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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,550

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This is the grave of Miller Huggins.

Born in 1878 in Cincinnati, Huggins grew up pretty middle class. His father ran a grocery store. His son got to go to college, at the University of Cincinnati. In fact, Huggins was going to be a lawyer. But something got in the way–he was very good at baseball. Now, this was controversial in the family and in the school. His professors were like, why are you studying for the law since all you do is play baseball? Fair enough. His father was outraged that baseball games were played on Sundays. How can you not respect the Sabbath you young punk! But Huggins outfoxed both sides of the opposition. For the law professors, he doubled down and actually got his degree, though I don’t believe he ever took the bar exam. William Howard Taft actually was one of his law professors and he told the kid to play ball. For his father, he used a pseudonym on a semi-pro team that played on Sunday so he could fool stodgy old dad and also make a little money that would have ruined his amateur status were it to be discovered.

Huggins started playing minor league ball in 1899. It took him awhile to get to the majors. He learned second base and he also learned to hit lefty to become a switch hitter. He finally reached the majors in 1904 with the Cincinnati Reds, a pretty old 26 year old rookie. Huggins was never much of a hitter, but he was a good fielder. He also could seriously take walks. In fact, that was his top skill. He led the National League in walks in 4 different seasons, topping out with 116 walks in 1910. Huggins really was known for the fielding more than anything though. Today’s advanced metrics suggest he was more a slightly above average second baseman, but you really can’t trust those defensive metrics on long ago players. He was known as “Rabbit” and “Little Everywhere” at the time, which I trust a bit more.

The Reds traded Huggins to the Cardinals after the 1909 season. He played there for the rest of his career, through the 1916 season, with diminishing returns as he aged. He did set a MLB record that still exists for having 6 plate appearances with 0 at bats in 1910, having walked 4 times and hitting 2 sacrifice flies. Now that’s Miller Huggins’ playing career! In over 5,500 at bats, he had a total of 9 home runs. It was the dead ball era still, yes, but he just wasn’t much of a hitter.

From the very beginning of his career, Huggins was seen as future managerial material. In fact, he hoped to be named player-manager of the Reds after the 1907 season, but that didn’t happen. I mean, he was only 29 years old, so I can see why you’d go in a different direction. But really, people saw him as a good mentor. For example, when Rogers Hornsby came to the Cardinals, not only was he the heir apparent to Huggins at second, but he had issues with his stance. Huggins helped him fix those and Hornsby became one of the most feared hitters in the history of the game. Again, Huggins was already seen as future leadership material. In fact, when the Cardinals owners sold the team in 1916, they gave Huggins a chance to buy, but he couldn’t raise the money in time. In any case, the Cardinals’ owners hired Huggins as manager in 1913. It was an underfunded team. There were a couple of good years in there, but mostly they sucked and there wasn’t much Huggins could do about that. He stayed through the 1917 season.

Huggins became the manager of the New York Yankees in 1918, though not without controversy. See, Huggins liked to smoke a pipe in public. Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert thought that the height of classlessness. Why Huggins might as well be a factory worker with those habits!! But the Yankees were a horrible franchise, just run like a clown show. So they sucked. If only that had been the case for the subsequent century. Alas, Ruppert did hire Huggins. Now, he had to convince Huggins, because the now retired player was like, why would I manage such a shit bird franchise when I could wait and manage a real team. But, he took the job in the end. Huggins also got control over personnel, basically making him the general manager too. So that helped.

Huggins did not waste time transforming this team. He pretty much traded off as much of the old wood as he could and the team improved to 4th in his first season. Babe Ruth came over in 1920, which certainly didn’t hurt. Now, things were not super great. Yankees ownership was divided on everything, including on Huggins. Ruppert’s partner hated him and Ruppert himself was not exactly a strong advocate. Huggins was a small man who demanded serious discipline. Ruth hated him, including for being small. See, Ruth really wanted to fight him and Huggins was not going to do that.

So things weren’t easy in Yankeeland, but when they won their first AL pennant in 1921, things changed, even though they lost to the Giants in the World Series. They acquired a bunch of pitching and Huggins led them to the 1922 pennant and then finally a title in 1923. Things were up and down in the 20s, but among the decisions Huggins made was replacing Wally Pipp with Lou Gehrig. He finally won his long war with Ruth as well when he suspended the slugger in 1925 for being late and hung over yet again. Ruth had long played Huggins and Ruppert off each other. Ruppert, enamored with his powerful toy, had often overruled Huggins’ discipline of Ruth. But when Ruth openly bragged that Ruppert would overturn the suspension, it was too much for Ruppert. He told Huggins that he would support anything he wanted with Ruth. This finally cowered Ruth and he learned to respect or at least tolerate Huggins.

Huggins was thus the manager on the great 1927 team, arguably the best team in the history of baseball. They came back in 1928 and were nearly as good. They swept both series, first over the Pirates and then the Cardinals. But in 1929, things were kind of whatever. The team fell behind the A’s and it was clear it was not happening that year. Huggins started thinking about the 1930 season.

However, in August, Huggins started losing weight. It’s not that easy to figure just what was the root cause of Huggins’ illness, but he fell apart very quickly. He was hospitalized with erysipelas in late September, developed the flu, and then died of sepsis nine days later. His body basically just fell apart. He was 51 years old. Huggins had won 3 World Series and lost 3 others. Impressive. He ended with 1067 wins as manager.

Miller Huggins is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Huggins was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1964. If you would like this series to visit other people the Veterans Committee that year, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Red Faber is in Chicago and Heinie Manush is in Sarasota, Florida. This series is now long enough to have covered multiple people already inducted by the Committee that year, with Burleigh Grimes and Tim Keefe already in the bag. Let’s get the whole collection. Not to mention that all the baseball players of the South, which there are many and I have three trips to the South to pay for, so please help make that happen, as so many of you have so thankfully done in recent days. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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