With the 2021 season around the corner, it’s a great time to look back at the playing careers of some of today’s skippers — when you survey the landscape, you can put together a pretty impressive team from the managerial ranks. So we formed a “manager All-Star team” by selecting the best manager (former player) at each position. Note: the order in which these managers are listed are in order of a hypothetical starting lineup.
1. Dave Roberts, Dodgers — CF
He’s led the Dodgers to five National League West titles, three NL pennants and a World Series title in his five years as the club’s manager. But before that, he had a 10-year big league career in which he stole 243 bases, as well as arguably the most famous stolen base in baseball history. Roberts played for the Indians, Dodgers, Red Sox, Padres and Giants from 1999-2008.
In Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, with Roberts’ Red Sox down in the game, 4-3, and in the series, 3-0, Roberts was sent in to pinch-run for Kevin Millar at first base in the ninth inning at Fenway Park. With the entire baseball world anticipating a steal attempt so that Boston might get the tying run into scoring position, Roberts took off. He narrowly beat Derek Jeter’s tag on a good throw from catcher Jorge Posada before Bill Mueller singled him home.
The rest, as they say, is history — the Red Sox completed the greatest comeback in baseball history, reeling off four straight victories to win the pennant, and then the franchise’s first World Series championship in 86 years with a sweep of the Cardinals.
Honorable mention: Rocco Baldelli, Twins
Baldelli didn’t have a long career, but he was productive when he played, finishing third in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2003 with the Devil Rays. Overall, he hit .278/.323/.443 (101 OPS+) over seven Major League seasons.
2. Craig Counsell, Brewers — SS
The Brewers’ manager was a speedy infielder as a player from 1995-2011 and found himself in the middle of some historic moments. Though he was a light hitter with a career OPS of .686, Counsell hit .381 with three doubles to help lift the D-backs into the 2001 World Series, also taking home National League Championship Series MVP honors for his performance against the Braves. Arizona defeated the Yankees in an epic seven-game Fall Classic for the franchise’s first world championship.
That wasn’t Counsell’s first big postseason moment, though — as a rookie in 1997, he scored the World Series-winning run for the Marlins on Edgar Renteria’s single up the middle in the 11th inning of Game 7 against the Indians. He hit .421 in eight games between the NL Division Series against the Giants and the NLCS against the Braves to help fuel Florida’s run to its first World Series title.
Counsell played the final five seasons of his career with the Brewers before becoming Milwaukee’s manager in 2015. As he enters his seventh season at the helm for the Crew, he boasts a record of 434-412 (.513 winning percentage) and postseason appearances in two of the past three years, coming up one game short of the World Series in 2018.
3. Dusty Baker, Astros — LF
He has 23 years of managerial experience and 1,892 victories as he begins his second season at the helm for the Astros. But before also managing the Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nationals, Baker was a slugging outfielder, primarily for the Braves and Dodgers from 1968-83 before finishing his playing career in the Bay Area with the A’s and Giants from 1984-86. Overall, he hit 242 home runs, was a two-time All-Star, a Gold Glove Award winner in 1981, and the MVP of the ’81 NLCS, in which he hit .316 to help Los Angeles reach the World Series, which it won over the Yankees in six games.
Baker had the best seat in the house for Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974 — he was on-deck when it happened. He was also part of a history-making group of Dodgers sluggers in 1977, when he joined Steve Garvey, Reggie Smith and Ron Cey to become the first set of four teammates to hit 30 home runs in the same season (the Rockies later accomplished the feat in 1995, when Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga and Larry Walker each hit 30 or more).
4. Don Mattingly, Marlins — 1B
Mattingly was “Donnie Baseball” for the Yankees from 1982-95, and the best first baseman in the game in the mid-1980s. Had it not been for an ailing back, his playing journey would likely have ended in Cooperstown. From 1984-89, his average slash line was .327/.372/.530 with 27 home runs. He was named the AL MVP in ’85, and finished runner-up in ’86. The following season, he tied a Major League record by homering in eight straight games. He also shined defensively, winning nine Gold Glove Awards before hanging up his first baseman’s mitt.
But by the time his final season as a player — 1995 — came around, Mattingly had yet to play in a postseason game. The Yankees reached the AL Division Series against the Mariners that October, and Mattingly belted an unforgettable and long-awaited playoff home run in Game 2 at Yankee Stadium. New York lost that series in five games on an Edgar Martinez walk-off double that scored Ken Griffey Jr.
Following his playing days, Mattingly was a bench coach for the Yankees for three seasons before going with Joe Torre to Los Angeles to be on Torre’s coaching staff with the Dodgers. Mattingly succeeded Torre and managed the Dodgers from 2011-15, winning three consecutive NL West titles from 2013-15. He’s presided over the Marlins’ rebuild as Miami’s manager since 2016, and was named NL Manager of the Year for leading the club to its first postseason appearance in 17 years in 2020.
