Do Good Players Make Bad Managers?

December 31, 2008
 
If you had to guess an answer to the question listed above, how would you answer it? What’s your first instinct? Your gut-reaction? 
 
My gut reaction is that good players would make terrible managers. If I had to say why, I’d say that it has to do with a specific aspect of human nature; namely that all of us interpret our perception of the world as a universal thing. If we see, say, an image of suffering, or an image of beauty, we have an expectation that everyone understands and interprets that image in a similar way. We strive for relativism, but are undone by ego.
 
I’m not making sense, am I?
 
Here’s a better example: Ted Williams was probably the smartest hitter to ever play professional baseball. But as a manager for the Senators, Teddy would routinely get pissed off at his player’s inability to do things he did. Why couldn’t they see that pitch was four inches off the goddamn plate? How come they didn’t know a change-up was coming?
 
You see where I’m going? Williams imagined that everyone had the capacity to judge ball from strike just like he did. He didn’t buy all that crap about his miracle eyesight. He thought, “Damnit, you just gotta work at it.”
 
Forced to guess, I think most of us would assume that great ballplayers make lousy managers because great players have a fundamentally different experience with the game than a lousy player has. A great player understands success, while a lousy player understands struggle and failure. A good player had a gift that carries him blissfully through his years on the diamond. A lousy player, by contrast has to work hard and adapt and learn how to stay in the game.
 
Great Players Turned Managers: Overall
 
Below is a list showing the managerial record of all of player/managers elected to the baseball Hall of Fame, who were elected as players.
 
This is an important point: I didn’t list guys like Miller Higgins or Tommy Lasorda or Sparky Anderson or Earl Weaver, because they weren’t great players.
 
There are a few difficult cases. Al Lopez was a fine catcher and a terrific manager. He’s not on the list. Same holds true for John McGraw. Both men made significant contributions as players, but they weren’t elected to the Hall of Fame as players.
 
I drew a hard line, and this obviously diminishes the record of the player/managers, as McGraw and Lopez would obviously skew the numbers in favor of good players. To put the great players at a further disadvantage, I left off a lot of near-Hall of Fame players who would sway the numbers further. Joe Torre and Gil Hodges are near-Hall of Famers, but they’re off the list. Same thing holds for Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, Mike Scoscia, Tony Pena, and Davey Lopes: they were fine players who posted excellent managerial records.
 
Another point: I used a cut-off. You had to manage at least 80 games.
 
When I originally posted this article, I was (unknowingly) using a cut-off of 500 games. The problem with this cut-off was quickly pointed out by Richie: you have to be a good manager to manage 500 games.
 
I’m still using a cut-off. Cy Young was 3-3 as a manager. Honus Wagner was 1-4 as a manager. Ed Walsh was 1-2. They don’t belong on the list. Tommy McCarthy was 15-12 as a manager. I don’t think that’s a reasonable measure. Luke Appling was 10-30. Rabbit Maranville was 23-30. There are a few other Hall-of-Famers who had really brief tenures as managers. If they didn’t get to 80 games I left ‘em off the list.
 
So we’re left with forty-five truly great players who also managed. Here are their records, listed by win percentage:
 

NAME
G
W
L
PCT
Frank Chance
1594
946
648
.593
Mickey Cochrane
598
348
250
.582
Cap Anson
2243
1296
947
.578
Fred Clarke
2783
1602
1181
.576
John Ward
732
412
320
.563
Bill Terry
1484
823
661
.555
Buck Ewing
884
489
395
.553
Walter Johnson
961
529
432
.550
Nap Lajoie
686
377
309
.550
Jimmy Collins
831
455
376
.548
Hughie Jennings
2179
1184
995
.543
Bill Dickey
105
57
48
.543
Tris Speaker
1137
617
520
.543
Joe Cronin
2291
1236
1055
.540
King Kelly
321
173
148
.539
Pie Traynor
863
457
406
.530
Yogi Berra
928
484
444
.522
Red Schoendienst
1996
1041
955
.522
Eddie Collins
334
174
160
.521
Ty Cobb
923
479
444
.519
Bob Lemon
833
430
403
.516
Frankie Frisch
2216
1138
1078
.514
Joe Kelley
659
338
321
.513
Joe Gordon
613
305
308
.498
Joe Tinker
612
304
308
.497
Jim O'Rourke
504
246
258
.488
Lou Boudreau
2386
1162
1224
.487
Christy Mathewson
340
164
176
.482
Eddie Mathews
310
149
161
.481
Kid Nichols
168
80
88
.476
Max Carey
307
146
161
.476
Frank Robinson
2241
1065
1176
.475
George Sisler
459
218
241
.475
Mel Ott
994
464
530
.467
Rogers Hornsby
1513
701
812
.463
Ray Schalk
227
102
125
.449
Hugh Duffy
1206
535
671
.444
George Davis
246
107
139
.435
Burleigh Grimes
302
131
171
.434
Roger Bresnahan
760
328
432
.432
Ted Lyons
430
185
245
.430
Ted Williams
637
273
364
.429
Larry Doby
87
37
50
.425
Billy Herman
463
189
274
.408
Dave Bancroft
612
249
363
.407
 
