Didn’t it seem bizarre that the New York Yankees ignored their Bidecacentennial? Doesn’t anyone cherish their heritage any more?
But even though George Steinbrenner’s kid turned a blind eye to the franchise’s 120th anniversary, doesn’t mean I have to.
That’s why I’ve written this list that no one asked for. It’s my website, I’ll make an unnecessary list if I want to.
When the Yankees played their first season in 1903, they weren’t in pinstripes. They weren’t even Yankees. The team nickname was “Highlanders,” because their ballpark was in the hilly part of New York City. It wasn’t until 1912 that the Yankees played in pinstripes, and it wasn’t until the following spring that the team was called “the Yankees.”
But prior to those noteworthy franchise developments, the team needed a manager. And while most of you can’t name a Yankees manager from before the 1960s, we’re going to get into it.
The Yankees have had 33 managers. Only three men have held the job since 1996, which as we’ll see, is a remarkable stretch of stability, seeing as how the megalomaniac George Steinbrenner fired his managers almost every spring.
The only note I’ll make about this list is that it’s not intended to rate the managers based solely on how much they won. Most of us know which Yankees skippers won a lot of championships. We also know that just because you can win doesn’t mean you are a great manager. I’m certain my Uncle Bob could have won pennants with the Derek Jeter era Yanks.
Let’s start our list of The Yankees Greatest Managers with the worst and advance to the best Yankees manager of all-time.
A cautionary tale against rewarding a man for one well-placed pop fly. Dent seemed like he should have been a pesky and prolific manager (guys named Bucky, Billy, and Stump should be great skippers, yes?), but he was a total failure as a replacement for Dallas Green and quickly dismissed the following season less than two months into the schedule.
“I love Bucky,” George Steinbrenner said. “But he’s the biggest mistake I ever made in that job.”
1989-1990 // .404 PCT // no titles // fired by george
A selfish player and a cheat, Chase was a close friend of Yankees owner Frank Farrell, who was an inveterate gambler. The two men deserved each other.
During the 1910 season, Chase grew tired of manager George Stallings, an old fashioned and live-by-the-rules type. Chase convinced Farrell to fire Stallings and name himself as manager. Since Chase was usually taking bribes to lose games, this was a dreadful idea, but Farrell really didn’t care much.
The Highlanders went 86-80 in the two years Horrible Hal was in the manager’s seat. Chase was later expelled from baseball for throwing games.
1910-1911 // .518 PCT // no titles
A baseball lifer who paid his dues managing all over the country in countless leagues. For some reason, Yankees owner Frank Farrell picked Wolverton to lead his team in 1912. The team lost 102 games, finished last, and Wolverton was returned to the obscurity he came from.
1912 // .329 PCT // no titles
There are a lot of reasons to remember Kid Elberfeld, but one of them is not his stint as manager of New York, which lasted 98 games and produced just 27 wins.
1908 // .276 PCT // no titles
Replaced Bucky Dent, and somehow lasted one full season of his own.
Merrill was another one of the Yankee lifers that Steinbrenner liked to keep around, like a comfortable recliner. He even sort of looked like a recliner.
“I bought into Steinbrenner’s philosophy and he trusted me,” Merrill said. “He truly epitomized what baseball and the Yankees are all about.”
1990-1991 // .436 PCT // no titles // Fired by George
An excellent shortstop, Fletcher was a coach under Miller Huggins, who died during the 1929 season. Fletch took over, but only had 11 games in the skipper’s seat. He was kept on by Joe McCarthy and spent nearly two decades as the third base coach, waving in Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio and many others, and winning seven titles as a Yankees coach.
1929 // .545 PCT // no titles
Managed only 14 games after Joe McCarthy stepped down in the 1946 season. He later spent decades with several organizations in the game.
1946 // .571 PCT // no titles
One of George Steinbrenner’s trusty moves was firing coaches. He liked to think of the Yankees like a football team, and to George, a new coaching philosophy could bring X’s and O’s to somehow(?) reverse fortune for his baseball team.
