Not returning to a stadium near you: former Houston manager Phil Garner
Last week the Houston Astros hired a new manager: Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills. Though he was a leading candidate for the job, many expected Houston to tab Phil Garner, who was another candidate for the spot. Garner was an interesting candidate because the Astros fired him just 26 months previously.
This got me wondering: What examples are there in baseball history of a team rehiring the manager previously drummed out of town? Are there any themes explaining these circumstances?
Frankly, it doesn’t take too much for me to work up some interest in managers. As readers of this site may have noticed, I’ve written on managers more than a few times over the years. (And regular readers of this column may have already figured out that this paragraph exists largely as an excuse for me to plug and link to my book—Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, 1876-2008—which is due out later this year.)
The remarried managers
First, I have to look up managers with more than one tour with a club. This is more difficult than it sounds for a few reasons. For example, way back in the day Jimmy Austin served a trio of tours with the St. Louis Browns. However, combined they were less than a half season. He was just the club’s default interim manager. He was never really asked to manage the club. That hardly counts.
For that matter, Connie Mack technically had three stints with the A’s. Twice he went on extended scouting trips, putting his son in charge. It’s three stints, but come on. What I’m looking for are men who were given more than one legitimate chance. Not two interim stints. Not one long stretch with an interruption. More than one real shot.
This may sound like a simple guideline, but it can be a pain. There are a few managers I keep going back and forth on. For example, Red Schoendienst served one prolonged stint as St. Louis skipper, then two different interim stints (neither of which were just for a few days, either). Sure, it’s only one prolonged period, but he was far more substantial than Austin and very few men managed three stints with any club. Ultimately, I left him out, but other borderliners were left in.
Though the boundaries can be shaky, it’s normally pretty clear who belongs and who doesn’t. The managers below were the ones who served multiple stints by my reckoning. I list them in order of their second hire:
Year Team Manager 1891 STC Charles Comiskey 1912 CWS Nixey Callahan 1927 BOX Bill Carrigan 1929 STC Bill McKechnie 1932 PIT George Gibson 1935 WAS Bucky Harris 1940 STC Billy Southworth 1941 CLE Roger Peckinpaugh 1944 CHC Charlie Grimm 1948 BRK Leo Durocher 1948 BRK Burt Shotton 1952 STB Rogers Hornsby 1955 DET Bucky Harris 1958 PHI Eddie Sawyer 1960 BOX Pinky Higgins 1967 PIT Danny Murtaugh 1969 OAK Hank Bauer 1974 OAK Alvin Dark 1976 CWS Paul Richards 1978 OAK Jack McKeon 1979 NYY Billy Martin 1981 STC Whitey Herzog 1981 NYY Bob Lemon 1984 NYY Yogi Berra 1985 CAL Gene Mauch 1990 ATL Bobby Cox 2008 TOR Cito Gaston
I’m sure I missed some, but ah well.
The list of 27 rehirings actually features 26 different managers. Bucky Harris is the only one to show up with two different clubs: the Senators and Tigers.
Harris went 22 years between stints with the Tigers, which ties him with Paul Richards for the longest gap between leaving and returning to a club’s dugout. Berra went 20 years between his Yankee stints. The only other example of someone enduring more than 11 years was Rogers Hornsby, who went 15 years between being fired and rehired in St. Louis.
Harris is also one of the only men above to have more than two stints for a club, as he served three tours of duty in Washington. Charlie Grimm also had three stints with the Cubs (though the third was well under a season), Danny Murtaugh had four with the Pirates, and Billy Martin tops them all with five go-arounds under George Steinbrenner.
Though it had only been two years since Garner was fired, there is ample precedent for rehiring someone with such little turnaround time. Martin, Pinky Higgins, Jack McKeon, Whitey Herzog, Bill McKechnie, and Burt Shotton all returned to the dugout a year after being removed from it. Leo Durcoher, Bob Lemon and Danny Murtaugh all went just over a year.
Speaking of the circumstances surrounding these managerial remarriages, I classify the above into some overlapping categories: former players, nostalgia for golden days, company men, peculiar owners and bizarre circumstances.
Many of the managers listed above played for the teams that they managed for multiple times. In fact, most of them did: 16 of the 27 rehirings had this going for them.
Berra is the most obvious example as he was a Hall of Fame catcher who managed the club to a pennant in 1964. He returned as skipper in 1984, partially due to his association with the club, almost a decade after his last job running a club.
