Believe it or not….
Yes, that really was Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio serving as a coach on the Oakland A’s bench.
And for as many folks who either never realized it, or forgot, it was a duty that ‘Joltin’ Joe’, the ‘Yankee Clipper’, never performed in New York.
In 1967 Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley hired the Hall of Famer as the team’s vice-president. DiMaggio would also serve as a coach for the newly transplanted Oakland Athletics. DiMaggio needed two more years of baseball service to qualify for the league’s maximum pension allowance.
So, while there was a monetary reason (as there was usually was in Joe’s motivation) for Joe D.’s service to the relocating Bay Area A’s, he also stated a few times over his life that he wasn’t asked by the Yankees to take any type of official personnel position.
And if you didn’t know about Joe, than you may have not known or just forgotten about another Hall of Famer, forever linked to his single team, who was never asked to take an official personnel position… that’s right, Ted Williams.
When Ted retired from the game in 1960, many thought he was headed for a lifetime of fishing. Williams helped new Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski in hitting and adapting to life as the left-field superstar in Boston. Though he mostly (sometime’s to Carl’s frustration) talked and taught about hitting. That was the case for a few years until new Washington Senators owner Bob Short came calling.
Short. who outbid a group headed by Bob Hope, then named himself general manager and wanted, no needed Ted to manage his struggling Senators. Ted wasn’t interested. Short tried again. Teddy said no again. Short brought in AL President and former Red Sox manager Joe Cronin for help. Joe called Ted in Florida and told him, “baseball needs you.” How could Ted say no to his former manager and a salary of $1.25 million over five years?
On April 7, 1969 Ted Williams managed his first game as the skipper of the Senators. Although Williams had never coached or managed at any level of baseball, he seemed to light a spark under the once-moribund Senators. Williams kept them in contention for most of the season, finishing above .500 for the first time in franchise history; their 86–76 record would be its only winning season in Washington. As you would expect from the greatest hitter of all time, Ted’s immediate impact on the Senators came with the hitters. In that first season the team’s batting average went up by 25 points. Attendance soared and he was chosen “Manager of the Year” after that season. Unfortunately the following years did not go as well. 1970 brought pitching problems to Washington and the Senators were below .500 once again at 70 – 92. Year three of Teddy’s regime was even worse with the club making bad trades and finishing the season with a record of 63 – 96. The honeymoon was over and Bob Short wanted out of Washington. He petitioned and won approval to move the team to Arlington, Texas. Ted spent one year in Texas with the Rangers, hated it and resigned at the end of the 1972 season.
Like many great players, Williams became impatient with ordinary athletes’ abilities and attitudes, particularly those of pitchers, whom he admitted he never respected.
I find it interesting how Hall of Fame players can be treated or handled by their teams following their playing days. Is it ego? Is it a control factor? Are irritable prima-donna’s on the field just as bad on the end of the bench? Or do God’s just not make good managers? Sure, you want guys like Ted and Joe or Babe Ruth as spring training instructors, guest-roaming organizational coaches and so on… but take a look at Ryne Sandberg. A Hall of Famer for the Cubs, he made it expressly clear his intention to manage in the majors… and manage the Cubs. While accumulating great minor league numbers, credentials and championships, Chicago let him walk. If anything, Ted’s tenure as Washington/Texas manager (like Wayne Gretky’s in Phoenix) goes to show that a manager’s HOF credentials aren’t always as important as the talent they have to direct on the field.