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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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 »





Yankee starting pitchers with the greatest teammates: Bullet Joe Bush and Mike Torrez

17 10 2015

This continues my series on Yankee starting pitchers.

Bullet Joe Bush and Mike Torrez didn’t spend long with the Yankees (or many teams). But they pitched well for New York. And they have two of the most amazing groups of teammates of any players in major league history.

This is perhaps the oddest post in this series, but it’s a topic that has fascinated me for years: the coincidence of players’ intersecting careers. And since two of the players with the most awesome collections of teammates in baseball history were briefly starting pitchers for the Yankees, I couldn’t resist. I think these two might have the best teammate collections. Or two of the best three.

Bullet Joe Bush

New York Yankees

Bullet Joe Bush

Wikimedia photo

Bush pitched three solid years for the Yankees, going 26-7 in 1922, 19-15 in ’23 and 17-16 in ’24. His Yankee teammates included Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle CombsHome Run Baker, Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

The Yankees were managed by yet another Hall of Famer, Miller Huggins.

Another Yankee teammate, Lefty O’Doul, might have made the Hall of Fame if he had started out playing the outfield. He was a fellow pitcher of Bush’s with the Yankees at age 25, but O’Doul was an unremarkable pitcher, going 1-1 and getting only one start in four years with the Yankees and Red Sox. He finally made it back to the majors as an outfielder in 1928 at age 31 and won two batting titles, hitting .398 in 1929 and .368 in 1932. His .349 career batting average is the fourth-highest of all time, behind Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby (both Bush teammates, as you’ll see shortly) and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

O’Doul might be second to Babe Ruth among players who both pitched and played other positions in the major leagues. Which tells you how great Ruth was. O’Doul was an awful pitcher who revived his career by moving to the outfield. Ruth was a Hall of Fame pitcher who was such a great hitter they had to play him every day.

Philadelphia A’s (second time)

In his final year, Bush was lucky to play with the most amazing collection of offensive talent I’ve found in any team, the 1928 Philadelphia A’s (I wrote a story on this team for Baseball Digest back in the 1980s). Unfortunately, most of this talent wasn’t in its prime, so the A’s finished second that year, behind the Yankees. But these were Bush’s Hall of Fame teammates that year: Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Al Simmons and Lefty Grove. (Speaker, along with Cobb, Hornsby and O’Doul makes four of the top six all-time leading batters who played with Bush. Throw in Ruth and Bush played with five of the top 10.) Read the rest of this entry »





All-time Yankees’ World Series team

1 11 2009

Here’s my all-time Yankees World Series team (based solely on World Series performance for the Yankees):

Catcher: Yogi Berra, all-time World Series leader in at-bats (259), hits (71) and doubles (10, tied with Frankie Frisch), third in homers with 12, second in RBI with 39. Won nine World Series, played in 14, managed in terrific seven-game series lost to Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and a great Cardinals team. His great numbers weren’t just from longevity. He had great Series performances, most notably three homers and 10 RBI and catching Don Larson’s perfect game in 1956. I have two balls with Berra’s signature, one as Yogi and one, when he was younger, as “Larry Berra.”berra Read the rest of this entry »