It was a rough week for managers who won a World Series title in the 21st century. Three skippers—Jack McKeon, Ozzie Guillen, and Terry Francona—who between them have won four of the last eight world titles, all left the teams with which they won it all.
Granted, none of them was fired exactly. McKeon stepped down voluntarily. Guillen initiated his departure from the White Sox. With Francona, it sounds like his parting from the Red Sox was a mutual decision between the front office and him.
The only manager to win a Red Sox world title in the last 90 years.
Still, it’s rather unusual to see so many leave at once. Let’s delve a little deeper into this.
Let’s leave Jack McKeon aside for a second. Yes, he stepped down, but he also stepped down in 2005, and that ended the tenure that delivered a world title to the Marlins. Last week ended the title-winning tenures for Guillen and Francona.
As it happens, this week was the ninth time in history multiple title-winning managerial tenures ended in the same offseason. Twice, three such mangers lost their jobs in the same offseason, though both instances occurred long time ago.
1926: Tris Speaker, Bill McKechnie, and Rogers Hornsby
In 1926, Tris Speaker, Bill McKechnie, and Rogers Hornsby all stepped down. All three went down in unusual circumstances.
Hornsby was a player-manager for the 1926 Cardinals who won it all. In the offseason, the front office traded him away. That makes him unique—the only player-manager traded immediately after winning the flag. Hornsby would manage several teams on and off but never win another title.
Speaker won it all with the Indians in 1920, his first full season as manager and then stuck around for another half-dozen generally successful seasons as player-manager before abruptly announcing his retirement in 1926. Detroit player-manager Ty Cobb then did likewise.
Rumors started swirling about the unexpected pair of departures, and then a real scandal broke when Speaker and Cobb were both accused of laying down in late-season games. That’s as big a no-no as a player can do, and baseball commissioner Judge Landis investigated. If he found them guilty, they’d be placed on the permanently ineligible list alongside the Black Sox.
Landis investigated and ultimately cleared both. Each man un-retired as a player and went to work for Connie Mack’s A’s. Neither ever managed again, though.
McKechnie’s case might be the strangest. It came at a time when the line between front office and dugout became more solidified, and his departure helped to do so. After McKechnie guided the Pirates to the 1925 world title, his boss, Fred Clarke, began spending more time in the dugout during the 1926 season.
Clarke had led the Pirates to the 1909 world championship before joining the front office, and tongues wagged that he wanted the job back. McKechnie’s authority was hindered by the uncertainty, and the players divided into McKechnie and Clarke camps.
Late in the season, ownership ended the friction by dumping some of the faction leaders, including some veteran stars. They also fired McKechnie in the offseason. Clarke stayed with the club but never appeared in the dugout again. It was a real mess all around. McKechnie rebounded to manage for another 20 years, earning a place in Cooperstown.
1950: Connie Mack, Eddie Dyer, and Lou Boudreau
A quarter century later came the only other time three championship managerial tenures came to an end, as Connie Mack, Eddie Dyer, and Lou Boudreau all lost their jobs.
In Mack’s case, leaving was voluntarily. After all, he owned the team, which is why he lasted as long as he did on the job. He won five World Series with the A’s, but the last of those came in 1930. He suffered through a series of absolutely dreadful teams in the Depression and WWII years.
Dyer is nowhere near as famous or important as Mack, but he did guide the Cardinals to the Promised Land in 1946, his rookie season as skipper. The team declined after that, and the team fired him after 1950. No one else ever hired Dyer to work again.
Dyer is a historical oddity. While the Cardinals declined after 1946, they also never posted a losing season under him. If you look it up, only two managers lasted longer than Dyer’s five seasons without ever posting a losing record: Joe McCarthy and Steve O’Neill. Granted, some managers, like Al Lopez and Charlie Manuel, had a winning record in every full season they worked, but each posted a losing mark in a partial season.
Boudreau was the last player-manager to claim a title, and his MVP performance in 1948 helped Cleveland win it all. He then got old quickly, and after 1950 the Indians released Boudreau outright, as player and manager. Boston picked him up within the week to play for them, and in 1952 he took over the managerial reigns.
Aside from those two years, seven times a pair of world champion managers ended their tenure in the same off-season. Let’s start with 2011 and go backwards.
2011: Terry Francona and Ozzie Guillen.
