The best players who went on to manage

December 30th, 2021

In baseball's early days, it wasn't uncommon for a star player to pull double duty as a manager. Ty Cobb did it. So did Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie and George Sisler. But post-playing managerial careers have proven to be much rarer among the legends of the sport.

In the Modern Era (since 1900), only 15 players with 70+ wins above replacement (according to Baseball-Reference) have gone on to manage after the final season of their playing careers. Here are the 15, ranked by bWAR.

1. Walter Johnson (164.8 bWAR)
After a playing career in which he recorded 417 wins, a 2.17 ERA (147 ERA+) and 3,509 strikeouts over 21 seasons, all with the Senators, the Big Train spent 1928 managing the Newark Bears of the International League, then returned to Washington and replaced Bucky Harris as the team’s skipper. The Senators didn’t reach the postseason in Johnson’s four-year managerial tenure, but he led the club to three straight seasons with 92 or more wins and had an overall 350-264 record (.570 winning percentage). Johnson moved on to manage Cleveland in 1933 and remained with the team through 1935, posting a 179-168 record (.516). In 1936, Johnson was part of the inaugural class of players elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Cobb, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth and Christy Mathewson.

2.  (127.3 bWAR)
Though Hornsby batted .358/.434/.577 in his 23-year career, he was perhaps known just as much for his difficult personality as he was for his hitting skill. Hornsby intermittently served as a player-manager throughout his career, but after he played his final game in 1937, he didn’t get another opportunity to manage in the Majors until the St. Louis Browns hired him in 1952. Hornsby clashed with players and lasted just 51 games before the Browns fired him. He joined the Reds as their manager for the final 51 games of the 1952 season, going 27-24, but after leading Cincinnati to a 64-82 record through 147 games in 1953, Hornsby was cut loose again, putting an end to his MLB managerial career.

3. Ted Williams (122.1 bWAR)
Looking for his own splash after Washington’s NFL team hired the legendary Vince Lombardi as its head coach in February 1969, new Senators owner Bob Short turned to the Splendid Splinter. Nearly a decade after he played his final game, Williams was brought in to turn around the floundering Washington franchise, which joined MLB as an expansion team in 1961 after the previous Senators club relocated to Minnesota. Williams guided Washington to 86 wins in his first season at the helm, marking the franchise's only winning season in the nation's capital, but was unable to replicate that success in subsequent seasons. Williams stayed on as manager when the Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers, but after a 54-100 inaugural season in the Lone Star State, he was replaced by Whitey Herzog.

4. Mel Ott (110.9 bWAR)
One of the top sluggers of his era, Ott led the Giants in homers for 18 straight seasons (1928-45) and the NL six times in that span en route to 511 in total. Succeeding former teammate Bill Terry in the managerial role, the left-handed slugger led the club for seven years, four of them while still functioning as a regular player. After a 37-38 start in 1948, the Giants replaced Ott with Leo Durocher after Dodgers owner Branch Rickey and Giants owner Horace Stoneham negotiated an agreement that let Durocher out of his contract with Brooklyn to manage the team’s crosstown rival. Ott finished his managerial career with a 464-530 record (.467 winning percentage).

5. Frank Robinson (107.2 bWAR)
Robinson spent the final two years of his Hall of Fame career as Cleveland’s player-manager, in the process becoming the first Black skipper in AL/NL history. He stayed on for another season in 1977 after retiring as a player, but was fired after a 26-31 start. Robinson went on to manage the Giants from 1981-84 and the Orioles from 1988-91, winning AL Manager of the Year honors with Baltimore in 1989. After a lengthy hiatus, Robinson returned to the dugout to manage the Montreal Expos in 2002 and remained with the franchise through its relocation to Washington D.C., becoming the first manager of the Nationals. As a manager, Robinson never led his team to the postseason -- a stark contrast to a playing career that saw him make five World Series appearances and win two titles.

6. Christy Mathewson (106.5 bWAR)
Mathewson was one of baseball's top pitchers during the first two decades of the 20th century, recording 373 wins, a 2.13 ERA (136 ERA+) and 2,507 strikeouts over 4,788 2/3 innings and winning five league ERA titles. After 17 seasons with the Giants, Mathewson was traded to the Reds with fellow future Hall of Famers Edd Roush and Bill McKechnie for Buck Herzog and Red Killefer. The right-hander was named Cincinnati's player-manager, though he made only one pitching appearance for the team. Mathewson managed the Reds through 1918, posting a 164-176 record (.482 winning percentage).

