The germ of this project was seeded a long time ago, probably around the time I read Earl Weaver’s book on managerial strategy for the second time. While I was continually struck by his outlining of basic sabermetric principles, I was also struck by his experience (or lake thereof) playing baseball.
In my mind, at that time, poor players and journeymen made the best managers. I couldn’t really remember many greats who also managed (aside from Frank Robinson, Ted Williams and Pete Rose) and those I could remember didn’t strike me as particularly good skippers.
However, I had no idea if this was true. I then stumbled upon a Branch Rickey baseball card and learned that he was also a failed player, yet went on to great success.
So, I first took a very anecdotal glance for Baseball Past and Present at the best managers of the game and their playing careers. I wasn’t satisfied that my analysis really got me anywhere besides some interesting information.
Since then, I’ve combed Baseball Reference and put together a spreadsheet that matches all 674 players who have managed a game in the majors with their playing careers. My first analysis of that data is below and focuses on players who earned at least 50 WAR and became managers for at least a short time. I was hoping to confirm one of my theses: that the majority of great players who became managers did so in baseball’s infancy (largely because of the player-manager and because modern players play longer).
100 WAR Players Turned Managers (PTMs)
|Ty Cobb HOF||as player||
|Cy Young HOF||as player||
|Honus Wagner HOF||as player||
|Tris Speaker HOF||as player||
|Rogers Hornsby HOF||as player||
|Walter Johnson HOF||as player||
|Eddie Collins HOF||as player||
|Ted Williams HOF||as player||
|Mel Ott HOF||as player||
|Frank Robinson HOF||as player||
|Nap Lajoie HOF||as player||
|Kid Nichols HOF||as player||
Average Number of Years Managed: 6.2
Number of 100 WAR PTMs: 12
Twelve players who earned over 100 Baseball Reference WAR in their playing careers became managers. Of those 12, only Ted Williams and Frank Robinson began their careers after 1927. Mel Ott is the only other 100 WAR player turned manager who started his career after 1915. In fact, eight of the 12 had careers that started in 1907 or before.
In addition, 10 of these 12 players were, at one point in time, a player manager. Only Ted Williams and Walter Johnson saw their playing and managerial careers not overlap.
When looking at their managerial careers, Cy Young and Honus Wagner managed just 11 games combined (they went 4 – 7), Kid Nichols managed 169 games and Eddie Collins only helmed a team for 336 games. The rest managed for at least four seasons, with Frank Robinson (16 years) and Rogers Hornsby (14 years) managing the longest.
Tris Speaker rates out as likely the best manager. His .543 winning percentage is the second highest and he is one of two to win a play-off series/pennant/World Series (Hornsby was the other). Walter Johnson and Nap Lajoie have the highest winning percentage of the group at .550, but never reached the post-season. They are followed by Speaker and Ty Cobb (.519), discounting Collins (.521) for lack of experience.
In all, the 100+ WAR players turned managers are slightly below .500, being hurt demonstrably by the longest tenured of the group, Hornsby and Robinson, who combined for 1,988 loses.
90 WAR Players Turned Managers
|Cap Anson HOF||as player||
|Eddie Mathews HOF||as player||
|George Davis HOF||as player||
Average Number of Years Managed: 9 (however 21 came from one Manager)
Number of 90-99.9 WAR PTMs: 3
Keeping with the trend, both Cap Anson and George Davis were player-managers who began their careers in baseball’s infancy.
Outside of Anson (.578 winning percentage and five pennants), Mathews and Davis were not particularly adept managers. They managed for three seasons apiece and, combined, went 256-300. That said, adding Anson’s sterling managerial record to the 100 WAR group brings the total 90+ WAR PTMs record to 6,314-6,089. A far cry from the below .500 work of just the 100+ crew.
80 WAR Players Turned Managers
Average Number of Years Managed: 2
Number of 80 WAR PTMs: 2
When we stretch to 80+ PTMs, we add two names: Christy Mathewson and Roger Connor. Both were player-managers who played during the turn of the century and managed quite poorly. Connor only managed for part of one season: his team went 8-37. Mathewson managed for three years and posted a .482 winning percentage. However, that was good enough for the eighth best winning percentage among 80+ WAR PTMs.
Adding Mathewson and Connor to the mix don’t move the needle much: the record of Hall of Fame players turned managers with 80+ WAR is 6,486-6,302.
