Posnanski: Which major league managers were the best players?

From SABR member Joe Posnanski at NBC Hardball Talk on May 2, 2014:

You probably know that Pete Rose was the last player-manager in baseball some 30 years ago. He was doing the whole player-manager thing mostly so he could get the final at-bats he needed to catch Ty Cobb on the all-time hits list. In other words, he was more a ceremonial player than an active one. He offers the image most people have of the player-manager.

Before him, Don Kessinger was a player-manager for the White Sox in 1979. He, like Rose, was at the end of his career and wasn’t really a big part of the team. Joe Torre was player-manager for the Mets in ’77, but he was done as a player and only appeared in 26 games. Frank Robinson was a player manager for the Cleveland Indians in 1975-76, but his great career was already over (though he did prove useful in limited at-bats his first year).

Point is, that when we think of “player-managers,” we think about old guys who were once good players but were now at the end. But there’s a much deeper history. In the early years of baseball, the best players on teams were more or less EXPECTED to also be the team’s manager. In those early years it seems like almost all the great players – Cap Anson, Albert Spalding, Harry Wright, Jim O’Rourke, Charlie Comiskey, King Kelly on and on – were player-managers. Heck, Connie Mack and John McGraw started out as player-managers.

As time went on, it became somewhat less prevalent, but even into the 1930s many of the best players – Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Bill Terry, Frankie Frisch, Tris Speaker, Pie Traynor – all were player managers for at least a time. Lou Boudreau with Cleveland in the 1940s was probably the last of the breed.

I’m not sure why exactly it stopped. I suspect the feeling was that the managerial job had become so complicated, with so many ancillary responsibilities, that a full-time player simply wouldn’t have time to deal with it all.  That makes sense, though I have little doubt that Derek Jeter could have managed the Yankees the last few years if he had wanted; Dustin PedroiaDavid Ortiz or Chase Utley could probably manage now.

Read the full article here: http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/05/02/which-major-league-managers-were-the-best-players/

Originally published: May 2, 2014. Last Updated: May 2, 2014.