By MARK KNUDSON
Special to woodypaige.com
When veteran skipper Bud Black was introduced as the new Manager of the Colorado Rockies in November of 2016, it meant that the duo of Cincinnati’s Bryan Price and Boston’s John Farrell suddenly had a third member to add to their band and could form a Power Trio.
This trio represents the entirety of current Major League Baseball Managers who were pitchers during their professional baseball careers. There are 16…count ‘em 16…former catchers now managing in the bigs, but just three former hurlers.
Former pitchers normally see their coaching careers peak when they end up as big league pitching coaches. Others end up as bullpen coaches. There are actually quite a few coaching positions throughout the professional levels that are reserved for former pitchers. Manager just isn’t one of those.
But some do break through. Some historically good Major League managers were former pitchers. Here’s a Six-Pack:
6. George Bamberger. His Major League pitching career was short – just 14 1/3 innings – but he won over 200 games in the minor leagues. Bamberger’s lengthy minor league pitching career led to a successful run as a pitching coach with Baltimore, where he helped develop a staff that would eventually produce four 20-game winners on the same staff in 1971. Taking over as the Manager in Milwaukee in 1978, “Bambi” led Brewers to a 26-game turnaround. He would end up his managerial career with 458 wins.
5. Dallas Green. Green had a nondescript big league pitching career, winning a total of 20 games for four different clubs in the 1960’s. He went on to greater fame as a manager, leading the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series title in 1980. Even more noteworthy was that as General Manager of the Chicago Cubs, Green led the ultimately successful effort to get lights installed at Wrigley Field.
4. Walter Johnson. An inaugural member of Baseball’s Hall of Fame, the games second-winningest pitcher (417) and all-time leader in shutouts (110) went on to post another 529 wins as a big league manager. As a pitcher, Johnson held baseball’s all-time strikeout record for more than 50 years after leading the league in strikeouts for eight straight seasons. As a skipper, his teams won more than 90 games three times in his seven managerial seasons – but never made the post-season.
3. Roger Craig. The man credited with inventing the Split-finger fastball during his days as a pitching coach won three World Series titles as a player; he was a stalwart on the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching staff in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. After retiring and gaining success as a pitching coach, Craig moved into the first chair when he took the reins of the San Francisco Giants in 1986 and turned around a team than has lost 100 games in 1985. In his first five full seasons, the Giants had five consecutive winning records. They won the NL West in 1987 and lost to the Oakland A’s in the infamous “Earthquake” World Series in 1989.
2. Bob Lemon. A seven-time All-Star and Hall of Fame pitcher, Lemon helped Cleveland win the World Series in 1948 as a hurler, and 30 years later led the Yankees to another World Series title after taking over the managerial role in mid season (the first AL manager ever to do that.) Maybe most impressively he survived the “George Steinbrenner – Billy Martin” Yankees Era intact. Lemon compiled a 430-403 record as a skipper.
1, Tommy Lasorda. The game’s last great “ambassador” didn’t win a big league game (0-4) as a pitcher during two stints in the big leagues, but more than made up for it as a manager, recording 1,599 victories. (He did win a World Series ring with the Dodgers in 1995 even though he did not see the field in the series.)
Lasorda’s Dodgers won the World Series in 1981 and 1988. He captured four NL pennants and eight division titles as the LA skipper over 20 years (1976-1996). Lasorda was inducted to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1997 in his first year of eligibility. He capped off his remarkable career by coaching the United States Olympic team to the Gold Medal at the 2000 Summer games in Sydney, Australia. He’s the first (and thus far only) manager to win the World Series and a Gold Medal.