It never worked, of course. It was utter poppycock. George was an egomaniac and a bully. He was pestered by two competing personality traits: impatience and sentimentality. He was also a horse’s ass, and he did win a lot.
But not under Dallas Green, who was probably the smartest man who ever served as manager under The Boss. But there’s only room for one strong, loudmouthed leader on the Yankees, and it was never going to work with Green and George.
With the Yankees 7.5 games out in mid-August in 1989, Green was fired following a public spat with Steinbrenner, who wanted to fire the coaching staff, which was handpicked by the manager.
“We had a meeting,” Green said. “I didn’t get loud. You don’t have to scream and yell to make yourself understood. I told him you don’t fire the coaches, you fire the head honcho and take the people with him.
I don’t think it was any secret we’re both strong-willed,” Green continued. “I’ve always said let the chips fall where they may. It’s just that sometimes they fall badly.”
1989 // .463 PCT // no titles // Fired by George
Shawkey was very well respected in baseball, first as a star pitcher. He won 195 games, 168 of them in the Yankee pinstripes. He was a member of the first three Yankees teams that won the World Series.
After several candidates refused the Yankee job (including Eddie Collins), owner Jacob Ruppert’s choice to replace Miller Huggins for the 1930 season, who died suddenly in 1929.
The Yankees played inspiringly for Shawkey, and hung around first place until midseason before fading. But Ruppert pounced when former Cubs’ manager Joe McCarthy became available, and Bob was sent packing that offseason.
Shawkey’s biggest contribution was as a pitching evaluator: he convinced Ruppert to acquire pitcher Red Ruffing from the Red Sox. Ruffing had a 39-96 record with Boston, but Shawkey saw something in his delivery he liked. Red went on to win 231 games for the Yankees in a Hall of Fame career.
1930 // .558 PCT // No Pennants
If you stick around long enough and you were a great player, your team will probably give you a job. Dickey was an All-Star catcher for the Yankees before he served in World War II. When he came back he was sort of a player/coach, and when Joe McCarthy stepped down in May of 1946, Dickey was offered the job. He dutifully filled it for a few months, but when he asked ownership if he would come back in 1947, he was not given an answer and resigned.
“I have no hard feelings about not managing,” Dickey said. “I didn’t enjoy it.”
RELATED: Yankees All-Time Team
1946 // .543 PCT // No Pennants
Following the debacle that was Yogi Berra’s first stint as Yankee manager (the team won the pennant, lost the World Series, and their manager never gained the respect of his players), the team brought in Keane, fresh off his success with the Cardinals.
The Yankee brass had seen a lot of Keane in the seven game 1964 World Series that St. Louis won over them. Someone in the front office developed a man(ager) crush on Keane, who was never comfortable in New York.
He was axed just 20 games into the 1966 season with the aging, undermanned Yankees at 4-16.
1965-1966 // .445 PCT // No Pennants
King was given the managerial job as a reward for his many years of service to Steinbrenner. He was a scout, pitching coach, assistant GM, and special advisor to The Boss for years, and when Gene Michael had the team at 50-50 in 1982, Steinbrenner elevated (or sacrificed?) King to the position. He finished out the year before being replaced by…Billy Martin, of course.
1982 // .468 PCT // No Pennants // Fired by George
Took over from Frank Chance for the last 20 games of the 1914 season. That was unusual because Peckinpaugh was a 23-year old shortstop in just his second season with the Yankees. He didn’t really want the job, and the next spring he was just the shortstop. “Peck” was a helluva defensive player, spending nine seasons with the pinstripers.
1914 // .500 PCT // No Pennants
Improved the team by 23 wins in his first season, all of them while he wore his trademark suit and Panama hat.
But Stallings was fired in the middle of his second year as New York manager when his star first baseman, Hal Chase, convinced the owner to give him the job.
1909-1910 // .528 PCT // No Pennants
The Yankees hired Donovan, a former star pitcher, after they failed to lure Hughie Jennings away from Detroit. Donovan had enjoyed success as skipper for the Providence club in the International League, and Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert signed “Smiling Bill” to helm his club for the 1915 season.
Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote of Donovan: “[He] is unlike any other man in the game with a managerial job…he believes in leading, rather than driving…We believe he is going to play a big part in the new destiny of the Yanks.”
Donovan led the Yankees for three full seasons, the first two as player-manager.
The Yanks had their first winning season since 1911 under Donovan, in 1915. But injuries and constant roster tinkering waylaid the club. In 1917, AL president Ban Johnson orchestrated a transfer of Miller Huggins’ contract from the Cardinals to New York (Johnson always wanted to have a strong franchise in the league’s biggest city). Donovan was released after a 220-239 record in three seasons.
“I still think that barring injuries and hard luck Bill Donovan would have brought the Yankees their first pennant. The hardest thing I ever had to do was release him.” Ruppert told his biographer years later.
In 1923, Donovan was killed in an infamous train accident in New York that claimed the lives of nine people. Before his death, it was rumored that Washington was going to hire him to be their manager.
1915-1917 // .479 PCT // No Pennants
An astute manager who pioneered many defensive positioning plays while he was with the Chicago Cubs. Chance had been a boxer when he was younger, and he commanded respect from his players. He won four pennants for the Cubs.
The Yankees were a 102-loss team when Chance was hired as player-manager for the 1913 season.
But Chance was not himself by 1913: a series of beanings had caused multiple concussions, and a year earlier he had brain surgery. The procedure left him less equipped to handle the rigors of a long baseball season. He only played sparsely for New York, and led the team to a seventh-place finish.
Chance had little talent on the roster, and by September of 1914 he was not healthy enough to continue. He resigned and moved back to California where he became a millionaire thanks to the part ownership stake he had secured in his Cubs days.
1913-1914 // .411 PCT // No Pennants
No one should blame Boone because the Yankees haven’t won a pennant during his tenure. It’s hard to win in the MLB Playoffs now, harder than ever. No one should blame Boone for the sad sack, one-dimensional, uninteresting status of his roster.
Boone ranks this low because he’s more errand boy than manager. Boone is a baseball manager like the hostess is a chef at a 4-star restaurant. Boone is a manager in the same way the stewardess is a pilot because she’s wearing a uniform on a plane.
The Yankees make their decisions by spreadsheet. Brian Cashman is the architect in consultation with dozens of members of the Yanks analytics staff. Push-button manager? Boone doesn’t even get to see the buttons.
Do you like spreadsheets? Do you enjoy a good algorithm? Good for you. But it’s boring as hell for baseball fans. That’s why the Yankees have been so dull the last several years. Like pinstripe-clad automatons, Yankees just shuffle out to the field, win enough games to meet the mythical Steinbrenner standard of excellence, and quickly exit the playoffs when their narrow skill set is exposed by superior teams.
Boone seems like he doesn’t mind putting up with the layers of smugness and inflated expectations that the fans and media place on the team, as long as he draws his paycheck. Will we ever learn if he can actually manage a baseball team? Maybe, but it won’t happen in The Bronx.
2018-present // .603 PCT // No Pennants
George Steinbrenner fired a lot of people. So many, that he even fired the fictional George Costanza. “Big Stein” was impulsive.
But his most boorish firing was when he dismissed Yogi Berra. The knee-jerk decision led to Berra refusing to step foot in Yankee Stadium for more than a decade.
Berra managed the Yankees twice. The first time he was an unpopular choice to replace Ralph Houk, who moved from the field to become GM after the 1963 season. Almost immediately the following spring in camp, there was grumbling from the Yankee players.
“He just couldn’t communicate,” one Yankee player said of his time under Yogi.
The most famous incident from the ’64 season came on a bus in August, when infielder Phil Linz was playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on his harmonica after a tough loss. Berra ordered his player to stop the concert, but Linz kept blowing. Yogi marched to the back of the bus and tossed the mouth organ at Linz. The resulting laughter was led by Mickey Mantle, who like everyone else on the team, saw Berra more as their buddy than authority figure.
