A couple of weeks ago, I previewed a little (well, not quite so little) study I was doing to try to determine the best combination player/manager in baseball history. The only real rule is that the person never had to serve as a player/manager, just that he had a significant career in both.
For players, I use my MAPES score (Miller’s Awesome Player Evaluation System). Each player has a yearly score based on their WAR and adjusted in several ways. I substitute defensive regression analysis for part of BBREF’s Rfield number. I give catchers extra credit based on the difficulty of their day-to-day work, I adjust for 19th century rules, and I adjust pitchers just a shade so they look the same as hitters. From there, I weigh peak seasons and consecutive peak seasons to come up with my score. For reference, Babe Ruth leads among position players at a bit over 129, and Walter Johnson leads pitchers at nearly 123.
For managers, I use my ZIMMER score (Zooming In on Major Managerial Excellence and Rank). As with players, there’s a seasonal total that looks at Pythagenpat wins versus actual wins, expected wins versus actual wins, marginal wins (as calculated by Seamheads), and bonuses for playoff success. From there, I adjust for games above .500, and I weigh peak seasons to come up with my score. Among managers in this study, John McGraw leads the way at just over 103.
From there, I took the harmonic mean of the two numbers to determine the best combination player/manager in history.
Where We Left Off
Two weeks ago, we narrowed our list of those we would consider to 80. In case you hadn’t memorized them, here they are.
Felipe Alou Larry Dierker Pinky Higgins Mel Ott Cap Anson Hugh Duffy Gil Hodges Roger Peckinpaugh Dusty Baker Leo Durocher Rogers Honrsby Lou Piniella Hank Bauer Jimmy Dykes Miller Huggins Wilbert Robinson Don Baylor Buck Ewing Fred Hutchinson Frank Robinson Buddy Bell Art Fletcher Hughie Jennings Pete Rose Yogi Berra Jim Fregosi Davey Johnson Red Schoendienst Bob Boone Frankie Frisch Walter Johnson Mike Scioscia Lou Boudreau Phil Garner Fielder Jones Billy Southworth Roger Bresnahan Cito Gaston Joe Kelly Tris Speaker Donie Bush Kirk Gibson Nap Lajoie Eddie Stanky Frank Chance Joe Girardi Bob Lemon Casey Stengel Fred Clarke Kid Gleason Al Lopez Patsy Tebeau Ty Cobb Joe Gordon Billy Martin Bill Terry Mickey Cochrane Clark Griffith Don Mattingly Joe Torre Jimmy Collins Charlie Grimm John McGraw Pie Traynor Charlie Comiskey Ozzie Guillen Deacon McGuire Bill Virdon Del Crandall Ned Hanlon Pinky Morrill Monte Ward Joe Cronin Mike Hargrove Steve O'Neill Dick Williams Al Dark Bucky Harris Jim O'Rourke Don Zimmer
Major league teams are generally quite good at avoiding putting guys on the field who are below replacement level. They’re far, far less good at finding managers with equivalent skills. Our first cuts will be men who were below replacement level by either MAPES or ZIMMER for their careers. That’s because when we figure a harmonic mean, a negative number on either side results in a negative total.
I don’t really understand how harmonic means work, but Excel does, so I feel okay about the number. Duffy was an excellent player, as his Hall plaque would suggest. But he couldn’t manage. To be fair, he had some stinky teams. But even they underperformed expectations. Is he really worst on our list? I don’t know. I’m confident he’s nowhere near the top half though.
#79 Buddy Bell (MAPES: 54; ZIMMER: -20; Player Manager Score: -65)
For my money, Bell was an even better player than Duffy. Though he’s not in the Hall, he is a member of the HoME. I feel really confident in Bell’s manager score, or at least his standing relative to most others. He was bad in Detroit, in Colorado, and in Kansas City.
#78 Deacon McGuire (MAPES: 32; ZIMMER: -11; Player Manager Score: -35)
Around the turn of last century, McGuire donned the tools of ignorance more than 1600 times. Perhaps the beating he took dulled his brain; managing wasn’t his thing. He was more of a fill-in, leading only the 1910 Cleveland Naps for a full campaign. He wasn’t good.
#77 Art Fletcher (MAPES: 32; ZIMMER: -11; Player Manager Score: -35)
Our second HoMEr among players, Fletcher was a New York Giant shortstop and a wonderful defender who could hit some too. Managing wasn’t his strong point. In four seasons with the Phillies, he never finished above sixth, and he got even less out of a bad club than he should have.
