A month from now the baseball season will be all over, World Series and everything, and it will be time for one of baseball's sacred rites: firing the manager. Actually, although this is the most popular season for bloodletting, it can happen anytime and often docs, depending on how insecure the front office is.
It is a curious ritual, but its origins can be traced to man's misty past, when a besieged tribesman would pick a sheep out of his flock and tie it to a tree for the marauding wolves to take, in the hope that the wolves would be distracted long enough to give the tribe time to get across the state line. Now, it is not intended to group baseball's owners and general managers with Cro-Magnon man, which would be neither fair nor accurate. Cro-Magnon man did not have an Italian silk suit to his name, he knew nothing at all about tax write-offs and if he ever paid an untested shepherd boy 100,000 brightly colored stones to sign up with the tribe details of the transaction were not recorded on the walls of those caves in southern France. There is not one owner or general manager in the major leagues who cannot write his name or do simple sums, and all of them know the rules. Particularly the one that says, when you can't find anything else to do, fire the manager.
Since 1901, when baseball's allegedly modern era began, managers have enjoyed an annual job-casualty rate of 32.5%. Some are dismissed, some "resign for the good of the ball club." Whatever it is called, it means that during the 16-club era, which ended in 1960, managers were fired at the rate of five a year. It means, too, that of the 20 men now managing in the majors, at least six, according to the historical odds, will be fired by this time next year.
Before that smart aleck in the back of the class says that the odds probably have been distorted by figures from early in the century, when managers were really insecure, let it be known that the tide is rising, that in the last decade more managers have been fired than in any other 10-year period in the history of the game. Since September of 1953, 63 managers have been staked out for the wolves, an average of more than six a season. To bring a harsh and recent note of reality to all this mathematical doodling, note that of the 20 men who were managing at this time last year, six have since resigned, retired, switched jobs, moved upstairs or were otherwise hit in the head with an ax. Thus it is reasonable to assume that the trend will continue and that the usual sacrifices will be made during the next 12 months.
The only question is: Who? Who will join Mel McGaha, Hank Bauer, Mickey Vernon, Bob Scheffing and all the others who have gone this way before? It so happens that a form sheet has been prepared, put together by two taxi drivers, a bartender and an elderly elevator operator who says he is a distant cousin of the late Judge Landis. It claims to be authoritative, but it should be noted that the bartender picked Floyd Patterson in five. The managers are rated according to the probability of being fired by this time next year.
Ralph Houk (Yankees): His job is safer than Dan Topping's.
Gene Mauch (Phillies): He did not get fired in 1961 when he lost 23 straight, and now he has had two marvelous seasons in a row.
Al Lopez (White Sox): Superb record over years, surprisingly good showing this season. Highly regarded by General Manager Ed Short.
Alvin Dark (Giants): Strong manager. Undercurrent of criticism his way is unlikely to impress the front office.
Sam Mele (Twins): Fine manager of improving team. Safe unless disastrous slump panics Calvin Griffith.
LONG SHOTS TO GET FIRED:
Bob Kennedy (Cubs): Earned great praise for team's tremendous improvement; yet Cubs slumped toward end of season and have unpleasant history of firing managers suddenly.
Birdie Tebbetts (Indians): Has done good job with drab team and seems headed for greater improvement next year. Works in close harmony with boss Gabe Paul.
Charlie Dressen (Tigers): Gets credit for late surge after replacing Scheffing in mid-June, but Tiger relapse next spring could cost him. There has been a high rate of turnover here in recent years.
Walter Alston (Dodgers): If he blows pennant, wolves will howl again and L.A. front office may finally tie Walter to that tree.
Johnny Keane (Cardinals): A mild, quiet man who does first-rate job, but only the Reds have had as many managers as the Cardinals (26).
NOT LIKELY, BUT WATCH OUT:
Bobby Bragan (Braves): Good stretch run after slow start helps Bobby. On the bad side, when club is in trouble at gate, manager sometimes gets same.
Johnny Pesky (Red Sox): Made excellent impression early in season. Late-summer flop of Sox started some distant howling.
Gil Hodges (Senators): Team has improved under Gil, but managing a last-place team is like living on a volcano.
Harry Craft (Colts): Does competent job running Paul Richards' team. No reason for Harry to take blame for ninth place—except he is the manager.
Casey Stengel (Mets): Only one wolf howled, but he howled loud. Still, George Weiss would be crazy to fire the crowd-pleasing Casey.
REALLY ON THE SPOT:
Ed Lopat (Athletics): Good manager, did capable job with weak team. However, Charlie Finley is his boss, and Finley is a restless man.
Fred Hutchinson (Reds): One of most respected men in majors, but Reds had a very disappointing year.
Danny Murtaugh (Pirates): The same manager he was before his hitters were traded away, but Pirates have gone from pennant to eighth place since 1960.
Bill Rigney (Angels): Manager of the Year in 1962 when astounding Angels finished third. Now they're back near the bottom. Who do you think will be blamed? Bo Belinsky?
Billy Hitchcock (Orioles): Local press is on him, team has had two disappointing seasons in a row.
Of course, it is not inevitable that someone will be fired. There is a precedent for that. Not one single manager got fired in 1936.