Hey there. Smed here. Just wanted to kick off my era in the Bad Wax playground with something that lives up to the name of this here blog.
Ralph Houk was a well-respected manager in the American League, mainly because he managed the Yankees after Casey Stengel, and they won. When he moved to be the GM, and after he fired Yogi Berra, they stunk. So ipso facto Houk is a great manager.
Actually, in his second stint as Yankees manager he did OK. Same with his stint in Detroit. Same with his stint in Boston. But he was 309-176 in his first Yankees stint, managed Maris and Mantle through the home run chase, and won two World Series titles. Then he got ‘promoted’ to GM. Something was goofy with the Yankees, and it all exploded in 1965 when they dropped like a rock in the face of player and fan apathy.
His second tenure as Yankees manager was all about rebuilding – moving the Yankees from having to plug in guys like Dooley Womack, Fred Talbot and Thad Tillotson in the staff to being semi-contenders once again in the AL East. But a distant fourth in 1973 ended that honeymoon, especially when some dude named Steinbrenner bought the team. Houk quit rather than have George be George.
Then he moved to a team that was in worse shape than the 1966 Yankees. The post-Billy Martin Tigers were absolutely awful. Martin burned out the staff (of course), didn’t develop any young players, and ‘got fired’ when he realized that his geezers were just geezing along.
Houk’s first team had great names. Freehan (playing first, though), Brinkman (old and still couldn’t hit), Horton (152 OPS+, but only 72 games), Stanley (old and stretched in center and on offense), Northrup (well removed from his glory years), and Kaline (see above). The staff was just as bad. Lolich, Coleman, and LaGrow made 115 starts between them and all had an ERA+ of 91 or less. The bullpen was John Hiller, and he was the only pitcher of note with an ERA under 4. Hiller was 17-14, as a relief pitcher!
Houk stripped the franchise down to the bone in 1975, and then started to build slowly. His 1978 team went 86-76, and could have been better had Mark Fidrych not been hurt. The offense was strong (LeFlore, Kemp, Thompson, Whitaker), the defense solid (Trammell, the original A-Rod), young pitching was afoot (Rozema, Morris, Bob Sykes, Kip Young) and prospects were high. Of course, it took until 1984 to get it all together. Houk had decided his job was done, and retired.
So when Don Zimmer (who was not beloved at all then) was fired in Boston, Houk decided it was time to come back.
The Red Sox weren’t in dire straits, but they needed to plug in players quickly. Houk and the Red Sox took a step forward in 1982, a step back in 1983 (thanks to some pitching issues and Dave Stapleton’s bat going MIA) and then finished 86-76 (and in 4th place) in 1984. The seeds were planted, much like in Detroit, for a pennant. And again, Houk decided it was enough.
The photo on this card may say it all. Ralph is 65 and looks older. Yes, when your bullpen is Stanley, Clear, John Henry Johnson, Gale and Steve Crawford you may age rapidly as well. But you had a sense in seeing this card he had one foot out the door and onto Del Boca Vista, Phase II. That’s makes it kind of a sad card, knowing now that Houk once again planted the seeds of a champion, like he did in New York, Detroit and Boston, and then walked away.
‘Scuse me, talk amongst yourself…I’m feeling verklempt.