Lee Fohl's Unique Career
Three Times Lee Fohl Has Made a Weak Club Strong, But Twice He Has Been Deposed
By John J. Ward
BASEBALL MAGAZINE August 1924
For once in his toilsome career Lee Fohl is enjoying a streak of good luck. No doubt he feels it's high time. Anyway, it's welcome while it lasts. For beyond a doubt the feature of the early months of 1924 was the sensational rise of the Red Sox Club.
When Fohl took charge of this club it was in eighth place. True, some trades were pulled off which the critics adjudged to be favorable to Boston. The club appeared stronger, and local fandom, which had experienced several lean years, began to take heart. However, it's a long distance from eighth place to anywhere in particular, and Fohl was never a word specialist in optimistic promises.
So most of the experts, sizing up the pennant race, decided that the Red Sox, even though strengthened, were still entitled to last place.
True, there were some who thought the Boston Club would succeed in emerging from the cellar before the closing date on October first, but the most enthusiastic Boston rooter would not have dared to predict what actually happened. Nor could the most hopeful follower of that once unhappy club foresee that in June the Red Sox and not the World's Champion Yankees would be leading the American League.
This is one more proof of the oft-repeated proverb that truth is stranger than fiction. To be sure the lead of the club has been meagre at best, and decidedly intermittent. Furthermore, due to injuries, the club has slumped somewhat as we go to press. All that, however, is beside the mark. The fact that the lowly Red Sox should lead the procession even for a day was unthinkable last April. But they have been neck and neck with the Yankees for almost a month, and some of that time they were in undisputed possession of first place.
Not a few factors have contributed to this remarkable reversal of form. The trade with Cleveland last winter was of undoubted benefit to the club. Wambsganss and O'Neill have fairly outdone themselves. Harris has proved a terrific hitter, and the acquisition of Ike Boone, the slugging outfielder, was a ten strike. The pitching has been very steady. In fact the entire club has played a strong game. But who in all this can ignore the work of Lee Fohl?
The time has come when fair-minded people all around the circuit are beginning to give credit to the Boston manager. His success has been entirely too conspicuous to be explained away on the theory of accidental happening. Twice before Fohl has carried a losing club up within speaking distance of the pennant only to have the fruits of his labor go to another. And on neither of these two occasions has he received the recognition that he deserves for his managerial ability.
When Fohl took charge of the Cleveland Club some years ago he was a Minor League manager with many years of successful experience, but he had never handled major leaguers. In fact his own Major League career as a player had been so brief that many record books fail to mention it at all. To place a Minor Leaguer in charge of Major Leaguers was considered by many a hazardous step. Undoubtedly the position was one of difficulty for Fohl. Nevertheless, under his management the club fought its way to second place and then in mid-season Fohl was suddenly deposed. Tris Speaker took charge of the club, which won its first pennant that year, and topped off the victory with the World's Championship. Many people were fair enough to feel sorry for Fohl but he had not impressed the majority with his ability as a manager, and his going awakened no great disturbance.
The following year Fohl was engaged to manage the St. Louis Browns. That Club was in the doldrums of defeat, without any particular prospects, so far as the average fan could see. But under Fohl's guiding hand the Club began to climb. In 1922 they were strictly in the pennant race. In fact they were beat out by the New York Yankees by the slim margin of a single game.
Did Fohl receive credit for this great fight? Not a great deal. On the other hand he was blamed because the Browns didn't win the pennant, although just why they should have won with one first-class pitcher against the formidable pitching staff of the New York Yankees and their vastly greater batting punch no one can exactly determine. Be that as it may, the following year when Sisler was out of the lineup and the Club was fighting to keep in third place, Fohl was again deposed. The advantage derived from this move was not apparent, since the Club, which was third when he was dismissed, sunk still lower and finished the season in the second division.
Once more Fohl found himself out in the cold. Once more he was given the task of handling a disgruntled ball club, this time a positive tail ender. And what he has done with that club is already history.
The thought is gradually taking shape in the public mind that a ball club under Fohl's leadership proves to be a winner. This has happened now three successive times, and if you wish to be stubborn and pig headed, you can say that these successes are not due to Fohl, that it's merely incidental. But most people are content to believe that where a baseball club proves successful under certain leadership that some credit must be given that leadership.
Undoubtedly Fohl's personality is partly responsible for the fact that recognition of his managerial merits has been so long delayed. Fohl is unusually quiet, reticent, and backward in his attitude toward publicity. He never seeks the limelight, is not self-assertive, and is inconspicuous in all his acts, even on the ball field. In order to get oneself talked about in baseball it seems to be necessary that a person should make a noise. If he does not, he is likely to be ignored. It is no part of Fohl's system to make a noise. He goes quietly about his business, saying little, thinking a great deal. But thoughts are not noisy, and the crowd which is impressed merely by superficial things has little inkling of what goes on in the active, long-experienced brain of such a man as Lee Fohl.
Even where circumstances have dealt uncommonly harshly with Fohl he has kept his own counsel. Whatever he may have thought, he has not outwardly complained. There is nothing self-assertive about Fohl, none of those aggressive, domineering traits which lend color to certain individuals. But after all there was a great deal of sober sense of the statement of the late James Dunn, once owner of the Cleveland Club and former employer of Lee Fohl, when he said, "The main job of a Big League manager is to manage."
Those who think that a Major league manager should be a masterful personality will be disappointed in Fohl. Those who think a manager's principal tasks are wrangling with umpires, disciplining ball players and preparing lurid statements for the press, will see little in Fohl to commend him to their taste. But if the late James Dunn is correct, that the chief job of a Major League manager is to manage, a very strong case may be made out for this unobtrusive club leader.
The general public seems to be tending to that opinion. Recently at St. Louis they made him a present of a valuable diamond ring and gave him a fine welcome. At Boston the public is very strong for Fohl and they should be for whatever happens to his club in the disturbing days of the later season, Fohl has done much better in Boston than anyone could reasonably have believed possible.