For years, people have predicted Guillen’s imminent departure. He said too many outrageous things, found himself at the middle of too many controversies.
Guillen stepping out of the White Sox dugout
But there was always a saving grace for him: Jerry Reinsdorf, the White Sox owner.
Reinsdorf highly values loyalty and was personally and professionally a big believer in Ozzie. Some unnamed White Sox insiders said Guillen was the last manager the aging owner intended to hire.
Reinsdorf wasn’t going to let occasional regrettable statements get in his way, and Guillen always had nice things to say about the big boss. For years I routinely dismissed any and all talk that Guillen wouldn’t last.
That started to change last year when reports surfaced that Guillen couldn’t get along with General Manager Kenny Williams. Also, the team wasn’t playing as well.
This year was Guillen at his worst, causing needless controversies and seemingly checking out sometime during the season. First he complained that he wanted a contract extension for another year, and then he complained that his players weren’t focusing on their jobs. (Projection much, Ozzie?)
Still, the team probably would’ve brought him back next year if Guillen hadn’t come to Reinsdorf and asked to be let out.
Reinsdorf keeps guys past the breaking point. He did it with Bulls GM Jerry Krause, for instance. He eventually moved Krause out, but only several seasons after most would have (and even then, Reinsdorf gave Krause another job).
Guillen’s departure is for the best. He is the sort of guy that can help a good team but make a bad team worse. He just lacks the patience to deal with an untalented squad. Given that next year’s White Sox may not be good, and Guillen’s deteriorating attitude, next year would’ve been a real mess.
As for Terry Francona, he made history last week. While he wasn’t the first manager to preside over a spectacular late-season collapse, he did become the first one to immediately lose his job before Opening Day the next year.
Seriously, every other manager to preside over a late-season collapse came back the next year to manage. In 2007, when the Mets were in the process of blowing a huge lead, Baseball Prospectus ran a piece doing the math to figure out the worst collapses ever—everything from famous cases like the 1978 Red Sox to obscure entries like the 1921 Pirates. Each of them, without exception, brought their manager back, as did the 2007 Mets with skipper Willie Randolph.
I wrote a column about that and tried to think of the biggest collapses that Prospectus article didn’t mention, and again, they all without exception brought their skippers back the next year. No team ever lost their manager after blowing a seemingly sure-thing postseason birth. No team, until now.
And even here, it seems more like a mutual decision between Francona and the front office rather than the team telling him to take a hike.
Though McKeon didn’t win a title with the Marlins with his recently-ended tenure, a few words on him anyway. After all, he did win the 2003 title with them.
McKeon, as has already been widely noted, this year became the oldest non-Connie Mack manager ever. Also, this was the fifth time McKeon served as a midseason replacement in the dugout, which I believe is the record. He did it with the 1978 A’s, 1988 Padres, 1997 Reds, 2003 Marlins, and now 2011 Marlins. He’s certainly the only man to do it in five decades.
He’s also only the seventh manager to work in five decades, period. The others: Mack, John McGraw, Leo Durocher, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony LaRussa. Francona has a shot to join the club in 20 years if he keeps at it.
1995: Tony LaRussa and Sparky Anderson
LaRussa: Soon to be the second-winningest
manager of all time
Prior to this offseason, you have to go back 16 years to find anothe time when two title-bearing tenures came to an end.
Anderson’s lengthy tenure with the Tigers finally wrapped up in 1995. That wasn’t too surprising.
Actually, what might be more surprising was how long he lasted.
After winning it all with them in 1984, Anderson had some more good years, but by the end, he and the team as a whole were stuck in a malaise. They won more than 85 games once in his last seven years.
He left on his own terms, though, retiring instead of being fired.
You could see the writing on the wall in spring training, when he announced he wouldn’t work with replacement players when the owners considered using them as the game’s last players’ strike wore on.
LaRussa also left on his own terms. He won three straight pennants with Oakland, and when his contract with the A’s ended after 1995, a huge bidding wore opened up. St. Louis won, and LaRussa has worked there ever since.
1976: Red Schoendienst and Walter Alston
Never in the 1980s did two championship tenures end in the same offseason, but three guys did lose their job in barely over 13 months. Joe Altobelli, who piloted the Orioles to a victory in the 1983 Fall Classic, lost his job early in 1985 because local legend Earl Weaver wanted to comeback. After the season ended, the Pirates finally said goodbye to longtime manager Chuck Tanner. Next year, defending champion manager Dick Howser stepped down due to terminal brain cancer.
