With Aaron Boone entering this first season with the New York Yankees, let’s see how some other managers have fared in their first seasons in this role.
2018 is finally here and that means baseball season is just around the corner. Before we know it, Aaron Boone will be leading the reloaded New York Yankees in his first year at the helm of the team.
Because he is entering a situation with such a stacked roster mixed with both young and established talent, Boone has arguably the highest expectations of any first-year manager in not just team history, but the history of the sport.
Everybody knows the Yankees are fans of theatrics and most of the great managers in team history have made incredible debuts. Having access to this team, Boone is looking to join those legendary ranks. With that being said, let’s take a look at the best first seasons under a new manager in Yankees franchise history.
These entries aren’t just going to be first seasons ever managing, but just a manager’s first season with the Yankees. They are also going to appear in this list chronologically, not based off of accomplishments or results.
Joe McCarthy, 1931
Hall of Famer Joe McCarthy came over to New York in 1931 after a stint managing the Chicago Cubs. McCarthy inherited a historic offense that season that was filled with Hall of Fame talent and some of the greatest to ever play the game. The ‘31 Yankees hold the record for most runs scored by a “modern day” team with 1,067.
Babe Ruth hit a ridiculous .373 with 46 home runs and 162 runs batted in. The “Iron Horse,” Lou Gehrig held a .341 average, had the same number of home runs as Ruth with 46 and drove in an insane 184 runs. However, the runs didn’t just come from the two icons.
Outfielder and second baseman Ben Chapman, someone more known for his bigotry on and off the field, drove in 122 runs. The shortstop, Lyn Lary, had 107 runs batted in, the most ever by a Yankees shortstop.
With all of that, he led the Yankees, who went 86-68 the year before, to a 94-59 mark in his first season. They finished second to the Philadelphia Athletics who went 107-45. The Athletics went on to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in that year’s World Series.
Casey Stengel, 1949
In 1949, Casey Stengel took over for the beloved Joe McCarthy, who retired the season prior. Unlike McCarthy, Stengel was not well-liked at the time of his hiring. His time in the major leagues at that point was spent primarily in the National League. There had even been several American League stadiums he never managed in or played in before.
In addition to that, the season was riddled with injuries. Joe DiMaggio only played in 76 games. Nobody on the team besides shortstop Phil Rizzuto or second baseman Jerry Coleman played more than 120 games. Rizzuto played 153 and Coleman played 128.
Because of all this, the Yankees blew a 14-game lead to the Boston Red Sox. The American League Pennant came down to a two-game set at Yankee Stadium. At that point, the Yankees found themselves down one game and needed both to secure their 16th trip to the Fall Classic.
The Yankees won both and went on to win the World Series four games to one over the Brooklyn Dodgers for the franchise’s 12th championship. The team finished the regular season with a 97-57 record and the reception of Stengel went from negative to extremely positive.
Ralph Houk, 1961
When it comes to the pantheon of Yankees managers, Ralph Houk is a name that is not well known, despite having a special place in team history. Houk took over for Casey Stengel and his first season in the Bronx was 1961. This team, which went 109-53, is in the conversation of greatest of all-time and featured one of best sports storylines ever.
1961 was the year outfielders Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris raced to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record of 60. Maris won the race by hitting 61 home runs that year to go with 141 runs batted in and a .269 average. Mantle finished with 54 home runs, 128 RBI and a .317 average.
Meanwhile, Yankees ace Whitey Ford was having one of the greatest seasons ever by a starting pitcher. The Chairman of the Board finished with a 25-4 record, a 3.21 earned run average and logged an impressive 283.0 innings that year.
It was only fitting that a team this good ended the season with a World Series. The Yankees won the series in five games against the Cincinnati Reds and took home their 19th title, starting Houk’s first of his two tenures in New York off with a bang.
Billy Martin, 1976
In 1975, former second baseman Billy Martin took over for then-Yankees manager Bill Virdon and managed the final 56 games of the season. Some may consider this cheating because technically, 1975 was Martin’s first season. But it’s added to the list because it was his first full season as manager in New York.
The team Martin took over was less than ideal. The Yankees hadn’t been to the World Series since 1964 and had been shaking up the managerial situation frequently (something Martin would soon become the poster boy for).
This was also a new era of Yankee baseball. CBS sold the team to a group of investors led by George M. Steinbrenner III in 1973. Steinbrenner looked at the Yankees teams of the past and wanted to replicate the success. He wanted a winner.
Martin led the team to a 97-62 record, a nice improvement from 1975, where their record was 83-77 (30-26 when Martin took over). The Yankees won their 30th pennant in ‘77 and it was the first under Steinbrenner. Though they were defeated in the World Series by the defending champion Reds, it was a memorable and important year.
That year’s American League Championship Series ended in dramatic fashion when Chris Chambliss hit one of the most famous walk-off home runs in history to secure the pennant for the Yankees. 1976 also marked the beginning of another great Yankee dynasty, where they went to four World Series in a six-year span from 1976-1981, winning in 1977 and 1978. Finally, it was the official start for Martin, who would go on to be one of the most beloved Yankees ever, in his first of five runs as Yankees manager.
Joe Torre, 1996
The hiring of Joe Torre as Yankees manager was a decision very few believed in. The skeptics, however, had some merit. In 15 years of managing before coming to the Bronx, Torre had only made one trip to the playoffs when he was the skipper of the Atlanta Braves in 1982. The New York Daily News even took it as far as dubbing him “Clueless Joe” in an infamous back page from November 3, 1995.
Well, “Clueless Joe” went and proved everybody wrong. The Torre-led Yankees went 92-70 in ‘96 and went on to take down the defending champion Braves in six games. This came after the Yankees went down two games to none and had to go into Atlanta on the brink of elimination. But New York fought back and rattled off four wins in a row to capture the franchise’s 23rd title after already winning their 34th pennant. The success that year kept coming for Torre when he was voted the American League’s Manager of the Year.
The Yankees prior to Torre were in a rut. They had not been to the World Series since 1981 and hadn’t won since 1978. As mentioned earlier, Torre was a journeyman manager and a name nobody cared about. Both parties needed each other and it turned out to be a match made in heaven, right from the start.
This list only shows a fraction of the legacy of the New York Yankees. Boone certainly has his work cut out for him if he wants to crack this list. But it isn’t the be all and end all.
While he can still go on to be a good manager for the team even if his debut season isn’t as noteworthy as these, a first impression certainly goes a long way in New York.