After Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash was hired by the Rays on December 6, it dawned upon me that he is just 37 and could be a player-manager if the need arose. That sparked me on a nostalgia trip (shocking I know) about the Tribe and their storied history of player-managers.
The Indians have had ten player-managers since their inception in 1901. The first occurred in that debut season, it was Jimmy McAleer, when Cleveland was still the Blues. He only actually played in one game, pitching one third of an inning because of an ejection.
The team's first prominent player-manager was Nap Lajoie, who took over the reins in 1905. However, after a nasty spiking incident that season which almost caused him to have his leg amputated, third baseman Bill Bradley subbed in as skipper for Lajoie while he healed. Bradley was 20-21 as manager. Lajoie, a Hall of Fame player, was not quite as accomplished a manager. He was in charge through 1909, and finished with a 377-309 record; the 1908 season his best shot at a pennant.
Lajoie's successor Deacon McGuire, like McAleer, was a player-manager, but played in only a single game while managing. That was 1910. First baseman George Stovall took over for McGuire early in 1911 and was a player-manager for the duration of the season, finishing with a respectable 74-62 record.
Harry Davis succeeded Stovall in 1912, but only played two games in the field before being replaced in September by outfielder Joe Birmingham. Birmingham sparked a 21-7 run to finish 1912 and kept the job through 1915. He had a good 1913, 86-66 but finished with a woeful 51-102 record in 1914. He did manage the first 28 games in 195, but did play in any of them.
The Tribe's next player-manager was Tris Speaker, who was at the helm from 1919-1926 and guided the Indians to their first ever World Championship in 1920. He finished with a 617-520 record as the Indians skipper.
What was common in the franchise's first quarter century has become very rare since then. After Speaker the Indians went through six managers before finding their next player-manager: Lou Boudreau. "Old Shufflefoot" took over in 1942 after the infamous player revolt against Ossie Vitt. Boudreau led the Indians to their second pennant in 1948, and their second World Championship too. When he left in 1950, he had managed the most games in franchise history, 1,389, and finished with a 728-649 record.
After Boudreau, the Indians, like the rest of baseball, stopped using player-managers. That lasted until 1975, when Frank Robinson became the first African-American manager while also still hitting home runs.
Here we are, almost forty years later...
Since the Indians have only ever won a World Championship with a player-manager at the helm, we need someone to be ready if Terry Francona needs to take a break this year. So which of the current players would make the best fit?
- Jason Kipnis - Scrappy like Boudreau, I think he'd make a decent manager.
- Michael Brantley - Calm and collected, I think he would model Francona very nicely.
- Yan Gomes - Catchers often make the best managers (although for Cleveland this has not always been the case).
- Nick Swisher - Definitely a rah rah guy (but I think he'd be a terrible skipper).
- Scott Atchison - I'm pretty sure he played with Boudreau, so he should know all the tricks of the trade.
- Corey Kluber - Would a computer's binary decisions work well with the rest of the staff?
Who would you choose?