It should come as no surprise that so many major league managers are former catchers.
There are several theories behind this. Because the catcher is involved, either directly or indirectly, in just about every single play of a game, he gains a wealth of knowledge through experience. He has a view of the entire field, thus giving him a unique perspective. The catcher needs to be in tune to what’s going on with the pitching, with the defense, and with the immediate game situation in ways that other position players don’t.
Tiger manager Brad Ausmus, of course, is a former catcher. Since 1901, Detroit has had 37 different managers, and of those, 11 have been former major league catchers.
That’s 30% for those of you keeping score at home.
Here’s a look at each of them:
— George Stallings: In a brief playing career, he managed only two hits in 20 at-bats. He skippered the Tigers in their inaugural American League season in 1901, leading the club to a third-place finish. He gained fame much later on, after guiding the Miracle Boston Braves of 1914 to a World Series victory.
— Mickey Cochrane: A Hall of Famer and one of the greatest players ever to wear the Old English “D,” Cochrane was the fiery player-manager who led the Tigers to consecutive World Series appearances in 1934 and 1935. His career was abruptly cut short by a near-fatal beaning in 1937. He finished with a lifetime .320 batting average.
— Del Baker: This native Oregonian played three seasons with the Tigers (1914-16) and hit only .209. He managed in the minors for several years, before becoming a coach with Detroit in 1933. He took over for Cochrane as manager, and took the Tigers all the way to the World Series in 1940, which they lost in seven games to the Reds.
— Steve O’Neill: A .263 hitter in 17 seasons, O’Neill managed Detroit for four seasons, including a World Series championship in 1945 against the Chicago Cubs.
— Bob Scheffing: “Grumpy,” as he was affectionately nicknamed, was a fair hitter, batting .263 in eight seasons with the Cubs, Reds, and Cardinals. He managed the Cubs with little distinction in the late 1950’s, before being named Tiger skipper before the 1961 campaign. Detroit, which had finished in 6th place the previous year, won 101 games, powered by the bats of Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash, and Al Kaline. Unfortunately, the New York Yankees, with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, won 109. By mid-June of 1963, with the Tigers mired in next-to-last place, Scheffing was fired.
— Bob Swift: Perhaps his greatest claim to fame was that he was the Tiger catcher on August 19, 1951, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. That was the day that Browns’ owner Bill Veeck sent the 3 foot, seven inch Eddie Gaedel up to bat. Swift played 14 years in the majors (ten with the Tigers). He later became a major and minor league coach. When Tiger manager Chuck Dressen suffered a mild heart attack in spring training of 1965, Swift became the club’s interim skipper. Dressen returned, but had another heart attack in May of 1966 (he eventually died in August). Swift again took over, but by the All-Star break he was hospitalized for what was initially diagnosed as food poisoning, but turned out to be lung cancer. By October, Swift would pass away, giving the Tigers two managers to die in the same year.
— Joe Schultz: In nine big league seasons, he hit .259 with only one home run. He was immortalized in Jim Bouton’s groundbreaking book, Ball Four, about the 1969 expansion Seattle Pilots. Schultz was the manager of that team, becoming well-known for his inspirational phrase, “Pound that Budweiser.” He later moved on to the Tigers, where he was a coach under Billy Martin. When Martin was fired with 28 games left in the 1973 season, Schultz became the interim skipper. The team finished .500 the rest of the way, and he never managed again.
— Ralph Houk: Taking over for Schultz, Houk came to Detroit with a fine pedigree. As a catcher with the Yankees, he was mostly the backup to Yogi Berra from 1947 to 1954. While he played in only 91 games during that entire time, he was fortunate enough to collect two World Series rings. After retiring as a player, he managed the Yanks for 11 seasons, including two World championships in 1961 and ’62. Houk became Detroit’s manager beginning with the 1974 season. The team struggled mightily at first, before the appearance on the scene of Mark Fidrych in 1976 brought excitement to Tiger Stadium once again. Houk, who had a reputation as a player’s manager, was the right fit for the Tigers at the time. Numerous future stars debuted under his watch, including Ron LeFlore, Steve Kemp, Jason Thompson, Dave Rozema, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, and Lance Parrish. He retired after the 1978 season.
— Les Moss: Following the exit of Houk, Moss became the third consecutive former catcher to be named Tiger manager. He wasn’t around for long, though. A serviceable backstop in his 13-year career, Moss was a baseball lifer, coaching and managing in the majors and minors for various teams. Prior to managing the Tigers, however, his only big-league experience as a skipper was with the White Sox in 1968 on an interim basis. He joined the Tigers organization in 1975, as a minor league manager, and worked well with the young players. Lance Parrish, in particular, credits Moss with helping him develop as a catcher while with the Evansville Triplets. Moss was named The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year in 1978. He didn’t get much of a chance to prove what he could do as Detroit’s skipper, however. After 53 games in 1979, he was fired in order to make way for Sparky Anderson, the former Reds manager.
— Luis Pujols: It is difficult to determine which was worse: Pujols the player, or Pujols the manager. He was somehow able to hang around for nine big-league seasons, hitting a lifetime .193 with the Astros, Royals, and Rangers from 1977 to 1985. In his one shot at managing, he stumbled his way through a 55-100 campaign with the Tigers in 2002.
And finally, Brad Ausmus makes eleven Tiger managers who were former catchers. A former All-Star with the Tigers, he was a three-time Gold Glove winner with Houston. As a manager, he has won a division title, which counts for something, but where he will ultimately rank on this list may be determined by how the Tigers play in these final three months.