The Yankee Dynasties

added 6/14/2008 by Gene Elston

This is the story of four New York Yankee managers who skippered 51 of the club's 105 seasons - 1903 through 2007 - along with 26 others. During that period, the Yankees' won-lost record was 9,265-7009, a winning percentage of .570. However, this story is centered mostly on the four. Together they finished those 51 seasons with 4,828 wins and 3,064 losses, a winning percentage of .611 - .0824 better than the other 26 Yankee managers (.529).

The American League was born in 1901 and became a major league long after the National League in 1876. After its first two seasons, the circuit finally got what it needed the most - a franchise in New York City. The National had the Giants and the new league desperately needed a team in the nation's biggest city. Ban Johnson had organized the American League and became the president in 1901 and finally met that goal with the announcement on January 9, 1903 the purchase of the leagues Baltimore franchise for $18,000 and called them the New York Highlanders.

The first owners of the club were Bill Devery and Frank Farrell. Devery was a former police chief and Farrell was a gambler with deep ties to Tammany Hall - neither of whom today would qualify or even come close to owning a major league franchise. The two shady characters, to the amazement of many, lasted much longer than one would expect considering their financial losses and the poor showing of the club - only four seasons in the first division including three last place finishes summed up the new team in their 14 years of ownership.

The franchise they purchased had finished fifth in 1901 and last in the American League in 1902 - 34 games out of first. In the process of the transition to Gotham a few of the best players, including the manager, never made it to New York in the American League. The manager of the Orioles, John McGraw, flipped to the Giants in 1903 starting his long career as skipper with the National League club. Pitcher Joe McGinnity and catcher Roger Bresnahan joined McGraw, while outfielder Cy Seymour had already switched to Cincinnati. However, the new New York franchise would add shortstop Kid Elberfeld from Detroit, Willie Keeler, a constant .300 hitter from Brooklyn, and pitcher Jack Chesbro, from Pittsburgh, who would win 62 games over his first two seasons with the new New York franchise.

After eleven seasons of mainly empty seats at Hilltop Park, the end came for the combo of Farrell and Devery in 1915 when the team they had purchased in 1903 for $18,000 was sold for $460,000. During that period, the team's first nickname "Highlanders" was also referred to as whatever popped into the minds of the fans or the press elected to call them - "Hilltoppers", "Americans" or "Greater New Yorks". The name "Yankees" was mentioned on and off in the newspapers, as well as "Yanks". Around 1908, they had settled officially on "Yankees".

New York's first manager was Clark Griffith, but he became tired of the constant second-guessing of the two owners and late in the 1908 season resigned. Shortstop Kid Elberfeld was the interim pick to fill out the year. George Stallings took over in 1909 and, like Griffith, Stallings resigned late in 1910. He also left due to the day-in and day-out interference from the front office. Hal Chase, who bolted the team after failing to get the managers job following the resignation of Griffith, was persuaded to rejoin the Yanks and replaced Stallings for the remainder of the 1910 season and continued through the 1911 season. Chase was one of the best defensive first baseman in the game and he had great fan appeal but just did not have the right approach in running a team.

Chase was replaced in 1912 with an unknown from the minor leagues, Harry Wolverton, but he finished in last place in his only season and lost his job to former Chicago Cubs great Frank Chance. This turned out to be another disaster. Chase revolted against the new skipper and was traded to the White Sox. Chance also was not getting along with the owners. So, in the middle of the 1914 season, the young 23-year-old Yankee shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh filled in for the rest of the year. In 1915, new ownership took over and this managerial circus would conclude with a newcomer infielder arriving on the scene from Detroit as player-manager. He was Bill Donovan who would last three seasons through 1917. To sum it up, 1903 through 1914 saw 14 managers paraded through the new franchise with little to show in the winning department.

The new owners were Jacob Ruppert, a brewery baron, and Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston, a civil engineer who made his millions in public works but took off for France in 1917 to join the Army Engineers - leaving Ruppert alone to run the team. Ruppert set the team in the right direction. He went to league president Ban Johnson for advice on a managerial replacement. Johnson didn't hesitate to name Miller Huggins, the little fellow who was leading the St.Louis Cardinals. Huston was of the mind to hire Wilbert Robinson away from the Brooklyn Dodgers however Johnson's suggestion and Ruppert's follow-through helped the Yankees to be, well, the Yankees we think of today.

Exactly what possessed Johnson to suggest Huggins was difficult to understand on the surface. Huggins managed the Redbirds from 1913 to 1917 and in those five seasons finished third twice, but in the other three years wound up in sixth, seventh and last place - a winning percentage of only .455. At first Ruppert was not overly excited at Johnson's suggestion, he had met once earlier with the dwarfish fellow and was taken aback somewhat by his appearance and his manner. The new owner changed his mind after the first formal meeting and was impressed by Huggins straight-forward speech and his knowledge of the game. Upon hearing of Huggins' hiring, Ruppert's partner exploded and that decision would ultimately end their partnership. In 1922, Huston sold his investment to Ruppert for $1,500,000.

