The Man in The Dugout

by Donald Honig

Follett Publishing, 1977

Donald Honig has probably written more baseball books than anyone else, so you may have missed this particular one; we found it at Mary Roberts used book store in New Hampshire. The subtitle is Fifteen big league managers speak their minds, and the interviews are the whole book. Honig just turned on the tape recorder and let them talk. Three of the 15 skippered the Red Sox: Joe McCarthy, Billy Herman, and Dick Williams.

Nobody has a kind word for old Billy Herman these days. Everybody knows the story of the Impossible Dream. The Sox were a terrible team with a Bad Manager and they finished in ninth in 1966. Then they got a Good Manager, and they turned around and won the pennant in 1967. This story has become a myth or a legend, and explains why Red Sox fans always believe that if they had the right manager theyd be in first place. It worked in 67 didnt it?

The Man in the Dugout gives us Billy Hermans version:

But in my mind I feel I did a real fine job in Boston because when I left, those young ballplayers had begun to jell. Dick Williams took them the next year. He did a first-rate job and won the pennant with them.

So as far as the Red Sox are concerned, I was satisfied with the job I did, especially the second year. The first year I managed there...there were a few bad actors, and we had a lot of age on the team and very little ability. We had a bad year. Now the second year we made a few deals over the winter and decided to go with a lot of younger players.

When we opened up the season [in 1966], I had Joe Foy and George Scott and Rico Petrocelli in the lineup, all of them very young then. We started out poorly and for most of the first half of the season stayed that way. But I didnt have anybody better to put in, and these kids were hustling and starting to show a little improvement, so I just kept them in there. Then they started putting it together. As a matter of fact, that club won more games in the second half of 1966 than the pennant-winning club won in the first half a year later. The only team that played better ball than we did in the last half of 66 was Baltimore--and they were World Champs that year. In other words, that Red Sox ball club was starting to move.

You can look it up. Although the Sox finished ninth in both 1965 and 1966, the 66 team was 14 games closer to first place. Lonborg was right on the verge of learning how to pitch. Maybe Yaz (whom Herman disliked intensely) was ready to become a power hitter. More good young players were on the way. Maybe it would have all happened with Billy Herman at the helm. OK, go ahead and laugh. Its an interesting idea, anyway. Heres the orthodox version, as told by Dick Williams:

In 1966 theyd finished ninth in a ten-team league. Well, I wanted a better ball club than that. My first job was to get them believing that they could play together as a unit. Then I had to get them to believe they were a hell of a lot better than a ninth-place ball club.

So when we went to spring training, we started out right from scratch as far as fundamentals were concerned. This is what Paul Richards and Bobby Bragan would do. They began by taking the whole ball club up to the on-deck circle. "This is what we do here." "This is what we do going up to the plate as far as looking at the coaches and getting the sign is concerned." They talked about every play, offensively and defensively, around the home plate area. Same thing between home and first, how to run the bases. First base, breaks and leads. Offensive and defensive plays at first, second, short, third. Same thing in the outfield. All phases of the game. It used to take Richards about three days to get around the whole park, doing it for about two hours at a time. Bragan did the same thing. Its like going back to kindergarten, so to speak.

Most of the managers in The Man in the Dugout agree that while in-game strategy is the most visible part of a managers craft--and the most controversial--it is far from the most important. The real work lies in evaluating talent, assigning the right jobs to the right men, communicating with them, getting the most out of them.

Walter Alston: The most important part of managing? Be your own self. To me thats probably the most important part of it, more so than the strategy. If you know yourself, youll know your players.

Paul Richards: Is it very easy for a club to lose confidence in a manager? It sure is. Very easy. If its obvious that hes playing up to the sportswriters or hes playing up to the general manager and not giving full attention to whats going on on the field, sure hes going to lose the players respect. And youd be surprised how many managers will do that in order to keep the newspapers from criticizing them.

The managers in The Men in the Dugout are Bragan, Burleigh Grimes, Eddie Sawyer, McCarthy, Alston, Richards, Ossie Bluege, Bob Shawkey, Al Lopez, Williams, Roger Peckinpaugh, Mayo Smith, Herman, Luke Sewell, and Jimmy Dykes. Some had very successful careers, some mediocre, and some very brief.

Its interesting to see who they learned from, and four names keep coming up. Connie Mack, John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, all from the early part of this century, might be called archetype managers. Mack, "the Tall Tactician", was shrewd but kindly. He wore street clothes and never appeared on the field. If a player screwed up, Connie would speak to him quietly in the privacy of his office. McGraw, "Muggsy", was loud and crass; his players feared his terrible temper but respected his grasp of inside baseball--the hit and run, the squeeze play, the cutoff man. Robinson, "Uncle Robbie", was a jolly old soul who ran a very loose ship. The fourth, Branch Rickey, "the Mahatma", won fame as a front office man--the proponent of modern, scientific baseball and intense preparation.

"Youre hired to be fired," say at least half the managers in this book. Laid-back managers are replaced by hard-driving tough guys. Then the tough guys get on everybodys nerves, and they are replaced by easy-going types who "just let em play." And so it goes. Having a friend in the front office helps; Jimmy Dykes was his eras Bobby Valentine--Dykes never finished higher than third but had an understanding GM who kept him managing the White Sox for 13 years.

Win a pennant, and your every move is that of a brilliant strategist. Finish last, and youre an idiot. Most managers with long careers have been both. Warren Spahn pitched for Casey Stengel on the early 40s Braves and again on the early 60s Mets, both terrible losing teams. Spahn said,"I played for Stengel both before and after he was a genius."

Since we gave Billy Herman his say, well close with the words of another vilified Red Sox skipper, Joe McCarthy. Joe piloted the Yankees to 7 World Championships but Red Sox fans never forgave his decision to start Denny Galehouse in the infamous 1948 playoff game against Cleveland. Says McCarthy:

The truth was I didnt have anybody else. Remember, we were in a close race all the way, and my starters were all used up from getting us into the play-off... I was hoping [Galehouse] would do it again, but he didnt, and we lost. What the hell, I could have started Parnell or Kinder or one of the others, but then I would have been second-guessed for starting a tired pitcher. No matter what you do, you get second-guessed.

--DN

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