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World Series Winning Managers: The Odd Trend

If you google what the most important position is on a baseball diamond, nearly every opinion piece/quote/Reddit thread agree- it’s the catcher. There’s a reason that catchers are known as the “managers of the infield”- they have to know EVERYTHING that is going on in game. Catchers call pitches for every pitcher, they help set the defensive alignments and have to worry about baserunners and stealing. They also have to squat for hundreds of pitches with equipment on, and when they finally get off the field they have to get ready to hit 4-5 times a game. So one would think that these “managers” on the field would be great real managers when they retire. And the truth is- they are (but not by a large margin).

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Ed Barrow of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees

TWSN took a look at every World Series winning manager dating back to 1903. In that time there have been 114 World Series played, and only once was the manager of the winning team not a former professional ball player- in 1918 Ed Barrow managed the Boston Red Sox to a 4 games to 2 victory over the Chicago Cubs. It was Barrow who famously let a young Babe Ruth play everyday, as previous manager Jack Barry believed Ruth should only play on days he was pitching. Barrow sought guidance from future Hall of Famer Harry Hooper, who suggested that Ruth become an outfielder despite being the top lefty pitcher in the Majors at the time. Ruth, like many other members of the Red Sox, was famously traded to the New York Yankees soon after due to debt accrued by Boston owner Harry Frazee. Barrow left for the Yankees as well and became their operations manager in charge of building the roster (acting as one of the league’s first true “general managers”). He won 14 AL Pennants and 10 World Series as a member of the Yankees organization.

But Barrow is the sole outlier- every other manager who has won a World Series since 1903 has had professional baseball experience. TWSN had one goal- what position is the best manager in baseball? The data says that catchers are the most successful- 30 championships have been won by 19 former catchers. Connie Mack leads the group with 5 for the Philadelphia Athletics (1910, 1911, 1913, 1929 & 1930), Joe Torre has 4 for the Yanks (1996, 1998, 1999 & 2000) and Bruce Bochy adds 3 for the San Francisco Giants (2010, 2012 & 2014).

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Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics

But catchers aren’t overwhelmingly the best. There have been 11 second basemen who have won 23 championships, though the last was Davey Johnson with the Miracle Mets in 1986. And you might be thinking- just 11 managers with 23 championships, that seems off? Well Joe McCarthy, who managed the Yankees at the end of “Murder’s Row” and the beginning of the Joe DiMaggio eras, is tied with Casey Stengel (a right fielder in case you’re wondering), for most World Series won by a manager with 7. And yes, those two men account for 14 of the 27 titles won by the Yankees- an MLB record. The second basemen group also sport Walter Alston, who has 4 WS titles with the Dodgers including the famous 1955 win over the cross town rival Yankees. Miller Huggins and Sparky Anderson each add 3 titles as well for the group.

One issue we had when collecting the data was players with multiple positions. We did our best to assign players to the position they played significantly the most in their careers, but it was tough for some. Case in point- 2018 World Series Champion Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox. Cora played professionally from 1998 to 2011 and played in 1208 games- of those he played shortstop for 616 and second base for 530 (he also added 48 at 3B and 13 at 1B, along with some stints as a DH and 2 games in the OF). For our data, we considered Cora simply an INFIELDER (IF), rather than assign him a specific position.

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Tony La Russa as a member of the Athletics’ organization

We also ran into this issue with Tony La Russa, who won 3 World Series with both the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals. La Russa had a very short career, though it did extend over 6 seasons in the 1960s and 70s. In total, he played in just 132 games, playing in the field 83 times (he retired 2 years before the designated hitter was introduced). Of those 83 games, he only started 40. He came up to the big leagues as a shortstop for the Kansas City Athletics, but played more games as a second basemen. Numbers wise, he technically played nearly 76% of his games in the field as a second basemen, but if you look at complete games (which he played in the field for all 9 innings and/or extra innings), that number is 24 of 34 games, or ~70%. The sample size was just too small, and truthfully La Russa has significantly less playing experience than most.

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Cito Gaston as manager for the Toronto Blue Jays

The final problem group were outfielders- this group includes 4 championships from 3 men- Mayo Smith (Detroit ’68), Whitey Herzog (St. Louis ’82) and Cito Gaston (Toronto ’92 and ’93). Smith played just one season in 1945 for the Philadelphia Athletics, where he played 73 total games and was in the field for 65 of them. His breakdown in the outfield was- 32 in left, 28 in center, 7 in right. Herzog played 8 seasons for 4 teams from 1956 to 1963. Of the 634 games he played in, he played in the field 487 times. He has an interesting breakdown in the outfield because he never played any position for more than 50% of the time (he also played 37 games at 1B too)- 212 as a RF, 134 as a CF, and 114 in right. Gaston has the longest career of the 3, appearing in over 1000 games over an 11-year career. He played in the outfield 773 times, with a defensive breakdown of 410 in center, 283 in right and 91 in left.

Besides Barrow, the infielders and the outfielders, we have a pretty simple sample. This research only brought up a host of more things to be curious about. What if we expanded it to pennant winning managers instead of just WS champions? What about playoff performance vs. regular season performance? Do certain managers from certain positions coach differently than others? The list goes on and on, but the data points to a few simple conclusions. Yes, managers who were formerly catchers have won the most World Series, both overall and recently. Does that mean they are the smartest? Not necessarily, but an argument could be made that they are if you equate championships won to intelligence. Perhaps we will see a new wave of managerial types in this century too- DH’s, former scouts or general managers, heck maybe even “outsiders” like Barrow was. One thing IS certain- baseball is becoming more technology/analytics driven than ever before, and studies like this could be what influence hirings in front offices across the sport in the future.

