Updated October 2017
It has always been debatable how much a manager effects a game, but they have always been the first to get credit for success or blamed for failure. In any event, the Cleveland Indians have had just 46 different managers over their 113 year history and only 25 of those managed in parts of at least three seasons. This makes a top ten breakdown of managers simpler than any other position considered to this point. Breaking things down even further, only 11 managers have lead the team through at least 500 games, seven have made it to the play-offs, four to the World Series and just two have won Manager of the Year. Surprisingly enough, neither Manager of the Year award winner is on the top ten list. Before any more spoilers, let’s get into the top ten.
10. Lee Fohl – 1915-1919
Fohl took over for player/manager Joe Birmingham in 1915, taking the same squad Birmingham went 170-191 with while manager and turning them into a .575 team in 1918 before being replaced mid-season in 1919 by Speaker. While he did have a great team that included Jim Bagby, Sr, Stan Coveleski and Ray Chapman, that Fohl was able to improve the team so much during his tenure is impressive. After finishing out the 1915 season 45-79, he went .500 or better ever season for the rest of his Indians career.
9. Walter Johnson – 1933-1935
Johnson is in the Hall of Fame as a pitcher, but was also a solid manager for the Indians in the 1930’s. In his second and third years he finished in third in the American League and above .500. For his short Indians career, he finished with .513 winning percent, 14th best in Indians history (among managers with at least 162 games).
8. Birdie Tebbetts – 1963-1966
Tebbetts is an underrated manager as he took over after the destruction of the 1950’s and turned them into an above .500 squad. While he didn’t reach the play-offs, none of the managers listed below him did either. He was unfortunate in that he retired after 1966, just three years before the league went to a divisional format.
7. Bill Armour – 1902-1904
Armour was the first real AL Cleveland manager, taking over in 1902 after Jimmy McAleer was used as player/manager in 1901. Armour did a great job with an expansion team, turning it from a 54 game winner (.397 W%) in 1901 to an 86 (.570) game winner in his final season in 1904. He was then replaced by Lajoie for no reason other than reputation. Armour may have been the unluckiest manager on the list as he produced an amazing turn around, but never had the opportunity to reach the post-season and was replaced despite being very successful.
6. Napoleon Lajoie – 1905-1909
Three of the Indians top five managers were player/managers and Lajoie was the first. He was so great a player, the team was named after him from 1903 through 1914 and was named manager in 1905. He took an almost brand new expansion team and turned them into a 90-64 squad that finished just a half game behind Detroit in 1908. While his teams never made the post-season, this is because only the top team from each team went to the World Series. With the current set-up, he would likely have had play-off teams from 1906 through 1908.
5. Terry Francona – 2013-Present
Francona ushered in a new era of winning in Cleveland baseball, fostering the biggest turnaround in franchise history as they went from 68 wins in 2012 to 92 and a Wild Card spot in 2013. Despite finishing above .500 every season as manager, it wouldn’t be until 2016 that he brought the Indians back to the post-season where they had a much longer run, winning 10 of their first 12 games before losing the World Series to Chicago. In 2017, he returned the Tribe to the post-season with a 102 win season, the second highest win total in team history. At 454-354, he’s one of two Indians managers to win 100 more games than he has lost.
4. Al Lopez – 1951-1956
Lopez is one of four Hall of Famers in this top ten, but he is the only one in as a manager. While most of his accomplishments came as a member of the White Sox, he started with the Indians and was one of just four Indians managers to reach the World Series. While he was swept in the Series by the Giants, his regular season record stands for itself as he holds the greatest winning percent in Indians history.
3. Mike Hargrove – 1991-1999
Hargrove and the number two manager are the longest tenured Indians managers at nine years each. There is no manager in Indians history that can compare to Hargrove as far as getting to the postseason is concerned. He won twenty more play-off games than any other Indians manager ever got into. He is also the only Indians manager to go to two World Series, although he is only ranked third because he lost them both.
2. Lou Boudreau – 1942-1950
Boudreau was the last manager to win a World Series with the Indians and he won the MVP that season as well as player/manager. The reason he is only second is because he did it with one of the most incredible baseball teams ever built. Not only was the offense filled with Hall of Famers like Boudreau himself, Larry Doby and Joe Gordon, but the pitching staff was so amazing that Satchel Paige, one of the greatest pitchers in history was used as a reliever.
1. Tris Speaker – 1919-1926
Speaker managed the Indians to their first World Series, and did so despite the adversity of having one of his best players die during the middle of the season. In addition to this great year, Speaker holds the highest winning percent among managers with at least 1,000 games. His eight seasons as manager are third in team history, as are his 617 wins. Since he had the honor of managing one of the last best of nine World Series, he was able to finish with a post-season winning percent of .714, the best in Indians history.
Borderline: Roger Peckinpaugh, Eric Wedge, Dave Garcia, Ossie Vitt, Steve O’Neill