The theory that death comes in threes seems to have proven itself once again, as the New York Yankee family lost its third major member in less than two weeks.
Ralph Houk, who led the team to three straight American League Pennants and two straight World Championships in the early 1960s passed away on Thursday, July 22 in Winter Haven, Florida at the age of 90. He was one of only a small collection of baseball nonagenarians at the time of his passing.
Houk began his professional baseball career in 1939 as a Yankees farmhand, making his way to the big leagues in 1947 after serving in World War II and being awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and Bronze Star. He spent parts of eight seasons with the team, though he played in a combined total of only 91 games, with his career high of 41 coming in his first year (in fact, from 1948 to 1954 – his final season – he never played in more than 14 big league games in any given year).
It was as a manager that Houk’s star shone most brightly. He began his skippering career in 1961 as head of the Yankees, leading them to a World Series that very year. He did the same the next year, and in 1963 he led them to an AL Pennant. Oddly, those would be the only playoff appearances he would ever achieve.
Indeed, Houk began his managerial career with three straight 95-plus win seasons (two of which exceeded 100 wins) – but he eclipsed 90 wins only once after that. Though he led multiple teams to winning records – eight in the ensuing 17 years of managing – he never succeeded in driving another team to the playoffs.
“Major,” as he was nicknamed, headed the Yankees for a total of 11 seasons, leading them to 944 wins and 806 losses – a .539 winning percentage. He next skippered the Detroit Tigers for five years, from 1974 to 1978, piloting those hapless teams to only 363 wins against 443 losses. From 1981 to 1984 he led the Boston Red Sox to 312 wins and 282 losses, putting together winning teams in all but one of those seasons. In total, Houk skippered for 20 seasons, with a managerial record of 1,619 wins to 1,531 losses to his credit.
Ralph Houk put together a managerial career that some have considered Hall of Fame worthy. Though that may be debatable, he most certainly left an indelible mark on the memories of Yankees fans of yore nonetheless.
Tags: Baseball, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Yankees