Friday, February 20, 2009

#538 Chuck Dressen

Chuck Dressen by you.
And here's installment number two in our series of Hand Cupped to Mouth Managerial Poses. Sheez, Chuck Dressen looks even older than his 65 years, doesn't he? That seems to be a trend with Tiger managers, if you include Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland. To be fair, Chuck is one of the few men featured in this set to be born in the 19th Century, having come into this world in September of 1898. (Casey Stengel, born in 1890, has him beat. But that's a story for another day.)

Fun facts about Chuck Dressen:

-Was a two-sport pro athlete, playing quarterback for George Halas in the NFL and its predecessor, the APFA before turning to baseball full-time. Incidentally, Halas played a dozen games for the Yankees in 1919.

-Played for the Reds from 1925-1931 and the Giants in 1933. Was Cincinnati's starting third baseman for four seasons and hit .272 with 123 doubles for his career.

-Managed the Reds from 1934-1937, finishing no higher than fifth in any season.

-Coached for the Dodgers (1939-1946) and Yankees (1947-1948) before returning to managing, winning 222 games in 1949-1950 with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League.

-Returned to Brooklyn as manager in 1951, just in time to lose the pennant in heartbreaking fashion. When the Dodgers completed a sweep of the Giants on August 10 to increase their lead to a seemingly insurmountable 12 and one-half games, Dressen celebrated in the clubhouse, singing "The Giants is dead!" to the tune of "Roll Out the Barrel". He sang loud enough for the New York team to hear him in the adjoining clubhouse. Of course, the Gothams came back to tie the Dodgers in the standings and force a playoff. Chuck bore a great deal of blame for choosing Ralph Branca to pitch to Bobby Thomson, who hit "The Shot Heard 'Round the World", a pennant-winning home run for New York. But the manager was relying on the testimony of bullpen coach Clyde Sukeforth, who reported that Carl Erskine was bouncing his curveball in warmups. Sukeforth was the scapegoat, losing his job at the end of the year.

-Dressen's Dodgers rebounded to win two straight pennants with 96 and 105 wins, respectively. In both seasons they ran into the Yankees juggernaut in the World Series, falling to the Bronx Bombers in seven games in 1952 and six games in 1953.

-Following the successes of 1953, Chuck overplayed his hand by bucking team policy and publicly demanding a three-year contract instead of a simple one-year renewal. Owner Walter O'Malley quickly fired him, choosing AAA manager Walter Alston as his replacement. Alston would win seven National League pennants and four World Series in 23 years with the Dodgers...and did it all on 23 one-year contracts.

-He struggled in subsequent managerial opportunities in Washington (116-212 from 1957-1959) and Milwaukee (159-124 from 1960-1961 - the Braves were in fourth place when he was fired).

-The Tigers, stuck at 26-34, hired Dressen midway through 1963. He rallied them to a .500 record with a 55-47 run. He got the team over the hump with 85 wins in 1964, but missed the first few months of 1965 after suffering a heart attack. He made it back to the helm for the final 120 games, and Detroit finished with 89 victories. Sadly, another heart attack sidelined him just 26 games into the 1966 campaign. During his recovery, he developed a kidney infection that claimed his life on August 10, 1966. He was 67 years old.

-Chuck's major league managerial record was 1,037-993. His best-known quote was, "Just hold them, boys, until I think of something".
Chuck Dressen (back) by you.


  1. Dressen was quite the character in "The Boys of Summer"

    I think it was Clem Labine, not Carl Erskine who was "bouncing his curveball" in the bullpen in that fateful Bobby Thomson game in '51. Erskine was a starter and Labine the Dodgers' leading reliever.

    I didn't know Dressen managed for so long after the Dodgers.

  2. I can't believe I've never read Boys of Summer. I did read Memories of Summer, one of Kahn's other books about the Dodgers. It was a good one.

    You're right about Labine! Erskine was the pitcher who was pulled when Branca came in. Good catch.


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