Berra stayed out of the way enough in 1964 and the Yankees won their fifth straight pennant. That was thanks mostly to the fact that Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and Whitey Ford were still stars. The team won 99 games, but they lost a 2-1 lead in the Fall Classic.
A day after losing Game Seven, the Yankees showed Yogi the door. The din of complaints from the Yankee clubhouse was too much. Berra was replaced by the man who beat him in the World Series: former Cardinals skipper Johnny Keane.
That first time he managed, Berra was not sufficiently confident in his abilities in the role. The guys who played for him who had been his teammates, they mostly busted their ass for Yogi. But younger players thought he was a cartoon character (Hannah-Barbera’s Yogi The Bear made that literally true).
Berra realized the challenges he faced.
“Players are different today,” Berra said in an interview during the 1964 World Series. “You can’t make them play by threatening their job. The only way to do [that] now is to pat them on the back. They’re all college men today, and if they don’t like what’s happening, they’ll pack up and go home.”
The 1960s Berra was seen as a simple-minded relic who couldn’t communicate. His famous “Yogisms” were often just Berra failing to choose the right words. While he was a Yankee legend as a player, Yogi’s inarticulate manner was not appreciated in the mid-1960s when the team was owned by CBS, a corporation that thrived on conference room meetings, ties and jackets, and an org chart.
The next time Berra managed the Yankees he was older and more adept at dealing with modern ballplayers. He didn’t really give a shit if people thought he was stupid, and he’d learned the art of game management from former teammate Billy Martin.
It was Martin that Berra replaced for the ’84 campaign, becoming the 11th manager in 11 seasons under Steinbrenner. The Yankee roster was talented and pricey, led by Dave Winfield, Don Baylor, Ron Guidry, and Phil Niekro. But for every one of those established superstars who earned their paycheck, Steinbrenner had at least one dreadful contract on his payroll. Butch Wynegar, Steve Kemp, Roy Smalley, Omar Moreno, and Ken Griffey Sr. were in pinstripes. None of them was worth what Big George had paid to lure them to The Bronx.
The Yankees played well after the break in 1984 and won 87 games, which left them a distant third. It wasn’t enough to itch Steinbrenner’s firing finger, and he welcomed Yogi back for the 1985 season to fulfill his two-year contract.
But Berra didn’t last a month. He was fired on April 28 with the team 6-10. The dismissal came after a series of insults were exchanged between the manager and the owner in the media. Berra even grew uncharacteristically angry and banned reporters from the clubhouse until one hour after games.
“All you ever do is run upstairs and talk to the owner,” Berra complained.
Yogi was replaced by Martin (of course). The indignation of being fired two weeks into the season by a team that he had won 21 pennants with as a player, manager, and coach, was too much.
Berra vowed never to return to Yankee Stadium as long as “that man” owned the Yankees. He was true to his word for 14 years, until Steinbrenner personally apologized to Yogi in 1999. At spring training in 2000, Berra was back in a uniform. He never again managed after George fired him, but Yogi learned to exist within “The Bronx Zoo.”
1964, 1984-1985 // .565 PCT // 1 pennant // Fired by George
Like his friend Clyde King, Michael’s backbone was sturdy enough to keep him employed with the Yankees for many, many years, in several capacities. Twice he was George Steinbrenner’s manager, and predictably, twice he was fired.
Michael later played a prominent role in building the Yankee dynasty that emerged in the 1990s, as general manager. George fired him from that job too. But he barely miss a paycheck, because he was re-hired as VP of Scouting.
There’s no reason Michael couldn’t have managed the Yankees to success, he was a great baseball man, and he understood the game from every level. He was just too sensible for Steinbrenner to ever trust him for long.
In 1981, Michael had the Yanks in first place when the season halted due to a players’ strike. In the second half of the season, the team had nothing to play for, having already qualified under a split-season format. But when the Yankees fluttered around the .500 mark, George started taking shots at his manager in the newspapers.
“It’s not fair that he criticizes me and threatens to fire me all the time,” Michael said. “I’d rather he do it than talk about it. I told him exactly that: don’t wait.”
