In their illustrious 119-year history, the New York Yankees, since they were the Baltimore Orioles, have had some of the most impactful players, some of the greatest games played, and some outstanding managers. In my Top 10 columns, I have covered almost everything Yankees except for the Yankee managers. Today we delve into the subject of who was the best Yankee manager of all time. I have considered tenure, winning percentage, how many World Championships they recorded, and their ability to develop players in my biased selection.
The Yankees have had 35 managers over the years, some for a long duration, and some that didn’t even manage a season. Some managed more than once in different years. Billy Martin managed five times. In one year, he was fired and hired back again by owner George M. Steinbrenner. Dick Houser managed for two stints, but only one game in one season. The worst ever Yankee manager was Kid Elberfeld in 1908; he won only 27 games as Yankee manager. The Yankees have only had a losing percentage in 13 seasons, the best record in baseball. But one must remember a manager is only as good as the players that play for him.
10. Bucky Harris 1947-1948
Bucky Harris only managed the Yankees for two years. But in his two years, he brought the Yankees to four playoff wins and a World Championship with his .620 winning percentage during his tenure. Only six other managers had a better winning percentage.
9. Joe Girardi 2008-2017
Joe Girardi was an average hitter but an excellent game caller as a catcher for the New York Yankees. He caught Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter and David Cone’s perfect game. In 2006 he took over the management of the lowly Florida Marlins and brought them to heights they had never experienced. He was named MLB manager of the year. In 2008 he took over managing the Yankees; his hard-nosed style brought the Yankees to their last World Championship in his second year of management. Girardi had a kind heart but was a demanding manager. He lost his job because many of the new baby bombers couldn’t adjust to his management style. But that style gave him a winning percentage of .562 with 28 playoff wins. That’s the most playoff wins than 32 other Yankee managers.
8. Aaron Boone 2018-present
Aaron Boone has not won a World Series in his three years of New York Yankee management, but he places number 8 on this list for winning the most wins in his first two-year tutelage than any other manager that has managed for only two years. He also had 103 wins in 2019 while having more injured players than any other Yankee baseball season. He also has had the youngest players to mentor. As the years’ pass, Boone may still rise above his number 8 placement.
7. Billy Martin (various)
Billy Martin is undoubtedly the most controversial Yankee manager being hired and fired five times by Yankee Owner George Steinbrenner. He also oversaw the “Bronx Zoo,” a great upheaval period in the clubhouse that has spawned books on the rivalries and fights. Billy was known as “Casey’s Boy,” a favored player by manager Casey Stengel. Martin managed five different teams before his death in 1989. He last managed for the Yankees in 1978. Many fans liked his confrontational type of management, particularly his penchant for arguing with umpires. Martin won only one World Championship for the Yankees but had a .590 winning percentage.
6. Bob Lemon 1978-1979
Bob Lemon replaced Billy Martin in his final exit as Yankee manager. Lemon’s quiet demeanor was in sharp contrast to Martin’s management style and restored some sense of order to the team and clubhouse. In 1978 he won his only World Series Ring. Although only managing for a year and a half, his .617 winning percentage coincidently places him number six all-time for the Yankees and sixth on this list.
5. Ralph Houk 1961-1963
Ralph Houk is another two-year manager in Yankee history. Houk has the distinction of having the best winning percentage of any Yankee manager. In his two years, he had a .637 winning percentage. He is also fourth on the list of World Championship managers to two to his credit. In his two-plus years, he also won the AL pennant three times. He was quick-tempered, but at the same time, he was known for being a “player’s manager.” He was just as quick to protect his players and was ejected 45 times for doing so. Houk also managed from 1966-1973 far less successfully.
4. Miller Huggins 1918-1929
Miller Huggins is tied with Joe Torre for each having an eleven-year tenure as Yankee Manager. Although with the 162 game season, Torre has 150 more games. Huggins had a .594 winning percentage and won 3 World Series for the Yankees. Much of what is remembered about Huggins is that he had the “Murder’s Row” teams of the ’20s. Huggins did not initially want the job because the Yankees were a lousy team but eventually was convinced to take the job. He was all about the fundamentals of baseball and made immediate personnel changes. His all-business approach took the Yankees to their first two World Series.
3. Joe McCarthy 1931-1946
Joe McCarthy has the distinction of being the longest-tenured Yankee manager, managing the team for sixteen years. He is tied for the most World Series wins (7) with Casey Stengel to his credit. He is lower on this list due to making the accomplishment in 500 more games. His winning percentage of .627 is tied with Aaron Boone. His most successful years were between 1936 to 1943, while he racked up seven pennants in eight years. His detractors say he was only valid because he had fantastic players like pitchers Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. He also had Bill Dickey, Frank Crosetti, Joe DiMaggio, and Charlie Keller on his roster. He is one of the few baseball managers that never played in the Major Leagues. Joe McCarthy was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1957.
2. Joe Torre 1996-2007
Joe Torre is my pick for the second-best New York Yankee manager ever. He had four World Series wins in his eleven-year managership. That’s one more than Miller Huggins and with an impressive 76 playoff wins, to Huggins eighteen. Torre is one of the winningest managers in the postseason than any manager in baseball. Torre had a .605 winning percentage for 8th on the all-time list. Torre had a calming effect on the team as he was reticent and seldom criticized players unless it was in private. Torres won four Championships in five years, in a time that was called the last Yankee Dynasty. The now 80-year-old Torre would go on to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. He served as MLB executive for baseball operations. He is now a special assistant to the baseball commissioner.
1. Casey Stengel
Casey Stengel is my pick for the best-ever New York Yankee manager. The seven-time World Champion has the third-highest winning percentage in Yankee history. He accomplished his seven wins in 500 fewer games than the tying Joe McCarthy. He also won the second-most playoff wins, second only to Joe Torre.
The glory days of Casey’s management would begin along with the future dynasty of the Yankees. Stengel tried to keep a low profile during the 1949 Yankee spring training. Still, there was considerable media attention as Stengel shuttled rookies from one position on the field to another and endlessly shuffled his lineup. He had the advantage of diminished expectations, like DiMaggio, the Yankee superstar, was injured few picked New York to win the pennant. Gaining media attention and not wanting the media to know what he was doing, he started his “Stangleaze,” the ability to talk to the media, answer questions and leave the media wondering what he actually said.
In the 1949 World Series, Stengel’s first as a participant since 1923, the Yankees faced the Brooklyn Dodgers; The Yankees would win the series in five games. In 1949 he was Manager of the Year, and his low-key days were over. In the years to follow, the Yankees would win the Series in 1950-51-52-53, a five-time consecutive World Series streak that would not be repeated ever in baseball. After not winning in 54 or 55, the Yankees would again win in 1956. In 1958 the World Series was again against the Dodgers, who won the first two games at Ebbets Field. Stengel lectured the team before Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, and the team responded with a victory then and in Game 4.
For Game 5, Stengel pitched Don Larsen, who had been knocked out of Game 2, and who responded with a perfect game, the only one in major league postseason history. The Yankees took the series in seven games, their seventh World Series win under Stengel, making him the most World Series winner. Stengel was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.
Casey Stengel is one of the few managers in all of baseball to testify before Congress. During baseball anti-trust hearings, Stengel used his “Stengeleaze” to filibuster famous anti-mob Senator Estes Kefauver. His testimony frustrated and confused the Senate, much to the Senate gallery’s delight that often laughed during the proceedings. I have chosen the interview below as an example of “Stangeleaze.”
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.