7. (96.1 bWAR)
Mathews played the majority of his career for the Braves and was the only player to make an appearance for all three geographical iterations of the team -- Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. After hitting his 500th home run as a member of the Astros in 1967 and winning the World Series with the Tigers in 1968, his final season as a player, Mathews joined the Braves’ coaching staff for the 1971 season, then replaced Lum Harris as the club’s manager for the final 50 games of the 1972 campaign. Mathews continued to manage the Braves through the start of the 1974 season and was at the helm when former teammate Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time record, but he was dismissed after 99 games. “I’ve seen a lot of managers fired but this one touched me especially hard,” Aaron said of Atlanta’s decision to remove Mathews. “It was a blow to me.” Mathews never managed again, finishing his tenure with a .481 winning percentage in 311 games.

8. Pete Rose (79.6 bWAR)
The all-time AL/NL hits leader with 4,256, Rose served as the Reds’ player-manager for the final three seasons of his playing career, and to this date is the last person to hold the player-manager role in Major League Baseball. Rose continued to manage Cincinnati after he retired as a player, but in 1989, Commissioner Bart Giamatti permanently banned the 17-time All-Star from baseball amid allegations that Rose gambled on games both as a player and manager.

9. Luke Appling (77.6 bWAR)
Appling, a Hall of Fame shortstop who posted a .310 average with a .399 on-base percentage and collected 2,749 hits during a 20-year career with the White Sox, managed just 40 games in the Majors. In 1967, 17 years after his final game as a player, Appling stepped in as interim manager of the Kansas City A's in place of Al Dark, who was fired, rehired and fired again by A's owner Charlie Finley in a 24-hour span after a disagreement over player discipline. Appling led the club to a 10-30 record. The A's moved to Oakland the next season, and Dark returned as manager in 1974, guiding the team to its third straight World Series title.

10. Bobby Wallace (76.2 bWAR)
Wallace's career straddled the 19th and 20th centuries, beginning in 1894 as a pitcher with the Cleveland Spiders. After moving from the mound to third base, Wallace was transferred to the St. Louis Perfectos (the club that would become the Cardinals) and found himself moving positions again, this time to shortstop. Wallace spent the majority of his career playing in St. Louis -- logging five years with the Cardinals and 15 with the Browns, including two as a player-manager for the latter team -- and became one of the best shortstops of his era. His final season came at the age of 44 in 1918; 19 years later, the Reds named him manager for the final 25 games of the 1937 season.

11. (75.7 bWAR)
Molitor was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004 after posting a .306 average with 3,319 hits, 234 homers, 605 doubles and 504 steals over 21 years, the last three spent with the Twins. More than a decade later, Minnesota hired Molitor as its manager, replacing longtime skipper Ron Gardenhire. Molitor led the Twins to a 13-game turnaround in his first season at the helm, and after falling to 59-103 in 2016, he quickly got the club back to respectability with a 26-game improvement and an AL Wild Card berth in 2017, earning AL Manager of the Year honors as a result. The Twins went 78-84 in Molitor’s fourth season as manager, after which he was replaced by Rocco Baldelli.

12. Bill Dahlen (75.2 bWAR)
The only player on this list besides Rose who isn't in the Hall of Fame, Dahlen played 21 seasons from 1891-1911 and managed the Brooklyn Dodgers/Superbas for four seasons -- two as a player-manager and two after his playing career ended. His final record as a skipper was 251-355 (.414).

13. (71.8 bWAR)
Frisch’s five-season tenure as the Cardinals’ player-manager was highlighted by the 1934 campaign, when the club known as the "Gashouse Gang" won the World Series. Frisch stayed on as St. Louis’ skipper for less than a season after the end of his playing career and later managed the Pirates and Cubs, but he never again reached the World Series. The BBWAA inducted him into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1947.

14. (70.7 bWAR)
After playing his entire 20-year career with the Tigers and putting together a resume that eventually landed him in Cooperstown, Trammell had a forgettable stint as the team’s manager beginning in 2003. Detroit lost an AL record 119 games in the former shortstop’s first season running the show, one shy of the modern era record set by the 1962 expansion Mets. Trammell led the club to a 29-game improvement in 2004, but Detroit still finished 18 games under .500. The Tigers went 71-91 the following season, then replaced Trammell with Jim Leyland, who guided them to the World Series in 2006 and 2012. Trammell later served as the D-backs’ interim manager for the final three games of the 2014 season.

15. Ted Lyons (70.5 bWAR)
Lyons won an ERA title at 41, took a three-year hiatus to serve in World War II, then returned to the White Sox to make five more starts of 2.32 ERA ball at the age of 45 in 1946. The right-hander retired as a player after that and took over as Chicago’s manager the following week. Lyons held the managerial role through 1948, steering the club to a 185-245 record (.430). He got the Hall of Fame nod from the BBWAA in 1955.