|Catcher / Manager|
January 14, 1893|
|Died: March 31, 1957
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|September 6, 1913 for the Chicago White Sox|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 18, 1917 for the Philadelphia Athletics|
|Runs batted in||21|
|Career highlights and awards|
William Adam Meyer (January 14, 1893 – March 31, 1957) was an American baseball player and manager. He holds the dubious distinction as having played for, and managed, two of the worst teams in the history of Major League Baseball.
A catcher who spent most of his playing career in the minor leagues, Meyer broke into the majors with the 1913 Chicago White Sox, but played only one game. Three years later, in 1916, he returned to the American League with the Philadelphia Athletics; he appeared in 50 games for a squad that won only 36 games and lost 117. (The following year, he played in 62 games for an A's club that improved by 19 games, but still posted a poor 55-98 mark.)
Then, a generation-and-a-half later, Meyer piloted the 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates to the worst record in their history, the Bucs winning only 42 of 154 games.
Early life and major league catcher
Meyer was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, to William and Carrie Meyer. His father was born in Baden, Germany, came to the United States at age 16 and operated a brewery. He eventually married his neighbor and classmate from grade school, Madelon Warters. He started playing baseball in grade school when his father bought him a catcher's glove to catch his older brother. His hero was catcher Johnny Kling. He was a good student until high school when baseball became such a primary focus that it even resulted in a school suspension. His father operated a brewery in Smithton, Pennsylvania, for a time and the younger Meyer worked there during vacation. During his sophomore year of high school, Billy Meyer was offered $75 per month to catch for a Lakeland, Florida, team, but he was expected to inherit the brewery so his father resisted the idea. He went regardless, and played so well that a Sanford, Florida, team offered him $175 per month to play for them. He caught for other Florida teams and finally hit a championship-winning home run for Gainesville, Florida. When he returned to Tennessee with $250, his father never protested against baseball again.
In 1915, Meyer played so well for a Davenport, Iowa, team that Connie Mack signed him to back up catcher Wally Schang for his major league Philadelphia Athletics. He recalled that Mack had him catch for unpredictable young pitchers in order to save Schang, but his major league catching career was over after just two seasons with the A's.
Minor league manager
Nearly a decade after his major league playing career, Meyer was hired to manage Louisville in the American Association, replacing Joe McCarthy, whom the Chicago Cubs called up to manage starting in 1926. In his first season, Louisville won the pennant with a team that included future superstar second baseman Billy Herman(whom Meyer would replace as Pittsburgh Pirates manager over 20 years later). But after Louisville lost over 100 games in both 1927 & 1928, he was fired. In 1932, he was hired by Springfield of the Eastern League. The New York Yankees hired him in 1938, and he won four pennants in ten years with their Kansas City and Newark farm teams. Joe McCarthy was managing the Yankees at that time, and recognized Meyer's achievements with the great Yankees-to-be he was managing in the minors. Overall, as a minor league manager, Meyer won eight pennants, narrowly missed a ninth, and finished in the second division only twice. In addition to his Louisville pennant, he also won three with Kansas City (A.A.), one with Springfield (Eastern League), two with Binghamton (New York-Pennsylvania League) and one with Newark (International League). On July 6, 1944, Meyer and Newark were in last place, 30 games behind Bucky Harris and his Buffalo Bisons, and had lost to Buffalo seven consecutive times. Newark rebounded by winning 30 of 34 games while Buffalo dropped into the second division, and missed winning the pennant by a fraction of a percent.
For a dozen years (1936–47), Meyer was the manager of top farm clubs for the New York Yankees: Oakland of the Pacific Coast League, Kansas City of the American Association, and Newark of the International League, winning four league championships. Unfortunately for Meyer, the legendary Joe McCarthy (ironically, a close friend of Meyer's) was still managing the Yankees during most of that time, and he was never called to manage the big club. In 19 seasons as a minor league skipper, Meyer's clubs won 1,605 and lost 1,325 (.548). After his 1939 Kansas City club won 107 games, Meyer was named Minor League Manager of the Year by The Sporting News.
Meyer was known for scrappiness. With Newark, one of his players, Nick Rhabe, threatened the general manager, "If you don't get me more dough, you'll be sorry." Rhabe carried through on the threat by running the bases poorly in a game. Meyer responded by knocking Rhabe down the dugout steps and kicking him off the team. In general, he was a disciplinarian who rarely screamed at players, similar to the style of Joe McCarthy.
Meyer was an avid singer and a fan of George M. Cohan. While in New York, Joe McCarthy introduced Meyer to Cohan. Meyer impressed him by singing songs that Cohan himself had not remembered writing.
During his minor league manager career, Meyer was considered for major league jobs several times. He was a candidate to be manager for the 1938 Cleveland Indians season, but lost out to Ossie Vitt. When Gabby Hartnett departed after the 1940 Chicago Cubs season Meyer was considered, but Jimmie Wilson got the job after helping the Cincinnati Reds win the 1940 World Series. In 1945, part-owner of the Boston Braves, Frank McKinney, approached Meyer at the Little World Series in Louisville, but the Braves ultimately chose Billy Southworth.
After a tumultuous 1946 New York Yankees season, owner Larry MacPhail offered the Yankee managerial job to Meyer. But he had been seriously ill that year and declined the offer, the Yankees rebounding to win the pennant in 1947 without him. In contrast, the Pirates, who had finished their second consecutive seventh-place season in the eight-team National League. For their 1948 season, the hired him for his first major league managerial stint. Joe McCarthy claimed Meyer had been the best minor league manager and predicted he would be one of the best in the majors as well. In 1948, his first season, Pittsburgh rose from seventh to fourth place in the National League standings. The 21-game improvement to 83-71 earned Meyer The Sporting News Major League Manager of the Year. At year's end, the Yankees fired Bucky Harris and asked the Pirates for permission to offer their managerial vacancy to Meyer, whom newly appointed Yankee general manager George Weiss knew and respected from their long association in the Yanks' farm system. But the Bucs refused, and Weiss was forced to hire his second choice, none other than Casey Stengel, who would win 10 pennants in 12 years in the Bronx on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Meyer remained in Pittsburgh, but the Pirates -- despite the home run heroics of Ralph Kiner —- quickly plummeted back to the bottom of the National League, and by 1950 they were back in the cellar. They then hired legendary executive Branch Rickey as general manager, whose solution was to purge the team of high-salaried veterans and bring up young players from the minors. The tactic had worked for Rickey with the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers, but backfired disastrously in Pittsburgh, since most of the youngsters he called up were not ready for the majors. They managed to improve to seventh in 1951, but by 1952 the team hit its nadir, losing 112 games, and Meyer was replaced by Fred Haney at the end of that campaign. He then spent 1953 to 1955 scouting for the Pirates.
Honored by native city
|Billy Meyer's number 1 was retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1954.|
Despite a managing record of 317-452 (.412) over five seasons, all with Pittsburgh, and a career batting average of only .236 (with one home run and 21 runs batted in), Meyer was given two significant honors, a measure of how widely respected he was. For years the baseball park in his native city of Knoxville, Tennessee, was named Bill Meyer Stadium. And the Pirates retired Meyer's uniform number (1), despite that horrible 1952 campaign.
Meyer was frequently troubled by ill health during the last decade of his managerial career. Once in retirement, he suffered a stroke in 1955 and died two years later, in Knoxville, of a heart attack at age 64.
- Baseball Digest, 1948, by Vince Johnson from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia by David Finoli and Bill Ranier, 2003.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or The Baseball Cube
- Billy Meyer managerial career statistics at Baseball-Reference.com
- Billy Meyer at Find a Grave
- Baseball Almanac