5. Aaron Boone, Yankees — 3B
Boone had an injury-plagued 12-year career in the Majors from 1997-2009, but will forever be remembered for his pennant-clinching home run in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox in the 11th inning at Yankee Stadium. Ironically, he only spent three months with the Yankees following a trade from the Reds, for whom he played the first seven seasons of his career. He hurt his knee the following offseason while playing basketball, and as a result, missed the entire 2004 season before signing with the Indians. He played two seasons with the Tribe before winding down his playing career with the Marlins, Nationals and Astros.
Boone was named Yankees manager prior to the 2018 season, and is the only manager in baseball history to lead his team to 100 or more wins in each of his first two years at the helm.
6. David Bell, Reds — 2B
Bell was a second and third baseman in the Majors from 1995-2006. Though he was just above a replacement-level player for most of his career, his best span came from 2001-04 with the Mariners, Giants and Phillies, when he produced 11 WAR (Baseball Reference) while helping the Seattle win a Major League-record 116 games in ’01, before scoring the pennant-winning run for San Francisco in the ’02 NLCS. His best individual season came that year, when he slashed .261/.333/.429 with 20 homers for the NL champs.
The Reds hired Bell, who was drafted by the Indians in 1990 out of Cincinnati’s Moeller High School, as manager prior to the 2019 season, making him the fourth son of a former MLB manager (Buddy Bell) to become a manager himself. Prior to managing in Cincinnati, Bell had managed in the Minor Leagues and coached for the Cubs and Cardinals. He was the Giants’ farm director in 2018.
7. Dave Martinez, Nationals — RF
Before leading the Nationals to their first world championship in franchise history in 2019, Martinez spent 16 years in the Majors as a player and a decade as a coach under Joe Maddon with the Rays and Cubs. Chicago originally drafted and developed him, and he played on the North Side from 1986-87 before being traded to the Expos in the middle of the ’88 season. He would go on to play for the Reds, Giants, White Sox, Rays, Rangers, Blue Jays and Braves before retiring in 2001. His best stretch as a player came with the White Sox from 1995-97, when he hit .302/.373/.438.
The Nationals hired Martinez as manager prior to the 2018 season, and he succeeded another player in this lineup, Dusty Baker. Washington went 82-80 in his first season, and went 93-69 en route to a World Series victory in seven games over the Astros in ’19. The Nats were 24-33 at the end of May, and went 69-36 the rest of the way, before defeating the Brewers, Dodgers, Cardinals and Astros in October to win it all.
Honorable mention: Gabe Kapler, Giants
Kapler played in the Majors from 1998-2010 for the Tigers, Rangers, Rockies, Red Sox, Brewers and Rays. Overall, he hit .268/.329/.420 with 82 homers and 77 steals.
8. Mike Matheny, Royals — C
Matheny went 26-34 in his first season at the helm in Kansas City after spending seven seasons as Cardinals manager from 2012-18, winning the NL pennant in 2013. But before all of that, he was one of the best defensive catchers in the game, winning four Gold Glove Awards as a backstop during a 13-year playing career with the Brewers, Blue Jays, Cardinals and Giants. He appeared in 27 postseason games, with a strong showing in October 2002, when he hit .357 with three doubles and a home run to help St. Louis reach the NLCS, which it lost to the Giants in six games.
Honorable mention: Joe Girardi, Phillies
Matheny gets the nod here because of his superior defensive ability behind the plate, but Girardi wasn’t far behind — he was an All-Star and three-time World Series champion with the Yankees, helping guide New York’s pitching staff from 1996-99. Overall, Girardi played 15 Major League seasons for the Cubs, Rockies and Cardinals in addition to the Yankees.
9. Bud Black, Rockies — SP
It’s not hard to select a starting pitcher for this team, since Black is the only former Major League pitcher among the game’s 30 managers. Still, Black had a long and productive big league career, pitching for the Mariners, Royals, Indians, Blue Jays and Giants over 15 seasons. He finished with a 3.84 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, nothing to sneeze at. His finest campaign came in 1984 with Kansas City, a year before he would help the Royals win the World Series over the Cardinals. He posted a 3.12 ERA and an AL-best 1.13 WHIP over 35 starts. He was also the starting pitcher in the infamous “Pine Tar Game,” when on July 24, 1983, George Brett homered but was then called out for having too much pine tar on his bat at Yankee Stadium.
Following his playing career, Black became a pitching coach for the Angels in 2000, helping guide the pitching staff in ’02 when Anaheim won the World Series in seven games over the Giants. From 2007-15, he served as Padres manager, and was named manager of the Rockies prior to the 2017 season. He became the first manager in club history to lead Colorado to back-to-back postseason appearances, doing so in 2017 and ’18.