By: Scott RossPublished: October 11, 2022

Second Basemen Are Second to None as Managers

Catchers get all the love, but second basemen have a way better track record

Rob Thompson toiled in the Detroit Tigers minor league system for four seasons, mainly as a catcher, where he batted a meager .225/.312/.304, before moving into coaching. He took over as the Philadelphia Phillies' manager in June following the firing of then manager Joe Girardi, a fellow ex-catcher, who'd gotten the team off to a 22-29 start. The Phils went 65-46 under Thompson, making it to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, where they swept the St Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card round. On Monday it was announced that Thompson had signed a two-year contract to be Philly's manager for the foreseeable future.

Baseball fans take it as an article of faith that catchers, men like Thompson and his predecessor, make good managers. No other player is more involved in the granular management of the game, the calling of pitches, quarterbacking the defense, participating in the offense, and a hundred other things we never see. They have so many more responsibilities than the average player that we expect very little of them at the plate.

But looking at the 378 men in Major League Baseball history who have managed at least 162 games during the World Series era (1903 forward), one can't help but think that maybe catchers have been given a bit too much credit. Maybe we should be looking up the middle to the keystone for a higher grade of managerial timber.

Most Major League managers spent at least some time in the bigs, so assigning to them a position is pretty easy. For guys who played only in the minors, especially those who did so before the 1980s, things can get a little guessworkier, especially for outfielders, most of whom don't have their positions specified. For guys like Pete Rose and Paul Molitor who bounced around the diamond, I tended to go with the position they came up playing, so Rose is a 2Bman, while Molly's at the hot corner. For a handful of guys, finding any pro ball position proved fruitless.

Through the 2022 regular season, the 378 managers were at the helm for a total of 403,661 games, with catchers in charge 27% of the time. This is far and away the highest percentage of any position, besting the second basemen's rate of 17%. But the 2Bmen have clearly outperformed the catchers, with a .511 winning percentage compared to .498 -- that's right, catchers are losers, sporting the third-worst winning percentage of the nine positions.

And though catchers have won more World Series, 31, than any other position, that's largely because they've had so many more chances. Catchers have won a World Series in 4.70% of the seasons they've managed (calculated as rings/162 games) ... but the all-time average is 4.71%, and 2Bmen take home the hardware 6.23% of the time.

P3427,064 13,456 13,608 .497889847.3%74.2%
C93107,231 53,418 53,813 .49853250551.3%314.7%
1B3130,383 15,273 15,110 .50316314952.2%147.5%
2B5767,849 34,645 33,204 .51130127552.3%266.2%
3B4444,229 22,240 21,989 .50314217744.5%82.9%
SS4642,450 21,094 21,356 .49712815545.2%72.7%
LF2533,057 16,810 16,247 .50915216348.3%73.4%
CF2624,716 12,426 12,290 .5031029751.3%63.9%
RF1722,880 11,534 11,346 .504927854.1%117.8%
NA53,802 2,080 1,722 .54714960.9%00.0%
 378403,661 202,976 200,685 .5031714170650.1%1174.7%

To be fair, catchers have the distinct disadvantage of having among their ranks the great Connie Mack, who, for all his baseball acumen, spent the latter third of his half-century-long career as owner/manager of the Philadelphia Athletics running a bootleg operation, having sold off one of the game's great dynasties and then not even trying to compete for the next 17 years. From 1934 to 1950, Mack steered the A's to a record of 986-1489, an absolutely tragic .398 winning percentage; 10 times finishing in eighth place in an eight-team league.

But even if we wipe away those seasons when Mack was obviously not trying to win ballgames, the catchers' winning percentage increases only to .500, still well short of 2Bs' .511. The Mack Adjustment also improves the catchers' World Series percentage to 4.81%, or just above average, but still nowhere near the pivotmen.

What's interesting about the conventional wisdom's pro-catcher bias is that it shows up time and again in Manager of the Year voting, with catchers taking the trophy 31.5% of the time, more than the next two positions (2B and LF) combined. But this love doesn't hold up over the arc of a manager's career, as six second basemen-turned managers have been enshrined in Cooperstown, compared to just four catchers.

Clark Griffith201901192014911367.52200.0000P
Tommy Lasorda211976199615991439.5263130.5082P
Wilbert Robinson191902193113991398.50039.2500C
Al Lopez171951196914101004.58428.2000C
Joe Torre291977201023261997.5388458.5924C
Connie Mack531894195037313948.4862419.5585C
Walter Alston231954197620401613.5582321.52341B
Miller Huggins171913192914131134.5551815.54532B
Earl Weaver171968198614801060.5832620.56512B
Joe McCarthy241926195021251333.6153013.69872B
Bucky Harris291924195621582219.4931110.52422B
Sparky Anderson261970199521941834.5453421.61832B
Tony La Russa351979202228842500.5367161.53832B
Bill McKechnie251915194618961723.524814.36423B
Bobby Cox291978201025042001.5566769.49313B
John McGraw331899193227631948.5862628.48133B
Leo Durocher241939197320081709.54078.4671SS
Dick Williams211967198815711451.5202123.4772LF
Ned Hanlon191889190713131164.53000.0000CF
Billy Southworth13192919511044704.5971111.5002RF
Whitey Herzog181973199012811125.5322625.5101RF
Casey Stengel251934196519051842.5083726.5877RF
Frank Selee16189019051284862.5981001.0000NA

Interestingly, there have been five men in MLB history who were so bad at baseball that they left no meaningful trace of a professional playing career. Frank Selee, Mike Schildt, Carlos Tosca, Dave Trembley, and Hugo Bezdek combined to play little to no pro ball, never really establishing themselves as anything, but loved and understood the game well enough to reach the bigs as managers.

Trembley was the only flameout, with a Mack-tankingesque winning percentage of .398, but to be fair, he had taken over a woefully bad Baltimore Orioles club. Selee, on the other hand won five pennants and made it to Cooperstown, despite the fact that as a player he, in the words of David Fleitz, "possessed more enthusiasm than talent."

If you want to play it positionally safe, while also bucking the trends, second basemen are the way to go. Look at the list of the former 2Bmen/managers and you'll find some of the greatest leaders the game has ever known: Sparky Anderson, Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Davey Johnson, Joe McCarthy, Danny Murtaugh, Miller Huggins, Tony La Russa. Those eight men put together a record of 13,854-10,910 (.559) in the regular season, and 231-191 (.547) in the postseason, with 35 League Championships and 21 World Series titles. That's bananas.

This article would not have been possible without the gift that is Baseball Reference, to say nothing of the more recent blessing that is TABLEIZER!

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