#76 Del Crandall (MAPES: 34; ZIMMER: -9; Player Manager Score: -25)
Another catcher, one who displayed some decent pop with the 1950s Braves, Crandall was less impressive as a manager. In parts of six seasons, he never finished above fifth. It says something about him, perhaps, that in those six seasons, he only managed the full campaign twice.
#75 Bob Boone (MAPES: 30; ZIMMER: -7; Player Manager Score: -19)
Before I really knew a ton about baseball, I argued that Bob Boone should be in the Hall of Fame because of the tremendous number of games he caught, 2225. His MAPES score takes that number into account, and it still says he’s far short. By the time Boone managed, I knew a lot more. I knew enough to have confidence in his ZIMMER number. Neither the Royals nor the Reds were better off for having him in the dugout.
#74 Mel Ott (MAPES: 76; ZIMMER: -7; Player Manager Score: -16)
Even if you hit 511 home runs and draw 100 walks in a season ten times before it was fashionable, you’re not necessarily a very good manager. Ott is 20th in MAPES among position players, and he spent the last six years of his playing career and 75 games beyond that managing the NY Giants. Perhaps because Ott was diminished as a player, Ott the manager had it tough.
#73 John Morrill (MAPES: 28; ZIMMER: -3; Player Manager Score: -7)
Honest John, as he was known, played for 15 years in the bigs, mostly at 1B. As a manager, he doesn’t deserve to rank this low, but his numbers are destroyed by the 1885 Beaneaters playing below expectations. While I don’t trust the ZIMMER score, it’s not like Morrill would ever crack our top half.
#72 Roger Bresnahan (MAPES: 41; ZIMMER: -3; Player Manager Score: -7)
Yet another catcher, yet another Hall of Famer, yet another stinky manager. Bresnahan was known for his innovation as a player, working to find a means of protecting himself from baseballs flying at him at 90 MPH or more. As a manager he was far less interesting, finishing fourth or worse in five seasons with the Cardinals and Cubs.
#71 Phil Garner (MAPES: 27; ZIMMER: -3; Player Manager Score: -6)
“Scrap Iron” is such a cool nickname. I think of Garner as David Eckstein before we ever knew Eckstein. Maybe it’s because of his scrappy play that he was allowed to manage for fifteen seasons. What kills Garner is how his Brewer teams underperformed by Pythagenpat and by expected record. Later in his career he was decent, even winning a pennant with the 2005 Astros.
#70 Leo Durocher (MAPES: 0; ZIMMER: 60; Player Manager Score: 0)
We know that Durocher was a great manager. He and his 2008 career wins are in the HoME in that capacity. As a player, he was a pretty useless shortstop for the Yankees, Reds, Cardinals, and Dodgers. While I like my ZIMMER numbers, I have more confidence in my MAPES totals. It’s clear that Durocher is far from the top group.
#69 Eddie Stanky (MAPES: 34; ZIMMER: 0; Player Manager Score: 0)
This three-time All-Star was wonderful at drawing walks. And he played a strong 2B for five NL teams from 1943-1953. Managing went less well even though he had a still great Stan Musial with the Cardinals and some very strong pitching with the White Sox.
Each of our first dozen cuts has total Player Manager scores in the negatives. Our next cuts are at least above zero.
#68 Kirk Gibson (MAPES: 33; ZIMMER: 0; Player Manager Score: 0)
The 1988 NL MVP and hero of that year’s World Series after a dramatic Roy Hobbs-ian homer against Dennis Eckersley was a fine player overall. He smacked 255 homers and stole 284 bases, heights that have been reached by only 19 other players. As a manager, he won the NL West in his first year with the Diamondbacks, but things went downhill after that. This ranking is likely a bit too low, though he’s clearly not among the top-40.
#67 Joe Kelley (MAPES: 46; ZIMMER: 0; Player Manager Score: 0)
Great players got jobs as managers because they were great players, not necessarily because they were brilliant tacticians or motivators. Kelley seems like he’s one such player. An excellent hitting outfielder for six teams over seventeen seasons, Kelly was pretty mediocre in the dugout, leading two teams over five years to finishes of third or worse.
