A big league baseball manager, just to qualify for the job, must be regarded by his employers as a man with as many facets as the Koh-inoor diamond. He must seem to have the strategic foresight of an admiral of the fleet, the human understanding of a priest, the disciplinary tendencies of a parole officer, the financial acumen of a corporation president, the belligerence of a wounded grizzly, the competitive urge of a race horse and the constitution of a cat, to name just a few of the requirements. The job pays well—as much as $60,000 a year for a perennial winner like Casey Stengel—but there is hardly a man in the profession who does not occasionally ask himself why he didn't take up some fairly stable occupation like safe cracking. Nonetheless, to a baseball man there is no recognition quite equal to that of being one of the 16 major league managers; it is the ultimate tribute, like a lawyer being appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The turnover in major league managers is appalling, considering the job's importance. Last year there were eight "new" managers employed by the 16 major league teams—new in the sense that they were replacing other managers who had been dismissed. The explanation is quite simple; you have to win or come close to it to hold your job and, of course, only two managers can win. Success as a baseball manager really boils down to one simple formula: have plenty of good players who don't get injured or ill during the five-and-a-half-month season. Casey Stengel, the current genius among managers, is a case in point. Casey managed in the National League for nine years, three in Brooklyn and six in Boston, when those teams were on their uppers. Of the 23 men in National League history who have managed more than 1,000 games, he ranks a dubious 21st, with a won-lost percentage of .440. But since taking over with the Yankees in 1949, Stengel has won the American League pennant six of seven years and the World Series five times. The explanation: he now has the best players.
Actually, the past winter has been an off season of unusual security for incumbent managers. There are only three newcomers among the sacred 16, and all of them are in the National League. As should be expected, two of them—Fred Hutchinson with St. Louis and Bobby Bragan with Pittsburgh—have taken over seventh- and eighth-place clubs, where managerial changes are almost a matter of course. The third—Bill Rigney of the Giants—acquired a vacancy created by Leo Durocher's resignation, one of the very few instances of managerial abdication in the major leagues (although it is generally agreed that there was no serious resistance to Leo's decision following the Giants' mediocre showing last year).
The spare and serious Rigney, inheritor of a third-place ball club, has an option possessed not at all by Bragan and barely held by Hutchinson. He can go down as well as up. But Rigney doesn't expect the Giants to fail him. When he arrived in Arizona he said, "I know everyone here can field. What I'll have to do is pick the best hitters." With such hitters as Dusty Rhodes, Foster Castleman and Willie Mays to choose from, the task didn't appear too difficult. "As I see it," said Rigney, "my biggest job will be weeding out the pitching staff. I know the potentials are there. It's up to Bucky Walters and me to make it live up to the potentials."
As for Hutchinson and Bragan, neither is blessed with any remarkable playing talent that was lacking to their predecessors, so there is no particular reason to assume that their teams will be noticeably improved, assuming the rule is valid that a manager is no better than the players he has to manage. Yet each is enough of a personality in his own right to promise that the National League will be a richer source of entertainment as well as good baseball because of their presence there this year. Hutchinson's Cardinals have all too frequently been described as "the best seventh-place club in the history of the National League," but that doesn't impress or raise the hopes of a man who knows baseball as well as this somber former pitcher and prewar boy wonder who left the Detroit Tigers after two reasonably good managerial years because his boss refused to extend his contract for more than & single year. "A club finishes in seventh place," he will tell you, "because they aren't any better than that."
Bragan's problem is considerably different. Where Hutchinson has a handful of proven stars like Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst and Bill Virdon and Wally Moon around which to build a better team, Bragan has inherited what is known throughout the baseball circuit as Branch Rickey's youth movement. Five years ago Rickey moved to Pittsburgh to revitalize the moribund Pirates, to build the kind of organization he had created for the Cardinals during their great Gas House Gang days, and after that for Brooklyn, which is still enjoying the fruits of his wise horticulture. At Pittsburgh Rickey has assembled a squad which may one day perform miracles, but today they are still just promising young men. Bragan's task is to hasten their progress.
These two young managers, 36-year-old Hutchinson and 37-year-old Bragan, offer quite a contrast. Both grew up in the game, Hutchinson as a prodigy who won 25 games as a pitcher for Seattle in the Pacific Coast League in the summer of his 19th year when he was just out of high school, Bragan as an infielder-converted-into-catcher for the Phillies and Dodgers during the 1940s. Hutchinson was a success—not a great one, but a success—as a pitcher until, one day in the summer of 1952, Red Rolfe was fired as manager of the Tigers and Fred was overnight promoted to boss. Bragan was strictly a journeyman ballplayer, barely good enough for the big leagues. His one moment of fame arrived during the 1947 World Series when he hit a pinch double for the Dodgers in the sixth inning of the sixth game. "Just like a blind hawg finding an acorn," he drawled in his Alabama accent when a reporter reminded him of it in Florida this spring. The next year Bragan faced reality. He went to Branch Rickey, then the Dodgers' general manager, and announced he didn't think he would ever cut much ice as a player. The way he tells it now, " Pee Wee Reese and I came up the same year. Pee Wee was a big star. I was just another player. But I figured I knew baseball. So I asked Mr. Rickey for a chance to manage. There was an opening the next spring at Fort Worth, and Mr. Rickey sent me there."
Ever since Rickey paved the way in 1948, Bragan has been a minor league whiz. He won pennants his first two years, then finished second, fourth and second again. After that he moved to Hollywood, finishing first, second and third in three years. Including three winters in the Cuban League, Bragan's teams have never finished out of the first division. He was ripe for the big time, and this year Rickey promoted him to the parent team.
Hutchinson, on the other hand, had to build his record with Detroit at a time when the owners were engaged in something equivalent to Rickey's youth movement. The club was in eighth place when he took over in 1952, and it finished there. It moved to sixth and then fifth during the next two years, and then Hutch quit in his dispute over a longer contract. Last year he was hired to manage Seattle, his hometown team, and he won the Pacific Coast League championship, nosing out Bragan's third-place Hollywood Stars. The Cardinals hired him as part of a movement to bring new life to a once great but now ailing organization.
Bragan and Hutchinson are as unlike in temperament as they are in appearance. The new Cardinal manager is a big (210 pounds), slow-moving, slow-talking bear of a man with one of the most awesome tempers in baseball. In his active pitching days he had a reputation for taking the locker room apart when he was removed from the game during a bad inning. Once while managing Detroit he was so riled up after losing a close game to the White Sox that he walked the full 10 miles from the ball park to his home to cool off before facing his wife.