42998
22225
20773
.517

 
Interestingly, 23 of the 45 players have winning records as managers.
 
A quick point, which I’ll come back to later: it’s worth mentioning that a manager’s record doesn’t tell the whole story. Ted Williams has the second-worst record of any manager, but for that he turned around a lousy Washington team and landing a Manager-of-the-Year award. Same holds true for Frank Robinson: he was a good manager saddled with lousy teams.
 
Also: a lot of these guys were player-managers, and as such they had the benefit of at least one Hall of Fame-quality player on their team. How much did it help Mickey Cochrane the manager to have Mickey Cochrane the catcher as his catcher?
 
Great Players Turned Managers: Generations
 
I wanted to look at the list of great-players-turned-managers in a few different ways. Because of the small sample size (thirty careers), I’ll resist drawing too many conclusions about anything.
 
One reader was wise to point out that there are fewer former players managing in baseball today. It makes sense because there are fewer incentives on players becoming managers than there were in the past. Decades ago, players didn’t have pensions and salaries and memorabilia shows to pad their retirement incomes. For guys like Chance and Hornsby, managing was a way to stay employed. In today’s game, players hardly need such motivations. 
 
There is a second factor, which is that the transition to becoming a manager is far tougher for today’s players than it was fifty years ago. I watch a lot of minor league baseball out here in Iowa, and I remember being surprised to see Ryne Sandberg standing in the dugout of a Single-A team. It didn’t matter that he’s a great player: to manage in the major leagues you now have to earn the position.
 
Here are the forty-five players listed above fall into three loose ‘generations’, based on the year they started managing:
 
Generation 1: The Dead-Ballers
 
These are the old-timers, guys who were typically player/managers, who managed rough-and-tumble teams in those pre-Ruthian days. Of the eighteen player/managers listed here, eleven have winning records. As a whole, they have a remarkable .540 winning percentage.
 

NAME
G
W
L
PCT
YEAR
Frank Chance
1594
946
648
.593
1905
Cap Anson
2243
1296
947
.578
1875
Fred Clarke
2783
1602
1181
.576
1897
John Ward
732
412
320
.563
1880
Buck Ewing
884
489
395
.553
1890
Nap Lajoie
686
377
309
.550
1905
Jimmy Collins
831
455
376
.548
1901
Hughie Jennings
2179
1184
995
.543
1907
Tris Speaker
1137
617
520
.543
1919
King Kelly
321
173
148
.539
1888
Joe Kelley
659
338
321
.513
1902
Joe Tinker
612
304
308
.497
1913
Jim O'Rourke
504
246
258
.488
1881
Christy Mathewson
340
164
176
.482
1916
Kid Nichols
168
80
88
.476
1904
Hugh Duffy
1206
535
671
.444
1901
George Davis
246
107
139
.435
1895
Roger Bresnahan
760
328
432
.432
1909
18 players
17885
9653
8232
.540
 

 
Generation 2: The High-Offense Managers
 
These guys managed as the game of baseball was experiencing a number of dramatic changes. Of the fourteen players listed here, eight have winning records, and were it not for the abysmal records of Dave Bancroft and Rogers Hornsby, this group would be more impressive than the generation ahead of it.
 

NAME
G
W
L
PCT
YEAR
Mickey Cochrane
598
348
250
.582
1934
Bill Terry
1484
823
661
.555
1932
Walter Johnson
961
529
432
.550
1929
Joe Cronin
2291
1236
1055
.540
1933
Pie Traynor
863
457
406
.530
1934
Eddie Collins
334
174
160
.521
1924
Ty Cobb
923
479
444
.519
1921
Frankie Frisch
2216
1138
1078
.514
1933
Max Carey
307
146
161
.476
1932
George Sisler
459
218
241
.475
1924
Rogers Hornsby
1513
701
812
.463
1927
Ray Schalk
227
102
125
.449
1927
Burleigh Grimes
302
131
171
.434
1937
Dave Bancroft
612
249
363
.407
1924
14 players
13090
6731
6359
.514
 

 
Generation 3: Everyone Else
 
Great players were far less inclined to manage, and they did a much poorer job than previous player/managers. Of the recent great players-turned-managers, only four have winning records.
 

