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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Squawker reader remembers Ralph Houk

I was reading articles about former Yankees manager Ralph Houk, who died yesterday. My brother described Houk as the first manager he ever saw. Anyhow, I was starting to write a piece on Houk's life, then it occurred to me to check out Squawker reader Uncle Mike's blog, as he might have already done so. And sure enough, he wrote an article on Houk's life that is really terrific. Mike really knows his Yankee history!

Here are some tidbits on Ralph Houk, courtesy of our reader (you can read the entire piece at Uncle Mike's Musings, which I would encourage you to do.
Ralph Houk died yesterday, just short of his 91st birthday. The Kansas native fought at the Battle of the Bulge, winning the Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star, rising to the rank of Major in the U.S. Army. Then he reached the major leagues, as a backup catcher to Yogi Berra. Sad to say, the Yankees' integration, adding Elston Howard, meant the end of his playing career. But it was the start of an amazing managerial career.....
Houk became manager in 1961, and made the kind of changes that were a relief to some players. In the absence of an official captain (the elimination of the post following the retirement of Lou Gehrig was still in effect), he told Mickey Mantle he would be the team's leader -- ahead of Houk's former career-blocker, Yogi Berra. Yogi didn't seem to mind, and Mickey took to the role. Houk also started batting Mickey 4th a lot more, as opposed to his bouncing up and down in the order from 3rd to 4th to 5th -- something that would drive Reggie Jackson crazy under Billy Martin, although I don't think Casey ever dropped Mickey to 6th like Billy did to Reggie. And finally, Houk told Whitey Ford no more of this being moved up or held back a day to face a tougher opponent: You're pitching every 4th day, no matter who we play. Whitey loved it, and responded with the best season of his career. In fact, the only 2 times Whitey ever won 20 games in a season, it was 25 in 1961 and 24 in '63 -- both under Houk....
After the 1963 season, Houk was kicked upstairs and made general manager, and Yogi was made field manager. But Houk was forced to change: Where he had been a "players' manager," he was now management's man, whose job in those reserve clause days was to hold down salaries no matter how good a year a player might have had. This caused a rift between him and some of the players....
Read the whole article at Uncle Mike's blog - it's worth the trip over there.

4 comments:

john said...

RIP Ralph, you were a very good manager---that makes three hits on the Yankee family

Jonmouk71 said...

Houk was a good manager, a "players" manager until he became GM. He underhandedly prepared to fire Yogi and hire Keane....until the '64 club miraculously won the pennant and pushed the Cardinals to seven games. Wonder what would have happened with Yogi, had they won game 7 - my guess is Keane would have been the 1965 Yankee manager in any case. But now Houk gets a pass on the Yogi firing - just like "poor" Mike Burke who was "betrayed" by Steinbrenner gets a pass on callously firing Red Barber in 1966.

Uncle Mike said...

I read Red Barber's memoir, and he said he was getting tired of broadcasting in 1966 anyway, so he gave the Yankee brass a convenient excuse, and held no bitterness (or so he said).

Mike Burke was an interesting guy, and, like Houk, a genuine hero in World War II. And he loved baseball. He just didn't know how to run a team.

Thanks for the mention, Lisa.

Jonmouk71 said...

Uncle Mike, I'm not sure which Barber memoir you've read, but in the one I've read (Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat), he clearly tells Burke (when he was fired) that he was never more interested in broadcasting than his last year (1966) with the Yankees. And he made several suggestions to Burke that Mike did adopt in running the Yankees going into the 70s. As far as not being "bitter", Barber's influence in the Veterans Committee kept Rizzuto out of the Hall of Fame until he left it, in spite of the fact that Dodger SS Pee Wee Reese got in years earlier.