The Red Sox announced in late October, 1980, that Ralph Houk would be Don Zimmer’s replacement as their manager. Ralph Houk had managed the Yankees and then the Tigers before retiring as the Tigers’ manager after the 1978 season, but after being out of the game for two years, Ralph Houk was becoming itchy. “I began to watch the pennant races on TV, and they were so exciting that I started to think: ‘Hey, I’m missing out on something.’ I was getting that old feeling. I was getting itchy for something to happen. But I also thought the opportunity would never come for me to get back.” But not surprisingly, Ralph’s telephone started ringing as team began replacing their managers. He received many managerial offers and because Boston had great fans, a great ball park, and a team with a storied tradition, he took the Sox up their offer.
Carl Yastrzemski Welcomed Ralph Houk as Red Sox Manager
Carl Yastrzemski symbolized the Red Sox. Carl Yaztrzemski fought the Yankees as hard as any player in the game. Still, he welcomed Houk with open arms, but was careful not to criticize Don Zimmer. Yastrzemski thought getting Houk was “a super move” because Houk “knew how to win.” Carl continued, saying that the Red Sox had forgotten how to win, losing games they should have won — something that would not happened with Ralph Houk. The baseball reporters likened Houk’s joining the Red Sox to a Union army hero joining the Confederacy.
Ralph Houk Preferred to Work With Baseball People
Another reason that Ralph Houk accepted the Red Sox offer was that he would be working with baseball people, not business people. Houk managed the Yankees under principal owner Mr. George Steinbrenner for only one season, quitting at the end of 1973 because he wouldn’t put up with the interference. “It’s easier and more pleasant for a manager to work with real baseball people. They understand.” Yankees’ manager Gene Michael, who played under Houk with the Yankees for seven seasons, understood. He predicted that Houk would do a great job in Boston because he earned the respect and affection of the players. “Ralph lets you find yourself. He lets you have fun. He believes in that and so do I.”
Ralph Houk Understood His Players
Despite being sixty one years old, Houk still understood the players. He didn’t believe that they were any less dedicated to winning than players of other eras. He thought that players had to have a lot of pride and ability or else they would not have made it as major leaguers. Ralph Houk would never criticize or discipline a player in public. It was always in private to allow the player to maintain his self respect. He could never accept Mr. Steinbrenner’s public berating of players. Mr. Steinbrenner, according to many, including Houk, believed that humiliation could be inspiring.
“You Play When the Manager Wants You to Play”
Houk always explained his decisions to players, primarily because of his own experience as a third string catcher with the Yankees in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1947, Bucky Harris managed the Yankees. Houk, who batted from the right side,played against lefties. He was hitting a respectable .270, handled the pitching staff well, and the Yankees had won 10 of 11 games, when Harris benched Houk. Afraid to confront Harris, Ralph asked coach Charlie Dressen why he wasn’t playing against left handers. Dressen brusquely told Houk “You’ll play when the manager wants you play.”
Ralph Houk Was NEVER Fired
Ralph Houk managed the Red Sox through the 1984 season. In late September, 1984, he tearfully announced that the time had come to retire for good. He said it was time for a younger man to take over. It was the third time that Houk VOLUNTARILY left a team. He was NEVER fired. A few days later, Angels’ manager John McNamara announced that he would not return. The Red Sox hired John McNamara, which was a move that they would not admit, turned out to be a terrible decision. John McNamara was at the helm when Billy Buckner, who had bad legs and should have been removed for defensive purposes in the late innings of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series but was not, made a costly error that contributed to the worst defeat in baseball history. The Red Sox still might have lost that game because it was tied when the error was committed, but it is certain that if Ralph Houk were managing, Mookie Wilson’s ground ball would not have been played by Billy Buckner.
Joseph Durso (1980, October 29). Houk, Fishing, Catches Baseball Fever :Houk, Fishing, Catches Baseball Fever. New York Times (1857-Current file),B11. Retrieved November 26, 2008, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 111306169).
By JANE GROSS (1981, February 23). Ralph Houk, at 61, Starts Over in Boston :Ralph Houk, at 61, Starts Over in Boston. New York Times (1857-Current file),C1. Retrieved November 26, 2008, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 112180377).
Houk Is Retiring As Boston Manager :Decision Called Tough. (1984, September 26). New York Times (1857-Current file),p. B9. Retrieved November 26, 2008, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2005) database. (Document ID: 120492241).