Thursday, July 22, 2010
Rant #304: The Major May Be Minor, But He Has Left the Building Too
Deaths seems to happen in threes.
During this past week, longtime Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard passed away at 99 years old. Just a few days later, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died at 80.
Although the third death in this triumvirate isn't a person that was as well revered as Sheppard and Steinbrenner were, it still hit me, and probably all Yankee fans, hard.
Ralph Houk, who guided the Yankees to two pennants early in his managerial career but was also the manager when they were a last place team, died yesterday at age 90.
Houk played on a number of pennant winning teams with the Yankees in the 1950s as the team's third catcher, which meant that he was the 25th man on the team and rarely played. Although he was a Yankee player for several years, he didn't play a total of 100 games in his career.
But he was an astute baseball man, and the Yankees knew it.
He was their manager after Casey Stengel, guiding them to their last successes in the 1960s, during the heyday of the teams dominated by Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford.
After a stint as the general manager--he hired the likes of Yogi Berra and Johnny Keane as managers--Houk, who was nicknamed "The Major" because that was his rank during World War II, came down to the field again as manager.
Maris was gone, Mantle and Ford were battling injuries and age, and his teams weren't very good at all.
In fact, in 1966--just two years after being in the World Series--the Yankees fell to last place.
I was nine years old during 1966, and that team--and the teams that followed it during the 1960s and early 1970s--were my teams, when my love of baseball peaked.
Those were the teams of Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Mel Stottlemyre, Fritz Peterson, Lindy McDaniel and a whole list of players now forgotten, like Jerry Kenney, Steve Whittaker, Mike Kekich and numerous others.
I lived and died with the Yankees then, and since they were pretty bad, I died more than I lived.
Houk was the manager through 1973, so he was the first manager during the George Steinbrenner era. After the 1973 season, he retired, but later came back to manage the Tigers and the Red Sox.
The things I remember him most for were his on the field tirades as manager and his cigars. Next to Earl Weaver, his tantrums were classic, throwing hats and kicking dirt around umpires, and those cigars that he always seemed to be with smelled even through the TV or newspaper that showed him with his beloved stogies.
Houk, Sheppard and Steinbrenner--what a trio.
And get better soon, Yogi Berra.
Posted by Larry at 3:41 AM