Monday, May 11, 2009

Top 100 Red Sox Extra: Bill Carrigan

(This blog counted down the Top 100 Red Sox of all-time -- from Keith Foulke to Ted Williams -- in March and April, wrapping up about a week ago. For the entire list, click the "Top100" tab at the bottom of this entry or just click here.)

Red Sox manager Terry Francona was asked by a camera crew on Friday to offer his thoughts on the career of Dom DiMaggio.

"How good of a player was he?" the television reporter asked.

Francona made a face.

"How old do you think I am?" he shot back.

A few hours later, after Francona's Red Sox had beaten the Tampa Bay Rays to earn their manager his 489th career win with the franchise, no one asked Francona to offer his thoughts about Bill Carrigan -- the win with whom Francona had just drawn even on the team's all-time list for managerial wins.

But they should have.

Francona and Carrigan are forever intertwined in Red Sox history for succeeding where so many others failed. The team went through 32 managers between 1918 and 2003 and didn't win a single World Series title.

Francona and Carrigan are the only Red Sox managers in history to win two World Series titles. The two actually are third and fourth -- Francona edged ahead after Sunday night's win over the Rays -- on the all-time list, trailing Joe Cronin (1,071) and Pinky Higgins (560). But only Carrigan ever saw popularity ever approach what Francona enjoys now -- and those championships had a lot to do with it.

Carrigan didn't just play the Francona role with with the Red Sox during his stint from 1906-16. He played the Jason Varitek role, too. He became the team's everyday catcher starting in 1909, hitting .296 with 13 doubles, and he hit 11 doubles and drove in 53 runs a year later. (He had seven at-bats in the 1912 World Series but went hitless.)

In 1913, though, the Red Sox started badly in defense of their 1912 championship. In early July, ownership fired manager Jake Stahl and installed Carrigan in his place. Carrigan was a native of Maine who played college football at Holy Cross before an injury sidetracked his football career and nudged him full-time toward the baseball diamond.

He never turned out to be all that much as a hitter. But if you measure a catcher by how well his pitchers perform -- something right out of the Gospel according to Varitek -- Carrigan was a master. In 1912, Smoky Joe Wood went 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA while Bucky O'Brien, Hugh Bedient and Ray Collins all had sub-3.00 ERAs. In 1915, Wood (1.49), Ernie Shore (1.64), Rube Foster (2.11), Dutch Leonard (2.36) and Babe Ruth (2.44) all had sub-3.00 ERAs.

Ruth, in fact, received a key piece of advice from his catcher in 1914: When he threw the curveball, Carrigan noticed, he stuck the tip of his tongue slightly out of his mouth. Carrigan pointed this out to Ruth and convinced his pitcher to keep his mouth sealed shut during his delivery so as not to tip off his pitches.

And in 1916, after Wood held out and Tris Speaker was traded to Cleveland, Carrigan took total control of his team. He even appealed to the competitiveness of his pitchers by refusing to abide by a set rotation; instead, he'd stand up in front of the team and ask, "Who wants the ball?" Ruth, Leonard, Shore, Foster and Carl Mays all were sensational all year along, and the Red Sox captured their second straight World Series and third in five years.

After that World Series, though, Carrigan hung 'em up for good. He was just 33 years old, but with so much accomplishment to his name, he chose his family over the game and headed home to Maine. He eventually would come out of retirement in the late 1920s to try to guide the Harry Frazee-depleted Red Sox back toward the top of the standings; that, though, was a task too tall for anyone, and he retired again after three losing seasons.

With Francona passing Carrigan in career wins this weekend, he probably can safely be considered the greatest manager in Red Sox history. But the accomplishments of Carrigan 90 years ago shouldn't be dismissed too quickly.

1 comment:

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