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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Baseball Hall of Fame president is wrong about how ‘very selective’ Cooperstown voting has been

1 02 2016

Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson is in denial about the history of the Hall and the players it has honored.

In an interview last month with Graham Womack for Sporting News, Idelson said:

A lot of fans, I believe, don’t realize that only one percent of those that played the game have a plaque in Cooperstown. So it’s very selective and very difficult to earn election.

Note that 1 percent figure; we’re going to come back to it. In the same interview, Idelson defended the Hall of Fame’s use of a Pre-Integration Era Committee that every three years schedules consideration of “major league” (which means white) players from before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Consideration of Negro League players from the same era stopped in 2006. The Hall of Fame includes 29 Negro League players and more than 120 white players whose careers were all or mostly played before 1947.

That 1 percent figure is bogus, even if it’s accurate. “Of those who have played the game” includes everyone active in the past five years, when baseball has 30 teams, and none of those players is yet eligible for Hall of Fame voting. I don’t know the history of roster size in baseball, either for most of the season or when rosters can expand in September. But more than 50 players appeared for the Yankees in 2015 and 2005, compared with 40 each in 1965 and 1955, so the recent years, because of roster size and league expansion, have more players than seasons in the distant past, when all the players have been retired long enough to be eligible for Cooperstown consideration.

And the measure of how “selective” the Hall of Fame is or how difficult it is to “earn” election is not Ken Griffey Jr., this year’s first-ballot Hall of Famer, or Mike Piazza, elected this year on his fourth year on the writers’ ballot. The players who wait decades for their Cooperstown moments are the true measure of how “selective” the Hall is: Veterans Committee choices like Deacon White, a 19th-Century player elected in 2013; Ron Santo, elected in 2012; Joe Gordon in 2009.

No player who played in 1990 has yet been eligible for consideration by the Veterans Committee. So “those that played the game” includes thousands (a quarter-century’s worth of players) not eligible yet for that second-chance consideration that determines how selective the Hall of Fame truly is. That makes the 1-percent figure grossly misleading. Read the rest of this entry »





Does pitching really win championships? Yes, but …

21 10 2015

This concludes my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

This series started with an observation that the Yankees haven’t had many all-time great starters, but have won more world championships than any other team. I raised the question then about how could that be, if pitching actually wins championships?

I’ve covered notable pitchers in a variety of posts since then: Yankees in the Hall of Fame, Yankees who belong in the Hall of Fame, Yankees who had great careers but won’t make the Hall of Fame, and so on.

But I still haven’t thoroughly examined the question that started this discussion. So that’s where I’ll wrap it up. The Yankees have won so many championships without all-time great starting pitchers for a variety of reasons:

  • Pitching does win championships, but so do other factors. Yankee champion teams were often better at those factors than at starting pitching.
  • Pitching does win championships, but even an all-time great starting pitcher pitches only every few days. Depth of a rotation might be more important to winning a championship than having an all-time great as your No. 1 starter.
  • Pitching does win championships, but starting pitching is not all of pitching. Yankee closers rank higher on all-time-best lists than Yankee starters.
  • Managing, especially management of the pitching staff, wins championships.
  • Yankee starting pitchers have actually been pretty great. If not for the Hall of Fame biases against Yankees (and against longevity), Yankees would easily have more pitchers in the Hall of Fame than any other team.

I’ll elaborate on these points in order: Read the rest of this entry »