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Playing Background of Major League Managers Print E-mail

By Richard Schumann

       While myths about managers abound (e.g. stars do not make good managers), little has been done to examine the background of successful and unsuccessful managers. The purpose of this article is to examine whether certain playing characteristics (position, ability, and length of career) contribute to the development of successful managers. To do this the playing backgrounds of the 338 men who were major league managers between 1901 and 1981 were examined. For those managers whose managerial careers began before 1901 but finished after 1901, the pre-1901 portion of their record was excluded.

       Managers were classified by playing position, length of major league playing career, major league performance, and length of managing career. All regular and interim managers were included regardless of the length of their terms, but acting managers were excluded. Winning percentages were calculated for each classification by dividing the total number of wins for all managers in a classification by the total number of games managed in that classification. The percentages were examined to see if any correlation existed between these playing characteristics and managerial success.

Playing Position

       Managers were classified according to the position at which they made a majority of their appearances. Those who did not play a majority of their games at one position were listed as utility players. The minor league playing position of eight managers could not be identified.

   Position         Number of Managers    Percent of Managers

Catcher                        73                                21.6

Outfielder                   56                                16.6

Second baseman         44                                13.0

Shortstop                     43                                12.7

Pitcher                         35                                10.4

First baseman              31                                  9.2

Third baseman            27                                  8.0

Utility                          15                                  4.4

Non-player                    6                                  1.8

Unidentified                  8                                 2.4

    The evidence shows that catchers (21.6 percent) and infielders (42.9 percent) were over-represented among managers when viewed in terms of the total number of major league players at each position. In contrast, pitchers (10.4 percent) and outfielders (16.6 percent for all three positions) were under-represented.

    The combined winning percentage of all managers, by position, is listed in the following table.

             Position          Winning Percentage

          Second baseman                       .517

          First baseman                .508

          Third baseman              .506

          Non-player                    .500

          Outfielder                     .498

          Pitcher                           .498

          Shortstop                       .495

          Catcher                          .493

          Utility                            .479

          Unidentified                 .448

    Second basemen finish on top, thanks to the efforts of Joe McCarthy, Miller Huggins, and Earl Weaver. But, what is striking is the relatively small margin between the categories. Given that one game in a 162-game season represents about .006 (about .0065 in a 154-game season) the .038 spread between the highest and lowest percentages (excluding unidentified) represents about six games per season. While this difference could significantly raise or lower a team in the standings, in most cases the difference between a category and those immediately above or below it is less than one game. Each position (excluding the smaller utility and non-player categories and the skewed unidentified category) had at least eight managers with percentages below .450 and three with percentages above .550. The differences in the aggregate percentages represent differences in the relative number of managers with higher or lower percentages and in the number of games managed by the more or less successful managers.

    While the differences are not large, a definite pattern does exist. Former infielders, with a combined percentage of .508, have done better than managers who played other positions. In fact the only three positions which have winning percentages are in the infield. Why this is so is not clear, but former infielders do have better records.

        Length of Playing Career and Performance Rank

    In determining a manager's length of major league playing service, those who played in fewer than 20 games were considered to have zero years of service. For those with 20 or more games, any appearance during a season would qualify as one year of service.

  Length of           Number of       Percent of     Winning

Playing Career      Managers        Managers    Percentage

    0 years                     54                    16.0                 .513

     1-5                          31                      9.2                 .470

     6-10                        78                    23.1                 .494

     11-15                      82                    24.3                 .499

  16 or more                 93                    27.5                 .502

Clearly major league playing experience was a factor in the selection of managers. Over half of all managers had more than ten years of service and almost three quarters had six or more years of service. As with position, the difference between the highest and lowest percentage represents about seven games per season, with the differences among the middle three categories being relatively small. What is interesting is that the two categories at the opposite ends of the spectrum were above .500.

     To evaluate the impact of playing performance on managerial success each of the managers was assigned a rank based on his playing record. The 55 managers with no major league playing experience were designated "minor leaguers," while the 44 who were selected to the Hall of Fame based on their playing careers were designated "Hall of Famers."    The remaining managers were designated as "stars," "regulars" or "journeymen" based on their playing records.

