John Michael “Red” Corriden, the first-base coach for the 1947 New York Yankees, was a baseball lifer. From 1908 until he retired from baseball after the 1958 season, a span of fifty-one years, Corriden served as a player, coach, manager, and scout.
The 1947 season was Corriden’s first as a Yankees coach. He was brought to New York by new manager Bucky Harris after a six-year stay as a Brooklyn Dodgers coach under Leo Durocher. His role tended to be something of a father confessor and he always encouraged the players, referring to everyone as “buddy boy.” As the first-base coach, his chatter was continuous. “Come on down to see me, buddy boy,” he would yell to the batter, “I ain’t mad at you. And when you get down here, please turn to your left. Nothing on your right but a lollypop stand.”1 Not surprisingly, the players affectionately called him Lollypop.
Corriden could, however, deliver a message rather directly when needed. Bobby Brown, a rookie with the ’47 Yankees, recalled that early in the year Corriden said to him, “Buddy boy, lay off that high pitch. All you’re doing is hitting fly balls to the warning track.” Brown did not take Corriden’s advice and about ten days later Corriden again approached him, saying, “You’re still hitting that high pitch. If you keep it up, you’ll be hitting it in Newark.”2 At that point, Brown got the message and started laying off the high ones.
Corriden was born on September 4, 1887, in Logansport, Indiana, where he was raised and attended elementary and high school. His parents were Michael B. and Catherine A. (Klein) Corriden. He grew up playing baseball and for a number of years had a paper route in Logansport, which included the parents of future baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. One Christmas Eve Landis’s mother summoned Red inside and stuffed his pockets with cookies and sweets and a snap-on bow tie. Corriden kept the tie for many years before presenting it back to Judge Landis’s brother Fred at a banquet in Logansport many years later.
In 1908 Corriden broke into professional baseball as a twenty-year-old third baseman with the Keokuk (Iowa) Indians in the Class D Central Association. He hit only .209 and committed forty errors in ninety-five games, but somehow he showed enough to be invited back for 1909. Corriden improved to .282 in 143 games, a good-enough performance for the St. Louis Browns to purchase his contract for 1910. The Browns farmed him to the Omaha Rourkes of the Class A Western League.
Corriden had an impressive season with Omaha, batting .308 and earning a call-up to the last-place Browns for the final month of the 1910 season. He hit only .155 in twenty-six games, but on October 9, the last day of the season, Corriden unwittingly found himself in the middle of a national firestorm. The Browns were playing the Cleveland Naps in St. Louis in a doubleheader. The games meant nothing in the standings, but the Naps namesake, Napoleon Lajoie, was in a tight race for the batting title with Ty Cobb, with the winner to receive a new Chalmers automobile.
Browns manager Jack O’Connor, who, with many, had enmity for Cobb, ordered his rookie third baseman Corriden to play back on the outfield grass behind third base, ostensibly to avoid injury from one of Lajoie’s vicious line drives. Lajoie slugged a triple over the head of rookie center-fielder Hub Northen in his first at bat, but on his succeeding eight plate appearances, Lajoie bunted the ball in the general direction of third base. Seven of the eight bunts went for base hits, with one bunt being ruled a fielder’s choice.
American League President Ban Johnson quickly investigated the suspicious affair and found Corriden not culpable because he was just following orders. He also declared Cobb the batting champion with a final average of .384944 to Lajoie’s .384084. The Chalmers Company magnanimously gave both Cobb and Lajoie new cars, but manager O’Connor lost his job and was effectively banned from Organized Baseball. In two years, Corriden would find himself a teammate of Cobb.
Corriden did not stick with the Browns for 1911 and signed with the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. He batted .247 in 137 games and committed sixty-four errors at shortstop. He was back with the Blues in 1912 and raised his average to a sparkling .318, attracting the attention of the Detroit Tigers, who purchased his contract late in the season. But Red could manage only a .203 batting average in 138 at bats for the Tigers.
