Ralph Houk, who managed the Yankees to World Series titles in 1961 and 1962 and also served as the first skipper of the George Steinbrenner era, died Wednesdayafternoon in Winter Haven, Fla., The Associated Press reported. He was 90.
Red Sox spokesman Dick Bresciani announced the news, after receiving words of Houk's passing from Houk's grandson, who lives in the Boston area; Houk managed the Red Sox from 1981 through 1984. The cause of death wasn't known, but Houk missed last Saturday's Yankees Old-Timers' Day even though the 1950 Yankees, for whom he briefly played, were being honored.
Nicknamed "Major," as that was the rank he attained while fighting in World War II, Houk grew up in the Yankees' farm system, played a total of 91 regular-season games and two postseason games as a catcher from 1947 through 1954 and succeeded Hall of Famer Casey Stengel in the manager's office following the 1960 season. His Yankees won titles in his first two seasons, defeating the Reds and Giants in the World Series, and they captured a third straight American League pennant in 1963 before getting swept by the Dodgers.
For 1964, Houk received a promotion to general manager and appointed Yogi Berra as the manager. Houk fired Berra after just one season, even though the Yankees reached the World Series again (and lost to St. Louis). When former Cardinals manager Johnny Keane floundered in a year and a quarter on the job, Houk replaced Keane with himself as manager, and Houk eventually yielded his GM duties to Lee MacPhail.
He stayed on as Yankees manager through 1973, Steinbrenner's first season as owner, and resigned to take over the Detroit Tigers. The perception always has existed that Houk couldn't stand working for the Boss, but in an interview with Newsday's Jim Baumbach in 2008, Houk said that wasn't the case. "George has always treated me well," he said.
Houk led the Tigers from 1974 through 1978, "retiring" before making a comeback with the Red Sox. In all, he compiled a 1,619-1,531 record as manager, 944-806 in 11 years with the Yankees.
Houk told Baumbach that a bone-marrow problem restricted his travel, but he expressed optimism about seeing the new Yankee Stadium. "It's hard for me to visualize how they're going to repeat it," he said. "I hope to see it."
Alas, he never did.