#66 Cito Gaston (MAPES: 0; ZIMMER: 25; Player Manager Score: 1)
I remember Cito Gaston as a decent player. Funny how memories work. He made the 1970 NL All-Star team with the Padres, but that was about it. In the dugout, he was a push-button manager. He just let guys play, which was effective enough when his teams in Toronto were great. He won a couple of World Series in 1992 and 1993. But the Jays couldn’t keep the talent level high, and Gaston’s mediocrity got him fired. Twice. The truth is, however, he’d rank a lot higher if he had been a better player.
#65 Donie Bush (MAPES: 36; ZIMMER: 1; Player Manager Score: 1)
As a hitter, this mediocre shortstop could take ball four. In the dugout, he was nothing special. He managed four teams over seven seasons, clearly showing he knew how to wear out a welcome. The highlight of his managerial career came when his Pirates were swept in the 1927 World Series by the Yankees.
#64 Joe Gordon (MAPES: 52; ZIMMER: 3; Player Manager Score: 6)
It was a revelation to see just how good Joe Gordon was when we were putting together the HoME. The 1942 AL MVP was a great combination of infield defense and pop. The ten-time All-Star is the power hitter that some claim Jeff Kent to have been. As a manager, he did very little though. He managed two full seasons and parts of four others, so there’s not much there.
#63 Don Zimmer (MAPES: 4; ZIMMER: 20; Player Manager Score: 7)
As the manager of the 1978 Red Sox, the first team I ever loved, Zim was the first manager I got to know. He was acceptable in the dugout, winning 885 games in 13 years. He even made it to the playoffs with the Cubs in 1989. As a player, he was an All-Star in 1961, and he was the first ever Met 3B. Overall, that’s not saying a lot of Zim as a player.
#62 Pinky Higgins (MAPES: 18; ZIMMER: 4; Player Manager Score: 7)
As a player, Higgins made three All-Star teams and drove in at least 70 runs for twelve straight years from 1933-1944. He finished his playing career with the 1946 Red Sox and began his managerial career with the same team in 1955. He’s third in wins with the Sox, totaling 560 over eight campaigns. He oversaw a bunch of mediocre teams, and he was, well, mediocre.
#61 Dick Williams (MAPES: 4; ZIMMER: 61; Player Manager Score: 8)
One of the best managers ever, the man who led the Impossible Dream Red Sox of 1967 and the start of the A’s dynasty in 1972 and 1973, Williams won 1571 games and has a plaque hanging in Cooperstown. As a player, he wasn’t much. He played at least 150 games in LF and CF as well as 1B and 3B, which is something only he and Frank Thomas (the other one) can say, but he didn’t play 300 anywhere. That a poor hitting, mediocre fielding corner type could hang on for thirteen seasons probably says all you need to know about his baseball mind. (By the way, this seems like a good time to mention that BBREF’s Play Index is gold, pure gold).
#60 Billy Martin (MAPES: 4; ZIMMER: 69; Player Manager Score: 8)
If you named Billy Martin your manager, you were about to be in for a ton of controversy and almost as many wins. Martin won a pennant with the Yankees in 1976 and the World Series a year later. He also took the Twins, Tigers, and A’s to the playoffs. As a player, I suppose you could describe the 1956 AL All-Star as scrappy. He was a poor-hit, poor glove infielder who owns four rings with the great Yankee teams of the 1950s.
#59 Pie Traynor (MAPES: 37; ZIMMER: 5; Player Manager Score: 8)
The guy I’d call the most overrated 3B of the first half of the 20th century, Traynor was nonetheless a very talented player. He drove in lots of runs for Pirate teams that were consistently near the top of the National League. In fact, he’s one of one of only six 3B ever with 1200 RBI and 2400 hits. As a manager, he was kind of blah, winning 457 games for the Pirates and never going to the World Series.
Napoleon was a dynamite player and a pretty average skipper. The Indian star owns five batting titles, four slugging titles, and is one of the 10-15 best position players ever. He was so great as a player that Cleveland’s AL squad named their team in his honor from 1903-1914. From 1905-1910 he was their manager, finishing second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth once each.
#57 Larry Dierker (MAPES: 28; ZIMMER: 6; Player Manager Score: 10)
For whatever reason, pitchers don’t become managers much. Dierker is the first hurler on our list. He appeared in his first games with the Astros in 1964 at age-17. He made a couple of All-Star teams in Houston and won 20 games in 1969. As a manager, he made the playoffs in four of his five seasons, though he went 2-12 once he got to October. How can someone who makes the playoffs four times in five years have such a low ZIMMER score? It’s simple. His Astros were very good. They should have made it. The fact that Dierker never got another job suggests baseball knew the same.
