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Jonathan Bernstein writes A Plain Blog About Politics and also writes about politics at the Washington Post and elsewhere. He misses, always, rec.sport.baseball.
This is the story of Paul Richards, underappreciated manager factory. It’s been almost 40 years since he last held forth from a dugout, and more than 50 since his real managerial career ended. The careers of the last of the (many, many) managers who played for him has long since come to an end. And yet Paul Richard’s managerial grandchildren, and great grandchildren, are still all over the place—and indeed, most World Series managers still can trace back their baseball lineage directly to him.
Richards, nowadays, is probably most famous as the driving force behind the “Oriole Way”—the fundamentals-based training plan often credited for turning the sad-sack former St. Louis Browns into a premier franchise of the 1960s and 1970s. Or perhaps as the modern innovator of what Rob Neyer coined the “Waxahachie swap,” a managerial maneuver that involves putting a pitcher into the outfield in order to keep him in the game so that he can return to the mound for a platoon advantage. Richards’ biographer, Warren Corbett, argues in a SABR article that Richards was far ahead of his time in terms of modern baseball analysis, using OBP, for example, long before Total Baseball or The Bill James Abstracts.
What concerns me here, however, is just a piece of that: his amazing ability to generate managerial careers. Richards had three stints as a major-league manager: four years with the White Sox from 1951 through 1954; seven years with the Orioles from 1955 through 1961 (he gave up the job in September of ’61); and then a late, ill-fated reprise with the Sox in 1976. That’s 12 years. Before that, he was a player-manager in the low minors for five years, and then after returning to the majors as a player during World War II, he managed in Triple-A for four years before taking over the White Sox.
Richards himself seems to have been a pretty good manager, although he never won a pennant. Both the White Sox and Orioles had been moribund franchises before Richards. The White Sox finished in the first division all of six times between 1921 and 1950 and then four times in a row under his guidance. The Browns and Orioles hadn’t finished in the first division since 1929 with the exception of the war years, and while it took some time, Richards ended up with back-to-back good seasons for the franchise.
During those 12 years in major-league dugouts, Richards managed, by my count, at least 17 players who later became major-league managers themselves. Some of their tenures with him were brief, and some didn’t last long (at least not in the majors) as managers, but still: 17. If you include his minor-league years, you have to add one more major-league manager, bringing his total to 18. I also count at least eight more of his players who became minor-league managers, for a whopping 26 in all. Granted, any manager who holds his job for more than a season or two will spawn some subsequent skippers, either directly or indirectly. But for someone with a relatively short managerial career, that certainly seems like a tremendous number (and the odds are I’ve missed one or more; for one thing, Baseball-Reference is missing information for some minor-league managers).
Granted: all of these players had other managers, too, and it’s hard to know, certainly from just browsing through Baseball-Reference and connecting the dots, where lines of true influence really lie. On the other hand, the count of those who played for Richards omits plenty of players who might have been inspired by him, including his teammates while he was playing, any of his coaches who may have become managers, players who were in spring training camps with him but didn’t make the team, players who were influenced by him when he was General Manager of the Orioles (1955-1958) and Astros (1962-1965) and Director of Player Personnel and later General Manager (1966-1972) of the Braves.
Indeed, Tony La Russa never played for Richards, but said that “Paul Richards’ influence was a career-maker for me.” As well he should. La Russa may or may not realize it, but Richards was all over his career. It’s a long story, but it gives a good sense of how deep Richards’ influence runs, though La Russa wound up getting a lot more of it than is typical.
In La Russa’s second year of organized ball, he was promoted to the Kansas City Athletics, where he sat on the bench while Ed Lopat, who played for Richards, was managing. He then returned to the minors; unfortunately, the information for his 1964 and 1965 manager is unavailable. However, he played in 1966 for John McNamara, who was two steps removed (he played in the minors for Al Widmar, who had played for Richards), and also for Gus Niarhos, who played for Richards. In 1968, he reached the majors again, with the A’s now in Oakland and managed by Bob Kennedy…who had played for Richards. In 1969, the A’s were managed by McNamara and Hank Bauer; Bauer doesn’t have a direct connection with Richards except through the “Oriole Way” (and La Russa was also in the minors for part of the year, not with a Richards guy). In 1970 McNamara was still with the A’s, and the manager in Iowa was now Sherm Lollar, who had played for Richards.
Ready for 1971? Lollar in Iowa, Dick Williams, who played for Richards, in Oakland…and then on to Atlanta, where Richards was GM and his former coach and player Lum Harris was manager. That season, ’72, is another missing one, with the manager at Triple-A Richmond unknown, but 1973 found La Russa with the Cubs, and Whitey Lockman—who, yes, played for Richards at the tail end of his career. Oh, and also in Wichita, where Jim Marshall was manager. Yes, Marshall too.
La Russa spent the next year in the Pirates organization, playing for Steve Demeter, who had played for Richards players Darrell Johnson and Billy DeMars. Then on to the White Sox organization. Same thing: his manager in both 1975 and 1976, Loren Babe, had played for Richards player Connie Ryan. Finally, in his very last season, LaRussa’s manager at Triple-A New Orleans had no connection with Richards.
So that’s La Russa. And while as I said he’s atypical in some ways, the fact that he has a Richards connection is very normal. I looked at the World Series winning managers over the last three decades, going back through 1982. Paul Richards was a managerial “father,” grandfather, or great-grandfather to all of them except Jack McKeon, Mike Scioscia, Bobby Cox, Tommy Lasorda, and Sparky Anderson. That’s 25 out of 30. And typically they had multiple connections: Ozzie Guillen is a four-time great grandson of Richards; Joe Torre, a two-time grandson, through Joe Frazier (the manager, not the boxer!) and Lum Harris. Joe Girardi is a grandson through Jim Essian, and a five-time great-grandson.
Again, some of these connections are weaker than others. For example, some link back through Billy Martin, who played briefly for Sam Mele late in his career. Martin, of course, was above all a Casey Stengel follower. And even the managers themselves probably couldn’t tell you, with any accuracy, what exactly they took from each of their own managers—let alone from “grandfather” or great-grandfather managers. I do, however, like to think that at some point in 1975 Loren Babe started to tell a story he heard from Connie Ryan about Richards, and La Russa realized that he had heard versions of it from various managers throughout his career.
Richards was a catcher during his playing career, and he played for an impressive set of managers: Max Carey (who had played for Fred Clarke, Bill McKechnie, Wilbert Robinson, and others); Bill Terry (John McGraw); and Connie Mack. According to Corbett, Richards considered Donie Bush, his manager at Minneapolis in 1932, as his biggest influence. Bush had been the longtime shortstop of the Ty Cobb Tigers and had played mainly for Hughie Jennings. Manager detectives will recognize that Richards therefore traces back through many threads to Ned Hanlon, legendary manager of the Old Orioles.
This is not to say that when we watch Bruce Bochy or Joe Girardi today we’re really seeing echoes of Ned Hanlon. To begin with, the game is different; and at any rate, this analysis hasn’t been to the level of specific strategies or styles. I do think, however, that Richards has been unjustly unrecognized for his status as a midcentury manager factory. Between that and all of his other contributions, the Wizard of Waxahachie certainly deserves to be long remembered.
The Paul Richards Managers
Major-league managers who played for Richards:
Sam Mele, Bob Elliott, Bob Kennedy, Billy Gardner, Dick Williams, Joe Frazier, Jim Marshall, Whitey Lockman, George Bamberger, Del Rice, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Lopat, Les Moss, Connie Ryan, Jim Essian, Bucky Dent, Darrell Johnson, Lum Harris.*
*Played for Richards in the minors