In Huggins' first year at the helm in 1918, during the war-shortened season, his club struggled somewhat due to the demands of the armed forces, but still finished fourth with a record of 60-63 (.488). There would be only one other year Huggins' teams would not have a winning record in his 12 years at the helm. He would finish third in 1919. The 1920 season would be the beginning of the team's triumphant rise to baseball dominance. The year was triggered by two dates: one on January 5th when Babe Ruth was purchased from the Red Sox and the other on October 28th when Ed Barrow was named business manager and later was elevated to president, leading the Yankees for the next 26 years. Barrow retired in 1945, overseeing the franchise to 14 pennants and 10 World Series.

The combination of Barrow and Huggins won their first pennant in 1921, repeated in 1922, and in 1923 won the World Series in the first year in their new home - Yankee Stadium, the ball park that writer Fred Lieb tagged as "The House That Ruth Built." Huggins' difficulties in running the team while they were off the field began following the Yankees' first pennant and continued somewhat throughout his 12-year tenure. He had problems riding herd on a bunch of prima donnas following their first pennant. It was a boisterous, cocky crew that kept a team detective busy tracking their late-night escapades. Most if it centered on Ruth.

Miller Huggins.
Following the clubs' World Championship in 1923, they finished second in '24, even though their record was 89-63. The team was hit hard by the writers who blamed the let-down on overconfidence and complacency. The Yankees took a free-fall in 1925, falling to seventh place, marking the only non-winning season for Huggins since his first in 1918.

Following the horrific 1925 season, the Yankees bounced back with a pennant in 1926 losing to St.Louis in the World Series, and in 1927 with "Murderer’s Row", led the team back with a four-game sweep over the Pirates. In those two seasons, Huggins had 110 and 101 wins. 1929 ended the first period of Yankee domination. The club had simply run out of gas after the three winning years of 1926-28. It also was the beginning of the end for manager Huggins who had fretted and worried his club would not win again. On September 20, after a losing game, he was taken to the hospital with a face tumor and he died five days later.

Huggins was gone after 12 years, winning six pennants and three Worlds Championships - a won-lost record of 1,067-719 - a winning percentage of .597.

Pitcher Bob Shawkey, who had retired from the mound to take a coaching job with the Yankees, replaced Huggins for the remainder of 1929 and stayed on through the 1930 season. Ruppert and president Barrow sought another manager like Huggins. First they contacted Donie Bush who had just left Pittsburgh, but he had signed with the White Sox hours earlier. The Yanks then offered the job to Eddie Collins, who had never managed, and he declined the opportunity.

Barrow then hit the jackpot upon hearing that Joe McCarthy was looking for a change after leaving the Chicago Cubs following five excellent seasons and quickly signed him to a Yankees contract. This would be the culmination of a story that began during the winter of 1915-1916. Barrow was president of the International League at that time and had an eye on player Joe McCarthy, an infielder with Buffalo. Barrow had watched the youngster's progress and recommended him to the Yankees. As it turned out, McCarthy had only average playing talents and had turned to managing in the minors in the Big State and International Leagues. During this period, he proved to have a keen mind and the ability to handle players. The Cubs spotted his skills and hired him as their manager in 1926. In McCarthy's five years with Chicago, the Bruins finished fourth twice, third, won the pennant in 1929, lost in the World Series to the A's, and finished in second place in 1930. In those five seasons with the Cubs, McCarthy's record was 442-321, a winning percentage of .579. McCarthy had taken over a team that finished last in 1926 and took them to a pennant in four seasons.

With that record, you may wonder why he was available to the Yankees? The answer is a most interesting story. In his first year with the Cubs, he demonstrated his leadership by kicking Grover Cleveland Alexander off the team for disregarding club rules while on a road trip. Following the dismissal, McCarthy received this telegram from owner William Wrigley, "Congratulations, I’ve been looking for a manager with enough nerve to do that." However, following the Cubs' loss to the Athletics in the 1929 series, which Wrigley considered an embarrassment, McCarthy finished second in 1930 with an 86-64 record and was fired by Wrigley.

Joe McCarthy.
McCarthy started his new job by bringing the Yankees to a second place finish and followed with a pennant and a World Series sweep of the Cubs in 1932. After finishing in second place for the next three seasons, McCarthy's teams took the World Championships in 1936 through 1939.

On January 13, 1940 a pall of tragedy fell over the stadium with the death of owner Jacob Ruppert. His stock was divided among his nieces and a friend. Ed Barrow took over the team.