                          Number of       Percent of                           Winning

     Rank              Managers       Managers               Percentage

Minor leaguer               55            16.0                       .513

Journeyman                   71            21.0                       .494

Regular                        115            34.0                       .495

Star                                54            16.0                       .497

Hall of Famer               44            13.0                       .510

     The over-representation of "stars" and "Hall of Famers" is very pronounced. More than one-third of those managers with major league playing experience fall into one of those two categories, far greater than the percentage of all major league players who would fall into those categories. The proportion of managers with only minor league experience is much smaller than the proportion of similar players to the total number of players in organized baseball over the same period.

     The difference between the top and bottom percentages was small, representing only about three games per season, with the differences between the middle categories virtually zero. The managers with no major league playing experience (by definition the same group as 0 years of service in the previous table), which includes Joe McCarthy and Earl Weaver, again had the best winning percentage. Again the two categories at the opposite ends of the spectrum were the only groups above .500. Interestingly, the spread between these categories is smaller than that for position or length of career. The data indicate that clichés such as "marginal players make better managers" or "stars do not make good managers" are not true. Skill as a player has little impact on future managerial success.

Length of Managerial Career

    Not surprisingly a relationship exists between length of managerial career and winning percentage. Generally, managers who are unsuccessful are fired; only those who are successful manage for long periods of time. One exception would be Connie Mack, who was the majority owner of the Philadelphia Athletics.

                   Years as               Winning

                   Manager              Percentage

                     1 year                 .416

                     2-5                      .463

                     6-10                    .496

                     11-15                  .531

                  16ormore               .523

    About 73 percent of the managers with 10 or fewer years as a manager (191 of 262*) had winning percentages below .500. These figures were reversed for those having 11 or more years, with 75 percent (33 of 44*) having records above .500. There are in fact almost two managers with career records below .500 for each manager with a record above .500 (202 compared to 104*).

Pennant and World Series Wins

    A further measure of managerial success is the number of Pennants, Divisional Championships, and World Series won. To adjust for differences in the number of managers and seasons managed in each category, ratios of regular season championships to games managed were calculated for each category. Regular season championships included League Pennants won between 1901 and 1968 and Divisional Championships won between 1969 and 1981. Similar ratios were computed for World Series victories.

*Includes only those who managed 50 or more games

     The resulting ratings for Championships and World Series wins were similar in distribution to the earlier rankings based on winning percentages. The minor leaguer category had the best World Series and pennant ratings among both the length of playing career and player rank categories.  As with the winning percentages, second basemen and first basemen had the best records among the positions. For the length of managing career category those who managed 10 or more years again had the best ratings.




     This article examined the playing background of the 338 major league managers, covering 111,972 games during the period 1901-81.The purpose was to determine if any characteristics, such as playing position, were associated with successful managers. Existence of such a correlation would indicate that players with those characteristics were better prepared or suited to be managers (or conversely, players without those characteristics were less prepared or suited). The data indicated that these background factors were not important in determining managerial success. There were differences among the categories but those differences were not large. In fact each category produced a wide distribution of winning percentages indicating the presence of both successful and unsuccessful managers. Attributes such as leadership ability, knowledge of strategy, ability to reason under pressure and ability to evaluate talent are important in determining managerial success. There is no evidence that any of the playing characteristics studied in this article contributed more than any of the others in the development of these attributes.

     Two observations can be made about the selection of managers. First, experienced major league players are more likely to become managers. Almost three-quarters of all managers had at least six years of major league playing service, and almost two-thirds were regulars during their careers. In addition to their familiarity with major league play, experienced players also have the opportunities to develop contacts which enable them to get the major league coaching and minor league managing jobs which are stepping stones to major league managerial positions.

     Another interesting observation is the under-representation of pitchers. The reasons for this are not clear, though perhaps pitchers are too specialized in only one aspect of the game. Maybe they are more likely to become pitching coaches - not the traditional route to becoming a manager.    Possibly there is just a prejudice that pitchers do not make good managers. Whatever the reason, former pitchers are clearly under-represented among managers.

     Finally, this should put to rest the fallacy that catchers and shortstops - the field generals of the team - make the best managers. Of all the player positions they had the worst overall winning percentages.