70 WAR Players Turned Managers
|Bill Dahlen||as player||
|Pete Rose||as player||
|Frankie Frisch HOF||as player||
|Fred Clarke HOF||as player||
|Bob Caruthers||as player||
|Pud Galvin HOF||as player||
Average Number of Years Managed: 7.8
Number of 70 WAR PTMs: 6
This group adds the first player who started his career after 1960 and became a manager (Pete Rose). Rose, like the five others in this cohort, was a player-manager at one point during their playing career. Another similarity to their higher WAR brethren: four started their careers before 1895 and Frankie Frisch started his career in 1919.
Fred Clarke is the managerial star of this group and the only player, so far, who can challenge Anson for managerial supremacy. His .576 winning percentage spread over 19 seasons resulted in four pennants and one World Series.
That said, the group is pretty evenly split: Clarke, Rose and Frisch had .500+ winning percentages, while the other three (Bill Dahlen, Bob Caruthers and Pud Galvin) had sub .500 winning percentages. Caruthers and Galvin didn’t get any run as managers, going 23-59 combined. As a group, though, the 70 WAR PTMs are nearly 400 games above .500 and raise the stellar players turned manager’s record to 9,912-9,338.
60 WAR Players Turned Managers
|Luke Appling HOF||as player||
|Alan Trammell||as player||
|Jim McCormick||as player||
|Joe Cronin HOF||as player||
|Yogi Berra HOF||as player||
|Buddy Bell||as player||
|Willie Randolph||as player||
|Bobby Wallace HOF||as player||
Average Number of Years Managed: 5.6
Number of 60 WAR PTMs: 8
Thanks to Alan Trammell, Buddy Bell and Willie Randolph, we have added three more players to the list who started their careers after 1960, were worth at least 60 WAR and became managers. There are now four such players with Frank Robinson (began his career in 1956) just missing the cut. However they are a distinct minority. Of the 31 managers with at least 60 WAR, just seven began their playing careers after 1940. In fact, 13 began their careers before 1900; 20 began their careers before 1920; and 24 players began their careers before 1940.
Of the eight 60 WAR PTMs, just three were player managers and more began their careers after 1970 than before 1900. However, as a whole, this group didn’t make particularly good managers. They combined to go below .500, with only Buddy Bell, Yogi Berra and Joe Cronin having significant managerial careers. Collectively, they have just four pennants and five play-off appearances between them with no World Series victories.
50 WAR Players Turned Managers
|Ted Lyons HOF||as player||
|Jack Glasscock||as player||
|Ken Boyer||as player||
|Bid McPhee HOF||as player||
|Charlie Buffinton||as player||
|Mordecai Brown HOF||as player||
|Lou Boudreau HOF||as player||
|Billy Herman HOF||as player||
|Joe Torre||as player||
|Joe Kelley HOF||as player||
|Bill Terry HOF||as player||
|Joe Gordon HOF||as player||
|Ed Walsh HOF||as player||
|Stan Hack||as player||
|Bill Dickey HOF||as player||
|Jim O’Rourke HOF||as player||
|Jimmy Collins HOF||as player||
|Bob Elliott||as player||
|Buck Ewing HOF||as player||
|Mickey Cochrane HOF||as player||
|Tommy Bond||as player||
|Max Carey HOF||as player||
|Tony Perez HOF||as player||
|George Sisler HOF||as player||
|Gabby Hartnett HOF||as player||
Average Number of Years Managed: 4.9
Number of 50 WAR PTMs: 25
Expanding the pool to 50+s adds 25 players turned managers, 17 of whom were player-managers. Oddly, only Tony Perez and Joe Torre started their careers during or after 1960, while eight began their careers before 1900 and 11 began their careers between 1903 and 1932.
Torre stands out in this group, winning as many World Series as the others combined; however he does have just the sixth best winning percentage.
Lou Boudreau really holds the group back. While he managed for 16 seasons, the second most of the group behind Torre, his winning percentage was just .487 and he had only one play-off appearance (of course he did win the World Series).
Carried mostly by Torre, this group has an impressive win total, but an incredibly short average tenure.
It does appear that great players who became managers skewed mightily toward the early parts of baseball. In fact, 46 of the 56 players with at least 50 WAR who became managers began their careers before 1940. Not surprisingly, as these were some of the best players of their time, a large portion also served as player-managers.
Of the 57 players with 50+ WAR who became managers:
- 21 began their careers before 1900;
- 11 began their careers between 1901-1920;
- 14 began their careers between 1922-1940;
- Four began their careers between 1945-1959; and
- Six began their careers between 1960-1977.
- 40 were player-managers
- 12 managed for just one season
- Five managed for two seasons
- 11 managed for three seasons
- 10 managed for five or six seasons; and
- Eighth managed for 14 or more seasons.