Who in their right mind would want this job?
Baseball managers are hired to be fired. It’s the most disposable position in baseball, with more responsibility and less direct control than anyone else on the field or in the front office. That’s why the most successful managers are so well paid and highly prized … even if the best of the bunch need to be fired eventually.
The list below includes 4 gentlemen who survived the baseball manager’s position without ever having to be fired (at least, as far as we know). Here’s the list of the 10 best in the 1960s, before major league managers had to deal with free agents or the 24-hour sports/news microscope.
1. Gil Hodges - One of the great sluggers of the 1950s, Gil Hodges pulled off one of the most improbable managerial success stories when he led the New York Mets to their “miracle” championship in 1969. After a distinguished playing career for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and, for the final 1½ seasons, with the New York Mets, Hodges was traded by the Mets to the Washington Senators in 1963 specifically to be Washington’s manager. In his first 4 seasons as Washington’s skipper, Hodges’s team improved gradually, yet finished among the American League’s bottom 3 teams for all 4 of those seasons. Then the Senators finished a franchise-record sixth in 1967. In 1968, manager Hodges was traded back to the Mets for pitcher Bill Denehy and $100,000. In his first season guiding the Mets, he led the team to a club record 73 wins in 1968. The miracle year was 1969, when his Mets leapt from near-mediocrity to world champions, winning 100 regular-season games and the World Series in 5 games against the Baltimore Orioles. Hodges never made it back to the Series. The Mets won 83 games in both 1970 and 1971, and just before the start of the 1972 season, Hodges died from a heart attack. He was only 47.
2. Walter Alston – Walter Alston was the Dodgers’ only manager throughout the 1960s. In fact, he was the team’s manager for 23 years, from 1954 (in Brooklyn) to 1976 (in Los Angeles). His Dodger won 3 National League pennants and 2 World Series during the 1960s. Altogether, Alston’s teams won 7 pennants and 4 World Series titles, and his teams finished in third place or higher in 17 of his 23 seasons. There was no “typical” Alston club. The Dodgers of the 1950s were the best slugging team in baseball. The Dodgers of the 1960s were a low-scoring team that won consistently on pitching and defense. He was named Manager of the Year 6 times, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.
3. Ralph Houk – Probably no other manager in major league history found more success faster than Ralph Houk during his first tour as New York Yankees skipper. As a player, Houk appeared in only 91 games over 8 years with the Yankees, posting a career batting average of .272. Following the 1960 World Series loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Yankees let go of manager Casey Stengel after 12 seasons at the helm of the Yankees’ 1950s dynasty. Houk replaced him, and couldn’t have done better in the job, leading the Yankees to World Series championships in 1961 and 1962 and a third American League pennant in 1963. Houk moved up to the general manager’s office for the next 2-plus years, only to return as Yankee field skipper midway through 1966, replacing Johnny Keane. He remained the Yankee manager through the 1973 season, though he never achieved the same level of success he experienced during his first round as manager (his best finish was second in the Eastern Division in 1970, with 93 victories). After leaving the Yankees, Houk took turns managing the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox for 5 seasons each. His only championship teams came during those first 3 years with the Yankees.
4. Red Schoendienst – A Hall of Fame second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants and Milwaukee Braves, Red Schoendienst spent 14 years as the Cardinals’ manager, leading the team to pennants in 1967 and 1968, with a World Series championship in 1967. The Cards won over 1,000 with Schoendienst at the helm.
5. Dick Williams – Dick Williams managed only 3 seasons during the 1960s, but his impact as a field leader was immediate, and indicative of the Hall of Fame career that was to come. (Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.) After a 13-year playing career with 5 teams (including 3 tours with the Baltimore Orioles), Williams was named manager of the Boston Red Sox prior to the 1967 season. The 1960s had not been kind to the Bosox. From 1960 through 1966, the team’s best finish was sixth place. During the other 6 years, the team finished seventh, eighth and ninth twice each. Williams’ tough love approach to managing produced an American League pennant for Boston in 1967 after a 41-year drought. The next 2 seasons, Boston finished fourth and third respectively under Williams’ guidance. He was let go by the Red Sox, and went on to manage 5 other teams, winning World Series titles in 1972 and 1973 with the Oakland Athletics.
6. Danny Murtaugh – Danny Murtaugh was the perennial once and future manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He did four separate tours of duty as the Pirates’ skipper, guiding the Bucs to World Series titles in 1960 (the team’s first in 35 years) and 1971. Murtaugh’s teams also won 3 other Eastern Division titles. Murtaugh the player (a second baseman) led the National League in stolen bases in 1941, his rookie season.
7. Sam Mele – A right fielder, Sam Mele played for 6 clubs over a 10-year major league career, before becoming a coach with the Washington Senators. When the Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins, Mele replaced Cookie Lavagetto midway through the 1961 season. The Twins finished seventh that season, but moved up to second and third the next 2 years, respectively, winning 91 games each season. After a sub-.500 year in 1964, Mele directed the Twins to their first pennant, winning 102 games beforte losing in 7 games to the Los Angeles Dodger in the 1965 World Series. Mele’s Twins finished second to Baltimore in 1966, and 50 games into the 1967 season, Mele was replaced by Cal Ermer. During Mele’s managerial tenure, the Twins played .546 baseball. Mele never managed again.
8. Alvin Dark – Al Dark succeeded as both a player and a manager. He was a good-hitting shortstop from 1946 to 1960. Dark collected over 2,000 hits with a career batting average of .289. He was the first National League shortstop to hit 20 home runs in a season more than once. As a manager, Dark directed the San Francisco Giants to the National League pennant in 1962, his second season as a manager. He also managed the Kansas City Athletics and Cleveland Indians during the 1960s, though with less success (with considerably less talent on the field). In the 1970s, he won his only World Series title as manager of the 1974 Oakland Athletics.
9. Ted Williams – Little needs to be said about Ted Williams the player, one of the greatest hitters ever to step into a batter’s box. While no Hall of Fame manager, Williams was effective in managing the Washington Senators to their only winning season during the 1960s – a fourth place finish in 1969 that represented a 21-game improvement over the team’s last place performance in 1968. Alas, the team struggled to sub-.500 season in the next 3 years under Williams’ direction. He never managed again.
10. Casey Stengel – If this had been a list of the best managers of the 1950s, Casey Stengel would certainly have finished at the top of the list. His Yankee teams won 8 American League pennants during that decade, with 6 World Series titles, dominating major league baseball in a way no other team ever has. But in the 1960s, Stengel had 1 pennant-winning season with the Yankees in 1960, and World Series heartbreak that year thanks to Bill Mazeroski and the Pittsburgh Pirates. That loss cost Casey his job, and his reward was the opportunity to manage what was arguably one of the worst teams of all time, the fledgling New York Mets. In 3-plus seasons managing the Mets, Stengel’s teams never won more than 53 games in a season. Makes you wonder how bad the Mets might have been under a manager with less of a winning pedigree.