NAME
G
W
L
PCT
YEAR
Bill Dickey
105
57
48
.543
1946
Yogi Berra
928
484
444
.522
1964
Red Schoendienst
1996
1041
955
.522
1965
Bob Lemon
833
430
403
.516
1970
Joe Gordon
613
305
308
.498
1958
Lou Boudreau
2386
1162
1224
.487
1942
Eddie Mathews
310
149
161
.481
1972
Frank Robinson
2241
1065
1176
.475
1975
Mel Ott
994
464
530
.467
1942
Ted Lyons
430
185
245
.430
1946
Ted Williams
637
273
364
.429
1969
Larry Doby
87
37
50
.425
1978
Billy Herman
463
189
274
.408
1947
13 players
12023
5841
6182
.486
 

 
It would be easy to draw the conclusion that great players once made good managers, but now they don’t.
 
I would suggest a slightly different interpretation: great players are no longer expected to manage, and those who have an inclination to manage are often shackled to lousy teams. Ted Williams wasn’t hired by the Red Sox, but by the lowly Senators. Bob Lemon managed a lousy Yankee team to a division title, and was fired for his efforts. Frank Robinson managed loser teams for fifteen years.
 
Ted Williams, he has the second-worst record of any of these managers. But he was a good manager: in his first stint the Senators went from a 65-96 record to an 86-76 mark, improving by 21 games. Not surprisingly, the hitters improved dramatically, going from an OPS+ of 97 in 1968 to an OPS+ of 112 in 1969. (I used OPS+ because every team in baseball scored more runs in 1969 than 1968.)
 
Great Players Turned Managers: By Position
 
Here’s a play on the first question: what position makes the best manager? Are catchers typically good managers, or shortstops? What about outfielders?
 
Here are the players, listed by position grouping. I’ve ranked the positions from best managerial record to worst.
 

NAME
POS
G
W
L
PCT
Frank Chance
Corn. In.
1594
946
648
.593
Cap Anson
Corn. In.
2243
1296
947
.578
Bill Terry
Corn. In.
1484
823
661
.555
Jimmy Collins
Corn. In.
831
455
376
.548
Pie Traynor
Corn. In.
863
457
406
.530
Eddie Mathews
Corn. In.
310
149
161
.481
George Sisler
Corn. In.
459
218
241
.475
 
 
7784
4344
3440
.558

 
Surprisingly, the corner infielders do the best, with all five men having winning records as managers. John McGraw was also a middle-infielder, as was Gil Hodges (who had a poor winning percentage but a World Series ring).
 

NAME
POS
G
W
L
PCT
Mickey Cochrane
C
598
348
250
.582
Buck Ewing
C
884
489
395
.553
Bill Dickey
C
105
57
48
.543
Yogi Berra
C
928
484
444
.522
Ray Schalk
C
227
102
125
.449
Roger Bresnahan
C
760
328
432
.432
 
 
3502
1808
1694
.516

 
Catchers also do very well as managers, which is not surprising. Interestingly, none of these catchers had particularly long managerial careers, which shows just how tough it is to be a major-league catcher.
 

NAME
POS
G
W
L
PCT
John Ward
Mid. In.
732
412
320
.563
Nap Lajoie
Mid. In.
686
377
309
.550
Hughie Jennings
Mid. In.
2179
1184
995
.543
Joe Cronin
Mid. In.
2291
1236
1055
.540
Red Schoendienst
Mid. In.
1996
1041
955
.522
Eddie Collins
Mid. In.
334
174
160
.521
Frankie Frisch
Mid. In.
2216
1138
1078
.514
Joe Gordon
Mid. In.
613
305
308
.498
Joe Tinker
Mid. In.
612
304
308
.497
Lou Boudreau
Mid. In.
2386
1162
1224
.487
Rogers Hornsby
Mid. In.
1513
701
812
.463
George Davis
Mid. In.
246
107
139
.435
Billy Herman
Mid. In.
463
189
274
.408
Dave Bancroft
Mid. In.
612
249
363
.407
 
 
16879
8579
8300
.508

 
This is another group I figured would do well. They didn’t. Half of the middle-infield managers had sub-.500 records.
 