That said, many left little mark as players on the teams they later managed. The A’s didn’t rehire Hank Bauer to bring back memories of the halcyon days of the 1960-61 Kansas City clubs. A young Roger Peckinpaugh played approximately a half-season’s worth of games with the Indians before making his name as Senators shortstop. Bucky Harris had 23 plate appearances for the Tigers.
Harris’ Detroit experience reveals a second problem with this theme: His plate appearances came as player-manager in his first go-around. In fact, many of these managers were also player-managers, at least in their first go-around. Both Charles Comiskey and Nixey Callahan played in all their stints with St. Louis and Chicago, respectively.
Playing for a team got these players noticed by the club, which can explain their first hiring, but it doesn’t necessarily explain their rehiring. Also, it should be noted this trend is on the wane. Only two of the last 10 listed above played for their teams.
Though playing for the teams they managed multiple times is arguably the most pronounced trend among those listed above, it’s less than meets the eye upon closer inspection. That said, it does overlap with the second reason, which is a bit more important overall.
Some managers get rehired because they are associated with a team’s previous success. Eddie Sawyer is a good example of such a manger. In 1950, he led the Whiz Kids Phillies to their first pennant in more than 30 years. Though he left when the Whiz Kids’ success proved fleeting, the club brought him back when their 1950s torpor proved to be more lasting.
Bill Carrigan is another such manager. He led the Red Sox to October success in the 1910s, so they brought him back when they sucked in the 1920s.
George Gibson shows how nostalgia can overlap with being a former player. In his younger days, Gibson caught for the 1909 world-champion Pirates. Later, he helmed them when they nearly claimed a pennant in 1921. In 1931 they had their worst season in more than a decade, causing them to tap this link to past glories.
Charles Comiskey, Carrigan, Bill McKechnie, Bucky Harris (Senators version), Charlie Grimm, Burt Shotton, Leo Durocher, Sawyer, Murtaugh, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra and Cito Gaston all won pennants with their teams before being rehired. That’s almost half.
On the one hand, this is just a general trend in baseball: Men who had success before have an easier time getting rehired. It’s a bit more than that, though. Twelve of the 27 cases involved a manager winning a pennant prior to being rehired, which is 44 percent. I don’t know exactly what percentage of recycled managers won pennants in their previous stint, but I highly doubt it’s over two-fifths of all rehired managers.
Even some of the non-pennant winners were signs of nostalgia, such as Gibson. Perhaps the oddest case was Hornsby. He never did much for the Browns, but he was a legendary ballplayer in St. Louis, thanks to his hitting with the Cardinals. In Veeck as in Wreck, Bill Veeck admitted he brought Hornsby to help appeal to the crowd.
Many of the above managers became associated with one club, aiding their rehiring. Danny Murtaugh was an extreme example of this. Though he served four stints as Pirates manager, they never got rid of him. They just reassigned him to other posts in the organization. The only reason he didn’t work one extended stretch in the dugout was due to a weak heart. He was a Pirate, through and through.
Pinky Higgins was in Tom Yawkey’s Red Sox organization for almost all his post-playing career. He served as minor league manager, manager and front-office figure for about 20 years.
With others, organizational loyalty didn’t necessarily run as deep, but they clearly became associated with one team. Martin may have managed several teams before becoming Steinbrenner’s favorite manager to hire, but it’s hard to think of him as anything other than a Yankee. He played for them, he took them to the World Series as manager, and after leaving the dugout he became their announcer. Similarly, Charlie Grimm became a Cub, and it’s hard to think of Bucky Harris as anything other than a Senator.
To varying degrees, one can see Bill Carrigan, Billy Southworth, Eddie Sawyer and Cito Gaston as organization men.
By peculiar owners, I basically mean Charles Finley and George Steinbrenner, who are each personally responsibly for three rehirings.
Before Joe Torre, Steinbrenner was famous for his penchant for rapidly hiring and firing managers, signified by the five separate tenures of Martin. For a while, the Yankees seemed to perfect a mixture of hot-and-cold managers, by shuttling between the fiery Martin and mellow Bob Lemon in order to shake up the clubhouse atmosphere. Steinbrenner also hired (and soon fired) Berra, two decades after his first stint.
While Steinbrenner had the reputation as the ultimate hirer-and-firer of managers, Finley was probably worse at it. He twice hired and fired Hank Bauer, Alvin Dark and Jack McKeon. My personal favorite was the McKeon situation. He was hired in early 1977, only to be fired a third of the way through the season. As it turns out, he was on the sidelines for less than a year, as Finley brought him back a quarter of the way into 1978. After 1978, Finley fired him again. Even Steinbrenner would get dizzy at that pace.