After the season the Tigers sold Corriden to the Cincinnati Reds, who then sent him to the Chicago Cubs. In 1913 Corriden batted just .175 in forty-six games as a utility infielder for the Cubs. Nonetheless, when Al Bridwell, the Cubs starting shortstop, jumped to the Federal League in 1914, Corriden replaced him, batting .230 in 107 games. He also made forty-six errors in 432 chances at short for an .894 fielding percentage, lowest by twenty points among the National League regulars.
Red started the 1915 season with Chicago, but after only three at bats was sold to the Louisville Colonels of the American Association. Again he showed he could hit top-level Minor League pitching, batting a lusty .318 in 346 at bats. However, although he was only twenty-eight years old, Corriden’s Major League playing career was over. He had appeared in 223 games and had hit only .205 in 640 at bats. Defensively, he had ninety errors in 900 chances.
Corriden was back with the Colonels in 1916 and became a member of Louisville’s “Iron Man Infield.” With Red at third, Jay Kirke at first, Joe McCarthy (later to become the Yankees manager) at second, and Roxy Roach at shortstop, the infield played every inning of every game of a 168-game schedule.3 Corriden batted .277 as the Colonels swept to the American Association pennant.
After hitting .276 in 151 games for Louisville in 1917, Corriden played with St. Paul of the American Association in 1918 and 1919. He sat out the 1920 season, which he spent at home in Logansport working as a machinist, but returned to play in 1921 for the St. Joseph (Missouri) Saints in the Western League. At the age of thirty-three, Corriden experienced a resurgence, batting a hefty .336 in 143 games, all in the outfield. He returned to St. Joseph in 1922 and put together another stellar year, hitting .331 in 160 games.
The Des Moines Boosters, who had finished in the Western League basement in 1922, hired Corriden to be their player-manager for 1923. The club improved to fifth place in the eight-team league, with an 87-79 record. At thirty-five, Corriden could still play at that level. He penciled himself into the lineup every day and hammered out a .343 average. He returned to manage Des Moines in 1924, but the team slipped to seventh place, costing Red his job. He still had a terrific year at the plate, batting .338 in 126 games on 37 year-old legs.
In spite of his excellent year in 1924, Corriden never played another game in Organized Baseball. Thanks in part to his old Iron Man Infield mate Joe McCarthy, who was by 1926 managing the Chicago Cubs, Red spent a couple of years scouting in his native Indiana before joining the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association as a coach in 1928. He succeeded Bruno Betzel as manager in 1930, but the Indians finished dead last.
Rogers Hornsby had taken over from Joe McCarthy as manager of the Cubs at the tail end of the 1930 season, and hired Corriden as one of his coaches for 1932. That would begin a nine-year run for Corriden as a Cubs coach, during which he also served under Charlie Grimm and Gabby Hartnett. It was a most successful decade for the Cubs, as they won pennants in 1932, 1935, and 1938 and finished in the first division every year but 1940.4
Once during those years on a train trip between Chicago and New York, Corriden, upon boarding, told the porter to be sure to tell him when the train pulled into Indianapolis because he planned a quick visit with relatives there. He promptly fell asleep in his Pullman berth. Hartnett had overheard the conversation and when the train pulled into Englewood on Chicago’s south side, yelled, “Indianapolis!” Corriden shot out of his berth, yelling, “Why didn’t you give me more time?” He raced off the train, hailed a cab, and gave the Indianapolis address of his relatives. By the time he realized he was still in Chicago, the train was long gone.
When Hartnett was fired after the Cubs fifth-place finish in 1940, Corriden was canned as well. He was not out of a job long, however, as Leo Durocher quickly added him to his Brooklyn Dodgers coaching staff. Red was just in time to enjoy another pennant, but he remained without a World Series ring as the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in five games.
