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Hall of Fame players rarely return as skippers

Hall of Fame players rarely return as skippers

Lou Piniella's formal announcement on Tuesday that this will be his final season of managing wasn't really news. Sweet Lou is in the final season of his Cubs contract and couldn't have been clearer than when he told a Chicago newspaper two weeks ago, "I know that this will be my last managing job. I do know that for a fact."

What is news, or at least a stunning revelation, is the historical absence of Hall of Fame players from managerial seats.

This becomes a very relevant point because Ryne Sandberg, who carved out his Cooperstown career on Chicago's North Side, no less, is in the discussion as one of the likely candidates to succeed Piniella.

Sandberg may not get that job. The high-profile Cubs are not in the habit of enlisting apprentice managers, except for the occasional interim gig. They have hired one first-time manager in 47 years -- Lee Elia, in 1982, and he compiled a record of 127-158 in his colorful season-and-a-half.

But Sandberg, in his fourth season of paying his managerial dues in the Cubs' Minor League system, will eventually surface in a Major League dugout. Perhaps in 2011 -- the retiring exodus of some venerable names could merely be part of a managerial turnover that could see as many as a dozen openings.

And when Sandberg gets his shot, he will become only the second man to begin his big league managerial career following his Hall of Fame induction as a player.

Ted Williams was the first. In 1969, three years after the Splendid Splinter was welcomed into Cooperstown, he was talked into trying to pump some life into the second-generation Washington Senators.

Williams did, too: He goaded them to an 86-76 record in his first season -- the expansion team's lone winning season from its birth in 1961 until 1974, after it had moved to Texas and became the Rangers.

Williams lingered through the 1972 season before throwing up his arms in dismayed surrender and taking a record of 273-364 into managerial retirement. His experiences may have had a lot to do with why no one since has wanted to repeat the Hall-of-Famer-as-manager experiment.

The unequalled credibility he brought to the job at first won over his players, who heeded his sermons on discipline at the plate and showed dramatic improvement. But Williams was a strict disciplinarian in the general sense, too, holding players up to the same standards he had -- a doomed relationship.

Sandberg clearly has a good shot at being No. 2. Upon being relayed Piniella's retirement announcement, he told the Des Moines Register that the Cubs job would be a "dream come true for me," but kept his eagerness tactfully in check.

"If I'm considered for that job and get an interview for it, I'd be all for that," Sandberg said. "But that's totally out of my control. That's where I spent my entire career. This has been my dream Minor League job. So at the Major League level that would be a dream come true for me. But I'm also open to getting to the Major Leagues wherever that opening or phone call would come from."

It would appear that Sandberg learned a lesson from Gary Carter, who a few years ago appeared on track to become the second Cooperstown player to manage. The Kid, however, was perceived as campaigning too hard for the Mets' managerial chair, while first Art Howe, then Willie Randolph, were still in it, and has fallen off the map.

Supporters of Alan Trammell think he should have become No. 2 when hired to manage the Tigers in 2003, the year after he became eligible for the Hall of Fame. But while backers consider the shortstop's 20-season, 2,365-hit career Cooperstown-worthy, he remains on the ballot without having come close to the 75 percent vote needed for election, topping out at 18.2 percent in 2008.

Trammell, incidentally, currently is Piniella's bench coach so he, too, could be in the Cubs' picture.

Until Sandberg, or some other future Hall of Fame electee, lands a job, the historical ratio will remain unchanged: 667 managers hired all-time -- 1 as a Hall of Fame player.

There are, naturally, several qualifiers to that amazing disparity.

Most flatteringly, several players were held in such high esteem, they got managerial jobs even before they could be elected to the Hall of Fame, which takes a minimum five-year wait after the end of one's playing career.

They included Yogi Berra (hired by the Yankees in 1964, elected to the Hall in 1972), Bob Lemon (Royals 1970, 1976), Tony Perez (Reds 1993, 2000) and Frank Robinson (Indians 1975, 1982).

Then there is the simple fact that the Hall did not induct its charter class until 1936 -- ruling out several iconic players-turned-managers on this technicality.

This is a long list including the likes of Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Rogers Hornsby.

In some instances, the managerial hopes of great players went unanswered by ownerships wary of their domineering personalities. The prime example of this was Babe Ruth, an original 1936 Cooperstown inductee who took his desire to manage the Yankees to his death bed.

Finally, the situation underscores that the Hall of Fame is just so darned difficult to get into. Numerous men have distinguished themselves as managers following playing careers that were outstanding -- yet not deemed at Hall of Fame levels.

Look at Joe Torre, who batted nearly .300 across an 18-year career that included nine All-Star selections, an MVP award and a batting title.

Or Don Baylor's 19-year career that produced 1,276 RBIs before he managed the Rockies and the Cubs. Harvey Kuenn was a .303 hitter for 15 seasons before managing the Brewers. Dusty Baker drove in 1,013 runs across 19 seasons. Gil Hodges hit 370 homers and drove in 1,274 runs through 1963, and led the 1969 Mets to the Promised Land, but couldn't crack his personal nirvana.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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