Ralph Houk: 1919-2010

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Longtime Yankees manager and executive Ralph Houk died yesterday at his Florida home. He was 90.

Before we mention his contributions to baseball, let us mention this: Houk’s nickname — “The Major” — was no cutsey moniker. Ralph Houk was a war hero. In four years of service during World War II, he rose from private to major. He stormed the beach at Normandy and fought the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Silver Star and Purple Heart.  If he died in 1946, we’d still all have cause to remember the man, even if, sadly, we wouldn’t have.

But obviously we all know him from baseball.  A backup catcher of limited success, Houk was later groomed by the Yankees to become a manager. And that he did, succeeding Casey Stengel following the 1960 season when Casey was controversially let go.  Houk proved he deserved the job, however, leading the Yankees to 109 wins and a World Series title in 1961 and repeating in 1962.  Following a third straight pennant in 1963 Houk moved upstairs to become Yankees’ general manager while the man who he once backed up — Yogi Berra — took the Yankees’ managerial job.

After Berra in 1964 and a season and a half of Johnny Keane, Houk returned to the dugout in 1966. And there he stayed through what we all now recognize as some of darker days of Yankees history. At least competitively speaking. Despite the aging and crumbling of the Yankees’ dynasty during Houk’s second stint as manager between 1966 and 1973, Houk always maintained the respect of his players and his dignity in the dugout. Houk resigned in 1973 as the George Steinbrenner era took over.

Houk moved on to Detroit the following year and, as bad luck would have it, was tasked with once again presiding over the decline years of an aging team.  The Tigers hit bottom in 1975, but under his watch a radical rebuild took place, and by the time he left in 1978 the Al Kaline/Bill Freehan/Willie Horton Tigers had begun the transition into the Alan Trammell/Jack Morris/Lou Whitaker Tigers and even had a winning season that year.

Houk finished his managerial career with four seasons in Boston, again, as something of a transitional figure, but a successful one as well. Indeed, despite the fact that, those first three years aside, Houk generally managed teams either on the way down or early in the process of coming back up, he ended his career with 1,619-1,531 record.

Houk was not a Hall of Fame player or manager. But Houk was a hero and a highly respected pro who bridged the gap between baseball’s alleged “Golden Age” and its modern age.  And — unlike most of his contemporaries — fit in nicely in both eras.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 24:  Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning of the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on August 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
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Rich Hill made his long-awaited Dodgers debut last Wednesday, out-dueling Giants starter Johnny Cueto. The lefty hurled six shutout innings, yielding only five hits (all singles) with no walks and three strikeouts. Of the 81 pitches he threw, a whopping 32 (39.5 percent) were curves compared to 41 fastballs.

That’s been the trend for Hill over his career, spanning parts of 12 seasons: highly reliant on the curve. It’s worked out well since resurrecting his career last year with the Red Sox and continuing it this season before the Athletics sent him along with outfielder Josh Reddick to the Dodgers on August 1.

As we’ve noted in this space several times, the Dodgers have dealt with more than their fair share of injury woes, including to ace Clayton Kershaw. The club has used 30 different pitchers, including 14 different starters. Yet they enter Tuesday’s game against the Rockies a game and a half ahead of the Giants for first place in the NL West. While the NL East, NL Central, and AL West races aren’t particularly interesting at this point, the NL West division race figures to be one of the most enthralling over the final month-plus of the season.

Hill will oppose the Rockies’ Tyler Anderson at Coors Field in an 8:40 PM EDT start. The second-place Giants will send Johnny Cueto to the hill at home to oppose the Diamondbacks Zack Greinke in a 10:15 PM EDT start.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) @ Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez), 7:05 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer) @ Philadelphia Phillies (Jerad Eickhoff), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago White Sox (Anthony Ranaudo) @ Detroit Tigers (Daniel Norris), 7:10 PM EDT

Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler) @ New  York Mets (Seth Lugo), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Andrew Albers) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 7:10 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Edwin Jackson) @ Atlanta Braves (Julio Teheran), 7:10 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Jake Odorizzi) @ Boston Red Sox (Drew Pomeranz), 7:10 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ Chicago Cubs (Kyle Hendricks), 8:05 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (James Paxton) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez), 8:15 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT

Tim Tebow’s workout: power, speed but not much else

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Tim Tebow is, as we speak, working out for some 40 scouts from 20 organizations and an untold number of members of the media. So far he has run and jumped and thrown and, in a moment or two, will take his hacks. First BP swings, then live, full-speed BP off of a couple of former major leaguers.

His 60 yard dash time was supposedly excellent. On the 80-20 scouting scale he’s supposedly in the 50-60 range, according to people tweeting about it who know what they’re talking about. The guy is certainly big and strong and in amazing shape and that’s not nothing.

Also this:

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That’s from MLB’s Twitter, which provides us with some more in-action shots.

Here he is playing right field out there in the distance someplace:

UPDATE: Tebow’s workout is over. On the “pro” side, based on the assorted tweets of journalists in attendance, many based on quick conversations with scouts in attendance, Tebow’s power was described as “nuclear,” and graded out at an 80 for at least one scout. That’s as good as it gets. The speed in the 60, as mentioned above, was also excellent.

On the “con” side was his fielding, which was considered sub-par, with a scout saying that his routes were circuitous and inefficient and his arm, while alright, was nothing special, especially for a guy of his obvious physical strength.

As far as non-power hitting goes, it was also not great. His stance was very, very wide and did not leave much room for adjustments, scouts said. This was born out by his being fairly consistently baffled by former big leaguer David Aarsdma’s changeup, at which he swung-and-missed three of four times. He was one for six in simulated at bats against minor league journeyman Chad Smith, with that one hit being a single. He also drew a walk.

Maybe that power — both hitting power and star power — is too great for an organization to ignore. Maybe someone takes a chance. But as a prospect Tim Tebow sure sounds a lot like a big strong fast guy who probably doesn’t have a ton of baseball skills.