Dressen in 1951.
September 20, 1894|
|Died: August 10, 1966
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|April 17, 1925 for the Cincinnati Reds|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1933 for the New York Giants|
|Runs batted in||221|
|Career highlights and awards|
Charles Walter Dressen (September 20, 1894 – August 10, 1966), known as both "Chuck" and "Charlie," was an American third baseman, manager and coach in professional baseball during a career that lasted almost fifty years, and was best known as the manager of the powerful Brooklyn Dodgers of 1951–1953. Indeed, Dressen's "schooling" of a young baseball writer is one of the most colorful themes in Roger Kahn's classic memoir, The Boys of Summer.
Pro football quarterback and big league third baseman
Dressen was a veteran baseball man when he took the reins in Brooklyn after the 1950 season. Born in Decatur, Illinois, he threw and batted right-handed and was listed at 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall and 145 pounds (66 kg). Despite his relatively small stature, Dressen also played professional football during his apprenticeship as a minor league baseball player. He was a quarterback for the Decatur Staleys (a forerunner of the Chicago Bears) in 1920 and the Racine Legion in 1922–1923.
After he turned to baseball full-time in 1924, Dressen batted .346 in the top-level American Association, paving the way for his 646-game Major League career. Dressen played for the Cincinnati Reds from 1925–1931, and was the club's starting third baseman from 1926–1929. He also was a late-season utilityman for the 1933 New York Giants. All told, he batted .272 with 603 hits in the Majors.
Dressen began his managerial career in 1932 with the Nashville Vols of the Southern Association. He interrupted that assignment late in 1933 to fill in as an active player for the Giants during the pennant drive. Although he didn't play during the 1933 World Series, he helped the Giants win Game 4. With New York leading the game by a single run in the bottom of the 11th inning, the opposition Washington Senators loaded the bases with one out, and sent up rookie pinch hitter Cliff Bolton. On his own initiative, Dressen called time, ran from the dugout, and advised Giants' first baseman and playing manager Bill Terry how to pitch and defend Bolton, whom Dressen knew from managing against him in the Southern Association. Bolton promptly bounced into a double play and the New Yorkers won the game to take a 3–1 lead in the Series, which they ultimately won in five games. The incident stamped Dressen as a potential Major League Baseball manager.
Association with Larry MacPhail
After returning to Nashville at the outset of 1934 to resume his successful minor league managerial career, Dressen was called to Cincinnati to manage the last-place Reds on July 29, 1934. The Reds would rise as high as fifth place under him, in 1936, but when they fell back into the National League basement the following season, Dressen was fired.
Despite his poor won-lost record (214–282, .431) in Cincinnati, Dressen made a valuable ally in the Reds’ mercurial general manager, Larry MacPhail. A year after MacPhail took over the Dodgers in 1938, he named fiery shortstop Leo Durocher player-manager and Dressen as his third base coach. Under MacPhail and Durocher, the Dodgers became a hard-playing pennant contender, winning Brooklyn's third NL pennant of the modern era in 1941. But when MacPhail resigned in October 1942 to rejoin the armed forces and was succeeded by Branch Rickey, Dressen was fired from Durocher’s staff — reportedly because he refused to eschew betting on horses. He was on the sidelines for the first three months of the 1943 season before being rehired by the Dodgers that July.
When the Second World War ended, MacPhail returned to baseball as part owner, president and general manager of the New York Yankees. Following the 1946 campaign, he raided the Dodger coaching staff, signing Dressen and Red Corriden as aides under his new manager, Bucky Harris. The raids contributed to a public feud between MacPhail on one side and Durocher and Rickey on the other; ultimately Commissioner of Baseball Albert B. Chandler would suspend Durocher for the entire 1947 season for "conduct detrimental to baseball," suspend Dressen for 30 days for signing a Yankee contract while still an employee of the Dodgers, and fine both clubs and some of their employees.
MacPhail left baseball after the Yankees' 1947 world championship (gained at Brooklyn’s expense) and Harris was sacked after the 1948 season. Dressen was not retained by the new Yankee manager, Casey Stengel, but instead replaced Stengel as the manager of the Oakland Oaks of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He skippered the Oaks in 1949–1950 and his teams finished second and first, winning 104 and 118 games. Simultaneously, a power struggle for control of the Dodgers ended in Walter O'Malley forcing Rickey out of the Brooklyn front office. When O'Malley fired Rickey associate Burt Shotton in the autumn of 1950, he gave the manager's job to Dressen.
Leader of Brooklyn's 'Boys of Summer'
Dressen's Dodgers, unlike his Reds of a decade and a half before, were a perennial contender in the National League, with a lineup that included four future members of the Baseball Hall of Fame — Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider. They had won pennants in 1947 and 1949 and finished second by only two games in 1946 and 1950.
Brooklyn charged into first place early in the 1951 season, while the New York Giants — led since July 16, 1948, by Durocher himself — struggled (despite the callup of a 20-year-old rookie phenom named Willie Mays). When the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the Giants at Ebbets Field, August 10, the Brooklyn lead over the Giants reached 12½ games. The following day, when Brooklyn won the first game of a doubleheader against the Boston Braves and the Giants fell to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Dodger lead stood, albeit briefly, at 13½ games.