Steinbrenner accepted the invitation and fired Michael on September 6. He replaced him with Bob Lemon, apparently hoping for a repeat of 1978, when Lemon took over for Billy Martin and won the World Series that autumn.
This time, Lemon got the Yankees to the World Series, but his team blew a 2-0 lead and lost in six games to the Dodgers.
Lemon was under no illusions that he would manage the team for long.
“I told Stick I’d keep [the seat] warm for him,” Lemon said.
Sure enough, less than a month into the 1982 season, Steinbrenner fired Lemon and replaced him with…you guessed it, Gene Michael!
In his second stint, Michael made the mistake of going 44-42. With his team in fifth place on August 3, 1982, Michael was fired again, shortly after criticizing Steinbrenner for interfering.
Gene was back as a front office advisor in April of 1983.
1981, 1982 // .548 PCT // Half a pennant // Fired By George 2X
Bill Virdon was the first manager that George Steinbrenner hired. But he was not the first choice.
Steinbrenner and a group of financial partners purchased the Yankees in January of 1973. The team had been slogging along for several years since the passage of the Mantle Era. Humorless Ralph Houk was the manager. He was the last thread that connected the Yanks to the pennant-winning days of the mid-1960s. He was also too strong of a personality for Steinbrenner, who had famously said in a press conference announcing the sale of the team to his group, “I intend to stay in Cleveland [and] let the baseball people run the team.”
Houk had the team in first place at the All-Star break in 1973. But difficulty scoring runs led to a collapse, and Baltimore ran off with the division.
On the day the Oakland A’s won their second straight World Series, Dick Williams resigned as their manager. He did this because team owner Charlie Finley was cheap, tyrannical, and petulant. It only took a few days for Steinbrenner to pounce on Williams, signing him to the richest managerial contract in baseball. The only problem was Finley.
“If anybody gets Williams from me,” Finley snorted, “he’ll have to pay through the nose.”
The Williams contract with the Yanks was nullified, and Steinbrenner hired Bill Virdon instead.
Virdon had previously managed the Pirates, winning a division title in his first season. But the Bucs fired him in September of 1973. He wasn’t George’s first choice, but he was a recent winner, and that was enough for the already-impatient Yankees owner.
Virdon looked like a guy who would be working 14-hours a day in a dairy farm. But underneath his unostentatious appearance, there was a competitive fire burning in his innards. His steady hand and the acquisitions of Lou Piniella, Elliott Maddox, and Chris Chambliss, lifted the Yanks in 1974. In September, the bespectacled, square-jawed Virdon found his team in first place. In fact, the Bombers were in that position with just over a week left in the season. But the Orioles won 16 of their last 18 and snatched the division crown away. It wasn’t a collapse (Virdon’s Yankees were 20-11 after August 31), the O’s were just a better team. Virdon was named Manager of the Year by The Sporting News, and Steinbrennver rewarded him with a two-year contract.
But in early August of 1975, with several players in his clubhouse critical of his decisions, and Steinbrenner impatient after watching a slim lead in the AL East squandered, Virdon was fired. His replacement was former Yankees infielder Billy Martin.
“The thing about Bill [Virdon] is he just didn’t manage the team according to the talent he had,” said pitcher Pat Dobson. “We don’t have guys who can hit the ball out of the park, and he kept playing for the big inning.”
Virdon’s record with the Yanks was 142-124 (.534) with one second-place finish. He was a very good manager caught up in the machinations of Big George’s early efforts to reshape the franchise. He also made the mistake of not being Dick Williams. He later managed Houston for eight seasons, taking that franchise to its first playoff appearance.
An interesting tidbit about Virdon: he never managed a game in Yankee Stadium. During his tenure, the team was renovating their home ballpark, and played at Shea Stadium.
1974-1975 // .534 PCT // No Pennants // Fired By George
Like Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, the New York love affair between Steinbrenner and Piniella was never going to last. There was way too much passion and four-letter words on both sides.
Piniella should have known better. He played for Steinbrenner and felt the sting of George’s asinine football-tough leadership style. He witnessed Steinbrenner screw over Dave Winfield, and he knew, from his position as a front office adviser, that the owner undermined and manipulated everyone who worked for him.
