Ralph Houk managed the New York Yankees in one of their most glorious seasons and through some of the organization's roughest times.
And he had the good sense to see George Steinbrenner coming; Houk quit before the Boss could fire him.
It was no wonder: Houk also survived D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
Houk, a manager for 20 seasons in the majors who led the Yankees to two World Series championships and three pennants in his first seasons at the helm, died Wednesday at his home in Winter Haven, Fla. He was 90.
Houk won 1,619 games — 15th all-time — with the Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox from 1961-1984. The arc of Houk's playing career was forever changed by the war, where he won a Silver Star and rose to the rank of major — which became his nickname.
Via his obituary in the New York Times, we can gain insight into how Houk handled his players:
Houk's strong point was building the morale and confidence of his players with an optimistic outlook and a refusal to criticize them publicly.
"I don't think you can humiliate a player and expect him to perform," Houk said.
He went 944-806 in 11 seasons in New York, but he did his best managing in the early going when the talent was still great. Especially in '61, his baptism by fire as a major league manager.
Sure, life looks great when you're standing next to (from the left) Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio (who was retired by then) — but the job wasn't so easy.
It's hard to imagine the impact of the media circus surrounding the Yankees, particularly coverage of the pursuit by Mantle and Roger Maris of Babe Ruth's single-season home run record.
If it was anything like what Billy Crystal portrayed in "61*," then Houk had his hands full.
After a two-year stint as the Yankees' general manager, Houk returned to the dugout in 1966 and stayed until 1973 during a period of decline; the Yankees finished under .500 four times, if you can believe it. With Steinbrenner on the way in and set to clean house, Houk resigned.
Houk knew when he was in over his head.
He managed Detroit from 1974-1978, getting out just as Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Jack Morris were establishing themselves in the majors — and before Sparky Anderson took that core group to the World Series.
I'm old enough to remember Houk near the end of his career when he managed the Red Sox. He had modest success in the early '80s, between eras of Boston heartbreak. He was Wade Boggs' and Roger Clemens' first manager. And the last for Carl Yastrzemski.
As a 10-year-old, my honest impression of Houk was this: "He seems really old to be managing." And withthose sunglasses, he reminded me of Douglas MacArthur.
But the guy was a survivor — and he was pretty good at being a manager, too.