In Major League Baseball, managers are oddly both overvalued and undervalued. As a game, baseball is largely individual and therefore doesn't offer the wild variances in styles of play found in football, basketball, or soccer in which the philosophy of a manager or head coach can have a foundational impact. Baseball features a series of one-on-one matchups between a pitcher and a hitter, and the manager doesn't have many options at his disposal other than directing that hitter to bunt, take or swing away, putting a runner in motion, issuing an intentional walk, or directing fielders to stand in a certain spot, and many of those decisions are left up to the players.
A manager's greatest impact on his team is in its lineup construction, in-game decisions such as replacing a pitcher or pinch-hitting, and clubhouse management. It's perhaps the latter that goes largely unnoticed but may indeed have the largest impact on a team's success over the course of a long regular season. Managing the personalities of 25 different millionaires hailing from a wide range of backgrounds is a much more difficult job than it seems on the surface.
Nevertheless, despite the limited options at a manager's disposal, and his reliance on the talent he's been given, some big league skippers have set themselves apart. Hall of Famers inducted in the last decade such as Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and Tony La Russa enjoyed great success over multiple decades on the bench and joined legends like Joe McCarthy, John McGraw, Casey Stengel, and Connie Mack among the best skippers in the history of the game.
Where do they rank on our list, and what active skippers make the cut? We count down the top 30 managers in MLB history.
Note: All managerial won-loss records, statistics, and accomplishments refer to the information available through Baseball-Reference and are current as of the end of the 2021 season.
— Rankings by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
30. Bucky Harris
Washington Senators, 1924-28, '35-42, '50-54; Detroit Tigers, 1929-33, '55-56; Boston Red Sox, 1934; Philadelphia Phillies, 1943; New York Yankees, 1947-48
2 World Series titles (1924 Senators, 1927 Yankees)
3 AL pennants
Career record: 2,158-2,219 (.493)
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1975
Any manager that won a World Series with the Washington Senators deserves a place on the list of the greatest managers in major league history. And, since Harris was manager of that 1924 team, here he is.
Harris' title came during his first as player/manager in Washington, and he led the club to the AL pennant the following year as well. However, Harris posted just 11 winning seasons in 29 years as a big-league manager. Still, with his championship in Washington and a second ring with the 1947 Yankees, Harris is worthy of a spot.
(Photo courtesy of baseballhall.org)
29. Billy Southworth
St. Louis Cardinals, 1929, '40-45; Boston Braves, 1946-49, '50-51
2 World Series titles (1942, '44 Cardinals)
4 NL pennants
Career record: 1,044-704 (.597)
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2008
Admittedly, Southworth's 1942 and '44 World Series championship teams achieved their status when many of the biggest stars in the major leagues were off fighting in World War II. However, the manager managed to post a terrific .597 career winning percentage over the course of a 13-year career.
Southworth guided the Cardinals to a .642 win percentage across seven years, which included three seasons in which the team won 105 games or more and two others in which the Cards posted at least 95 victories.
But Southworth also found success in Boston, where he guided the Braves to a winning record in five of six seasons, including a 91-62 mark in 1948 in which the club captured the National League pennant — Southworth's fourth as a manager. Southworth finished his career 340 games above .500, which ranks 12th all-time and tops among managers with fewer than 2,000 games.
28. Dusty Baker
San Francisco Giants, 1993-2002; Chicago Cubs, 2003-06; Cincinnati Reds, 2008-13; Washington Nationals, 2016-17, Houston Astros, 2020-Present
2002 NL pennant, 2021 AL pennant
3-time NL Manager of the Year (1993, '97, 2000)
Career record: 1,987-1,734 (.534)
The winningest manager in San Francisco Giants history, Baker won 840 games in 10 seasons with the club. Baker's first Giants team was arguably his best, going 103-59 but failing to make the postseason in the final full season prior to the implementation of the wild card.
Baker also guided the Giants to the National League pennant in his last season in San Francisco, becoming the second African-American manager in MLB history to lead his team to the World Series. Baker has posted 11 90-win seasons and has made 11 playoff appearances to this point in his 25-year managerial career. He is the first manager to lead five different franchises to the postseason - doing so with the Giants (3 appearances), Cubs (one), Reds (three), Nationals (two), and most recently the Astros (two). Last season, Baker became the ninth manager in history to win pennants in both the American and National Leagues.
Next up for Baker is to become the 12th manager to win 2,000 games in his career, a milestone he should reach relatively early in the 2022 season.
27. Billy Martin
Minnesota Twins, 1969; Detroit Tigers, 1971-73; Texas Rangers, 1973-75; New York Yankees, 1975-78, ’79, ’83, ’85, ’88; Oakland Athletics, 1980-82
1977 World Series champion (Yankees)
2 AL pennants
Career record: 1,253-1,013 (.553)
Best known for his 1977 World Series championship (and five separate tenures as manager) with the New York Yankees, Martin was a successful and troubled skipper for five different organizations. Martin led the Twins to 97 wins and the AL West title in his one and only season as manager in Minnesota but was involved in a fight with his players that later led to his firing.