But there are only so many MLB managerial jobs, and Sweet Lou jumped at the chance to skipper the team in 1986, only two years after retiring as a player.
It was Piniella’s first job in the big chair, and he was dealt a bad hand. The Yankees had loads of injuries to the pitching staff, and the distraction of Winfield’s lawsuit against the owner. Given the talent he had, Piniella did a very good job, guiding the Yanks to 90 wins in 1986 and 89 wins in 1987. But when Yankees GM Woody Woodward finally grew tired of working with George, he quit during the 1987 World Series. During an end of the year meeting with his manager, Steinbrenner said he wasn’t sure whether he wanted a new GM or new manager. Piniella said, “I’ll make it easy for you, George, just let me go.” A few minutes later, the erratic Yankees owner rehired Lou as his GM.
Billy Martin replaced Piniella in the manager’s office for the 1988 season (because of course he did). But after Martin was fired (again), Sweet Lou was sent back down to the field. With dreadful pitching, the Yankees finished fifth, and Piniella was axed again a week after the season ended.
During two full seasons and part of one more, Piniella made chicken salad out of chicken shit, winning 224 games against 193 losses. He could have been the guy who brought the Yanks back in the early 1990s, but by that time he had won a title in Cincinnati, and never again allowed himself to be among the lunatics at the asylum in the Yankee front office.
1986-1987, 1988 // .537 PCT // No Pennants // Fired By George
Griffith, who was called “The Old Fox” because he was prematurely grey, won 14 games as a pitcher in 1903 in his first season as player/manager.
No one remembers or cares any more, but in 1904, New York nearly won their first pennant. On the final day of the season in the crucial first game of a doubleheader against Boston, ace pitcher Jack Chesbro tossed an untimely wild pitch, losing 1-0 and handing the flag to the Red Sox (known then as the Americans).
Griffith was a savvy baseball man, and he lasted five full seasons at the helm of the fledgling New York team in the American League. With his “Highlanders” ten games out and in sixth place in mid-June in 1908, Griffith resigned.
“It’s simply useless for me to continue,” Griffith said. “I have tried everything, but [I’m] fighting against fate.”
Griffith later purchased a controlling interest of the Washington Senators, and helped build that team into World Champions in the 1920s. He forged personal friendships with several U.S. Presidents in his capacity as owner of the MLB team in the nation’s capitol. He owned the franchise until his death in 1955, and his family maintained control of it until the 1980s.
1903-1908 // .531 PCT // No Pennants
Your mileage may vary, but there never seemed to be anything special about Girardi as a skipper.
The Yankees were still spending like drunken sailors when The Lesser Joe’s 2009 team won the World Series. There really wasn’t much Girardi could have done to mess up that season, which served as the last hurrah of the Jeter/Rivera Era.
Girardi became the first manager since Showalter to fail to lead the Yanks to the playoffs in two straight seasons, and after his team lost to the Astros in seven games in the 2017 ALCS, George’s son didn’t invite him back.
2008-2017 // .562 PCT // 1 World Series title, 1 pennant
You know that guy who always thinks he’s smarter than everyone else? You know that guy who loves to dish out false modesty behind a façade of smugness? You know that guy who spits out tired old maxims? Showalter was all of those guys. He always proved to be a great interview, but never a great hire.
Buck was way too proud. And after his talented young Yanks lost in the 1995 Playoffs, he refused to fire any of his coaches, took an unnecessary principled stand, and lost his job. It could have been Showalter instead of Joe Torre, sitting on his hands and making pithy quips in postgame pressers the next decade while the Yankees dominated baseball, but instead Buck missed out because he thought he was teaching Steinbrenner a lesson.
1992-1995 // .539 PCT // No pennants // RESIGNED LIKE A FOOL
There’s a universe somewhere in which Howser is a Hall of Famer. He was that good. Few baseball men ever handled a game or pitching staff better. He had no real weakness as a skipper. But he got churned up in the Billy Martin merry-go-round, and even after he guided the Yanks to 103 wins in 1980, Steinbrenner pushed Howser out.
The baseball gods were looking out for Howser, though. Thankfully, in 1985, Howser’s Royals won the World Series. It was one more title than Steinbrenner won in the 1980s. A year later, Howser was diagnosed with a brain tumor at mid-season, and he died in 1987 at 51.
1978, 1980 // .632 PCT // 1 pennant // Fired by George
Few people use the term “red-ass” any more. It used to be tagged on men who were a little fiery, perhaps a bit too fiery. Men who didn’t suffer nonsense, men who drank hard, were tough as nails, and stared through you when you disagreed with them.
Lemon was a red-ass. As much as Billy Martin ever was, but in a more respectable manner. When he took over the Yanks in 1978 after Billy was fired, Lemon held a three-minute team meeting. He asked his players to adhere to two rules: “Be on time, and play hard.”
The Yankees caught the Red Sox for the division title, won the pennant…you know the rest. The team went 48-20 after Lemon took over. Steinbrenner fired him in ’79 (because of course he did), but Bob threw on a uniform again late in the ’81 season and led a veteran Yankees team to another pennant.
Lemon was one of the best pitchers ever. He was a successful baseball executive. He didn’t need to put on spikes and deal with the yards of crap that comes with being a baseball manager, but he did it because he believed in duty and he was never afraid of a challenge. Like Dallas Green and Lou Piniella, who were similar in personality, he could have won a lot for The Boss, but Lemon was too threatening for George to keep him around for long.
1978-1979, 1981-1982 // .576 PCT // 1 World Series title, 2 pennants // Fired by George 2x
Likeable Joe Torre had many opportunities to show he was a good manager. Many. But in three stints with NL teams before he ever wore the Yankee pinstripes, he made the playoffs just once and never won a postseason game.
Steinbrenner shocked everyone, including his own front office, when he hired Torre before the 1996 season. The Yankee owner became enamored with Torre, a Bronx native, and went behind GM Bob Watson’s back to make the hire. Torre was never worried about working for The Boss.
“When you get married, do you think you’re always going to be smiling and have a great relationship?,” Torre said at his introductory press conference. “To have an opportunity to win, it is worth all the negative sides you want to talk about.”
Torre had the longest and most fruitful baseball marriage any skipper ever had with Steinbrenner, even if he was an underwhelming manager.
The Yankees made the playoffs in all 12 of Torre’s seasons at the helm, and with George paying for great players and Brian Cashman making the roster moves, the team won six pennants in Joe’s first eight seasons.
Torre’s strength was his undying support for his players. His biggest flaw was his in-game management and annoying attachment to aging players. But it didn’t matter, because the teams he had were so good, Joe couldn’t ruin it even if he tried.
1996-2007 // .605 PCT // 4 World Series titles, 6 pennants // Fired by George // Hall of Fame
An underrated manager who helped usher in a new era of corporatism for the Yankees.
Houk, a former Yankee catcher and decorated Marine in World War II, was named to replace Casey Stengel for the 1961 season. With the remnants of the 1950s dynasty and a few young Yankees, he immediately won three pennants. He’s the only skipper to do that in his first three seasons. His Yanks won the World Series in 1961 and 1962.
Houk was elevated to general manager in 1964, hired and fired Yogi, then did the same with Johnny Keane. He went back into the dugout and spent eight seasons working as manager for the new owners, broadcast network CBS, who never cared much if they won. Houk held the line for several years, kicking up dust and watching good Yankees like Roy White and Thurman Munson mature, but never sniffing first place in his second stint as skipper.
Houk is one of the only managers to win multiple World Series titles who is not in the Hall of Fame.
1961-1963, 1966-1973 // .539 PCT // 2 World Series titles, 3 pennants
As much of a clown as the stories make him out to be, Stengel was also wise enough to know what he didn’t know. He was never a good handler of pitchers, which is why he always had a superb pitching coach at his side.
