Many managerial mainstays walking away

How’s that for a tongue-twisting headline?

I was watching a little bit of the Toronto Blue Jays-New York Yankees game on TV on Wednesday night, and the Blue Jays were honoring longtime manager Cito Gaston. I hadn’t realized it until then that Gaston will be managing the final game of his career against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday at Target Field. Gaston had announced prior to this season that 2010 would be his last.

Cito Gaston

Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was honored Wednesday night in his final home game. He announced he's retiring after this season. The Jays finish the year with a four-game series at Target Field against the Twins. Associated Press photo

Gaston joins a number of other veteran skippers walking away from the game this season. Let’s look at some of the big names heading for retirement.

  • Cito Gaston. Let’s start with Gaston. He’s had two different stints running the Blue Jays, first from 1989-97, then again from 2008 until this season. Gaston led the Blue Jays to AL East titles in three of his first four years and back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. He’s had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde tenure, because since 1994 his teams have never finished higher than third, and only once have the Jays finished higher than fourth. How can that be? Could be that he simply inherited some really talented players in the early 1990s. Or it might speak more to the economics of the game and Toronto’s inability to field a winner when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox became perennial playoff teams. Either way, not too many managers can say they’ve successfully defended a championship in Major League Baseball. Gaston is one that can.
  • Bobby Cox. Like Gaston, Cox had two different stints as manager of the team he’s become synonymous with. In addition to his 26 years as Atlanta Braves skipper (1978-81, 1990-2010), he also managed the Blue Jays for four seasons (1982-85). All told, Cox led the Braves to 14 straight division titles from 1991-2005, plus led the Blue Jays to a division crown in 1985. Despite all of Atlanta’s success, he managed just one World Series title, as the Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 1995 World Series. Cox ranks fourth all-time in managerial wins, trailing only Connie Mack, John McGraw and Tony La Russa.
  • Lou Piniella. Piniella walked away in midseason from the Chicago Cubs in what has been a frustrating season for the Bleacher Bums at Wrigley Field. Piniella managed 23 seasons in the big leagues for five different clubs from 1986-2010 (Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, Cubs). Among the five he spent most of his time in Seattle, helping the Mariners to a thrilling postseason berth in 1995, plus a 116-46 record in 2001. The highlight of his career was in 1990 with the Reds, when he guided Cincinnati to a National League pennant and a shocking four-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the World Series. When you looked at those two teams on paper, it’s still hard to believe that Series ended the way it did.
  • Joe Torre. There’s no reason to think Torre is done for good, but who knows? Torre announced earlier this month that he won’t be returning to his post as Los Angeles Dodgers manager after this season, giving way for Don Mattingly to take over. Torre is in his 30th season as a big league manager and is fifth all-time in wins. He had forgettable runs with the Mets, Braves and Cardinals. But he was at the helm when the Yankees snapped their nearly two-decade drought without a World Series title, leading NY to championships in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Couple of surprises among NFL’s unbeatens

Just three weeks into the NFL season, and only three undefeated teams remain.

Charlie Batch

Looks who's back. It's Charlie Batch, leading the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. Associated Press photo

All three could be considered surprises, but for different reasons. Figured I’d examine the 3-0 NFL teams.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers: Initially, it’s hard to say the Steelers are a surprise, considering this is one of the NFL’s elite franchises. But with Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first four games of the season, the Steelers have been winning with Dennis Dixon and now Charlie Batch behind center. Only seven NFL teams have outscored the Steelers this season. Their defense has been stellar as always, yielding a league-low 33 points so far.
  • Kansas City Chiefs: Explosive athletes, a strong running game and a steady defense have helped make for a good recipe for a lot of NFL teams, no matter how bad the passing game looks. That’s what the Chiefs have going for them this year. I thought they would be a pretty good team this year, but there’s no doubt they’ve been better than I expected. I really enjoy watching this team play. Jamaal Charles (7 yards per carry), Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas can break off a big run or kick return at any time. And the 38 points the Chiefs have allowed is second-fewest (tied with your Minnesota Vikings) in the NFL, behind only the aforementioned Steelers.
  • Chicago Bears: Having grown up as a Bears fan, I watch this team quite a bit. It’s stunning to see a team that’s biggest deficiency last season was the offensive line do nothing this past offseason to improve the unit, then jump out to a 3-0 start. The line has struggled again this season at times, but did well in pass protection in the second half Monday night against Green Bay. Matt Forte (2.8 yards per carry) has struggled running the ball, and my guess is that continues. But if Jay Cutler plays as well as he has so far – notably in the Dallas game – it might not matter too much. And Julius Peppers dominated the Detroit and Green Bay wins. The Bears did, however, get pretty lucky in Week 1 against Detroit with the Calvin Johnson “in the process” call.