#56 Ty Cobb (MAPES: 112; ZIMMER: 6; Player Manager Score: 11)
Cobb is an excellent example of why I use a harmonic mean rather than an arithmetic mean to determine the best player/manager ever. By arithmetic mean, he’d be sixth on our list, but I don’t think anyone believes the guy who his .367 and stroked 4191 base hits (or 4189, or whatever) belongs that high. That he was given managerial authority to terrorize players on his own team says something about how one became a player/manager in the 1920s.
#55 Jim O’Rourke (MAPES: 49; ZIMMER: 7; Player Manager Score: 12)
Hall of Famer number eleven played the game for 23 seasons, starting in the National Association and ending in the World Series era, albeit playing just one game. As a player, he kept on producing good, not great, seasons. As a manager, he was less impressive. He won 246 games over five years, finishing as high as third three times. Had he not taken the job with the Senators almost a decade after leaving the Bisons, he’d be higher on our list.
#54 Rogers Hornsby (MAPES: 99; ZIMMER: 7; Player Manager Score: 13)
The Ty Cobb of the National League, if you will, Hornsby won the triple slash triple crown every year from 1920-1925. He’s the best 2B ever and one of the best players ever. As a manager, he was one heck of a player. He did win the 1926 World Series, so there’s that. But Hornsby was really just a fill-in in the dugout. He managed for 14 years for six teams, but just five full seasons.
#53 Joe Girardi (MAPES: 9; ZIMMER: 33; Player Manager Score: 14)
Before we get too excited about Girardi climbing up this list, check out the MAPES score. A ZIMMER score three times as great wouldn’t do much for him. As a player, he blocked Jorge Posada for a spell. As a manager, he’s been far better to the Yankees, winning the 2009 World Series and making the playoffs four other times. But Yankee fans expect more. He hasn’t won 90 games since 2012. That’s the longest such drought in New York since the Andy Stankiewicz days.
#52 Jim Fregosi (MAPES: 39; ZIMMER: 8; Player Manager Score: 14)
We think of him as the guy who was traded for Nolan Ryan. While that’s true, prior to the trade, Fregosi was one heck of a player, even making six All-Star teams. He made it to the playoffs with the 1979 Angels and won a pennant with the 1993 Phillies. In all, he won 1028 games. Remove his 1980 season when Don Baylor collapsed and Nolan Ryan left for Houston, and you have a guy who would jump up a number of rankings.
#51 Kid Gleason (MAPES: 34; ZIMMER: 9; Player Manager Score: 14)
The man who ran the Black Sox had more fame as a manager but more value as a player. And almost all of that value was on the mound. Gleason won 120 games over five seasons from 1890-1894, which wasn’t really so many, just eighth best in baseball over that span. It’s hard to say what he would have been as a manager if he had more time with Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Buck Weaver, and the other fixers. It’s pretty impressive that he even kept his job.
#50 Patsy Tebeau (MAPES: 10; ZIMMER: 27; Player Manager Score: 15)
Tebeau, a 19th century corner infielder, is the first guy on our list with 10 MAPES and 10 ZIMMER points. He really wasn’t much as a player, though he did put up 1290 hits in thirteen years. And managing the Cleveland Spiders, you couldn’t expect a ton in the way of greatness. They won the second half of the 1892 season, but they came up short against the Beaneaters in what was essentially the World Series. He finished second twice more and third once, winning 726 games in eleven years.
#49 Don Baylor (MAPES: 22; ZIMMER: 11; Player Manager Score: 15)
The 1979 AL MVP had one of the coolest nicknames ever, “The Sneak Thief”. Maybe he got that name because he stole 285 bases in his career and was a pretty big guy. Only six guys ever top Baylor’s 338 HR and 285 steals – Bonds, A-Rod, Mays, Dawson, Soriano, and Beltran. Baylor was also the first manager of the Colorado Rockies, hanging on there for six seasons, and making the playoffs in 1995. He did get another job with the Cubs, but things didn’t work out there so much. I actually don’t think Baylor should rank this high. His ZIMMER number is where it is because of his success with the expansion Rockies, credit I’d give to people other than The Sneak Thief.”