To me, this illustrates why we no longer have player/managers: it’s just not effective. Most of these guys were player/managers, guys who had to manage their teams while simultaneously fielding their positions. And they didn’t do a great job of it.
 

NAME
POS
G
W
L
PCT
Fred Clarke
OF
2783
1602
1181
.576
Tris Speaker
OF
1137
617
520
.543
King Kelly
OF
321
173
148
.539
Ty Cobb
OF
923
479
444
.519
Joe Kelley
OF
659
338
321
.513
Jim O'Rourke
OF
504
246
258
.488
Max Carey
OF
307
146
161
.476
Frank Robinson
OF
2241
1065
1176
.475
Mel Ott
OF
994
464
530
.467
Hugh Duffy
OF
1206
535
671
.444
Ted Williams
OF
637
273
364
.429
Larry Doby
OF
87
37
50
.425
 
 
11799
5975
5824
.506

 
One thing worth noting is that the better defensive outfielders generally have the best managerial records. Fred Clarke was a fast outfielder prone to making dramatic catches. Tris Speaker and Cobb were fine centerfielders. Frank Robinson was a good fielder and a better manager than his record suggests. By contrast, the guys with the losing records are corner OF’ers and lackluster fielders.
 
I said ‘generally’: Hugh Duffy throws a wrench in the theory, as he was a damned fine outfielder, but a poor manager. And he wasn’t that bad: it was hardly his fault that the Red Sox turned into a farm club for the Yankees in 1921 and 1922.
 

NAME
POS
G
W
L
PCT
Walter Johnson
P
961
529
432
.550
Bob Lemon
P
833
430
403
.516
Christy Mathewson
P
340
164
176
.482
Kid Nichols
P
168
80
88
.476
Burleigh Grimes
P
302
131
171
.434
Ted Lyons
P
430
185
245
.430
 
 
3034
1519
1515
.501

 
The pitchers did the worst as managers, with only Johnson and Bob Lemon having winning records. Like catchers, pitchers have short managerial careers. This is surprising, as pitching is certainly the most cerebral position in baseball.
 
Conclusion
 
Up to this point, I’ve resisted drawing any real conclusions about these numbers. As I said earlier, one’s managerial record isn’t a great measure of how good a manager someone is. It’d be better to measure these guys against their team’s record before they arrived, and after they left. It’d be nice to know the contexts around their coaching. But this gives us a start on the discussion.
 
I’ll say this, though: my expectations were wrong. Maybe great players aren’t great managers, but they’re pretty good managers.
 
(Dave Fleming is a writer living in Iowa City. He would like the Yankees to know that he is left-handed and will not insist on an opt-out clause. He welcomes comments, questions, and nine-figure contract offers here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com)
 
 

COMMENTS (12 Comments, most recent shown first)

evanecurb
Dave:

Nice work. I think the idea that good players make lousy managers is based on the assumptions that you outline in your article about the character traits of great players. People have apparently mistaken the traits of Ted Williams jor Ty Cobb for the traits of all great players. Where this idea came from is hard to figure. It is well documented throughout baseball history that great players have all different types of personalities. There apparently is no one set of traits that correlates to greatness on the playing field. By all accounts, Ted Williams and Stan Musial were two completely different people, as were Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, etc.
10:16 AM Jan 3rd
 
fsumatthunter
My initial reaction to the question was that some would be and some wouldn't be. That is was more of an individual trait. 23 out of 45 does nothing to change that really.
10:53 PM Jan 1st
 
Richie
In (I believe) his 1st Historical Abstract, BillJ said that Honus couldn't manage because he was just too nice a guy.
10:14 PM Jan 1st
 
DaveFleming
Dear Richie,

Yeah, 80 might still be a little high, though the only HOF player who gets cut who managed anywhere near 80 games is Jim Bottomley, who took over as player/manager for Rogers Hornsby.

Here are the list of HOF'ers who managed less than 80 games, and their records:

Jim Bottomley: 21-56
Roger Conners: 8-37
Tommy McCarthy: 15-12
Luke Appling: 10-30
Pud Galvin: 7-17
Rabbit Maranville: 23-30
Honus Wagner: 1-4
Cy Young: 3-3
Ed Walsh: 1-2

All of these guys were mid-season replacements. Appling took over for Alvin Dark on the '67 A's. Rabbit took over the helm of the 1925 White Sox halfway through the season but didn't make it to the end of the year.

