Congratulations to Tony La Russa on achieving a true milestone in his managerial career. With the victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates Thursday night, Tony claimed sole possession of third place among all managers for the most wins in a career. Usually quick to deflect personal compliments, he actually took some time to enjoy such a treasured moment as the champagne flowed in the locker room.
La Russa's third place position is behind second place John McGraw (2,583 wins) and Connie Mack with an unbelievable 3,731 career wins. That one as humble as La Russa would even see his name mentioned with the other two is quite an accomplishment, but baseball, and professional sports in general, is all about "What have you done for me lately?", so let's take a look at where Tony might go from here.
Let's jump right to the top of the pile and consider some records that may never be broken. They belong to one Cornelius MacGillicuddy, a/k/a Connie Mack. Mack's career in baseball is the stuff of legend. He began as a player – a catcher, actually – in 1886. He wouldn't stop until he had been a manager, a scout, a general manager, and a team owner, occasionally at the same times. He would not leave his beloved baseball until he sold his Phillies in 1956, a 70 year record of involvement in the sport.
Known as the "Tall Tactician" and more commonly Mr. Mack, he would manage the Philadelphia Phillies from 1901-1950. He also managed the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1894-1896. His 50 years at the helm of the Phillies is without equal and most likely will never be broken. During his years with the Phillies, he won 3,582 games. His record of 3,731 wins includes an additional 149 victories with the Pirates.
Mack wasn't known as a tactician for nothing. He was rumored to have frozen baseballs before games, then made sure that his pitchers were throwing the deadened balls. He was one of the first to position an ally in the center field bleachers to steal opposing signs. Mack would win World Series championships in 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, and 1930. His last league championship, though, would come the next year in 1931.
With 3,731 wins under his belt, one would assume that Connie Mack was a winner of remarkable proportions. One would assume wrong. His actual won-lost record as a professional manager is 3,731-3,948 for a .486 winning percentage. The math is stunning! Connie Mack actually coached 7,755 games, yet averaged only about 70 wins per season. How long would he last today?
Compare that to Tony. He has managed 4,088 games, still 3,667 shy of Mack. John McGraw, in second place for career wins with 2,583, managed 4,424 games. Over the approximately 26.5 years that he has managed, La Russa has averaged about 82 wins per season. If he could sustain this rate, he could possibly catch Mack in the area of Tony's 80th birthday. As a Cardinal, he has won at a rate of 88 games per season. He might catch Mack midway through his 77th year if he stayed with the Redbirds.
Let's spice it up a bit. If he could keep the players he has now through the 2020 season, TLR could theoretically catch Mr. Mack in his 75th year. Of course that presents some problems. Jim Edmonds, still anchoring center field, would be 50. Chris Carpenter would be 46, and 40 (maybe 44) year old Albert Pujols would still be batting .350 with 50 home runs, and 150 RBI's and still hoping to win his first MVP over the 55 year old Barry Bonds, who would make 12 plate appearances that year. Larry Walker would still start in right field, but So Taguchi would platoon closely to push the wheel chair.
La Russa might have better luck with McGraw and second place. The two are only 388 games apart. TLR is winning with the Cardinals at an 88 game per season clip through the 2004 season. At that rate, he could capture second place in 2008 or 2009. The reality, though, is that although he may be Number One in our hearts, the likelihood of Tony La Russa catching Cornelius MacGillicuddy is about as slim as Dave Duncan footing the bill for a Gerald Perry statue in front of Busch Stadium.