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The Manager Who Read The Book: DEACON BILL McKECHNIE

         

    Soft-spoken and fatherly, Deacon Bill McKechnie, who led the Cincinnati Reds to two straight pennants in 1939 and 1940, was one of the most respected managers in baseball history.

As a manager, McKechnie's secret to success was in perfecting fine defensive teams and teaching players - in McKechnie's words - to play "better than they knew how."

He was called a book manager, which means he followed the classic elements of the game in all his maneuvers, playing the game by the percentage.

"A book manager?" McKechnie said in an interview in The Saturday Evening Post in 1940. "Well, what does that mean? If it means taking advantage of obvious opportunities, pulling your infield in for a play at the plate, moving it back for a double play, waiting out wild or tiring pitchers, bunting on poor-fielding pitchers, running on catchers who can't throw, sending men home on weak-armed outfielders; if that's what it means,

I plead guilty. I am a book manager. Show me a manager who isn't and I'll show you a manager who loses a lot of games he ought to win. "

 

 

    McKechnie won more than his share in a managerial career that began in 1922 and continued through 1946. He's the only manager to take three different teams to the World Series, winning with the Cardinals, the Pirates and twice with the Reds.

 

It was with the Reds that he enjoyed his greatest success which led to his induction in 1962 into baseball's Hall of Fame.

 

Team general manager Warren Giles and Reds owner Powel Crosley Jr. teamed up to bring McKechnie to Cincinnati in 1938. The Reds had finished last the previous year under Charles Dressen and a change was in order.

McKechnie was at the end of his contract with the Boston Braves, whom he had managed for eight seasons. He had gained quite a reputation, keeping a near-bankrupt and talent-short team in contention most of the time. As many as four teams were trying to lure McKechnie away from the Braves.

Meanwhile in Cincinnati, the fans were restless and picked their own man. The populace wanted Hazen "Ki-Ki" Cuyler, a veteran outfielder who finished his playing career with the Reds. The city was overwhelmed with "We-Want-Cuyler" petitions. Before paying the fare on a streetcar, the passenger was asked to sign a petition in support of Cuyler.

 

    But Giles and Crosley wanted McKechnie. And they got him. "You must wait and see," Giles said. "This fellow's the best manager in baseball. He'll bring us a championship in two years at least. Maybe even this year."

Indeed, McKechnie was good.

The 1938 Reds went from last place to fourth, and came close to winning the pennant. They finished only six games behind the champion Cubs. They might have won had not left-handed pitcher Lee Grissom broken his ankle late in the season while trying to steal a base.

The following two years the Reds did win the pennant. In 1939 Cincinnati wasn't the top run-producer under McKechnie. But the Reds allowed the fewest, a testament to his brand of baseball. They beat the St. Louis Cardinals by 4 and a half games. The next year it was a runaway as McKechnie's club finished 12 games ahead of Brooklyn.

McKechnie stayed with the Reds through the 1946 season. He never won another pennant, but he consistently had the Reds near the top. Until Sparky Anderson

Continued on page 86

 

 

         
       

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