Monday, July 19, 2010

The Greatest Manager that Ever Stepped in Shoe Leather?

If your favorite team is falling behind, or worse, dead last in the division, it's not time to become depressed. It's time to rustle up hope and start believing in miracles such as the 1914 "Miracle Braves." This point in the season is when the mood started to change for George Stallings and his Boston Braves. They went from last place as late as July 15 to sweeping the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. Stallings's unique management approach, while too abrasive for some, seemed to bring out the best in many of his players and played a role in the 1914 team's success.

The Georgia native wore street clothes to manage games but by all accounts his demeanor on the field was in stark contrast to the kind southern gentleman Stallings was off the field. During games Stallings would yell at his players and call them names. He could forgive mechanical errors but would attack players for dumb mistakes. He is sometimes given credit for coining the term "bonehead" in 1897 when referring to his Philadelphia Phillies team. Whether or not the Phillies are the original boneheads (sorry, this Braves fan couldn't resist), the term was one of Stallings's favorites and was used freely.

One popular Stallings story tells of him saying he'll let "bonehead" have a try at pinch hitting and five or six Braves picking up their bat, assuming they were the intended bonehead. Like many anecdotes, the details of this story vary a bit each time it's told and actually the earliest account I could find, a September 1914 newspaper article, doesn't use the term bonehead at all, but "ivory head."

Be it bonehead, ivory head, dunce, clown or simpleton, if he messed up, the player knew one of these jabs was coming his way. The 1897 Philadelphia team didn't respond to Stallings's style of management and he was soon replaced by a more mild-mannered leader. While he had his share of critics, he had as many, if not more, fans. Stallings's style was a strategy and not simply a personality. Harold Kaese explains in The Boston Braves, 1871-1953, "Stallings was a brilliant strategist and tactician, but he excelled as a handler of men. His theme song was, 'You can win, you must win, you will win.' He was a salesman who peddled determination and self-confidence."

Hub Perdue, a pitcher who played for the Braves said, "George Stallings is the greatest manager that ever stepped in shoe leather." He went on to claim,
"On the ballfield Stallings is the meanest man in the world. When he starts to 'ride' you he can tell you things about yourself that you never knew. he will make you wish the earth would open up and swallow you whole. You quit the field thinking that you are ticketed for the minors. But the next day you invariably read in the papers where Stalling says you are the best ball player on this earth or anywhere else."
Purdue claimed the only mistake the manager ever made was getting rid of him!

I can't imagine working for someone who makes me wish the earth would open up and swallow me whole. Well, that's not exactly true. I can imagine it. I've been there. What I can't imagine is wanting to work for someone who makes me feel like that! Stallings had a .495 overall winning percentage as a manager and the Miracle Braves were his only Pennant and only World Series win. Do you consider him a successful manager? Would you have found his tactics motivating?

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