Then, however, the Giants began to win. With Sal Maglie, Larry Jansen and Jim Hearn anchoring their starting rotation — and (according to some accounts) with a "spy" stealing opponents' signs from their center-field clubhouse at their home field, the Polo Grounds — the Giants won sixteen in a row in August and 37 of their last 44 games (.841) while the Dodgers went 26–22 (.542) over the same period. The Giants thus forced a flat-footed tie at season’s end and a best-of-three playoff. In the ninth inning of the decisive third game at the Polo Grounds, Dodger starting pitcher Don Newcombe had a 4–2 lead and two men on base when Dressen decided to go to the bullpen, where Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca were warming up. "Erskine is bouncing his curve," the manager was told by his bullpen coach, Clyde Sukeforth. Dressen summoned Branca, whose second pitch to Bobby Thomson was hit into the lower left-field stands for a three-run homer, a 5–4 Giants' win, and a National League pennant — Baseball's "Shot Heard ‘Round the World".
Dressen kept his job in 1952 (Sukeforth resigned, while denying that the Branca decision was a factor in his departure) and for the next two seasons, the Dodgers dominated the National League, winning the pennant by margins of 4½ and 13 games. But each season, they came up short against the Yankees in the World Series, losing in seven games in 1952 and six in 1953. Fresh from winning the 1953 pennant with 105 victories, Dressen decided to publicly demand a three-year contract from O’Malley instead of the customary one-year deal the Dodgers then offered their managers. O'Malley didn't yield and Dressen effectively resigned when his old contract expired. He was replaced by Triple-A Montreal Royals manager Walter Alston — a veteran minor leaguer who was then a relative unknown to Brooklyn fans and media. Alston would go on to sign 23 one-year contracts with O'Malley, while winning seven NL pennants, four World Series, and a berth in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Struggles in Washington and Milwaukee
Dressen returned to Oakland to manage the PCL Oaks in 1954 while he sorted out his Major League future, then was hired to manage the Washington Senators, who had finished sixth in the eight-team American League in 1954. Dressen inherited a second division team with a poor farm system. Nevertheless, baseball observers predicted that he would rouse the Senators from their doldrums with his managerial acumen. On September 30, 1954 (Season 5 Episode 3), Dressen himself appeared on the Groucho Marx quiz program, You Bet Your Life, and predicted that the Senators would finish in the first division (fourth place or higher). His former boss O'Malley said, "Dressen will steal at least six games for Washington in 1955." Dressen also told his team, "I guarantee we won't finish in sixth place again." He was right. The 1955 Senators finished eighth and last, the 1956 edition finished seventh, and the '57 team was 4–16 (and last again) on May 7, 1957, when Dressen was fired. His Senators won only 116 of 328 games — a winning percentage of .354. The team's next winning season would have to wait until 1962, when it had become the Minnesota Twins.
After leaving Washington, Dressen rejoined the newly relocated Los Angeles Dodgers to serve as a coach under Alston in 1958–1959. When the '59 Dodgers won the World Series, Dressen was in demand as a manager once again, and the Milwaukee Braves, who had lost a pennant playoff to Los Angeles at the end of the 1959 season, named him their field boss for 1960. Milwaukee was only three victories short (two in 1956 and one in 1959) of four National League pennants in four seasons, and still boasted Hall of Famers Henry Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn, but the players around them had begun to fall off in production and the Brave farm system could not keep up. Dressen was not able to reverse the Braves' slow decline to the middle of the NL pack. They again finished second in 1960, but a full seven games behind, and were 71–58 and in fourth place late in 1961, when Dressen was replaced on September 2 by Birdie Tebbetts. In 1962, Dressen managed the Toronto Maple Leafs of the Triple-A International League to 91 victories.
Reviving the Tigers
In 1963, Dressen was out of uniform, scouting for the Dodgers, when his final managing opportunity presented itself. After the Detroit Tigers won only 24 of their first 60 games under Bob Scheffing, Dressen was hired on June 18 to take over the team. He rallied the Tigers to a 55–47 record for the remainder of 1963, a first division finish in 1964, and slowly was mentoring much of the talent (Denny McLain, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich and others) that would win Detroit the 1968 world championship.
By now, however, Dressen's health began to fail. A heart attack sidelined him during 1965 spring training and he didn't return as the Tigers' manager until May 31. Then he suffered a second coronary early on in the 1966 campaign, on May 16. He was recovering from the heart attack when he was stricken with a kidney infection, and died of cardiac arrest at age 71 in a Detroit hospital on August 10, 1966. He is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Known for his sunny self-confidence, Dressen would often tell his highly talented Dodgers, "Just hold them, boys, until I think of something." His career major league managerial record was 1,037–993 (.511).
- Dressen's birthdate has been revised from 1898, as was commonly reported in The Sporting News' Baseball Register and Macmillan's Baseball Encyclopedia, to 1894 by both Baseball Reference and Retrosheet, indicating that Dressen took four years off his actual age as a professional athlete
- The New York Times, August 11, 1966, quoted in thedeadballera.com
- The Biographical Dictionary of American Sports, page 411
- Chuck Dressen made manager of Cincinnati
- Dressen fired from Cincinnati post
- Lowenfish, Lee, Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009, page 425
- The Associated Press, 1953.01.10
- Dressen quits Dodgers in contract wrangle
- Wally Alston named Dodger Manager, succeeding Dressen
- The Christian Science Monitor, "Hall of Famer Alston batted once in Majors, but managed 23 years," 1983.03.18
- Povich, Shirley, "Schemeboat on the Potomac," Baseball Digest, May 1955
- Charley Dressen choice official
- Chuck Dressen takes over floundering Detroit Tigers
- Chuck Dressen stricken; heart attack No. 1 topic
- 2nd attack for Dressen
- Jolly Charlie Dressen dies at 67
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Baseball-Reference.com - career managing record
- Chuck Dressen at Find a Grave
- Chuck Dressen on YouTube on What's My Line? (1953)