Following a third place finish in 1940, McCarthy led the club to three more pennants and two World Series victories in 1941-43. His final two seasons were first-division finishes, third and fourth. The fourth place finish in 1945 was the lowest finish for the Yanks in McCarthy's stay at the helm. On May 24, 1946 he announced his resignation following a 22-13 start. Larry MacPhail, Dan Topping and Del Webb purchased the Yankees from the Ruppert estate for $2,800,000 in January 1945 and McCarthy had conflicts with MacPhail

During McCarthy's 15-plus seasons, his record was 1,460-867, a winning percentage of .630 - with eight pennants and seven World Championships.

McCarthy would move on to the Boston Red Sox in 1948 for three seasons and win 251 more games while losing only 148 (.620). He would finish his managerial career with a record of 2,153-1,366 (.610) - one of the highest in major league history.

Bill Dickey was appointed player/manager taking over from McCarthy but was relieved of his duties with only 14 games remaining and Johnny Neun finished the 1946 season. Bucky Harris was MacPhail’s choice to run the team in 1947 and the Yankees won their first championship in three years under the new regime. During the clubhouse celebration of their victory over the Dodgers, MacPhail announced he was quitting. Asked why he was pulling out, MacPhail blurted, "Because I want to." and in all the furor and excitement, it was announced that George Weiss was named the new general manager. In reality, MacPhail's partnership with Topping and Webb was not harmonious and he sold out in October 1947 for $1,750,000. Harris was fired following a third place finish in 1948 and Weiss stepped up to announce Casey Stengel as the new Yankees skipper.

They called him the "Old Perfessor" and he broke into the majors as an outfielder in 1912, seeing action through the 1925 season with five of the eight clubs in the National League (he missed the Cubs, Cardinals and Cincinnati), batting .284. Following his retirement as a player, he purchased a piece of the Worcester club in the Class-A Eastern League and was named president and general manager as well as player/manager. During the season, he got to know Weiss who offered Stengel the manager's position at Toledo in the AA American Association for the following season while he was still under contract to Worcester but Casey wriggled his way out of that on the final day of the season when he announced that Stengel the manager was releasing Stengel the player. As president, he fired Stengel the manager and then resigned as president. He managed the Mud Hens for six seasons, winning the pennant in 1927.

On January 4, 1932 he was back in the majors as a coach with Brooklyn. In 1934, he took over as manager. Stengel managed the Dodgers for three seasons (1934-36) and the Boston Braves for five (1938-1942) plus a portion of 1943. Anyway you look at it, his tenure with these two clubs was a disaster. He had just one winning season, a 77-75 record with the Braves in 1938. His team’s finished those eight seasons 6th, 5th, 7th, 5th, 7th, 7th and 7th with a total winning percentage of .440.

On May 5, 1944 Stengel replaced Charley Grimm as Milwaukee manager in the American Association when Grimm moved up to the Cubs. In 1945, Stengel was hired by George Weiss to manage Kansas City, a Yankees farm team, and at season's end, Stengel signed a $12,000 contract to manage Oakland in the Pacific Coast League beginning in 1946. That first season with the Oaks, Stengel brought the club home in second place with 111 wins. In 1947, he finished fourth and in 1948 the "Old Perfessor" took Oakland to the pennant and playoff championship with a record of 114-74 (the PCL played a 184-game schedule at the time). Then he returned to the majors as the skipper of the Yankees.

Casey Stengel.
The 1949 team was not ranked very high; it didn't stand much of a chance even though the team had some top names, especially in the pitching department. Still much doubt centered on Stengel because of his reputation of being a droll wit and for his comical stunts as a losing skipper in nine second-division finishes with Brooklyn and the Braves. Yet, after a spell at managing in the Yankees farm system, Stengel was rated as the top man for the job by Weiss. Most of those negative thoughts disappeared as the 1949 season was ending. The Yankees were one game out of first with two to play against the leading Red Sox. The Yanks won both games to clinch the pennant and go on to a World Championship beating the Dodgers in five games. It would be only the beginning. The club continued their success in 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953, winning for Stengel five years in a row - each topped with World Series wins over the Dodgers, Philadelphia, the Giants and another over Brooklyn.

In 1954, the Yankees won 103 games but were topped by the Indians' 111 victories and a second place finish. However, in 1955, they began another run of flags that continued in 1956, 1957 and 1958, giving them nine out of ten pennants in the first ten seasons under manager Stengel. During this streak, they tacked on two more World Championships, winning one and losing one each to the Dodgers and Milwaukee. Casey's final two years were a third place finish in 1959 and his last pennant in 1960 with a loss to Pittsburgh in the World Series.

