. Plus, as the you go further down the list, guys like Bobby Cox, Walter Alston, and Billy Martin pop up in the top twenty where they didn’t previously, as managers like Wright, Anson, and others come down a few pegs. This method is crude but it’s probably enough to give us a more realistic view to start with.
So let’s wrap up this three-post extravaganza of managerial minutiae. The big thing here is that the further back in time you go, the more deceptive a manager’s record is. We can take a little air out of them to account for the context of their times and get a more modern looking line. And as we look at things like career wins and losses, we need to be very careful that as we do so, we take this into account.
You can bet we will.