RIP Ralph Houk

Ralph Houk as Detroit manager

I see that Ralph Houk died Wednesday at age 90.  He spent most of his career as a backup catcher behind Yogi Berra during the 1940s and 1950s. He got into all of 91 games over eight years, hit .272, had no home runs, and picked up a World Series ring in 1947, 1949-1953. He managed to get into two World Series games, one in 1947, the other in 1952. He pinch hit both times and made an out each.

He was, in other words, a pretty mediocre ballplayer. He was, however, a heck of a manager. When Casey Stengel retired (forcibly) after 1960, Houk was his replacement with the Yankees. He promptly led the Yanks to World Series victories in 1961 and 1962, then won the pennant in 1963, losing the Series to Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers. He retired after that season, replaced as Yankees manager by Berra. He returned to New York in mid-1966, remaining through 1973. He managed Detroit from 1974 through 1978, finishing as high as fourth once. His managerial career ended in Boston with a stint in the dugout from 1981 through 1984. He finished as high as second in the latter half of the 1981 split season. His career managerial record gave him a .541 winning percentage.

In 1986 he joined the Minnesota Twins front office. He helped put together the team that would win the 1987 World Series and provide the major parts for the 1991 World Series winner. Then he retired from baseball for good.

Obviously his glory period was the 1961-63 era with New York. He managed the famous 1961 home run record race, helping Roger Maris to cope with the press, the crowds, and the nonsense. For all that he’s easily the least famous Yankees manager to win a World Series (OK, maybe Bucky Harris in 1947). I guess somebody has to be, but I always liked Houk. He was apparently a good clubhouse man and took care of his players. Following up Casey Stengel was hard enough, but winning on top of that was even harder.

I rooted for him in 1962 and against him in 1963. Despite that, he was  a man I admired. May he rest in peace.

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One Response to “RIP Ralph Houk”

  1. William Miller Says:

    You’re right. Houk was one of those working class kind of guys who just did his job without trying to call a lot of attention to himself. Nice post, as always, Bill

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