In the wake of news that Jim Leyland is stepping down as Tigers manager after eight seasons I wondered how strong his Hall of Fame case is if he’s headed for retirement at age 68.
First things first, Leyland has 1,769 wins to rank 15th all time among MLB managers. Of the 14 managers with more wins, nine are already in the Hall of Fame and at least three others (Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre) seem likely to be in Cooperstown eventually as well. That leaves Gene Mauch and Lou Piniella as the only managers with more wins than Leyland without a (probable) spot in the Hall of Fame.
However, of the 15 managers with 1,700 or more career wins Leyland has the fourth-worst winning percentage at .506, ahead of only Connie Mack, Bucky Harris, and Mauch. He also has “only” one World Series title, although Leyland’s teams also lost twice in the World Series and he made the playoffs a total of eight times in 22 years as manager. He won three straight division titles with the Pirates in the early 1990s and three straight division titles with the Tigers in the early 2010s, and in between won a World Series with the Marlins.
At this point in baseball history trying to predict which great players will be inducted into the Hall of Fame is difficult enough, so doing the same for managers could be really tough. With that said, it’s pretty clear that Leyland has a strong Hall of Fame case, but seems nearly as clear that he’s behind La Russa, Torre, and Cox among this generation’s most successful skippers, perhaps putting him in a group with managers like Davey Johnson, Bruce Bochy, Mike Scioscia, Terry Francona, and Piniella.
Is that enough to warrant a spot in Cooperstown? I’d tend to lean yes, but I’m admittedly a Leyland fan and it’s definitely not an open-and-shut case either way unless the Hall of Fame starts inducting a lot more managers than it has in recent years.