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Ferguson: Name the Hall of Fame managers in Toronto

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Scott Ferguson
5/24/2013 11:55:03 AM
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This is a great bar room trivia question that is sure to puzzle a few people before they clue in.

Name three Hall of Famers who managed in Toronto.

If you're talking Blue Jays, the answer is none, at least not until next year. But we'll get to that later.

The answer is three. All three managed the old Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. Going in reverse order, the late Dick Williams led the Leafs to two Governors' Cup titles before being promoted to the parent Boston Red Sox for the 1967 season.   He led the Bo-Sox to that "Miracle Pennant", before they lost to St. Louis in the World Series.

Williams went on to win two World Series in Oakland before losing one in San Diego. Of all his managerial stints in the Majors, his longest was in Montreal where he lasted five years and compiled a record of 727-380. Dick Williams was named to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2008.

The Manager who preceded Williams as skipper was George "Sparky"Anderson, who was a fan favourite with the Leafs as well. "Sparky" went on to have a sterling 26-year career in the Majors with the Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers, winning World Series titles with both clubs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000.

You have to go way back to come up with the third name and he is unquestionably, the greatest player ever to manage in Toronto.

Napolean Lajoie, though born in the States, had Canadian roots as his parent hailed from Quebec. He was the best second baseman of his era, and along with Ty Cobb the most fearsome hitter. 

He left the Majors after the 1916 season with the second most hits all-time and a career .338 batting average.  Lajoie was so revered during his time in Cleveland the team's nick-name was actually changed from the Broncos to the "Naps", before later becoming the Indians after he left the team.

In 1917,  Lajoie became player-manager of the Maple Leafs.  Not only did the team win the International League pennant (the first Lajoie had won in his career), he also won the league batting title with a .380 average. He moved on to other challenges after that 1917 campaign.

This brings us back to two former Blue Jays managers, who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2014, the next time post 1972 vintage managers can be elected.

Bobby Cox who led the Blue Jays to their first Division title in 1985, but built the bulk of his Hall of Fame legacy in Atlanta is a cinch to get in. He may have only won one World Series title in 1995 with Atlanta, but he is a four-time manager of the year, the only one to win the award in consecutive years and has the fourth highest wins amongst managers all-time. Cox who turned 72 this week, also holds the record for most ejections at 158, plus three more in the post-season.

Cito Gaston is also up for consideration. Yes his won-loss record of 894-837 in two separate stints with the Jays pales in comparison to Cox and other great managers. But Cito did guide the Blue Jays to four division titles, two American League Championships and back-to-back World Series victories in 1992 and 93. He was also the first African American Manager to win a "Fall Classic".

Cito originally came to the Blue Jays to work on Bobby Cox staff as the hitting coach. It would be incredible to see them elected to the hallowed Hall in the same year. I'm not sure it will happen because of the huge shadow cast by Cox, but I hope one day, the 69 year old Gaston will get his due recognition.
 
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, the career of Giants right hander Matt Cain is going to bear watching over the next few years. Though he has assumed the mantle of ace of the Giants staff, and has two World Series rings to his credit, Cain's record is only 88-80. He has a strong era of 3.35. He's 4-2 in the post season with an even better earned run average of 2.10. As good as he is and vital as he is to the Giants staff, he hasn't had a run yet of truly dominant seasons. At 28 he should be just entering his prime.

Another reason  I mention Cain is because his childhood pitching instructor was none other than former Blue Jays right hander Mauro "Goose" Gozzo, who had a ranch not too far from the Cain home in  suburban Memphis Tennessee. Gozzo, perhaps inspired by what he saw in the 11 year old Cain, quit his job at a waste management firm and became a full-time pitching instructor.

Gozzo only pitched in Toronto for one season. Ironically, it was Cito Gaston's first year at the helm, 1989. He went 4-1 and helped the Jays to their second division title and first under Gaston. After that Gozzo drifted from the Twins to Cleveland and finally the Mets before leaving the game following the 1994 season that was ultimately shortened and wiped out by the strike.

His career record was only 7-7, yet "Goose" Gozzo helped Matt Cain become the pitcher he is today.

 

Sparky Anderson (Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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