August 10, 2022

Joe Maddon faces an uphill battle for Hall of Fame despite success with Cubs and Rays

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Tuesday, the Angels relieved Joe Maddon of his duties as manager. Though Maddon has a great track record, he now hasn’t had a winning record since 2019, hasn’t made the playoffs since 2018 and hasn’t been to the divisional round of the playoffs since 2017. He’s 68 years old. 

This is to say that while it wouldn’t be shocking to see another team hire him, the possibility of Maddon’s managerial resume being complete exists. If it is, will he be a Hall of Famer? He’d be eligible five years after being done managing. Let’s examine Maddon’s case. 

The numbers

In parts of 19 seasons, Maddon won 1,382 games, which is 31st in MLB history, but he’ll be 32nd soon enough (Padres manager Bob Melvin has 1,380 right now). While Maddon is ahead of a decent number of Hall of Famers here, sitting outside the top 30 doesn’t exactly make him a volume candidate. Dusty Baker (not a Hall of Famer … yet) has won over 2,000 games. Bruce Bochy, too. Lou Piniella won 1,835, Jim Leyland 1,769, Mike Scioscia 1,650 and none of these managers have made it. 

Maddon does have a better winning percentage than Bochy, Piniella and Leyland, but he’s behind Baker and Scioscia. 

There is, of course, the possibility that a number of the above names gets into the Hall of Fame at some point in the near future. Only Leyland and Piniella have been retired for more than five years. Plus, having fewer wins — even a lot fewer — doesn’t necessarily disqualify Maddon. We’re just establishing the uphill battle. 

There is a Hall of Famer with a pretty similar stat line. Whitey Herzog won 1,281 games with a .532 winning percentage while Maddon won 1,382 with a .532 winning percentage. Herzog made the playoffs six times (when it was a bit tougher to make it) compared to eight from Maddon. Herzog won three pennants to Maddon’s two. They each won one World Series. Maddon was 32-35 in the playoffs while Herzog was 26-25. 

Of course, Davey Johnson won 1,372 games with a .562 winning percentage. He was 25-26 in six playoff appearances, winning one pennant and one World Series. He’s not a Hall of Famer. Neither is Billy Martin (1,253 wins, .553 win percentage, 15-19 in five playoff runs, two pennants and one World Series). 

The positives

Where Maddon’s case would look for a boost is in the special circumstances with the Rays and Cubs. 

The Rays were still the Devil Rays when Maddon took over prior to the 2006 season and they were the embarrassment of baseball. Through their first eight seasons, 70 wins was their franchise best. Maddon weathered through two 96-plus loss seasons, but then everything changed. In 2008, the Rays won 97 games and the AL pennant. That was the first of six consecutive winning seasons, a stretch that included five 90-plus win seasons and four playoff berths. Remember, they never even came within 21 games of .500 before he arrived. 

The run included the 2011 comeback, when the Rays were down as many as nine games in the wild-card race in September and clinched a playoff berth on the final day of the season (Evan Longoria’s walk-off homer is one of the best highlights of the decade). 

In all, though, Maddon helmed the Rays’ move from laughingstock to legitimate contender. He, obviously, wasn’t solely responsible, but he was certainly a big part of it and it should matter here. 

Maddon’s stint with the Cubs moves the needle as well. 

The turnaround was already in process — so, to be clear, it would be folly to give Maddon even close to sole credit — but he still took over a Cubs team that won 73 games in 2014. They would jump to 97 wins in 2015, his first season, matching the highest total for the franchise since 1945 (they also won 97 in 2008 under Piniella). They made the NLCS for the first time since 2003. 

Of course, then there was 2016. The Cubs won over 100 games for the first time since 1910, the first pennant since 1945 and first World Series title since 1908. 

The Cubs would win the NL Central again in 2017, only the second time with back-to-back division titles in franchise history. They would make the NLCS and it’s the only time in franchise history to go there three straight years. They were a wild card in 2018 and that marked the first time in franchise history the Cubs were in postseason play four consecutive seasons. 

I said Maddon’s case lied in special circumstances and those are pretty special. 

Are they special enough for a manager who will sit 32nd in wins in a few days with one World Series title and two pennants? 

The verdict

For now, it seems like Maddon falls short. The circumstances illustrated above certainly push him up into the territory where a discussion is worthy, but he’s in line behind Bochy — along with Baker and Terry Francona (he wasn’t mentioned above because he’s an easy and obvious yes) once they retire. Then Piniella, Leyland and Scioscia would be contemporaries in a similar ballpark in the discussion and I believe it’s worth throwing Johnson in that mix as well. 

It should also be noted that Hall of Fame managers are inducted via era committees and never go through a BBWAA vote, which means it’ll be a panel of 12 voters. There’s always the possibility some cronyism (note the case of Harold Baines that was greatly helped by former manager Tony La Russa) works on Maddon’s behalf, depending on the panelists. It also seems unlikely to completely push him over a number of the names I mentioned above. 

Simply, Maddon going to the Hall of Fame looks like an uphill battle, but it certainly isn’t impossible. We’ll call him a fringe candidate. 





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