Ralph Houk, World-Series Winning Manager of Yankees, Dies at 90

Ralph Houk, Former manager of the New York Yankees
Ralph Houk, Former manager of the New York Yankees, poses for a portrait during Spring Training in March, 1961 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

July 22 (Bloomberg) -- Ralph Houk, the New York Yankees manager who replaced legendary skipper Casey Stengel and won two World Series titles in the Bronx, has died. He was 90.

Houk died yesterday at his home in Winter Haven, Florida, the Yankees said on their website.

Called “The Major” by his players, Houk spent eight seasons as the backup to Hall-of-Fame catcher Yogi Berra and played on five World Series-winning teams before succeeding Stengel in 1961.

As a manager, Houk guided Yankees teams headed by Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford to three consecutive American League pennants and a pair of World Series titles. He then moved into the front office for New York for three years before once again taking over in the dugout. He also managed Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox.

“I respected Ralph as a manager,” said former Tiger Willie Horton, who played for Detroit during Houk’s tenure from 1974 to 1976. “We had formed a good relationship after we both retired from the game.”

Ralph George Houk was born on Aug. 9, 1919, in Lawrence, Kansas, and was a catcher in the Yankees farm system when the U.S. entered World War II. He enlisted and became an Army Ranger, rising to the rank of major -- the source of his later nickname -- and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. He earned a Bronze Star, Silver Star and Purple Heart before the war’s end.

Following Stengel

Houk returned to the Yankees after the war, where he acted as Berra’s backup for much of his playing career. He appeared in 91 games from 1947-54, compiling a .272 average with 20 runs batted in. In the Yankees’ six World Series appearances during that span, Houk had one hit in two at-bats, a single during the 1947 Series.

He retired as a player after the 1953 season and took over the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Denver in 1955. Two years later he returned to the Bronx as Stengel’s first-base coach, a role he served in for two seasons.

Houk was elevated to manager for the 1961 season after the Yankees fired Stengel following their loss in the World Series the previous year. The team, led by Maris’s 61 home runs and Mantle’s 54, won 109 games and beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games to win the World Series.

The Yankees won the World Series again in 1962, winning 96 games during the regular season and beating the San Francisco Giants in seven games to take their second straight title and 10th in 16 years.

New York won 104 games the following season to secure a third consecutive pennant before being swept out of the World Series by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Moving for Berra

Houk took over as the Yankees general manager after that season, handing over the team to Berra. He was in the front office for two seasons before moving back into the dugout in 1966 to begin a less successful run as manager.

The Yankees finished higher than fourth place only once over the next eight seasons and Houk resigned in 1973 after working for one season under George Steinbrenner, who died July 13 at the age of 80.

Houk took over the Detroit Tigers in 1974. He had a losing record in the first four years and won 86 games in 1978. He retired after that season at the age of 58.

Three years later he came out of retirement to take over in Boston. He stayed with the Red Sox for four seasons, compiling a winning record in all but one before retiring again after the 1984 season.

Houk, who was 1,619-1,531 in 3,157 games as a manager, would work in the Minnesota front office under General Manager Andy MacPhail before he retired for a third and last time in 1989. Until his death, he was the oldest living manager of a World Series-winning team, according to the Yankees website.

To contact the reporter on this story: Larry DiTore in New York at lditore@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net