Baseball changes all the time. Some of the changes are immediate and noticable, like changing the pitching distance in 1893. Some are more subtle. No one seems to have realized what changing the strike zone in the 1960s would do to offense. Other things just seem to drop out of use without much fanfare. Player-Managers are like that. Once upon a time there were lots of them. Now there hasn’t been one since Pete Rose hung up his glove in 1986.
It actually makes since that there should be a lot of Player-Manager’s in the early days of baseball. Small rosters, limited talent pools, poor conditions make for having one man responsible for running the team and holding down a position. Harry Wright played center field for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. He also managed the team. So the tradition goes back a ways and carries on through players like Cap Anson and Charles Comiskey who both held down first base and managed in the 1880s.
Further, the expansion of Major League baseball from eight to 16 teams in 1901 meant that more managers were needed and the talent pool was small. So what better way to pick up a manager than to assign one of the players the managerial job (and toss in a couple hundred bucks for his troubles)? In 1901, four of the eight American League managers were player-managers. In the more established National Leage three of eight managers were player-managers. This trend continued for most of the Deadball Era (although not in those proportions). If you look at just the World Series, player-managers rule for much of the Deadball Era, especially early. Between 1901 and 1912 at least one team was managed by an active player in each Series except two. In both of those, 1905 and 1911, John McGraw faced off against Connie Mack. But in 1903 player-manager Jimmie Collins won. In ’06 it was Fielder Jones; in ’07 and ’08 it’s Frank Chance. In 1909 Fred Clarke played left field and managed Pittsburgh, in 1912 it was Jake Stahl as both first baseman and manager for Boston.
The rest of the Deadball Era saw a continued use of player-managers, but they were being less successful. Between 1913 and 1920, only Bill Carrigan at Boston in both 1915 and 1916 (44 games played in ’15, 33 in ’16), and Tris Speaker in 1920 were player-managers who led their team to the World Series (each happened to win). In the 1920s Rogers Hornsby in 1926 and Bucky Harris in 1924 were successful player-managers. In the 1930s you get something of a rebirth with Bill Terry, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Grimm, Joe Cronin, and Gabby Hartnett all winning pennants (although Grimm, Cronin, and Hartnett’s teams all lose). The 1940s, a time that, because of a lack of players, should have produced mostly managers who were done with playing in the field gave us only Leo Durocher and Lou Boudreau as successful player-managers. It it should be noted that both had their greatest success on either side of the war. Boudreau became the last player-manager to win the World Series. The trend away from player-managers continued into the 1950s. Solly Hemus was at St. Louis in 1959 (he got into around 30 games), and appears (I may have missed one or two) to have ended the tradition until Pete Rose shows up in the 1980s.
So why did the tradition end? I’ll be honest, I’m not certain. I have some guesses, and that’s all they are.
1. As teams got more professional, a full-time manager was necessary.
2. Expanding rosters made it difficult for part-time managers to spend the time necessary to address the needs of individual players, especially bench players.
3. Once you get beyond 1910, full-time “professional” managers are almost always more successful than player-managers.
4. It’s easier for a full-time manager to act as a buffer between players and press than it is for a player-manager.
5. Full-time managers don’t have to worry about their individual stats, other than win/loss record.
I’m sure there are others. Feel free to add your own to the list.
Tags: Bill Carrigan, Bill Terry, Bucky Harris, Cap Anson, Charles Comiskey, Charlie Grimm, Connie Mack, Fielder Jones, Frank Chance, Frankie Frisch, Fred Clarke, Gabby Hartnett, Harry Wright, Jake Stahl, Jimmie Collins, Joe Cronin, John McGraw, Leo Durocher, Lou Boudreau, Pete Rose, player-manager, Rogers Hornsby, Solly Hemus, Tris Speaker