It was long haul for Stengel but a glorious one for the "Old Perfessor" who was just past his 70th birthday when Yankee ownership decided to let him go after the 1960 season. Ironically, released along with Stengel was his life-long friend George Weiss who had guided Casey into those glorious years and had spent 29 years himself with New York, winning 19 pennants. But, really, you haven't heard the continuation of their being together. On March 14, 1961 Weiss ended his short retirement to become president of the expansion New York Mets and he hired Casey Stengel as his manager. He would manage the hapless Mets for four years until he sustained a hip injury in 1965 that forced him into retirement.

Casey Stengel spent 12 seasons as the Yankees manager, winning 10 pennants and seven Worlds Championships. His won-lost record was 1,149-696 - a winning percentage of .623.

Ralph Houk took over the helm of the Yankees in 1961 with 109 wins, 96 in 1962 and 104 in 1963, netting three more pennants. Following the 1963 season, Houk was elevated to the front office as vice-president and general manager. Yogi Berra took over as manager in 1964 as New York won another flag making 14 in the last 16 seasons. When the season ended, it was announced that Dan Topping and Del Webb had sold the franchise to CBS for $11,200,000. For the next nine seasons, the Yankees took a quick spin downward. Johnny Keane took over the 1965 team that finished in sixth place and was fired after a 4-16 start in '66. Houk stepped down from the front office to take over the managerial reigns but couldn’t stop the bleeding.

On January 3, 1973 a syndicate with 15 investors headed by George Steinbrenner took advantage of a great opportunity and bought the Yankees from CBS for $8.8 million. The general partners included James Nederlander, the head of a theatrical empire, Thomas W. Evans, managing partner of the law firm of which Richard Nixon was a partner, auto executive John DeLorean, baseball executive Gabe Paul, Nelson Bunker Hunt of Texas oil fame and Michael Burke who was a Yankee executive with CBS. Steinbrenner says, "I won’t be active in the day-to-day operation of the club. I’ve got enough headaches with my shipping company."

It took the Steinbrenner regime three years to reach their first World Series - it would be the first of three in a row. In 1976, under manager Billy Martin, the Bombers were swept by Cincinnati. In “77, with Martin still in charge, they knocked off the L.A. Dodgers and, with Bob Lemon at the helm, they beat the Dodgers again in 1978. In 1981, they lost to Los Angeles and would not see another Series appearance until 1996. Fourteen years was more than enough for the boss and it got to the point something had to be done.

Going back to the beginning of Steinbrenner's purchase, Ralph Houk had managed the Yankees for 11 seasons, but resigned at the end of the 1973 season and Steinbrenner made the first of his many moves in the managerial department, hiring Bill Virdon who had managed the Pirates the past two years. It would be the first of many moves from 1973 until 1996. Steinbrenner would change managers 20 times involving 12 men. They were Virdon, Martin (5), Lemon (2), Dick Howser (2), Gene Michael (2), Lou Piniella (2), Clyde King, Dallas Green, Bucky Dent, Stump Merrill, Yogi Berra and Bucky Showalter. Showalter would be fired on October 30, 1995 after finishing in second place seven games out of first. Joe Torre was hired on November 2, 1995.

Joe Torre.
Torre spent 14 seasons managing in the National League. He was manager of the Mets for five seasons (1977-1981), the Braves for three (1982-1984) and the Cardinals for six seasons (1990-1995). In the National League, he had a winning percentage of .470 - 894 wins and 1003 losses. (It’s interesting to note the prior managerial records of Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel were not the best before each turned their careers around and spent long and successful careers with the Yankees).

Torre moved fast in his first season with his charges winning the pennant and defeating Atlanta in the 1996 World Series. After a 2nd place finish in '97 the Bronx Bombers, after winning 114 games in 1998, swept San Diego and followed that with another sweep in 1999 over Atlanta. They would make three more Series appearances in 2000 and 2001 with a win over the Mets and a loss to Arizona and a loss to Florida in 2003. That would be the last World Series appearance during Torre's tenure in New York, although in three straight years (2002-04), his teams would win 103, 101 and 101 games. During the 2007 season, there was speculation that Torre would be fired. It went down to the end of the season when The Boss made an offer that Torre rejected and he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Torre led the Yankees to six pennants and four Worlds Championships during his 12 years, winning 1,152 games and losing 752 - a winning percentage of .600.

Looking deeper into the Big Four's accomplishments is the contribution they have made with regard to the World Series. The New York Yankees have appeared in more World Series than any other club in baseball history. The team's record is 39 appearances - 26 wins and 13 losses. The total Huggins-McCarthy-Stengel-and-Torre record is 30 appearances - 21 wins and nine losses.

Gene Elston is the former play-by-play voice of the Houston Colt .45s and Houston Astros (1962-1986) and the 2006 recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award given by the Baseball Hall of Fame. For more of Gene's remembrances and historical perspectives, visit Gene Elston's Journal.