Former Red Sox remain fond of Houk
Credit manager with developing World Series talent
SEATTLE -- Though Ralph Houk was best known for managing some storied Yankees teams to a pair of World Series championships, he also left a mark on the Red Sox, the final team he managed during his illustrious career.
Houk, who died at the age of 90 on Wednesday, was at the helm of the Red Sox during a time (1981-84) of transition. The club had just lost Carlton Fisk to free agency and traded Fred Lynn and Rick Burleson to the Angels. While Boston still had Jim Rice, Dwight Evans and Carl Yastrzemski, the team was about to start transitioning several promising homegrown players to the Majors, including Bruce Hurst, Rich Gedman, Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, Marty Barrett and, by Houk's final season in the dugout, Roger Clemens.
"Ralph was the greatest manager I've ever played for, personally," said Hurst. "Without Ralph Houk, I don't think I'm a big league pitcher. And I mean that sincerely. I, actually, a few years ago, told him that and he downplayed it and kind of laughed at me, but I really mean it. Whatever it is, he saw something in me."
Though the Red Sox didn't qualify for a postseason appearance in Houk's four seasons with the team, he helped groom some of the players who made a significant impact on the team's pennant-winning season of 1986, when they came just one strike away from winning the World Series.
"I think that he may be the most underrated baseball guy and talent assessor in baseball," said Hurst. "Just look back on his career. He was handed the Yankees, an aging Yankees team that was probably difficult to manage and still won with them. Then he goes to Detroit and then who is the manager for Detroit and brings up all those great players before Sparky [Anderson] gets there and they win a World Series? It was Ralph.
"Who managed the Red Sox before [John] McNamara takes us to the World Series? Who brought up all those young players? It was Ralph. Who goes to Minnesota and has a hand and a say in assembling all those young players? It's Ralph. He never got the credit for taking the team to the World Series but he should get the credit for the one that brought all the talent together in each of those organizations and allowed the young players a place to develop and then somebody else takes them to the World Series. But Ralph's fingerprints are all over those teams. I know he's all over our Red Sox team."
The Sox went 312-282 under Houk.
"Ralph was a veteran players' manager," said Gedman. "But coming up as a young player, he was very patient with me and gave me my first chance to play every day. Like I said, he was more a veteran players' manager than he was a rookie players' manager. But he was a good man. He was a fair man. I was thankful for the opportunity he gave me."
For the young players on those Red Sox teams, it was impressive to be led by a man with Houk's storied past.
"He was 'the Major,'" said Gedman. "He was the man and when he said something, it was done."
But Houk was far from no-nonsense. Even if he did relate better to the veteran players, he knew how to comfort a young player going through struggles.
"I remember one incident when I first came up in 1981. I was struggling a little bit and one of the catchers had gotten hurt so I got an opportunity to play and I was in Yankee Stadium with a batting average of .059," said Gedman. "He stood up next to me and said, 'Don't worry, kid. One, you're going to get to play. And two, hits come like bananas -- in bunches.' About a week to 10 days later, I was hitting .320."
Hurst remembers a similar situation.
"I remember I was struggling one time pretty bad. It was one of the many times I struggled in my career," said Hurst. "I remember, the only time I ever went into a manager's office, I went in and said, 'Ralph, if you'll stay with me please, I'm battling, I'm trying as hard as I can.' He said, 'Kid, I don't care if you get another out the rest of the year. You're getting the ball every five days, so get the hell out of my office."'
Yastrzemski, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, always said how much he enjoyed playing for Houk. In fact, Houk was the last manager of Yaz's 23-year career.
"When Ralph took over, Yaz was at the end of his career and was a Hall of Famer just waiting for his induction ceremony. And then there were a bunch of young guys like me that were trying to find a way in the big leagues and he was equally skilled at managing both of those careers and giving us all a chance to flourish," Hurst said. "I have nothing but the very highest regard and esteem for Ralph Houk. Ralph was an incredible man. He was one of the greatest men I met in the game. I think it's a great loss for the baseball world -- that's my own opinion."
"I was just trying to find my way and he gave me an opportunity to play," said Gedman. "I'm thankful for that and he touched a lot of people in baseball so it's a sad day for the game."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.