Flashback: New Orleans natives reach MLB managerial ranks
New Orleans has a rich tradition of professional baseball since the Pelicans first fielded a minor-league team in 1887. Native New Orleanians have been on major-league rosters since the beginning of the organized baseball. The City has produced its share of players, including such stars as Mel Ott, Mel Parnell, Rusty Staub, and Will Clark.
However, there have been only a handful of New Orleanians who went on to manage at the big-league level. The route each of them took in assuming the job provides an interesting look at baseball through the years. They found out first-hand that a major-league manager’s job is one of the toughest in all of sports.
Out of six New Orleanians, only Mel Ott and Ron Washington held full-time jobs as managers, with Ott continuing to play at the same time. Charlie Mason, Lou Klein, George Strickland, and Connie Ryan filled the role on an interim basis for their respective teams. Washington was the most successful of the group, leading the Texas Rangers in back-to-back World Series appearances. Below is a summary of each of their careers.
Charlie Mason among the first 275 players in major-league history, making his debut in 1875 with one of the Philadelphia teams in the National Association. He appeared in twenty games that year and later played several minor-league seasons before becoming a part-owner of the Philadelphia Athletics.
When Athletics manager Frank Bancroft went on the sick list requiring a leave of absence, the 34-year-old Mason stepped in to manage the team for the balance of the season. Under Mason, the team posted a 37-41 record and finished sixth in the final standings. It was his only managerial stint in the majors.
Mel Ott was a product of McDonogh-Jefferson High School in Gretna before signing with the New York Giants as a 17-year-old. Two years later he broke into the Giants’ starting lineup as an outfielder and became one of the top hitting stars of the National League. He led the league in home runs for six seasons and the National League’s career home run leader (511) until Willie Mays surpassed him in 1966.
During World War II, Ott took on the Giants’ managerial role, while he continued to play full-time. Under his helm, the Giants finished in third place in his first season in 1942 but fell into the lower half of the National League for the next four seasons. With a reputation as a quiet, courteous gentleman, Ott was the subject of rival Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher’ saying that “nice guys finish last.”
Ott’s last season as manager of the Giants was in 1948, when Durocher ironically replaced him at mid-season. Ott’s career record as a manager was 464-530.
Lou Klein was an All-Metro player at S. J. Peters High School before signing a professional contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1940. He made his major-league debut in 1943 and helped the Cardinals win the World Series as their second baseman. After losing his starting job to Red Schoendienst in 1946, he was one of several players who “jumped” to the Mexican League when the Pasquel brothers were luring players from the major leagues.
Klein became a player/manager in the Chicago Cubs system and then was part of the infamous “College of Coaches” concept in 1961 and 1962, when owner Phil Wrigley decided he didn’t need a full-time manager for the Cubs, instead instituting a rotating head coach role from the ranks of the Cubs’ coaches. In 1965 Klein became the manager of the Cubs in mid-June, replacing Bob Kennedy, as the Cubs finished in eighth place. He combined record as Cubs manager was 65-82.
George Strickland was a member of the S. J. Peters High School team that won the New Orleans city title in 1942. He was signed by the Boston Red Sox organization and initially played for the hometown New Orleans Pelicans. Known as an outstanding fielder, he made his major-league debut with Pittsburgh in 1950 and was the starting shortstop for the Cleveland Indians who captured the American League pennant by winning 111 games. He continued to play for the Indians until retiring as a player in 1960.
Strickland was signed by the Minnesota Twins as a base coach for a year and then took a similar job with the Indians. He served two interim stints (1964 and 1966) as manager of the Indians when Birdie Tebbetts missed time due to illness. His combined record as manager was 48-63. He retired from his coaching duties in 1972.
Connie Ryan was an All-Prep member of the legendary Jesuit High School team that won the state championship in 1936. The team featured seven players that eventually played professional baseball, including three major leaguers. He was the first athlete to receive a full baseball scholarship at LSU, where he played his freshman season before signing a professional contract in 1940 with the Atlanta Crackers.
The infielder made his major-league debut with the New York Giants in 1942 and went on to a 12-year major-league career that ended in 1954. He made the National League all-star team in 1944 with the Boston Braves and appeared in the 1948 World Series with them.
Ryan coached and managed in the minors before obtaining coaching positions with several major-league teams. While coaching with the Atlanta Braves in 1975, he was interim manager for 27 games. With the Texas Rangers in 1977, he managed six games. Reportedly, he was not considered for full-time manager’s jobs because management was worried about “his no-nonsense approach.” Altogether his record as a major-league manager was 11-22.
Ron Washington attended John McDonogh High School before trying out and being accepted in a baseball academy sponsored by the Kansas City Royals in 1970. He played in their system for five seasons following the academy. He made his major-league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977 but didn’t get a permanent job in the majors until 1982 with the Minnesota Twins. He also played for Baltimore, Houston and Cleveland before retiring as a player in 1990.
Washington served as a major-league coach for the Oakland Athletics for 11 seasons, before getting his first opportunity to manage at the big-league level with the Texas Rangers in 2007.
In 2010, Washington led the Rangers to their first World Series but Texas fell to the San Francisco Giants. The Rangers repeated as AL champs in 2011 under his leadership and came within one pitch of winning the World Series in Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals. However, the Cardinals prevailed by winning Games 6 and 7.
The Rangers had a third consecutive playoff season in 2012. Washington resigned as manager during the 2014 season. He has the second-most wins (520) in Rangers history.
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New Orleans baseball historian
Richard Cuicchi, Founder of the Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database and a New Orleans area baseball historian, maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Family Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives. He has contributed to numerous SABR-sponsored Bio Project and Games Project books.