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.

Nothing went Adrian Beltre’s way last night

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It was an unfortunate night on the base paths for future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre in the A’s-Rangers game. First because of, you guessed it, The Man, and second because of the Fates and maybe Father Time.

As far as The Man goes, someplace in the rule book it says that, after a foul ball, the ball is dead until pitcher has the new ball and is ready to pitch. Beltre was counting on people either not knowing that rule or acknowledging that it’s a lame rule which kills the chances for fun. He was standing on first base when Jurickson Profar fouled one off. After the ump handed Jonathan Lucroy a new ball, Lucroy tossed it back wildly to the pitcher and . . . Beltre just took the hell off, ending up on third.

It’s the third highlight in this three-part highlight reel:

 

Here it is in GIF form:

I think he should’ve been award third base on chutzpah alone, but no one asks me about such things.

Less fun was when Beltre singled in the bottom of the eighth. It would’ve been a double — he hit a line drive to right-center that one-hopped the wall — but he just barely got to first, having strained his left hamstring running down the line, forcing him out of the game.

Beltre will be evaluated today, but this will almost certainly mean a trip to the DL for the 39-year-old. He’s the third Opening Day infielder the Rangers have lost to injury so far on the young season.