Data:

YearTeamManagerPosition
1903Boston AmericansJimmy Collins3B
1905New York GiantsJohn McGraw3B
1906Chicago White SoxFielder JonesCF
1907Chicago CubsFrank Chance1B
1908Chicago CubsFrank Chance1B
1909Pittsburgh PiratesFred ClarkeLF
1910Philadelphia AthleticsConnie MackC
1911Philadelphia AthleticsConnie MackC
1912Boston Red SoxJake Stahl1B
1913Philadelphia AthleticsConnie MackC
1914Boston BravesGeorge StallingsC
1915Boston Red SoxBill CarriganC
1916Boston Red SoxBill CarriganC
1917Chicago White SoxPants RowlandC
1918Boston Red SoxEd BarrowNOT APPLICABLE
1919Cincinnati RedsPat MoranC
1920Cleveland IndiansTris SpeakerCF
1921New York GiantsJohn McGraw3B
1922New York GiantsJohn McGraw3B
1923New York YankeesMiller Huggins2B
1924Washington SenatorsBucky Harris2B
1925Pittsburgh PiratesBill McKechnie3B
1926St. Louis CardinalsRogers Horsnby2B
1927New York YankeesMiller Huggins2B
1928New York YankeesMiller Huggins2B
1929Philadelphia AthleticsConnie MackC
1930Philadelphia AthleticsConnie MackC
1931St. Louis CardinalsGabby StreetC
1932New York YankeesJoe McCarthy2B
1933New York GiantsBill Terry1B
1934St. Louis CardinalsFrank Frisch2B
1935Detroit TigersMickey CochraneC
1936New York YankeesJoe McCarthy2B
1937New York YankeesJoe McCarthy2B
1938New York YankeesJoe McCarthy2B
1939New York YankeesJoe McCarthy2B
1940Cincinnati RedsBill McKechnie3B
1941New York YankeesJoe McCarthy2B
1942St. Louis CardinalsBilly SouthworthRF
1943New York YankeesJoe McCarthy2B
1944St. Louis CardinalsBilly SouthworthRF
1945Detroit TigersSteve O’NeillC
1946St. Louis CardinalsEddie DyerP
1947New York YankeesBucky Harris2B
1948Cleveland IndiansLou BoudreauSS
1949New York YankeesCasey StengelRF
1950New York YankeesCasey StengelRF
1951New York YankeesCasey StengelRF
1952New York YankeesCasey StengelRF
1953New York YankeesCasey StengelRF
1954New York GiantsLeo DurocherSS
1955Brooklyn DodgersWalter Alston1B
1956New York YankeesCasey StengelRF
1957Milwaukee BravesFred Haney3B
1958New York YankeesCasey StengelRF
1959Los Angeles DodgersWalter Alston1B
1960Pittsburgh PiratesDanny Murtaugh2B
1961New York YankeesRalph HoukC
1962New York YankeesRalph HoukC
1963Los Angeles DodgersWalter Alston1B
1964St. Louis CardinalsJohnny KeaneSS
1965Los Angeles DodgersWalter Alston1B
1966Baltimore OriolesHank BauerRF
1967St. Louis CardinalsRed Schoendienst2B
1968Detroit TigersMayo SmithOF
1969New York MetsGil Hodges1B
1970Baltimore OriolesEarl Weaver2B
1971Pittsburgh PiratesDanny Murtaugh2B
1972Oakland AthleticsDick WilliamsLF/3B
1973Oakland AthleticsDick WilliamsLF/3B
1974Oakland AthleticsAlvin DarkSS
1975Cincinnati RedsSparky Anderson2B
1976Cincinnati RedsSparky Anderson2B
1977New York YankeesBilly Martin2B
1978New York YankeesBob LemonP
1979Pittsburgh PiratesChuck TannerLF
1980Philadelphia PhilliesDallas GreenP
1981Los Angeles DodgersTom LasordaP
1982St. Louis CardinalsWhitey HerzogOF
1983Baltimore OriolesJoe Altobelli1B
1984Detroit TigersSparky Anderson2B
1985Kansas City RoyalsDick HowserSS
1986New York MetsDavey Johnson2B
1987Minnesota TwinsTom Kelly1B
1988Los Angeles DodgersTom LasordaP
1989Oakland AthleticsTony La RussaIF
1990Cincinnati RedsLou PiniellaLF
1991Minnesota TwinsTom Kelly1B
1992Toronto Blue JaysCito GastonOF
1993Toronto Blue JaysCito GastonOF
1995Atlanta BravesBobby Cox3B
1996New York YankeesJoe TorreC
1997Florida MarlinsJim LeylandC
1998New York YankeesJoe TorreC
1999New York YankeesJoe TorreC
2000New York YankeesJoe TorreC
2001Arizona DiamondbacksBob BrenlyC
2002Anaheim AngelsMike SciosciaC
2003Florida MarlinsJack McKeonC
2004Boston Red SoxTerry Francona1B
2005Chicago White SoxOzzie GuillénSS
2006St. Louis CardinalsTony La RussaIF
2007Boston Red SoxTerry Francona1B
2008Philadelphia PhilliesCharlie ManuelLF
2009New York YankeesJoe GirardiC
2010San Francsico GiantsBruce BochyC
2011St. Louis CardinalsTony La RussaIF
2012San Francsico GiantsBruce BochyC
2013Boston Red SoxJohn FarrellP
2014San Francsico GiantsBruce BochyC
2015Kansas City RoyalsNed YostC
2016Chicago CubsJoe MaddonC
2017Houston AstrosA.J. HinchC
2018Boston Red SoxAlex CoraIF

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