#48 Monte Ward (MAPES: 49; ZIMMER: 10; Player Manager Score: 17)
Very little bothers me about the great BBREF. But there’s one thing that’s always a pain, looking up Ward and having to remember that his first name is “John”. Anyway, John played in the 19th century. He won a couple of SB titles, and he also boasts crowns in ERA, K, and W. He was a versatile and valuable pitcher and middle infielder. As a manager, he got to manage himself. And he even got to manage a team named for him, Brooklyn’s Ward’s Wonders of 1890. Overall, he managed five teams in seven years, which says mostly all you need to know about his managerial acumen.
#47 Bill Virdon (MAPES: 18; ZIMMER: 16; Player Manager Score: 17)
Our most balanced entrant yet, Virdon was a mediocre player and a somewhat useful manager. He was the 1955 NL Rookie of the Year, and he was a pretty good center fielder over his dozen years in the bigs. Managing is probably how he’s better known though. He led the Expos, Astros, Yankees, and Pirates to 995 wins over thirteen seasons. He took the 1972 Pirates to October, and he brought the 1980-1981 Astros there too. We’d be looking at a higher ranking for Virdon were he to have hung on in New York. He was fired in 1975, before the Yankee mini-dynasty of 1976-1981.
#46 Fred Hutchinson (MAPES: 24; ZIMMER: 14; Player Manager Score: 17)
As a player, Fred Hutchinson was a control pitcher who won 95 games and was an All-Star for the 1951 Detroit Tigers. As a manager, he led those Tigers, the Cardinals, and the Reds. He took the Reds to the World Series in 1961, where they lost to the Maris/Mantle Yankees. The next year they won 98 games but finished third. In all, he won 830 games in a dozen campaigns.
#45 Charlie Comiskey (MAPES: 11; ZIMMER: 43; Player Manager Score: 18)
Best known as the owner of the Chicago White Sox, Comiskey had two careers before he got there. He put up negative WAR over the last seven years of his career as a pop-less first baseman jumping from the AA to the PL to the NL. He was far more successful managerially. His 1885-1888 St. Louis Browns won the AA pennant each season, and in 1886 they topped the NL’s Chicago White Stockings in the forerunner to the World Series. It’s possible Comiskey should rank higher. Then again, winning AA titles maybe isn’t so impressive.
#44 Charlie Grimm (MAPES: 13; ZIMMER: 30; Player Manager Score: 18)
Grimm played 20 years as a first baseman in the majors, totaling 2299 hits. But he wasn’t very good. Playing for four teams, he reached 2 WAR only three times in those 20 years. Managing was his calling. He won pennants with the Cubs in 1932, 1935, and 1945, but he lost the World Series each year. The 1945 Series loss to the Tigers was the last time the Cubs made it there over the last 70 years. He also had a nice run with the Braves, where he finished in the top-three the first three years they were in Milwaukee. His 1287 wins lands him in 44th place on our list.
Known as the guy who began managing the Indians when he was 24 and who won the World Series in Cleveland at 30, Boudreau totaled 1162 wins as a manager for four teams, but his real success was as a player. The 1948 AL MVP, 1944 AL batting champ, and seven-time All-Star is a member of the HoME as a plus bat, plus-plus glove shortstop who posted a .295 career BA and a .380 career OBP.
Peckinpaugh was a very good player, approaching the best two-dozen shortstops ever. He gained most of his fame as a Yankee, but later in his career he helped the Senators to a 1924 World Series victory. Then he came back the next year to take the AL MVP in his final full season. He wasn’t given the best lot as a manager, taking over a weak Indians team in 1928. But he made the best of a bad situation, bringing a team that finished six or seventh the previous two years to four straight finishes of third or fourth. To get to this level, it seems you didn’t need to be that successful of a manager. Peckinpaugh won just 500 games as a big league skipper.
Robinson is in the Hall of Fame as a manager, and it’s pretty clear that he’s the Hall’s biggest mistake in that category. Uncle Robbie was a nice guy who led the Brooklyn Robins from 1914-1931. But let’s not confuse longevity and success. During that time, he won only two pennants, losing to the Red Sox in 1916 and the Indians in 1920. He did win 1399 games, so that’s something. On the playing side of things, he was a catcher who got into 1316 games behind the plate, almost all in the 19th century. So he was a tough guy. Of course, being a tough player and a nice manager shouldn’t qualify you for a bust in Cooperstown.
That’s all for today. Check out the next twenty on our list next week, and tune in two Wednesdays from now for the top-twenty player/managers of all time.