Stengel learned to love platooning when he managed the Boston Braves, who had so many terrible players Casey had no choice but to play most of them part-time. He did a nifty job using veterans in platoon roles in New York, witnessed by his usage of Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter, and Eddie Robinson.
Stengel matched Joe McCarthy’s record of seven titles. He was fired five days after his team lost Game Seven of the 1960 World Series, apparently because his schtick had worn thin, and his age had become a concern.
“Write anything you want. Quit, fired, whatever you please. I don’t care,” Stengel told reporters after he was retired by Yankee ownership. “I’ll never make the mistake of being seventy again.”
1949-1960 // .623 PCT // 7 World Series titles, 10 pennants // Hall of Fame
A fantastic manager, Harris only got a brief stint in pinstripes. He won the Series in 1947, with Joe DiMaggio back from war. But injuries led the team to third place in ’48, and ownership couldn’t abide by that. The Yanks replaced Bucky with an inferior manager, Casey Stengel, or else it would have been Harris taking all the bows the next dozen years.
1947-1948 // .620 PCT // 1 World Series title, 1 pennant // Hall of Fame
Sort of the Billy Martin of his time. Huggins hated and loved his best player, Babe Ruth, who famously once hung the little skipper by his feet from a moving train during a dispute (evidently).
Huggins knew enough to stay out of the way of his players, and he had a skill for squeezing every ounce of effort from pitchers who seemed to be finished. He was not a good tactical manager, but he loved his players, and they played hard for him. His untimely death late in the 1929 season (from a blood disease at the ager of 51), tore the team apart.
1918-1929 // .597 PCT // 3 World Series titles, 6 pennants // Hall of Fame
Frustrating, petty, irresponsible: Martin was all of those things. But he was also unyielding, a natural leader, and possessed as much baseball knowledge as any man who ever drew a paycheck as a manager.
Every time Martin took over a team, he made them better. Every time.
In 1969 he lifted the Twins by 28 wins. In 1971 he improved Detroit by 12 wins. In 1974 in his first full season with the Rangers, Billy led them to a 27-win improvement. In 1976 he increased New York’s victory total by 14 and won the pennant. Exiled from the Yankees, in 1980, Martin improved the A’s by 29 games. In 1983, back in pinstripes, he led the Yanks to a 12-game improvement in the win column.
When Billy Martin was in the dugout, your team was a winner on the field. He had flaws (boy did he have flaws), but Billy could win baseball games.
Steinbrenner hired (and fired) Billy five times. Each time was supposed to be magic. In 1976-77 it was, when Martin led the team he had played for two a pair of pennants and a World Series title.
Martin, Houk, and Girardi are the only former Yankee players to win a championship as manager. All three also won titles as Yankee players.
1975-1978, 1979, 1983, 1985, 1988 // .591 PCT // 1 World Series title, 2 pennants // Fired By George 5X
The prototypical mediocre ballplayer who observed and studied to become a legendary manager.
McCarthy won seven World Series titles for the Yankees, his first in 1932 with an aging Babe Ruth, his last with Charlie Keller and an outstanding pitching staff during World War II.
“Marse Joe” was far from a Yankee-only wonder. In his first foray as a big league manager, he led the Cubs to a pennant in 1929. After he walked away from the Yankees, he navigated the Red Sox to a pair of 96-win seasons, losing the pennant twice on the final day of the season.
McCarthy was an excellent in-game manager, and he mentored several young players, including Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon, Keller, Tommy Henrich, Phil Rizzuto, and Yogi Berra.
The pugnacious Irishman established what became known as “The Yankee Way.” He eschewed superstar treatment, individuality, and frivolity. More than once, when one of his players would act out, McCarthy would say, “You’re a Yankee, we don’t do those things here.”
His teams won seven of the eight World Series he led them to.
Arthur Daley of the New York Times summed up McCarthy best:
“Few men in baseball were ever as single-minded as he. That was to be both his strength and his weakness. Baseball was his entire life and it never was lightened by laughter because he was a grim, humorless man with a brooding introspection which ate his heart out.”
1931-1946 // .627 PCT // 7 WOrld Series titles, 8 pennants // Hall of Fame