When Girardi got tossed in yesterday’s game, I noticed he had gone out to argue without his hat. It reminded me of former Yankee skipper Ralph Houk, who used his hat as a prop in many confrontations with umpires. He would sometimes slam it to the ground, repeatedly take it off and put it back on, slam it to the ground and kick it, Ralph’s hats certainly got a workout.
Ralph had a very unusual career as a major league skipper. He took over from Casey Stengel in 1961, winning World Championships his first two seasons and a pennant his third. He is the only manager to start his major league career in such a spectacular manner. In 1964 he becomes the Yankee GM with a pennant to show for his first year in that position. In one of the oddest turn of events in baseball history, Ralph decides to fire Yogi as manager after the 1964 pennant winning season, and hire Johnny Keane the manager of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Call it the curse of crossing Yogi, call it the evil eye (CBS became owners of the Yankees), but Ralph’s luck had just run out.
Ralph’s second run as Yankee manager starts 20 games into the 1966 season when he fired Johnny Keane. The Yankees record at the time 4-16. The Yankees would finish last his first year back and ninth (in a ten team league) in 1967. After that, the club would have a series of .500 type seasons finishing around the breakeven mark each year through 1973 with the lone exception of 1970. In 1970, the club won 93 games finishing second a distant 17 games out of first. Ralph resigned after the final game in 1973.
Ralph wasn’t gone for long, he was back at the helm for the 74 season this time leading the Tigers to four dismal seasons winning between 57 and 74 games each season before his final Tiger campaign in 1978, where he won a respectable 86 games. Ralph resigned after the 1978 campaign.
In 1981 he takes over as manager of Boston finishing in 5th place for the first half of that strike season and 2nd place for the second half of the season. He manages the Boston club for three more years finishing 3rd, 6th and 4th in his final campaign as major league manager. He resigned after the 1984 campaign.
So there you have it, best start to a career as manager and ends with 17 straight seasons without winning so much as a division title. Amazingly, he never was fired from any manager’s job in spite of the fact that his teams only contended twice in those 17 years (losing both times).
Ralph had his odd quirks as a manager. For example, he liked his lead off hitter to be a second baseman. Bobby Richardson was the lead off hitter between 61-63, his OBP for those years .295, .337, .294. Horace Clarke led off between 1967-1973, his highest OBP was .339 (1969), lowest .258. In 1972 and 1973, leading off both seasons, he scored 65 and 60 runs respectively. Ralph did not allow his pitching coach to visit the mound, all visits were done by Ralph. Ralph decked a singer/movie star named Gordon MacRae in the late 1960′s in a nightclub for making a pass at his wife. Ralph is the oldest living major league manager, he turned 90 last August.