The 5 best managers in Yankee history

15 04 2016

This concludes a series on the best Yankees at different rolesToday: manager.

1, Casey Stengel

Casey Stengel's autograph on a ball my wife's uncle used to take to Yankee Stadium in the 1950s. The ball now belongs to my son Mike.

Casey Stengel’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

You can’t place anyone else at the top of this list. Casey Stengel managed the Yankees for 12 seasons, 1949-60. They won seven World Series (more than any manager has ever won) and lost three (each in seven games). He never got out of last place with the Mets and never made the post-season (which back then was just the World Series) for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves. But for the 12 years he was the Yankees’ skipper, he was simply the best manager ever.

Stengel was a master of juggling his lineup and his pitching staff (rotation and bullpen, including pitchers who played both roles).

You can’t even credit Stengel’s success to the Yankees’ talent. During that 12-year stretch, the Yankees had five Hall of Famers in their primes: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle (overlapping just a year), Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto.

The Cleveland Indians of that era had six Hall of Famers in their primes: Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby and Joe Gordon, a former Yankee. And this doesn’t count Satchel Paige, who’s in the Hall of Fame for his pitching for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, but could still bring it when he joined the Indians at age 41.

The Dodgers of the same era matched the Yankees with five Hall of Famers in their primes: Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Don Drysdale.

The Braves (Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn and Red Schoendienst) and Giants (Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Orlando Cepeda and Hoyt Wilhelm) were just behind Stengel’s Yankees with four Hall of Famers each in their primes from 1949 to ’60.

The Yankees gave Stengel good players to work with, but other teams had similar talent. The Yankees had the Old Perfessor, though. With platoons at multiple positions, moving Gil McDougald around the infield, pitching Ford irregularly against the American League’s best teams and moving Allie Reynolds back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Stengel truly reached the greatest sustained success of any manager ever.
And he delivered some of the best testimony in the history of Congress, with an excellent cameo by Mantle.

2, Joe McCarthy

If you judged just based on success in the World Series, Joe McCarthy would have the edge over Stengel, with seven championships and only one World Series lost with the Yankees.

I gave Stengel the edge based on making it to more World Series, 10 in 12 years leading the Yankees (as opposed to eight in 16 years for McCarthy). Their Yankee records were nearly identical, with McCarthy having a slight edge in winning percentage, .627 (1,460-867) to .623 (1,149-696).

I think McCarthy had more to work with: eight prime seasons each of Lou Gehrig and DiMaggio, including Gehrig’s Triple Crown and DiMaggio’s hitting streak; three 100-RBI seasons and a home run crown from Babe Ruth; 14 years of Bill Dickey, including his prime; seven prime years each of Tony Lazzeri and Joe Gordon; three prime years of Rizzuto; all but 15 games of Lefty Gomez‘s career; 14 years of Red Ruffing, including all his best seasons.

You can give McCarthy credit for helping some of them become Hall of Famers and note that players of that era had an easier path to Cooperstown than later players, and I do both. But McCarthy’s Hall of Fame lineups, supplemented by All-Stars such as Charlie Keller, Tommy Henrich and Red Rolfe, gave him superior talent, I believe, to Stengel’s. At every position, McCarthy had Hall of Famers or multi-season All-Stars.

Still, managing the egos and and talents of such a group is a challenge. Managers need to be judged on their results. And Stengel is the only manager with a longer string of championships than McCarthy’s four in a row from 1936-39. Each has won more World Series than all but two other teams. They are the two best managers in baseball history as well as the best in Yankee history.

3. Joe Torre

Like Stengel, Joe Torre, wasn’t a particularly successful manager before joining the Yankees. (McCarthy came to the Yankees with a National League pennant, 1929, in five years managing the Cubs.) As with Stengel, those earlier unsuccessful stints were preparation for stunning success as a Yankee manager.

Torre won a world championship his first year as Yankee manager and won four World Series titles, six American League titles, 10 division titles and two wild cards in his 12 years leading the team. His teams were 72-36 in the post-season.

A successful catcher for the Braves and an MVP third baseman for the Cardinals, Torre probably should have made the Hall of Fame as a player. As a manager, he was automatic after his Yankee tenure.

4, Miller Huggins

Good timing is helpful in any career. Miller Huggins had the good fortune to be the Yankees’ manager when they acquired Babe Ruth for the 1920 season. Over the next decade, Huggins and the Yankees won three World Series and three more American League pennants.

Talent makes a difference for any manager, and Huggins had the good fortune to manage Ruth, Gehrig and the Murderer’s Row Yankees.

One achievement of Huggins (192728), Torre (199899) and McCarthy (193839) that Stengel never reached: Each of them had consecutive World Series sweeps and Stengel’s only sweep was over the Phillies in the 1950 World Series.

5, Ralph Houk

Each call on this list is pretty easy: Ralph Houk is the only other Yankee to win two World Series, back-to-back championships in 196162 and a third straight World Series in ’63.

Like Huggins, Houk had perfect timing: Roger Maris had just joined Stengel’s talented team in 1960 and was ready for his epic 1961 season. Mantle had two of his best seasons under Houk’s leadership. Elston Howard blossomed as an MVP. Houk started Whitey Ford on a regular schedule, and he dominated the American League in ’61, winning his only Cy Young Award.

Houk’s second tenure with the Yankees, 1966-73, wasn’t as successful (and he didn’t have as much to work with). But I credit managers for results, regardless of their talent, and Houk managed some of the Yankees’ best teams.
Ralph Houk

The rest

Billy Martin's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Billy Martin’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Mike.

Four other Yankee managers have won World Series: Bucky Harris, Billy Martin, Bob Lemon and Joe Girardi.

Yogi Berra led the Yankees to the 1964 World Series and the Mets to the 1973 World Series, but lost both times in seven games. Dick Howser won 103 games in 1980 before getting swept, 3-0, by the Royals in the playoffs. He later led the Royals to the 1985 championship. Lou Piniella managed the Yankees twice before winning a World Series with the Reds in 1990. Johnny Keane won a World Series for the 1964 Cardinals and Dallas Green won one for the 1980 Phillies before less successful Yankee tenures. Buck Showalter had the Yankees in first place before the 1994 strike wiped out the post-season.

No other team is close

No team can come close to the Yankees’ tradition of managing excellence. The Yankees have more World Series-winning managers (nine) than any other team except the Cardinals has won World Series. The Cardinals, with 11 titles, also have nine World Series-winning managers. Only Billy Southworth and Tony La Russa have won two. Neither of them would make fourth place on the list of best Yankee managers, and they might not make fifth.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for managers.

Post-season managing and championship contributions matter a lot to me, but again, all five of these managers racked up multiple championships. I ranked them by the number of championships they won. That wasn’t the only factor, but it was a huge one.

If a manager is in the Hall of Fame, that carries considerable weight with me. The top four Yankees on this list are in the Hall of Fame, along with Harris (who also won a World Series and another pennant with the Senators). Houk and Martin probably should be in the Hall of Fame, too.

As with playing, I value peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. That wasn’t a big factor in this list: All five managers had terrific peak years as well as managing the Yankees for a decade or more.

I rank managers primarily on their time with the team. The bad years Stengel, Torre and Houk had with other teams don’t help them, and Harris’ World Series title for the Senators didn’t vault him past Houk into the fifth spot.

If two players were dead for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. Then Harris’ World Series championship with the Senators or Martin’s multiple division championships with other teams might have moved them onto the list. But Houk was better than either as a Yankee manager.

Your turn

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Left field

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

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The 5 best managers in Yankee history — Hated Yankees – divyanimakeupandhair

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