Corriden remained with Brooklyn for six tumultuous years under Durocher. In 1946 his son John was briefly with the Dodgers, appearing in one game as a pinch runner. Bucky Harris was hired to manage the Yankees in 1947, and Larry McPhail, the former Dodgers executive and now co-owner of the Yankees, hired Corriden away from the Dodgers to be his first-base coach.
The 1947 World Series again matched the Yankees against the Dodgers, who had a rookie center fielder named Carl Furillo. After watching Furillo throw, Corriden advised against running on him, saying, “Furillo has a rifle hanging from his shoulder.” Furillo thus became ever known as the “Reading Rifle,” after his hometown and rifle-like arm. The Yankees beat Furillo’s Dodgers in seven games to finally give Corriden his World Series ring.
Red remained with the Yankees through the 1948 season, continuing as first-base coach. Although he was very popular with the Yankees players, he could occasionally rub them the wrong way. Fellow coach Charlie Dressen and Corriden were prone to go on about how they did things in the National League, where both had spent many years, implying that the National League was somehow superior. Bobby Brown remembers Joe DiMaggio remarking to him after one such episode, “Yeah, and we beat their asses every fall.”5
When the Yankees slipped to third place in 1948, they fired Bucky Harris and replaced him with Casey Stengel. Harris moved to the Pacific Coast League in 1949 to manage the San Diego Padres and took Corriden with him.
Corriden was back in the big leagues in 1950, hired as a coach by Chicago White Sox manager Jack Onslow. Following a May 26 loss to the Cleveland Indians, the White Sox were in last place with only eight wins in their first thirty games. New general manager Frank Lane fired Onslow and named the sixty-two-year-old Corriden to his first and only big league managing job. The club responded by winning its first game under Red, 6–1 behind the young southpaw Billy Pierce. The team was not a good one, however, and finished the season in sixth place, thirty-eight games behind the pennant-winning Yankees.
Under Corriden the club won fifty-two games and lost seventy-two. It was not enough to gain Red another year, and Lane brought in Paul Richards to manage for the 1951 season. Eddie Robinson, the first baseman on the 1950 White Sox, remembered that when Corriden would come to the mound to take a pitcher out of the game, he would inevitably say, “Buddy Boy, let’s let somebody else try.” When the new pitcher arrived, Corriden’s advice was, “Buddy Boy, you’ve got to get this guy out.” In general, Robinson thought Corriden was too nice a guy to be an effective manager.6
Indeed, Corriden’s role in his many years as coach was as a a buffer between salty managers like Durocher, Hornsby, and Hartnett and the players. In fact, his players often called him Uncle John in addition to Lollypop, and a 1947 newspaper article about him was headlined “Corriden Is Good Will and Good Humor Man.”7
After his dismissal by the White Sox, Corriden became a scout for the Dodgers, a position he held until he retired from baseball after the 1958 season at the age of seventy-one.
One of the players Corriden had signed for the Dodgers during his scouting days was pitcher Larry Sherry. In the middle of the 1959 season, the Dodgers needed pitching help and Sherry was one of their prospects, pitching in St. Paul. Dodgers general manager Buzzy Bavasi reportedly called Corriden to ask whether he thought Sherry was ready for the majors. Corriden replied, “Lollypop, grab him fast.”
Bavasi followed Corriden’s advice and Sherry was superb, winning seven games while losing only two and compiling a sparkling 2.19 earned run average while helping to push the Dodgers to a tie with the Milwaukee Braves for the National League pennant.
Unfortunately, the story has a very sad ending. Red Corriden was stricken with a fatal heart attack at his home in Indianapolis on September 28, 1959, while watching Sherry pitch for the Dodgers in a playoff game against the Braves. Corriden was seventy-two years old. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Logansport. He was survived by his wife, the former Ethel Shuman, whom he married in 1911, sons John M. Jr., Richard, and Robert. John and Ethel’s first-born, a daughter Mary died on November 8, 1912, the day she was born. With John Corriden’s passing, baseball had lost one of its acclaimed good humor men and good will ambassadors.