Sometimes, a manager’s two terms came due to just plain bizarreness that the statistical record itself doesn’t fully explain.
The most bizarre of them all was the Leo Durocher-Burt Shotton cha-cha-cha in Brooklyn in 1946-48. Durocher was the Dodgers manager, but the commissioner suspended him for all of 1947 just before the season began. (The reasons were themselves bizarre—basically a new commissioner wanted to assert his authority.)
On the fly, Brooklyn honcho Branch Rickey hired Burt Shotton as a one-year fill-in, and they won the pennant. Durocher came back the next year, but Rickey really liked Shotton, so he maneuvered for Durocher to go manage the Giants so he could bring Shotton back.
These are two managers I considered not putting on the list. I felt I had to with Shotton, because he had two clear separate tenures. Durocher was one interrupted tenure, but the interruption was for a full year, and his boss liked the other guy so much he dumped Leo. I have to explain the inclusion of these two, but if I left them out I’d have to explain their exclusion. It was just an odd situation all around.
St. Louis had numerous odd situations. Comiskey managed St. Louis in the 1880s, but he jumped to the Players League in 1890s. When it folded, he came back.
Bill McKechnie took the Cardinals to a pennant in 1928, but he became a casualty in a battle between warring front-office factions that offseason. However, when the team underachieved in 1929, they brought him back the next year—only to let him go yet again when the season concluded.
Whitey Herzog was both manager and general manager. He wanted to focus on the latter duties, so he pulled himself from the dugout. Then he realized there was no one he trusted as much as Whitey Herzog to run the team, so he came right back.
Nixey Callahan left Chicago to try to enter the ownership ranks in the minors. When that didn’t pan out, he came back to managing the White Sox for a brief while. Similarly, Bill Carrigan left the first time to pursue more profitable lines of work away from baseball. It was a different game back then.
Roger Peckinpaugh combined nostalgia with an odd situation. The Cleveland Indians revolted on manager Ozzie Vitt in 1940. Vitt survived the season, but a mellower figure was needed for the next campaign. Peckinpaugh had the advantage of being a known figure and a good guy from his previous stint, so the club tapped him.
Only a handful of hirings don’t fit any of the above categories, or don’t fit any well. Bobby Cox doesn’t fit in, but he has one nice advantage. He was briefly both manager and general manager. He pulled a reverse Herzog: He decided to stay in the dugout and let someone else take over as general manager.
Gene Mauch doesn’t fit any category. I’d love to know why Gene Autry dumped him then brought him back so quickly. I’m sure Mauch’s sterling reputation plays a role, but I don’t know the details of how it all played out.
Paul Richards became a second-time manager for a second-time owner. When Veeck re-purchased the White Sox he tabbed Richards as his field general. Richards had been in front offices for the previous 15 years or so, but he agreed to go back for his ill-fated managerial stint in 1976.
Bucky Harris technically can be classified as a player-manager for Detroit, but only dubiously. No one was recalling his two dozen at-bats when he was hired in 1955. He was just a well-respected veteran skipper for a team that wasn’t looking for much more than that.
The only other oddity was perhaps the most successful rehiring of the bunch: Billy Southworth of the Cardinals. He played for them, but only for a little while at the end of a journeyman career.
He arguably had the least successful first stint of any of the 27, too. In 1929, he took over a team that won the pennant for McKechnie the year before and promptly piloted them below .500. He lasted barely 90 games. He didn’t get another chance to manage for over a decade, one of the longest gaps of anyone here.
He made his mark during that gap though, as he managed St. Louis’ minor league squads to a series of successful seasons. That’s why it’s possible to classify him as an organization man. (Then again, he left after just six full seasons in the 1940s.)
I’m not too surprised the Astros didn’t hire Garner. Maybe I should be. After all, he played for the Astros for several years. His first term saw the Astros claim their first and only pennant, adding nostalgia for him.
Still, it virtually never happens these days. That in and of itself makes it difficult for a manager to be recycled by the team that trashed him in the first place. Garner might be the best candidate for a remarriage with his old franchise, but that still doesn’t mean he’s necessarily a good bet.
References & Resources
Sources: I looked through franchise records at Baseball Reference for managerial remarriages.
My memories of Bill Veeck’s Veeck as in Wreck came in handy for the Rogers Hornsby bit. SABR’s Deadball Stars of the American League helped with Callahan.
Photo from Icon Sports Media.