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A Whole New Ballgame : As a General Rule, Less-Gifted Players Have Had the Most Success as Managers

July 09, 1986|JOE RESNICK

Since 1954, only two men have managed the Dodgers. Both enjoyed successful minor league playing careers, but combined they appeared in only 27 major league games.

Walter Alston was a first baseman who committed an error in his only big league game and struck out in his only time at-bat. Tom Lasorda was a left-handed pitcher who was winless in four major league decisions. He walked 56 batters in 58 innings and set a National League record with three wild pitches in one game.

As managers, however, Alston and Lasorda have guided the Dodgers to 2,859 regular-season victories, 5 world championships, 10 National League pennants and 6 West Division titles.

Baseball's most successful managers in the past 40 years have been those whose playing careers have been less than spectacular--to put it charitably.

Whitey Herzog of the Cardinals batted only .257 in eight major league seasons, but in his first eight full seasons as a manager led his teams to first place five times and second place once. Dick Williams of the Seattle Mariners, a lifetime .260 hitter in the majors, is one of only two managers to guide three different teams to the World Series. Angel Manager Gene Mauch batted only .239 with five home runs in 304 major league games spanning nine years. But he is among the top nine managers on the all-time list in games, victories and years of service.

Former Cub Manager Jim Frey, who spent his entire 14-year playing career in the minor leagues despite a .302 career average, managed the Kansas City Royals to the 1980 American League pennant and the Chicago Cubs to the 1984 N.L. East Division title.

Earl Weaver, who also never played a game in the majors, started this season as the third-winningest active manager with a .592 percentage. His Oriole teams have won six division titles and four pennants, finished first or second in their division 13 times in the past 16 seasons, won 100 or more games five times and 90 or more 12 times.

Weaver spent most of his 13-year playing career as a second baseman in the Cardinals' system. He was named most valuable player in three different minor leagues, and in 1949 drove in 101 runs while hitting only two home runs. But he never made it past the Double-A level.

"There was a shortage of ability somewhere," he said. "I hit well with men on base and I had good defensive ability, but I was a one-position player. My arm wasn't strong enough to play on the left side of the infield and my speed wasn't such that I could be a Lou Brock."

So, instead, he became a manager. He toiled for 12 years in such places as Knoxville, Elmira and Rochester before coming to the Orioles midway through the 1968 season. In 1969 and 1970, the Orioles won 109 and 108 games, respectively, along with two pennants and a world championship.

Of course, it doesn't always require someone who has played in the minors his entire career to be a successful manager, either. There are exceptions. Yogi Berra, the only Hall of Fame player in the past 40 years to manage an entire season and win a pennant, accomplished the feat with the 1964 Yankees and the 1973 Mets. Of the 16 others, 13 have done it as player-managers.

You can count the stars who became first-place managers on your fingers. Ten-time All-Star Red Schoendienst anchored second base for three pennant-winning teams, the 1946 Cardinals and the 1957 and 1958 Milwaukee Braves. Later, he managed the Cardinals to consecutive pennants and a world championship in 1967.

Eight-time All-Star Joe Torre, the N.L. MVP in 1971 and a .297 lifetime hitter, was named N.L. Manager of the Year in 1982 after guiding the Atlanta Braves to a division title.

Former All-Star second baseman Davey Johnson is well on his way to a third consecutive 90-victory season as manager of the New York Mets, who won their first pennant and World Series 17 years ago under the leadership of another outstanding ex-ballplayer named Gil Hodges.

But generally, a superstar doesn't pan out as a manager. In most cases, he starts right away in the majors and doesn't play in the minors. And the reason for that could be anything from his marquee value to his vanity.

"A lot of very good ballplayers didn't want to start in the low leagues and at the low salaries," Lasorda said. "We started at the bottom and worked our way up, and we were just thankful for the opportunity."

Detroit Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson, a teammate of Lasorda's in the Pacific Coast League with the 1957 Los Angeles Angels, said: "Guys who can't play have nothing else to go to. They have no finances to set themselves up in anything else. So they're all the time concentrating on baseball and saying, 'How can I stay in this game? I want to stay in something that I know something about.' "

Anderson was a minor league second baseman in the Dodger system who learned the game from Branch Rickey, Fresco Thompson and Al Campanis.

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