Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Miller Huggins: Hall-of-Famer, Monument Parker

Name: Miller James Huggins
Date of Birth: March 27, 1879
Place of Birth: Cincinnati, Ohio
Grew Up In: Same
Nationality: Irish
Position: Manager
Batted: Switch-hitter
Threw: Righthanded
Nickname(s): Hug, the Mighty Mite, the Mite Manager, the Rabbit, Mr. Everywhere

Family: Never married, no known children.

Before He Was a Yankee: Captain of the baseball team at the University of Cincinnati, where he also attended law school. One of his professors told him, "You can become a pleader or a player, not both. Try baseball: You seem to like it better." That professor was a Cincinnati native named William Howard Taft, who went on to game the only man to be both President of the United States and a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (in his case, Chief Justice).

Passed the bar exam, but never practiced law. Played 2nd base for his hometown Cincinnati Reds from 1904 to 1909. Played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1910 to 1916. Was player-manager from 1913 to 1916, and manager only in 1917.

Was considered an excellent fielder, able to cover lots of ground quickly despite his small stature, hence "the Rabbit" and "Mr. Everywhere." Was a decent, sometimes good, hitter: Batted .304 in 1912, led the National League in games played in 1907, plate appearances in 1910, walks 4 times, and on-base percentage in 1913 with .432. Career OPS+ was 107, meaning he was 7 percent better at producing runs than the average player of his time. But Cardinal general manager Branch Rickey chose not to retain him as manager for the 1918 season.

Acquired By Yankees: Hired by co-owner Jacob Ruppert for the 1918 season. The other co-owner, Til Huston, was in Europe with the U.S. Army, and didn't want Huggins -- he wanted to hire Wilbert Robinson, a friend, away from the Brooklyn Dodgers. Huggins had been recommended to Ruppert by American League President Ban Johnson. Ruppert was skeptical at first, but met Huggins and was thoroughly impressed with him. Huggins had to be talked into taking the job by J.G. Taylor Spink, publisher of The Sporting News. (It was published in St. Louis, and Huggins had met him there.)

His first game as Yankee manager was on April 15, 1918, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, with President Woodrow Wilson throwing out the ceremonial first ball, and the Yankees beat the Washington Senators 6-3. 

Uniform Number(s) as a Yankee: None. Last managed in 1929, the 1st season in which the Yankees wore numbers, but did not wear one himself.

Yankee Achievements Include: Got the Yankees into a Pennant race in 1920, their 1st in 10 years. Got them their 1st Pennant in 1921 and their 1st World Series win in 1923. Won 6 AL Pennants: 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, 1927 and 1928. Won 3 World Series: 1923, 1927 and 1928.

Something you should know about him, if you don’t already: The story that Babe Ruth dangled him off the back of a moving train is baloney. It never happened. Indeed, Ruth fully respected him, saying, "He was the only man who knew how to keep me in line."

Everyone in baseball respected him, even men who towered over his 5-foot-5-inch, 140-pound frame. Even rival manager John McGraw of the New York Giants (not a whole lot taller) admired Huggins, perhaps seeing a kindred spirit: A fellow Irish Catholic who had made it big in baseball and in big bad New York, a short infielder (although McGraw got fat in his managing years) who used great intelligence to become a great manager (although Huggins wasn't the type to bait umpires, intimidate his players, or spew profanities).

Left Yankees: It wasn't his choice, although Huston wanted to fire him, but Ruppert finally had enough, and bought Huston out in 1922. Huggins left the Yankees in the worst way. In the club's 113-season history, he is their only manager to die in office. His last game before checking into the hospital was on September 19, 1929, a 7-0 loss the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium.

After He Was a Yankee: Not applicable. 

Died: September 25, 1929, at Saint Vincent's Catholic Medical Center in New York. He had left the team 5 days earlier, admitted with a case of erysipelas, a skin rash caused by a strep infection. By the 1940s, it could be treated by antibiotics, and is rarely fatal now. But in 1929, there was little chance to save him. He was only 50, but always seemed to look much older than he was. A unique honor was granted to his memory: All of the AL's games the next day were postponed. He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.

Monument Dedicated: May 30, 1932 (Memorial Day).

Baseball Hall of Fame: Elected by the Committee On Veterans in 1964.

Other Honors: The Yankees opened a spring training facility at St. Petersburg, Florida in 1925, named Crescent Lake Park. In 1930, they renamed it Miller Huggins Field. When they left, moving across the State to Fort Lauderdale (and back across to Tampa in 1996), and the Mets took it over in 1962, they renamed it Huggins-Stengel Field, adding Casey Stengel's name. They remained there until 1987, moving across the State to Port St. Lucie. The field is still there, but no professional team uses it now, and the stands are long-gone.

Depictions: Played by: Ernie Adams in The Pride of the Yankees, Fred Lightner in The Babe Ruth Story, Bruce Weitz in the 1991 NBC-TV film Babe Ruth, and Joe Ragno in the 1992 theatrical release The Babe. 

Quote of Note: "Luck? I never believed in it. A good team makes its own breaks."

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