Technically speaking, you didn’t have two managers leave in the 1976 offseason, either. Alston actually quit with four games to go in the year, but that’s close enough. I’ve heard several theories on his oddly-timed departure and still don’t know quite what happened.
The Dodgers wanted a new man, Tommy Lasorda, to take over for next year, and Alston may have resented that. As it happened, his last game in the dugout came just one day away from the 40th anniversary of the only big league game he played in—coincidence? Regardless, Alston left, half walking out and half pushed out.
Schoendienst lost his job after the season ended, nine years after the 1967 St. Louis world title. Six managers lasted longer on the job after winning their last world title—Mack, McGraw, Weaver, Anderson, Cox and Tom Kelly—but none of them was fired. Schoendienst lasted the longest on the job after a world title only to leave on someone else’s terms.
It’s surprising that he was fired because Schoendiest has always been a franchise symbol. Initially, the Cardinals didn’t even give him a job in the organization, but they later shifted, and he’s worked a variety of jobs for the Cardinals for the last 30-plus years.
Since I mentioned McKeon in 2011, I should note Danny Murtaugh left the dugout after 1976. Like McKeon, Murtaugh won a title with Pittsburgh in an earlier stint. In fact, he won two titles over the course of four stints. His problem was a weak heart; otherwise the Pirates would’ve kept him in the dugout as long as they could. In fact, Murtaugh wasn’t fired after 1976, but died of a heart attack.
1971 Danny Murtaugh and Gil Hodges
See? Here’s Murtaugh. He won it all with the 1971 Pirates and immediately left. It was his heart. He took less-taxing job in the Pirate organization but later came back when he thought his health was better.
Hodges also had health problems that did him in. The manager of the 1969 Miracle Mets died just before the 1972 season began.
1964 Johnny Keane and Danny Murtaugh
Murtaugh, again. He won a title with Pittsburgh in 1960 and hung around for four more years. This was the first time his heart forced him to the sidelines. As in 1971, he stayed with the team, though.
Keane spent all of 1964 hearing rumors that he was living on borrowed time and that St. Louis management would fire him sooner rather than later.
Then the Cards—sparked by the trade of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio that midseason—got hot and, stunningly, the Phillies dropped 10 straight games in the last two weeks of the season to lose a seemingly sewn up pennant. St. Louis grabbed the flag and beat the Yankees in seven games in the World Series.
Then Keane told his bosses he quit—and then turned around, and got hired by that gold standard of professional baseball, the Yankees.
Then the fairy tale ended. Under Keane’s watch in 1965, the Yankees experienced their first losing season in nearly 40 years. In early 1966, New York fired Keane, and he never worked as a manager again.
1948: Bucky Harris and Steve O’Neill.
Bucky Harris managed almost non-stop for two decades but appeared down by 1943 when the dreadful Phillies canned him in midseason. A former boy wonder who won a world title with the 1924 Senators in his first year on the job, Harris’ days as a manager appeared done.
Then came 1947. The Yankees put him in the dugout, where he delivered a world title, largely thanks to star reliever Joe Page. In 1948, Page stumbled, but Harris wouldn’t move him. He felt he owed it to Page for helping resurrect him last year. The front office was more cold-blooded, and showed Harris the door. They hired Casey Stengel.
Steve O’Neill never had a losing season in his life, but he only won one pennant, leading the 1945 Tigers to the world championship. Then the team trailed off, and by 1948 they finished 78-76, the worst record of O’Neill’s career. That was enough to show him the door.
1920 George Stallings and Ed Barrow
Stallings was a control freak of a manager who led the 1914 Miracle Braves to the world title, despite sitting in last place on Independence Day. That gave him enough stature to endure declining fortunes for a few years, but by 1920 the goodwill was gone, and so was Stallings.
Ed Barrow had a stranger career. One of the only non-players ever to serve as a manger, Barrow guided the Red Sox to the 1918 world title, their last one before Francona. Two years later, he left to join the Yankee front office, an occupation that propelled him into Cooperstown.
So it does happen that multiple managers go down in the same season, but it’s still odd to see a week like this. Based on past precedent, it may not happen again for another 10-20 years.