10 Greatest Detroit Tigers Managers of All-Time

History
Don Drysdale
Don Drysdale June 7, 2018

Since beginning play in 1901, the Detroit Tigers have had some great teams. In fact, in their storied history, the Tigers have been to World Series on 11 occasions, including winning it all in 1935, 1945, 1968, and 1984.  Those great teams not only had amazing players embedded throughout but outstanding managers to lead them. But the question is, where do these managers rank when stacked up against each other? After going back and forth and looking at the resumes, here are the top 10 Detroit Tigers managers of all-time.

10 – Ty Cobb (1921-1926)

Record: 479-444 (.519)

Average Finish (4.0)

Playoff Appearances: 0

Playoff Wins: 0

World Series Appearances: 0

World Series Championships: 0

If you are a Tigers fan, you have certainly heard of the greatest player ever to wear the Old English “D”, Ty Cobb. Everyone knows how amazing Cobb was with the bat, but he makes this list because of the job he did as Tigers manager from 1921-1926. During that time, he served as a player/manager for the team and led Detroit to 479 victories but was never able to get the team over the hump as his best chance to getting to the World Series was in 1924 when the Tigers finished 86-68, 3.0 games out of first place in the American League. Though Cobb may not have been one of the all-time great managers, he did just enough to be included on this list.

9 – Red Rolfe (1949-1952)

Record: 278-256 (.521)

Average Finish (4.2)

Playoff Appearances: 0

Playoff Wins: 0

World Series Appearances: 0

World Series Championships: 0

After going 87-67 in his first season as Tigers manager in 1949, Red Rolfe and the Bengals nearly shocked the New York Yankees a season later. During the 1950 campaign, Detroit finished just 3.0 games behind the Pinstripes in the American League with a 95-59 record. New York would go on to win the World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies, their second out of what would be five straight titles. In 1951, the Tigers took a big step back, winning just 73 games and finishing in fourth place and it was the beginning of the end for Rolfe in the Motor City. Finally, in 1952, after Detroit got off to a 23-49 start, Rolfe was relieved of his duties in favor of one of his pitchers, Fred Hutchinson.

8 – Billy Martin (1971-1973)

Record: 248-204 (.549)

Average Finish (2.0)

Playoff Appearances: 1

Playoff Wins: 2

World Series Appearances: 0

World Series Championships: 0

When you think of Billy Martin, even if you are from the Detroit area, you probably think of the New York Yankees first and foremost. But what many do not recall is that he spent three seasons managing the Tigers and he even came within one game of leading Detroit to the World Series. In 1972, Martin led the Bengals to an 86-70 record, which was good enough for first place in the American League East. In the American League Championship Series, Detroit squared off against the eventual World Series Champion Oakland Athletics but lost 3 games to 2, including a Game 5 heartbreaker at Tiger Stadium. During his three seasons with the Tigers, Martin led his team to a winning record each year and he probably would have managed in Detroit longer had an unfortunate incident not happened late in the 1973 season. On August 30, upset that the umpires were allegedly allowing Gaylord Perry of the Indians to throw spitballs, Martin told his pitchers to do the same. For his admitted actions was suspended by MLB and subsequently fired by the Tigers.

7 – Del Baker (1933, 1936-1942)

Record: 417-355 (.540)

Average Finish (3.6)

Playoff Appearances: 1

Playoff Wins: 3

World Series Appearances: 1 (1940)

World Series Championships: 0

Del Baker had his first chance to lead the Tigers when he was named interim manager in 1933 after Bucky Harris was fired. When Mickey Cochrane was hired as manager prior to the 1934 season, Baker went back to coaching third base. In 1936, Cochrane had a nervous breakdown and Baker was once again called upon to manage. His first full season as Tigers skipper came in 1939 he was unable to get the job done as Detroit finished 81-73, 26.5 games out of first place in the American League. A season later, Baker and the Tigers nearly shocked the baseball world as they finished in first place and came within one game of winning the World Series. Unfortunately, Detroit fell to the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 in Game 7.

6 – Steve O’Neill (1943-1948)

Record: 509-414 (.551)

Average Finish (2.8)

Playoff Appearances: 1

Playoff Wins: 4

World Series Appearances: 1

World Series Championships: 1

In six seasons as Tigers manager, Steve O’Neill not only led the team to 509 wins (5th in team history) but he also orchestrated Detroit’s 1945 World Series Championship win over the Chicago Cubs. Though that 1945 campaign was the only time O’Neill led the Tigers to a first-place finish in the American League, he also helped the team come within one game of the World Series during the 1944 season. During his career, O’Neill never had a losing record as a manager and racked up an overall record of 1040-821 in 14 total seasons.

5 – Mayo Smith (1967-1970)

Record: 363-285 (.560)

Average Finish (2.2)

Playoff Appearances: 1

Playoff Wins: 4

World Series Appearances: 1 (1968)

World Series Championships: 1 (1968)

Though Mayo Smith only managed the Detroit Tigers for four seasons, he certainly left his mark, including leading his team to a World Series title during the memorable 1968 season. After winning 91 games and finishing just one game out of first place in 1967, Smith and the Tigers were on a mission in 1968 as they won a whopping 103 games during the regular season. In what was one of the greatest World Series of all-time, the Tigers defeated Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals 4 games to 3. Mayo’s .560 winning percentage with the Tigers ranks No. 2 all-time for managers who were with the team for more than two seasons.