After a year out of baseball, Martin landed with the Tigers and posted three winning records, but he was fired following a three-game suspension in 1973. Taking over the Texas Rangers late in the second of back-to-back 100-loss seasons, Martin posted a winning record in 1974 — his only full season in Arlington. He was fired after a clash with ownership in 1975.
A Bay Area native, Martin had an opportunity to manage the Oakland Athletics for three seasons. The A's posted winning records in 1980 and '81 but lost 94 games in '82 — the only full season in which Martin recorded a losing record as manager — and was fired.
26. Cito Gaston
Toronto Blue Jays, 1989-97; 2008-10
2 World Series titles (1992-93)
2 AL Pennants
Career record: 894-837 (.516)
The first African-American manager to win a World Series, Gaston became one of the first 20 MLB managers to win two championship rings when he led the Blue Jays to back-to-back crowns in 1992 and '93. Well-known as a player's manager, Gaston first served as a hitting coach in Toronto for seven years before being promoted. He was successful immediately and led the Jays to four AL East titles through his first five years in charge.
However, Gaston's tenure on the bench in Toronto was a bit of a roller coaster. In all, he served three separate stints as manager. In 1991, Gaston was sidelined with a health issue, and Gene Tenace managed the club for 33 games. Gaston also posted losing records in four straight seasons from 1994-97 and was fired.
Though he was considered for other managerial positions, Gaston worked in the Toronto organization as a hitting instructor from 1999-2001 and later worked in the front office. During the 2008 season, he was hired as the Blue Jays manager once more and managed the team until '10, when he retired following an 85-77 campaign.
(Photo courtesy of baseballhalloffame.ca)
25. Cap Anson
Philadelphia Athletics, 1875; Chicago White Stockings, 1879-89, Chicago Colts, 1890-97; New York Giants, 1898
5 NL pennants
Career record: 1,295-947 (.578)
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1939 (Player)
One of the first great players in baseball history, and still regarded as one of the top first basemen of all-time, Anson was a successful player/manager with four major league organizations and posted a .578 career winning percentage that ranks No. 13 in history and sits among the top 10 for managers with more than 10 years of experience.
Best known for his work with the Chicago White Stockings (which would later become the Cubs), Anson led the club to five National League pennants in his first eight years as player/manager. In 1880, is first full season in charge, the team posted a 67-17 record — an incredible .798 winning percentage. Anson did not suffer a losing record until 1892, though that was the first of three straight losing campaigns for the Chicago Colts. Anson also suffered a fourth sub-.500 record again in 1897, his last with the organization.
Though he is a Hall of Famer as a player and one of the most successful managers of all time — especially among those from the 19th century — Anson's legacy is marred by his well-known racist ideology.
24. Frank Selee
Boston Beaneaters, 1890-1901; Chicago Orphans, 1902, Chicago Cubs, 1903-05
5 NL pennants
Career record: 1,284-862 (.598)
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1999
Selee ranks fourth in career winning percentage (.598) and captured five National League pennants during his 16-year major league managerial career. His fifth NL championship club, the 1898 Boston Beaneaters (who would later become the Braves), was the first in league history to win more than 100 games in a season. That squad was one of nine teams Selee managed to a .600 or better winning percentage. Only twice did one of his teams fail to post a .500 mark.
Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame 90 years after his death, Selee's accomplishments were grand. In addition to his success in Boston, he managed four seasons in Chicago and helped develop the Cubs into a power. In fact, Selee managed the club until another manager on our list, Hall of Famer Frank Chance, took over in 1905.
23. Dick Williams
Boston Red Sox, 1967-69; Oakland Athletics, 1971-73; California Angels, 1974-76; Montreal Expos, 1977-81; San Diego Padres, 1982-85; Seattle Mariners, 1986-88
2 World Series titles (1972-73 A's)
3 AL pennants, 1 NL pennant
Career record: 1,571-1,451 (.520)
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2008
One of the most well-traveled managers in MLB history, Williams shuttled coast to coast during a 21-year big league managerial career. As a 38-year old in his first season with the Boston Red Sox, Williams won the 1967 AL pennant and posted a .545 winning percentage in three seasons with the club.
Williams' greatest success came in his second stop, a three-year stint in Oakland in which he won 288 games and two World Series rings. He was less successful in three seasons with the California Angels and in his first two years with the Expos, but Williams led Montreal to 95 wins in 1979 and 90 in '80. He managed the San Diego Padres to the 1984 National League pennant, and never posted a losing record in four years in San Diego, before finishing his career leading the Mariners for nearly three seasons.
He finished his MLB managerial career at 59 and ranks No. 23 on the leaderboard with 1,571 wins.
22. Bill McKechnie
Newark Pepper (Federal League), 1915; Pittsburgh Pirates, 1922-26; St. Louis Cardinals, 1928-29, Boston Braves, 1930-35, Boston Bees, 1936-37; Cincinnati Reds, 1938-46
2 World Series titles (1925 Pirates, 1940 Reds)
4 NL pennants
Career record: 1,896-1,723 (.524)
Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 1962
McKechnie spent half of the 1915 season as a player/manager in the Federal League before turning to manage full-time in 22 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The first MLB manager to win a World Series with two different clubs, McKechnie guided the Pirates to their second title in franchise history when they beat the reigning world champion Washington Senators in 1925.