Indians' Top 5 managers: Bell's take

June 15th, 2020

CLEVELAND – No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Mandy Bell’s ranking of the top 5 managers in Indians history.

Indians' all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RH SP | LH SP | RP

1. Tris Speaker, 1919-26
Key fact: Player-manager for 1920 world championship team

When a team boasts just two World Series victories spread among two skippers, it’s hard for the winning duo not to take the top two spots on an all-time managers list. Now, the runner-up may have the most wins of all Indians skippers, but Speaker will take the title in these rankings.

The center fielder became the player-manager for Cleveland in 1919, and in his first full season as the club’s skipper in 1920, he led the team to its first World Series victory. He’s fourth in wins (617) among all Tribe managers and is tied for the seventh-best record (617-520) of those who managed at least three seasons.

Baseball-Reference takes the team’s division finish during each season a manager is at the helm and is able to calculate their average rank. During Speaker’s eight-year stint in charge, Cleveland averaged just over a 3rd place finish (3.4), which ranks 11th in club managerial history.

2. Lou Boudreau, 1942-50
Key fact: Won the most games of all Indians managers and was at the helm for the 1948 World Series

The case for Boudreau to dethrone Speaker is convincing. The order for this list shifted around a few times before the final ranking was determined. Boudreau -- another player/manager -- sits atop the leaderboard in wins with 728 over nine seasons, a stat arguably enough to earn him the title. However, while that longevity helped him secure the most wins in club history, his winning percentage (.529) ranks 11th of those who managed at least three seasons.

Boudreau is also often credited for being the first manager to consistently use defensive shifts, primarily against the hot-hitting Ted Williams. His 1,389 games at the helm is the most in club history and his 79 games over .500 is fifth-highest, trailing Speaker, who placed fourth with 97. Boudreau’s average finish within the division (4.0) also just fell short of Speaker’s (3.4), putting him 19th among all Tribe managers.

3. Terry Francona, 2013-present
Key fact: Has the second-best winning percentage of managers who were in Cleveland for more than three seasons

The only thing holding Francona back from jumping to the top of this list is a World Series title. He and his club came as close as possible to hoisting the trophy in 2016, but came up just short.

Since being named the 42nd manager in Indians history in October of 2012, he’s posted the best record in the American League (second-best in the Majors), going 638-494 (.564). That winning percentage currently ranks second among those who managed for more than three seasons, and his 144 games over .500 is also the second-best in club history. Cleveland’s 102 wins in 2017 is also the second most in a single season, trailing the 1954 Tribe’s 111 victories.

Though the Tribe missed the playoffs in 2019, Francona led the team to its fourth straight season of at least 90 wins, which is just the second time in club history Cleveland reached a streak of that length. He has helped the Indians to three AL Central titles, one AL pennant, four postseason berths and is one of just two Cleveland skippers to win the AL Manager of the Year Award (2013 and ’18) since it began in 1983, alongside Eric Wedge ('07).

“When we started our managerial search process in 2012, we really sought to find a leader that could help transform and elevate our organization,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said in April 2019. “We had exceedingly high expectations when we hired Tito, and the unbelievable thing is as high as those expectations were, he's gone on to exceed those every day.”

4. Mike Hargrove, 1991-99
Key fact: Only Indians manager to win two AL pennants

Hargrove led some of the best Indians teams in franchise history. The '90s was arguably the most memorable decade of the team’s 119-year lifespan, and the ’95 squad was one of just three to crack the 100-win milestone.

In nine seasons -- tied with Boudreau for the longest managerial tenure -- Hargrove accumulated the second-most wins (721), owned the fourth-best winning percentage (.550) and managed the second-most games (1,312). He’s the only Tribe skipper to ever secure two AL pennants (’95, ’97) and his 2.6 average finish in the AL Central ranks fourth in club history. Sitting at 130 games over .500 in his managerial career, Hargrove trails just Francona (144) and the No. 5 manager on this list.

5. Al Lopez, 1951-56
Key fact: Has the best winning percentage of all Cleveland skippers

Of all the skippers on this list, Lopez’s stint in Cleveland was the shortest, spanning six seasons in the 1950s. But he certainly was able to rack up plenty of wins in a more limited time frame than the others. In those six years, Lopez won 570 games, which ranks fifth overall in team history. His .617 winning percentage is the best among all Cleveland managers, and his 216 games over .500 outpaces Francona by a comfortable 72 contests.

Lopez led the Tribe to a club-record 111 wins and an AL pennant in 1954. His 930 games managed is the seventh most in franchise history, and none of the skipper’s six squads finished below second place. Unsurprisingly, his 1.8 average finish in the AL Central is tied for first with Charlie Manuel, who managed the Indians for 2 1/2 seasons.

Honorable mentions

Nap Lajoie was a player/manager for the Naps from 1905-09. His 377 wins are the eighth most in club history and his .550 winning percentage is tied for fourth.

Eric Wedge won the AL Manager of the Year award in 2007 and managed the fourth most games in Tribe history (1,134). Although his overall record ended under .500, Wedge’s 561 wins rank sixth among Indians skippers.