Star Managers

Recently my son reminded me that Eddie Mathews, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, and Ted Williams all have something in common other than being Hall of Famers with 500 home runs. Each was a manager with an overall losing record. Mathews’ .481 is the highest winning percentage of the four. He wondered if I knew that (I didn’t).

It got me to thinking about how commonplace an idea it is that great players don’t make great managers. The great managers are guys like Earl Weaver who never got to the big leagues,  Tony LaRussa who was a marginal player (he hit a buck-99 in 132 games), or Walter Alston who got all of one at bat in the Major Leagues. And no one is going to question that the three of them were great managers. But let me point out a small handful of exceptional players who made pretty fair managers.

1. John J. McGraw has the second most wins of any manager ever, and the one with the most wins of any manager who didn’t also own the team (Connie Mack). McGraw was a true star in the late 19th Century. He was the heart and soul of the most famous of all 19th Century teams, the 1890s Baltimore Orioles. He hit well, played a fine third base, ran well, and was unmatched at on field shenanigans.

2. Hughie Jennings was a teammate of McGraw’s and led Detroit to three consecutive World series appearances (1907-09). The Tigers lost all of them, but the next time they got the Series was 1934.

3. Yogi Berra led two New York teams to the World Series: the Yankees in 1964 and the Mets in 1973. Both teams lost.

4. Joe Torre, who admittedly wasn’t the player McGraw and Berra were, won four championships as a manager after winning an MVP as a player.

There are also a number of player-managers who were both successful managers and star players. Bucky Harris, Frank Chance, and Joe Cronin are only three examples.

So while it’s true that being a great player doesn’t necessarily translate to a great manager, it also doesn’t mean the guy is a disaster as manager.


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6 Responses to “Star Managers”

  1. William Miller Says:

    Davey Johnson was also a pretty good ballplayer who turned out to be a successful manager as well. Then there was Bobby Valentine, but let’s not go there.

  2. glenrussellslater Says:

    Don’t forget about Gil. A heck of a player who should be in the Hall OF Fame, and a good manager, too. He was absolutely revered by Tom Seaver, Bud Harrelson, and many others. He couldn’t get along with Kranepool or his buddy Swoboda; he wanted Swoboda traded, and, eventually, he WAS traded, for my all-time Met hero, Don Hahn, the good fielding, lousy hitting center fielder.

    Had Hodges survived to manage the 1972 season, I highly doubt that Kranepool would’ve remained with the Mets.


  3. glenrussellslater Says:

    How in the world could Ted Williams have been expected to be a good manager??? He was too much of a NATURAL. He had no patience with mere mortals. He couldn’t explain hitting…. he just DID it.

    Just as I doubt that JOE DiMaggio would have been a good manager. From what I surmised from reading that good but overdone bestselling book about him that came out about thirteen years ago (I forgot the name of it), Joe would have been too egotistical. I hear that he taught batting in spring training to Oakland A’s ballplayers and to Yankee ballplayers. How good could he have been at THAT???? Again, he was just TOO DAMN NATURAL at what he was doing when he was up at bat. He couldn’t explain how he did it.

    His brother Dominic, however, seems like he would’ve had the patience to be a good manager. But we’ll never know.


    • W.k. kortas Says:

      Actually, Williams did have one good season as a manager–he won 86 games with a Senators team in ’69 that had Frank Howard and a bunch of mediocrities. If I remember, the position guys really liked him (at least at first–I know a few guys, notably Toby Harrah didn’t like him later on), but he didn’t have much use for pitchers when he was playing, and that carried over to his managerial career. I think he could have been successful for a few years if he would have had someone to run the pitching staff with free rein.

  4. glenrussellslater Says:

    Just a little trivia about Jennings, that you may or may not give a darn about. When I lived in Pittston, Pennsylvania, there was a baseball field named after Hugh Jennings. I later read that it was because he grew up in Pittston. I think he might be buried somewhere around there, as well.

    On an unrelated note, when I worked at WNAK in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania as a disc jockey in 1984 (just down the road from Pittston), I wasn’t even aware that Pete Gray, the one-armed St. Louis Browns outfielder, was living within a block or two of the radio station. I wish I had known!


  5. glenrussellslater Says:

    Yep, I was right. I looked it up. Hugh Jennings was buried in a cemetery in Moscow, which is kind of northeast of Scranton. So he wasn’t buried far from Pittston.


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