Reds' Top 5 managers: Sheldon's take

June 16th, 2020

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 managers in the history of their franchise. 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.

Here is Mark Sheldon’s ranking of the Top 5 managers in Reds history:

Reds' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RHPs | LHPs | Relievers

1) Sparky Anderson, 1970-78
Key fact: Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000

The Big Red Machine had great players, but Anderson’s skills in the dugout and clubhouse helped Cincinnati put it all together during a dominant run of success in the 1970s. He is the club’s all-time leader in managerial wins, with 863, and led the club to four National League pennants (1970, ’72, ’75, ’76) and two World Series titles (’75 and ’76). In his nine years, the Reds endured only one losing season.

Already with shock-white hair at 36 years old when he took the job, Anderson looked older than his age would indicate. But he still had the wisdom and the ability to get the most out of his roster.

"The only thing I believe is this: A player does not have to like a manager and he does not have to respect a manager. All he has to do is obey the rules,” Anderson was widely quoted as once saying.

Many of his players did like and respect Anderson and his positive attitude, however.

“He was the man who put together some great teams,” Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez said upon Anderson’s death in 2010. “He made us go.”

Anderson was also a pioneer in strategies that are now commonplace in the game. He was nicknamed “Captain Hook” because of his proclivity to pull starting pitchers quickly and rely heavily on the bullpen. Offensively, he became more likely to rely on home runs and steals to score runs rather than small ball of sacrifice bunting and advancing runners.

Anderson's surprise dismissal by general manager Dick Wagner came following the 1978 season -- something that was somewhat lampooned a year later during a hilarious guest star turn on TV’s “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Anderson didn’t idle for long and joined the Tigers during the ’79 season. In ’84, he became the first skipper to manage World Series winners in both the NL and American League. His 2,194 wins over 26 years ranks sixth-most all time.

2) Bill McKechnie, 1938-46
Key fact: Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962

McKechnie was the first manager to lead three different NL clubs to pennants. The third of those was the Reds, whom he took over ahead of the 1938 season, when he inherited a last-place team. It didn’t take long for Cincinnati to reach the pinnacle, as it won the NL pennant in '39 -- its first in 20 years -- and the World Series in seven games over the Tigers in '40. That made him the first skipper to lead two different teams to World Series titles.

McKechnie’s 744 wins rank second in club history. He is credited with turning pitchers Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer into All-Stars. Cincinnati had the league’s best ERA and most complete games in 1939 and ’40. McKechnie retired from the Reds after the ’46 season with 1,896 wins overall -- second most in NL history at the time, behind only the great John McGraw.

3) Fred Hutchinson, 1959-64
Key fact: Was the first member of the Reds to have his number (No. 1) retired

Hutchinson took the Reds from 67 wins in 1960 to 93 wins and the NL pennant in ’61 before his team lost to the Yankees in five games during the World Series. Cincinnati won 90 or more games in three of his six seasons, including 98 victories in ’62. The team dipped to third place, however, in MLB’s newly formed 162-game format. Following the ’63 season, Hutchinson was diagnosed with lung cancer, but he stayed on the job.

The Reds had a winning record late into 1964 as Hutchinson underwent treatments that left him visibly weakened. He stepped down on Aug. 13, the day after his 45th birthday. Throughout his ordeal, he showed bravery, humility and grace while being open about his experience. He died on Nov. 12 of that year. Hutchinson’s legacy endures via a Seattle cancer research center named in his honor and in The Hutch Award, given annually to a Major League player who overcomes adversity while exemplifying “the character and fighting spirit of Fred Hutchinson.”

4) Lou Piniella, 1990-92
Key fact: Was 255-231 (.525) over three seasons as Reds manager

Piniella took over a Reds club still reeling from former manager Pete Rose’s gambling scandal and an 87-loss season in 1989. Few predicted greatness in ’90, but the fiery Piniella led the team to MLB’s first-ever “wire-to-wire” division title since the Divisional Era began in 1969. Cincinnati went on to win the NL pennant in five games over the Pirates and shocked everybody by sweeping the heavily-favored A’s in four games during the World Series.

“He managed to a large degree by intimidation,” former Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman told in April. “I think the players were scared to death of Lou. I’ll never forget the first time he ever met them as a team. It was the first day of Spring Training in Plant City, Fla. He told that team in no uncertain terms that he thought it had the talent to go a long way and anything short of their best he would not tolerate. He said it in such a forceful manner that the message got through.”

5) Dusty Baker, 2008-13
Key fact: Ranks third in franchise history with 509 wins

Baker took over a rebuilding team with 90 losses after the 2007 season and led it to 91 wins and the NL Central title by '10. In the best stretch for the franchise since Anderson’s tenure, the Reds reached the postseason three times in four seasons -- including a 97-win season and another division title in '12 -- a regular season that ended with Baker recovering from a stroke. His positive personality and knowledge of the game helped make him a players’ manager and get the most from his club

However, three early exits from the postseason, including from the best-of-five 2012 NL Division Series against the Giants after leading, 2-0, frustrated fans and critics alike. The Reds lost their final six regular-season games of ’13 and then the NL Wild Card Game to the Pirates, which led to Baker’s dismissal. Overall, his 1,863 wins since ’93 ranks first among active managers.

Honorable mentions

John McNamara (1979-82) replaced Anderson and was 279-244 (.533) as Reds manager, including the NL West title in ’79 and baseball’s best record -- but no playoffs -- in the controversial strike-altered ’81 season.
Davey Johnson (1993-95) was 204-172 (.543) in three seasons and led Cincinnati to a first-place finish in the strike-shortened ’94 season and to the NL Championship Series in ’95.