4 – George ‘Sparky’ Anderson (1979-1995)

Record: 1331-1248 (.516)

Average Finish (3.5)

Playoff Appearances: 2

Playoff Wins: 8

World Series Appearances: 1 (1984)

World Series Championships: 1 (1984)

When debating who the greatest Detroit Tigers manager of all-time is, Sparky Anderson is often the first name to come up. That being said, many of you are probably surprised (maybe even upset) that Sparky did not even make the top three. Yes, we all know he led the Tigers to the 1984 World Series title, but when you look at his career as a whole, it is very good, but not the best in Tigers history. Anderson’s .516 winning percentage only ranks him 13th out of Tigers managers with at least 100 games under their belt. In addition, Sparky only led Detroit to the MLB Playoffs twice out of 17 seasons and had a losing record in 5 of his final 7 campaigns in the Motor City. Anderson may not be the greatest manager in Tigers history but he certainly deserves a spot high on this list because of what he did accomplish.

3 – Hughie Jennings (1907-1920)

Record: 1131-972 (.538)

Average Finish (3.6)

Playoff Appearances: 3

Playoff Wins: 4

World Series Appearances: 3 (1907, 1908, 1909)

World Series Championships: 0

Though he never won a World Series title with the Tigers, Hughie Jennings most definitely is deserving of the No. 3 place on this list. When Jennings took over as manager prior to the 1907 season, Detroit was coming off a 71-78 1906 season which saw them finish 21 games out of first place in the American League. All Jennings did was proceed to lead the Tigers to 3-straight World Series appearances and though they lost all three, it was quite the accomplishment. In 1915, he guided Detroit to their first 100-win season (100-54) in team history but it was only good enough for a second place finish in the American League. Overall, Jennings posted a winning record in 10 out of 14 seasons as Tigers manager.

2 – Jim Leyland (2006-2013)

Record: 700-597 (.540)

Average Finish (2.1)

Playoff Appearances: 4

Playoff Wins: 25

World Series Appearances: 2 (2006, 2012)

World Series Championships: 0

Coming in at No. 2 on the list of greatest Detroit Tigers managers of all-time is Jim Leyland. When Leyland took over as manager of the Tigers prior to the 2006 season, fans realized they were getting a manager who knew how to win but they had no idea how quickly he would get the job done in Detroit. In his first season in the Motor City, Leyland guided the Tigers to a 95-67 record and eventually to the World Series where his team lost 4 games to 1 to the St. Louis Cardinals. Following that season, the Bengals failed to make the playoffs for four straight years and many started to doubt Leyland’s ability to get the team back. But the Tigers skipper righted the ship in 2011 and got Detroit back to the playoffs 3-straight seasons, including another World Series appearance in 2012. Following the 2013 season, Leyland decided the time was right to retire from managing the Tigers.

1 – Mickey Cochrane (1934-1938)

Record: 348-250 (.582)

Average Finish (1.8)

Playoff Appearances: 2

Playoff Wins: 7

World Series Appearances: 2 (1934, 1935)

World Series Championships: 1 (1935)

Though Mickey Cochrane only has 348 wins as manager of the Tigers, his accomplishments are enough to earn him the top spot on this list. In 1934, as player/manager, Cochran led Detroit to a 101-53 record and a berth in the World Series where the Tigers lost 4 games to 3 to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was also named American League Most Valuable Player after edging out teammate Charlie Gehringer in the voting. The following year, the Tigers did not win as many games during the regular season (93-58) but it was enough to once again advance them to the World Series. This time around, Cochrane and his team were ready as the Tigers defeated the Chicago Cubs 4 games to 2 to win their first World Series in franchise history. In 1936, Mickey suffered a nervous breakdown forcing him to miss time and then in 1937, he was hit in the head by a pitch and forced to stop playing baseball. Though he finished out the 1937 season as manager, the end was near and midway through the following campaign, after getting off to a 47-51 start, he was replaced by Del Baker. Had Cochrane stayed healthy, one can only imagine what could have been.

 

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4 thoughts on “10 Greatest Detroit Tigers Managers of All-Time

    1. If you put Leyland 2nd I suggest you get either some mental healthcare or quit drinking because that borders on insanity

  • Leyland took a team that had been low on talent for decades in 2006 and led them to the World Series. He was a breath of fresh air to Detroit baseball despite his “smoky” reputation. I remember in the first round of the playoffs when Joe Morgan said: “This Yankee lineup may be the best ever assembled for a divisional playoff game.” The suddenly after losing the first game, the Tigers beat Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, and in Game Four clinched it with Jeremy Bonderman on the mound. Talk about miracles. Yes, I know the World Series was a letdown, but Jim got them there twice.

  • Jim Leyland should not be in the top ten, much less number two. Jim Leyland had 3 future Hall of Famers, multiple MVP’s, and several other players among the League Leaders in statistics. The Tiger payroll under Leyland was in the Top 5 for most of his tenure. Leyland had the most talented roster in MLB over a 3-4 year period, maybe in Tiger history, and could not win one World Series game, much less a Championship. Had Leyland been the Manager of any other Team, he would have been fired after finishing last in 2008, despite having the 3rd highest payroll. It was Leyland who recommended Brad Ausmus and we all know how that worked out. How long did it take the Pittsburgh Pirates to recover from Leyland? Jim Leyland is not a bad Manager, he is just a below average manager and his record prior to coming to Detroit proves it. If your list were of the Top Ten under achieving Managers in Tiger history, than Leyland would be number one. I watched almost every pitch of every Tiger game Leyland managed and the number of head scratching moves that bombed out was astounding for a man who supposedly was a elite baseball man. If Leyland was such a MLB braintrust, why did he languish for 18 years as a Minor League Manager? Jim Leyland’s bad baseball judgement is hurting the Tiger Franchise.

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