Since 1950, eight former Most Valuable Players have gone on to manage in the major leagues. With the Dodgers’ announcement that Don Mattingly will take over for Joe Torre in 2011, that number will increase to nine.
Stellar performers as players, the eight men earned a spot in the record books when they were recognized as the top player in their league. So how does outstanding performance as a player translate when it comes to leading a team from the dugout? The results are mixed.
Only three of the eight former MVPs who tried their hand at managing finished their careers with more wins than losses.
Having an MVP award on your resumé might open some doors, but winning is what keeps a manager employed. Currently, the last-place Diamondbacks are under the direction of Kirk Gibson, the 1988 National League MVP. Though not under contract for next year, Gibson has expresses interest in returning. At the moment, Arizona is noncommittal.
Maury Wills, the speedster who set a modern-day record of 104 stolen bases in 1962, tallied nine years in the minors before embarking on a 14-year major league playing career. Playing was never a problem for Wills. Managing was a different story. Wills got his first and only managerial opportunity with the Mariners midway through the 1980 season. Seattle fired him only 24 games into the following season. The veteran player of 23 professional seasons never managed even one full year.
Ken Boyer, an 11-time all star and five-time golden glover, put together his MVP season in 1964, pacing the NL with 119 RBI and leading the Cardinals to a World Series championship over the Yankees. Boyer found managing more difficult however, turning in only one full season and finishing 24 games below .500 in parts of three seasons with St. Louis.
Over the nine seasons that he was in charge, Don Baylor, the 1979 American League Most Valuable Player, piloted the Rockies and the Cubs, but could only muster one finish as high as second place.
That’s not to say that every former MVP struggles in making that transition from the diamond to the dugout.
Frank Robinson, a triple crown winner, and the only player to record MVP seasons in both leagues, broke the managerial color barrier when he became baseball’s first African-American skipper in 1974. He went on to win over 1000 games in stops at Cleveland, San Francisco, Baltimore, Montreal, and Washington.
Baseball’s hit king, Pete Rose, led the league with a .338 average during his MVP campaign for the 1973 Big Red Machine. Later he was at the helm of the same club for seven seasons guiding them to five straight second-place finishes. Rose concluded his run in Cincinnati 39 games over .500
The only three-time MVP on the list is Yogi Berra, the AL award winner in 1951, ’54, and ’55. As a manager, Berra won a pennant with both the Yankees and the Mets.
Far and away the most successful man of the group is Joe Torre. The National League’s best player in 1971, Torre directed teams to 14 consecutive post-season appearances and four World Championships. Though his exploits as a player earned him 15 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, is his his place as the fifth-winningest manager in baseball history that will punch his ticket to Cooperstown. When that happens, he’ll join twenty other managers who have received the game’s highest honor. He’ll be the first with an MVP award.
Then there’s Mattingly. Slated to guide the Dodgers next year, he received MVP votes in seven season as a player, winning the award in 1985. But the question remains, how will Donnie Baseball’s performance as a player contribute to his success as a manager?
History suggests, it’s anybody’s guess.
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