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.