Should the Manager be Fired?

This article was written by Paul Elstein

This article was published in the 1977 Baseball Research Journal


When a team is going through a disappointing season, its fans are likely to plead for changes. Since acquiring new players may be impossible because of trading deadlines or lack of quality players to offer in exchange, and since general managers and owners usually do not wish to replace themselves, the team often will fire its manager. This move frequently quiets the fans for a while, and may improve the team’s prospects for the remainder of the season.

But does replacing one manager with another really make any difference? After all, the players’ success and failures usually determine the team’s fate. Perhaps a good Major League skipper can, through adept strategy on the field or ability in dealing well with 25 different personalities, win a few extra games. But the reverse might also occur.  If we examine all the managers from 1901 through 1975 who have been replaced in midseason, we find some interesting results. Of the 118 teams who have had two skippers during the course of a year (we didn’t include those in 10 games or less), 78 improved their performance, while 39 declined. (The 1966 Pirates were a paragon of consistency — they played exactly .500 ball under both managers). Thus, twice as many teams benefited from the change as were harmed.

It would therefore appear that firing the manager is likely to help the team’s prospects. However, it seldom turns an average club into a pennant winner. Only two teams — the Chicago Cubs of 1932 and 1938 — won pennants after replacing their manager in the middle of the season.  In 1932 Charlie Grimm succeeded Rogers Hornsby, and in 1938 Grimm was replaced by Gabby Hartnett. Usually, at best the team may advance a notch or two.

On the other hand, 21 teams, starting the season with a new field leader, have won pennants or division titles after finishing out of the money the previous season. The main part of the disparity, of course, lies with the fact that when a team switches managers in the midst of a season, its record is too poor to make a serious run at the flag. Still, the data indicate that a new manager at the right time can make a substantial difference to a team. In 1967, for example, Manager Dick Williams drove the Red Sox, who finished 9th the year before, to a dramatic first-place finish. Later he won a division title in his first year with Oakland. Pat Moran and Bucky Harris came through as new pilots on two separate occasions. Here are the teams winning pennants or division titles with new managers and the standing of the club the year before.

 

Manager Team Year Finish Year
Before
Hugh Jennings Tigers 1907 6th
Jake Stahl Red Sox 1912 5th
Pat Moran Phils 1915 6th
Ed Barrow Red Sox 1918 2nd
Kid Gleason White Sox 1919 6th
Pat Moran Reds 1919 3rd
Bucky Harris Senators 1924 4th
Owen Bush Pirates 1927 3rd
Bill McKechnie Cardinals 1928 2nd
Gabby Street Cardinals 1930 4th
Joe Cronin Senators 1933 3rd
Mickey Cochrane Tigers 1934 5th
Eddie Dyer Cardinals 1946 2nd
Burt Shotton Dodgers 1947 2nd
Bucky Harris Yankees 1947 3rd
Casey Stengel Yankees 1949 3rd
Ralph Houk Yankees 1961 1st
Yogi Berra Yankees 1964 1st
Dick Williams Red Sox 1967 9th
Billy Martin Twins 1969 7th
Bill Rigney Twins 1970 1st (Div.)
Sparky Anderson Reds 1970 3rd (Div.)
Danny Murtaugh Pirates 1970 3rd (Div.)
Dick Williams A’s 1971 2nd (Div.)
Alvin Dark A’s 1974 1st (Div.)

 

What happens to those teams which have three managers in one season? This has happened eight times since 1900 and a review of those eight situations indicates that most of the clubs would have been better off sticking with the original manager. Of course, there were varying factors to consider, such as illness, for example. In 1966 Manager Chuck Dressen became ill after leading the Tigers to a .61 5 percentage and had to be replaced by Bob Swift. Under him the Bengals played at a .561 pace, but he, too, became ill during the season. Frank Skaff ran the team the remainder of the season, at which time they won 40 and lost 39. There was a gradual decline over the season. Here is a run-down on the clubs with three managers in a season.

  • 1902 Giants: Fogel 18 – 23 439; G. Smith 5 – 27 .156; McGraw 28 – 34 .452
  • 1902 Reds: McPhee 27 – 37 .422; Bancroft 10 – 7 .588Kelley 33 – 26 .559
  • 1905 Cards: Nichols 19 – 29 .396 Burke 17 – 32 .347; Robison 22 – 35 .386
  • 1918 Browns: Jones 23 – 24 .489Austin 6 – 8 .429; Burke 29 – 32 .475
  • 1925 Cubs: Killifer 33 – 34 .440; Maranville 23 – 30 .434; Gibson 12 – 14 .462
  • 1946 Yankees: McCarthy 22 – 13.629; Dickey 57 – 46 .543; Neun 8 – 6 .571
  • 1948 Phils: Chapman 37 – 42 .468; Cooke 6 – 5 .545Sawyer 23 – 41 .359
  • 1966 Tigers: Dressen 16 – 10 .615;Swift 32 – 25 .56l;Sk~ff 40 – 39 .506

Neither of the two most recent and radical maneuvers with managers was successful. In 1960, the Tigers traded manager Jimmy Dykes to Cleveland for their skipper, Joe Gordon. Each team’s record then declined, and by the following year, Gordon was managing Kansas City and Dykes was gone from the Indians by the end of the season.

The Cubs of 1961 and 1962 used a system of head coaches rather than managers. Not one of the four head coaches in 1961 had a percentage of wins better than .442. The next year was even worse. Lou Klein, the most successful of the “managers of the day” led the Cubs to victory only 40 percent of the time.

Replacing managers in midseason has become more common since 1950, and not just because of the more recent proliferation in teams. From 1901 through 1950, 91 teams changed skippers, while in the 25 years between 1951 and 1975, 80 managers bit the dust before the season was completed. In fact, only in 1953 and 1962 did every club keep its leader for the entire season. There were 12 seasons prior to 1951 when this was true.

Therefore, when a team is playing poorly, it might be wise to replace the manager. Still one – third of the time the club will do even worse, and rarely will the new manager win the pennant. Waiting until the end of the year to bring a new manager may give the fans greater hope for a flag the following year, but it is not easy for the owner to ignore the fans’ cries for an immediate change.

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