Roger Conner was actually the fourth out of five guys who managed the 1896 St. Louis Browns, and none of them did a good job (the team finished 40-90). Three of the five guys were actually player/managers, which is kind of interesting.

This rapid changing of the guard was nothing new to those Cards teams: in 1895 they had four different managers, and in 1897 they had four managers again.

Lastly, I'd bet Honus Wagner would've been a great manager.
7:11 PM Jan 1st
 
Richie
Thanks for the rework, Dave. It's now a very good article.

I note that 11 of the 14 with less than 500 games had sub .500 records. This does make me wonder if even 80 is perhaps too high a cutoff. If you're an absolute disaster as a manager, I would think a couple of months would suffice to make that totally clear. On the other hand, perhaps the primary way you get less than 80 games to prove something is by taking over the last part of a lousy season from a lousy team. In which instance you of course would post a lousy record.

But I suspect your 80 game cutoff still slightly biases the study in favor of the star managers. What the study still though illustrates is that it's not self evident that stars make lousy managers.

Thanks, Dave.
6:04 PM Jan 1st
 
DaveFleming
Updated lists are up. You might have to click the 'refresh' button to see it.

Sorry about all of that. It was a blip in the data: baseballreference only lists HOF managers who have managed 500 or more games. I should have noticed that none of the managers on the list had short careers.

I kept a cut-off of about 80 games, just because I didn't want the list crowded with guys like Cy Young (3-3 record as a manager) or Honus Wagner (1-4).
2:38 PM Jan 1st
 
DaveFleming
Dear Cunegonde and Richie,

On Johnny Evers: I used the HOF index on the baseball reference site. They list the HOF'ers who managed, and while they don't mention a cut-off, it seems apparent that there is a cut-off.

A data error. I''ll probably end up reworking the entire article, so check back in a few hours.
1:08 PM Jan 1st
 
Richie
Regarding cunegonde's point, did you use a '# of games cutoff', Dave? If so, I suspect that would bias your study to the point of making it invalid. I'd posit that the typical 'lousy record' manager gets only 100-300 games to prove his point. Any 'games managed cutoff' even above 10 or so will start giving you an artificial result. (a late-season guy who goes 14-6 will be retained for next year; the 6-14 guy won't)

Much smaller point re Lemon. Where you have a tyrant owner who spends tons of $$$$ to fill any possible roster hole, and who'll fire you if your record starts sinking towards/under .500, I would darn well expect you to exhibit a darn good win-loss record there. So long as you last.
11:59 AM Jan 1st
 
Trailbzr
Those managers of the 70s had played against blacks, but they were rarely hired as managers. So there was a smaller pool of great players who became managers at that time.
9:49 AM Jan 1st
 
evanecurb
Dave:

I think the notion of good players making lousy managers was at its peak during the early to mid 1970s, when the top managers were Sparky Anderson, Walt Alston, Earl Weaver, Dick Williams, and Danny Murtaugh. Gil Hodges was often cited during this period as an exception to the "good player = lousy manager" rule. In hindsight, it seems like the conventional wisdom was incorrect even then. Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, and Bob Lemon all were good managers in the 1970s, but Berra and Lemon never received the recognition that their won-lost record should have merited.

McGraw and Torre probably deserve to be Hall of Famers as players. It would not be a stretch to term either of them as "great" players. Same goes for Hodges.
12:38 AM Jan 1st
 
ventboys
As in so many other things, we remember the failures, and tend to forget the successes. I count 10 WS wins among this group, though I might have missed a couple, plus more than that number of pennants, not counting the pre-1900 managers who certainly added something like 10-15 to the cause. Just guessing, 35-40 pennants in 240 seasons. Someone might be able to take the time to figure out the exact number.

With roughly 240 total seasons here, this is an excellent record. Good stuff.....
12:10 AM Jan 1st
 
cunegonde
Dave,

Happy New Year.

I'm not sure why Joe Tinker is on the list and Johnny Evers isn't. Was there a cutoff of minimum number of games managed? (If you wrote that and I missed it, egg on face.)

Ted Williams wasn't a great manager, except for that one year. It's really a stretch to say otherwise. He did a great job his first year, but by the time he left, his team was terrible and had flat out given up.

You point out several such situations, ones where a superstar inherited a bad club. Bill James deals with this phenomenon in his excellent book on managers, and gives credit in one system for how a team prformed versus statistical expectations based on past performance. It would be interesting to see how that method compares with yours. If the economy knocks me out of a job, maybe I'll spend some time working on that.
9:30 PM Dec 31st
 
 
©2021 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Powered by Sports Info Solutions|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy