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The most successful pitcher and manager combos in baseball history

By Dan Holmes    December 19, 2018

The dynamic between a manager and a pitcher is pivotal for team success. The manager needs a strong pitcher, the pitcher needs a manager who trusts him. The two must work together to be victorious. The manager actually hands the ball to the pitcher, a symbolic gesture that the game is in their hands. When things get tough, the manager may take the ball from him, removing him from the game, a decision that can open him to second-guessing.

Madison Bumgarner has won 110 games for Bruce Bochy, the only manager he’s ever played for at the major league level. Believe it or not, that’s the most wins by an active pitcher for one manager. Here are the twenty most successful pitcher/manager duos in baseball history.

20. Sam Leever and Fred Clarke

172 wins, 257 starts, Pittsburgh Pirates (1900-09)

Leever was called “The Goshen Schoolmaster” because he was a school teacher in Goshen, Ohio before he embarked on a baseball career. He was a big winner for the Pirates, his .660 winning percentage still ranks among the ten best in history. Leever was a control specialist known for his fastball, he rarely walked anyone. He’s the only person on this list who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Clarke was a player/manager, maybe the best the game has ever seen. His teams captured four pennants and a World Series title and won nearly 60 percent of their games. A player once said of his leadership style: “He was stern, he wanted loyalty and demanded we all play at our best at all times.”

19. Carl Hubbell and Bill Terry

173 wins, 281 starts, New York Giants (1932-41)

Former teammates, Hubbell and Terry were never close friends, but they co-existed well in their decade together as pitcher/manager. That was easy for Terry, since King Carl was the best pitcher in the National League and helped the team to three pennants. Terry never worried too much about his pitching staff, he often turned over decisions to his pitching coach, and he gave veterans like Hubbell and Freddie Fitzsimmons a long leash. Both Hubbell and Terry are in the Hall of Fame as players.

18. Dazzy Vance and Wilbert Robinson

175 wins, 304 starts, Brooklyn Dodgers (1922-31)

Robinson was a protege of John McGraw and a larger-than-life personality. A former catcher, Robby liked to work with his pitchers and he was demanding. He expected his pitchers to start what they finished, and Vance did that. In their ten years together, Vance completed 2/3 of his starts for Robinson, winning at a .597 clip. In 1924, Vance won the NL Most Valuable Player Award when he won 28 games and also took the pitching triple crown by leading the league in ERA and strikeouts. The righthander from Iowa led the league in K’s seven straight years.

17. Don Sutton and Walter Alston

176 wins, 386 starts, Los Angeles Dodgers (1966-76)

After Sandy Koufax retired, Alston and the Dodgers still had several fine pitchers in uniform, including young Don Sutton. At the time, LA was looking to Don Drysdale and Claude Osteen to step up, but Sutton ended up winning more games than any of them. For the first eleven years of his career, Sutton pitched for Alston, averaging 16 wins and 256 innings per season. he later spent parts of six seasons under Tommy Lasorda, who fails to make our list. The most common pitcher under Lasorda was Fernando Valenzuela, who won 141 games for Tommy.

16. Bob Gibson and Red Schoendienst

180 wins, 335 starts, St. Louis Cardinals (1965-75)

Gibson threw 44 shutouts for Schoendienst in eleven seasons under Red, the highest total of any pitcher for one manager since 1961.

15. Lefty Gomez and Joe McCarthy

187 wins, 313 starts, New York Yankees (1931-42)

McCarthy has two pitchers on this list, Gomez and Ruffing, who combined for 403 victories as teammates under “Marse Joe” in The Bronx. Gomez and Ruffing each won six World Series titles for McCarthy and the Yanks, going 13-2 in the Fall Classic.

14. Early Wynn and Al Lopez

188 wins, 350 starts, Cleveland Indians (1951-56), Chicago White Sox (1958-62)

Wynn is one of only two pitchers on this list who played for their manager on two teams. Wynn was part of the famous Cleveland rotation that included Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Mike Garcia. That team won 111 games in 1954 under Lopez. After Señor went to the White Sox, Wynn joined him there later, making a push for 300 wins. He won 22 games in his second year under Lopez in Chicago, but fell one win short of 300 with the White Sox. He returned to the Indians and got his 300th win in 1963.

13. Iron Joe McGinnity and John McGraw

190 wins, 303 starts, Baltimore Orioles (1901-02), New York Giants (1902-08)

McGraw managed the Giants for more than three decades, his relationship with McGinnity predates that tenure. Iron Joe and McGraw were together on the first American League team called the Baltimore Orioles, which only lasted two seasons. In 1902, after feuding with AL officials, McGraw bolted for the National League and he took his best players, like McGinnity, with him to the Giants. Iron Joe won twenty games eight times in his 10-year career, which didn’t start in earnest until he was 28 years old. Both McGinnity and McGraw are in the Hall of Fame.

12. Jack Morris and Sparky Anderson

190 wins, 388 starts, Detroit Tigers (1979-90)

During his time in Cincinnati, Sparky Anderson rarely had an ace pitcher. When he got to Detroit in the middle of the ’79 season he found Morris, a hard-throwing righthander in his first full season as a starting pitcher in the big leagues. Morris won 17 games that season and won at least 15 games in ten of the twelve years he played under Sparky. In 1984, Morris was 10-1 by the end of May and led the team to the pennant. In the postseason, Morris showed his tenacity, winning all three of his starts, including two in the World Series.

11. Chief Bender and Connie Mack

193 wins, 288 starts, Philadelphia A’s (1903-14)

Bender (a righthander) teamed with Eddie Plank (the lefty) as a stingy duo at the top of Mack’s rotation for twelve years. Bender was a member of the Ojibwe tribe. His father was German and his mother was part Chippewa. As a child, he received the Indian name “Mandowescence”, meaning “Little Spirit Animal.” He helped the A’s to five pennants and three World Series titles, which is largely why Mack considered him the most reliable pitcher he ever had.

10. Greg Maddux and Bobby Cox

194 wins, 363 starts, Atlanta Braves (1993-03)

The first of the Big Three that helped the Braves build a dynasty in the 1990s, rotation-mates John Smoltz and Tom Glavine appear elsewhere on this list. Maddux was the last to arrive in Atlanta, the free agent who came in to give the Braves the best rotation in baseball history. The trio made Cox’s job easy for more than a decade and Atlanta won the division title every year.

9. Lefty Grove and Connie Mack

195 wins, 267 starts, Philadelphia A’s (1925-33)

Two more opposite personalities may have never occupied the same dugout. Grove was a fiery, competitive, ornery cuss who hated to lose and wasn’t afraid to break things to show his displeasure. Connie Mack was gentle and humble, liked to speak softly to his players and demand respect through order and mutual respect. But Grove was possibly the greatest pitcher to ever live, and since Mack paid a handsome sum for him, he put up with the tantrums and growling attitude from his star pitcher. In one famous incident, Grove stormed off the field and destroyed a water cooler and bat rack. Mack looked on in disappointing fashion but did not say a word. The rest of the team waited to see if a confrontation would ensue. Before Lefty stomped into the clubhouse he hollered “To hell with you, Mr. Mack!” The veteran manager sat down on the bench, paused a moment, then turned back to where Grove had been standing and said calmly, “And to hell with you, Mr. Grove.”

8. John Smoltz and Bobby Cox

196 wins, 425 starts, Atlanta Braves (1990-2008)

Only five on this list made more starts for their manager than Smoltz did, and his 19 years with his manager is a record. Had Smoltz not spent four years under Cox as a closer, he could have probably inched his way into the top three on this list.

7. Don Drysdale and Walter Alston

209 wins, 465 starts, Brooklyn & Los Angeles Dodgers (1956-69)

The second pitcher under Alston on the list. There are five managers on this list at least twice: Bobby Cox and Connie Mack (three pitchers); John McGraw, Joe McCarthy, and Walter Alston with two each.

6. Red Ruffing and Joe McCarthy

216 wins, 366 starts, New York Yankees (1931-42, 1945-46)

Ruffing was a child when he dropped out of school to work in a coal mine in Illinois. He later lost four toes on one foot in a mining accident and thought he would never be able to play baseball, but he converted from an outfielder to a pitcher and eventually starred for the Yankees and helped them to six World Series titles. He usually started Game Two after Lefty Gomez.

5. Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox

221 wins, 446 starts, Atlanta Braves (1990-2002, 2008)

Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz won 611 games for Bobby Cox, the most ever by a trio for one manager, though they weren’t teammates the entire time.

4. Walter Johnson and Clark Griffith

223 wins, 297 starts, Washington Senators (1912-20)

Johnson completed 265 of the 297 starts he made for Griffith, and 64 of those were shutouts. Griffith was also the owner of the team, which meant Johnson was negotiating with his manager for a raise almost every year. The two had a lukewarm relationship, but for many years the only gate attraction that Griffith had was “The Big Train” and his amazing fastball.

3. Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver

240 wins, 462 starts, Baltimore Orioles (1969-82)

Like Grove and Mack, these two were misfits. Palmer was tall, handsome, articulate. Weaver was short, impish, and foul-mouthed. The manager famously had no interest in being friends or even having a relationship with his players. He expected them to follow his marching orders. Palmer didn’t think Weaver knew anything about pitching. The two had many fights over the years, but there was a foundation of respect. Palmer won the three Cy Youngs under Earl, and together they won six division titles, four pennants, and one World Series in Baltimore.

Three other pitchers won at least 100 games for Weaver. They are: Mike Cuellar (143), Dave McNally (133), and Mike Flanagan (107).

2. Eddie Plank and Connie Mack

284 wins, 458 starts, Philadelphia A’s (1901-14)

The Great Fidgeter from Gettysburg took the ball every three or four days for 14 seasons under Mr. Mack. The A’s won four pennants and two World Series titles during that stretch.

1. Christy Mathewson and John McGraw

352 wins, 512 starts, New York Giants (1902-16)

In his 15 years under McGraw, Mathewson averaged 24 wins, 29 complete games, 295 innings, and had a 2.09 ERA while winning 68 percent of his decisions. His record for wins and games started under one manager while likely never be broken.

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About the Author

Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.

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