Joe McCarthy managed in the major leagues for 24 seasons. His winning percentage of .614 is the highest in baseball history. His seven World Championships are a record shared only with another Yankee manager, Casey Stengel. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1957.
McCarthy never played in the majors. He grew up in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and broke into pro ball in 1906. He got a taste of managing at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1913 and a few years later made a name for himself as a manager in Louisville, where he developed outfielder Earle Combs. In 1926 McCarthy was named manager of the Chicago Cubs and he led them to the National League pennant in 1929.
Fired by the Cubs following the 1930 season, McCarthy in 1931 assumed the helm of a Yankee team that regarded him as a National League interloper; many of the rollicking Yankee veterans thought Babe Ruth should be the manager, a point of view that Ruth himself did not discourage. McCarthy never won Ruth over, but he did win the other players’ loyalty and slowly molded his kind of undemonstrative and proficient team.
In 1932 McCarthy became the first manager to capture pennants in both leagues. In the ensuing World Series the Yankees beat the Cubs in four games, a great moment of revenge for their manager. Then came three consecutive second-place finishes – and the unkind tag of Second-Place Joe – before the Yankees’ four consecutive World Championships in 1936-39. The late-1930s teams were arguably the most powerful ever, and their manager was a great proponent of power baseball. In 1941 McCarthy won his sixth World Series in six tries as the Yankees’ manager, but the following year his streak was broken by the Cardinals. The Yankees won the rematch 1943 Series in five games.
McCarthy’s teams were outstanding. They seldom had a difficult pennant race and, by and large, they overwhelmed their World Series foes. They were so good that some believed the batboy could have taken them to pennants, an insinuation that McCarthy hated. His temper flared when it was suggested he had only to push buttons to win. Many experts consider McCarthy the greatest manager of all time. He was a great double-play teacher, but his real strengths lay in his mental alertness. He seldom made the same mistake twice, missed little on the field, and had an amazing memory for minute details. Joe DiMaggio said, “Never a day went by when you didn’t learn something from McCarthy.”
McCarthy’s players respected him, most liked him, and some were devoted to him. But he was perceived by the public as dull. Take away the fat little cigars and the long-sleeved uniforms and you were left with air. Squatty, square-jawed, tenacious – there was a sour side to this spike-fisted disciplinarian. Yet his heart almost broke when Lou Gehrig became fatally ill.
The war years were tough on McCarthy, and when Larry MacPhail became his boss in 1945, he didn’t have the same rapport he had enjoyed with Ed Barrow. On May 24, 1946, McCarthy resigned. He became the Red Sox’ manager in 1948 and came within a hair of winning a pennant that year and again in 1949, before retiring for good early in the 1950 season. McCarthy died January 13, 1978 at the age of 90.