As baseball writers struggle with the Cooperstown-worthiness of many players from the last 30 years, this trio of former skippers is a no-brainer for the 16-member group, which consists of Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, and Frank Robinson; Major League executives Paul Beeston of the Blue Jays, Dave Montgomery of the Phillies, Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox and Andy MacPhail, formerly of the Twins, Cubs and Orioles. They are joined by historians Steve Hirdt of Elias Sports Bureau, Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA, and Jim Reeves, recently retired from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In fact, it would only feel appropriate if all three men were elected at the same time and sharing the podium while addressing media members at the upcoming Winter Meetings. That expected news conference could wind up being the highlight from the annual offseason gathering.
After all, in terms of managerial wins, they rank three (La Russa), four (Cox) and five (Torre) on the all-time list. Only Connie Mack (one) and John McGraw (two) totaled more victories. This current group up for consideration also won with unspeakable stamina and an uncanny ability to adapt to a changing game and personality.
They did it beginning in the 1970s and lasted through a variety of major changes in the game.
If that's not enough to earn a spot in the Cooperstown, try this: Combined, La Russa, Cox and Torre made 45 playoff appearances and won 17 pennants and eight World Series titles 91 seasons managing big league teams. Ridiculous.
The first playoff appearance was in 1982, when Torre took Atlanta to the National League Championship Series, which it lost to St. Louis. The last postseason appearance made by one of the skippers was in 2011, when La Russa's Cardinals won the World Series by beating the Texas Rangers in an epic Series that went the distance.
A neat little tie-in between this group is the franchises they have in common. Cox first managed the Braves from 1978-81. Torre took over in 1982 and remained with Atlanta until '84. After Torre's stint leading the Cardinals went from 1990-95, La Russa grabbed the reins in St. Louis the next season and held on until 2011. Along the way, these men matched up many times.
In the 1996 postseason, their careers collided. It was La Russa's first year leading the Redbirds, and his team wasted a 3-1 lead in the NLCS versus Cox -- who became manager in Atlanta again in 1990 -- and the defending World Series champion Braves. It was a crushing loss for St. Louis but the beginning of an era in which La Russa established himself as a Hall of Famer.
The Braves advanced to face Torre's Yankees in the World Series that season. New York stormed back to win that Fall Classic after falling behind 2-0. That was the beginning of an era in which the Bronx Bombers won four titles in a five-year span.
As for Atlanta, it spent more than a decade dominating the NL by winning 14 consecutive division crowns -- all of them under the leadership of Cox.
Three men. Three great leaders with distinctly different personalities. All eligible to gain entrance to the Hall of Fame at the exact same time. They deserve it. So do the fans who watched them represent the game with dignity for more than three decades.