Rays History

Tampa Bay Rays’ Kevin Cash Latest Catcher-Turned-Manager

By Peter M. Gordon

The Tampa Bay Rays made a statement by hiring 37-year-old Kevin Cash to be their manager earlier this month. The Rays showed they would continue to do things their way. Cash is not just the youngest manager in baseball–he’s the youngest head coach in the four major US sports.

In another sense, hiring Cash puts the Rays squarely in baseball tradition. Catchers are the only players on the field who can see all the action. They are the leaders of the defense, calling out to which bases fielders should throw. Since catchers call the pitches, they have to think along with the pitcher and manager, and there’s a long tradition in baseball history of catchers becoming successful managers.

The manager who won more games (3,731) than any other, Connie Mack, was a former catcher. Branch Rickey was a catcher before he became a manager, and of course achieved fame as a general manager and the man who brought Jackie Robinson to the majors. Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane played for Mack when the Philadelphia Athletics won pennants in 1929, 1930, and 1931, the latter of two culminating with World Series championships. Cochran himself then led the Tigers to AL pennants in 1934 and 1935, winning another title in the latter year.

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Casey Stengel used to say that his key to success as a manager was that “I never play a game without my man.” That man was three time MVP and catcher Yogi Berra, who later managed the New York Yankees to a pennant in 1964 and then led the “You Gotta Believe” New York Mets to the NL pennant in 1973. Stengel was replaced as Yankee manager in 1961 by Ralph Houk, who had been Berra’s backup catcher. Houk proceeded to lead the Yankees to championships in each of his first two seasons.

Houk, interestingly enough, was known for sitting in the Yankees bullpen and talking to the team’s pitchers about strategy. Kevin Cash was the Cleveland Indians’ bullpen coach prior to becoming Rays manager, so he found himself doing much of the same. Cash was never more than a backup catcher, but plenty of great managers never even made the major leagues. Jack McKeon, who won the 2003 World Series with the Florida Marlins, and Joe Maddon are two examples of minor league catchers who never made it past A-ball but ascended to much greater heights as managers.

Since 2000, 8 of the 15 World Series championships have been won by former catchers Bruce Bochy, Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia, Joe Girardi, Bob Brenly, and McKeon. Bochy, of course, has now won led the San Francisco Giants to three titles in addition to an NL pennant with the Padres, serving as the latest managerial great to get his start as a backstop. The Rays hope that Kevin Cash can continue that tradition and just maybe join that group of championship-winners before too long.