|Catcher / Manager|
January 14, 1893|
|Died: March 31, 1957
|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.)
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. He played 50 games for the A's that year--and was thus on hand for a season in which the A's finished with the worst winning percentage in major league history. He played 62 games for the A's in 1917. As it turned out, this would be Meyer's last season in the major leagues. After the season, Meyer was sold to the Louisville Colonels in the American Association. He would stay in Louisville for 11 years, and was a major contributor to the Colonels' American Association pennants in 1921 and 1925 under Joe McCarthy.
Minor league manager
When McCarthy was called up to manage the Chicago Cubs for the 1926 season, Meyer was named his successor. In his first season, Louisville won a second consecutive 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 when the Colonels promptly slumped to consecutive 100-loss seasons in 1927 and 1928, he was fired. At the same time, he was released as a player. For the first time in almost 20 years, Meyer was out of baseball.
After a three-year wait, he was hired by the Springfield Rifles of the Eastern League. He had them in first place on July 17 when the league folded due to Depression-related financial troubles. A few months later, he was hired by the Binghamton Triplets of the New York–Pennsylvania League, and stayed there for three years, winning the pennant in 1933 and half the pennant in 1934 and 1935. Through his contacts with McCarthy, now manager of the New York Yankees, he moved to the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League in 1936. While he never won a pennant there, he impressed farm director George Weiss that he was promoted to manage the Kansas City Blues of the American Association in 1938.
For the next 10 years, Meyer alternated as the manager of the Blues (1938–1941, 1946–1947) and the Yankees' other top farm club, the Newark Bears of the International League. In that time, he won four pennants and finished second four times. His 1939 team, which finished 107-47 and won the Junior World Series for the second year in a row, was named the 12th best team in minor league history by Minor League Baseball. Meyer was named Minor League Manager of the Year by The Sporting News. Overall, as a minor league manager, Meyer won eight pennants, narrowly missed a ninth, and finished in the second division only twice. 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. In 19 seasons as a minor league skipper, Meyer's clubs won 1,605 and lost 1,325 (.548).
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 managerial 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. Later, he was derailed by clubs' preference of the time for former players whose major league résumés were stronger than Meyer's. 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, Frank McKinney, part-owner of the Boston Braves, 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. He had been seriously ill that year, though, and declined the offer, and the Yankees rebounded to win the pennant in 1947 under Bucky Harris. In contrast, the Pirates 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. McCarthy had followed Meyer's work with future Yankees stars in Oakland, Kansas City and Newark closely, and was impressed enough to say Meyer had been the best manager in the minor leagues at the time. He went as far as to predict that Meyer would be one of the best in the majors as well. In 1948, in his first season, Pittsburgh rose from seventh place to fourth in the standings—and just 8.5 games out of first. The 21-game improvement to 83–71 earned Meyer The Sporting News Major League Manager of the Year.
Despite the home run heroics of Ralph Kiner, the Pirates dropped to sixth place in 1949. Reportedly, Meyer lost the team when he suggested to reporters that a player had run into a pitchout on his own when he'd actually given the player a hit and run sign. By 1950 they were back in the cellar. They then hired as general manager executive Branch Rickey, whose solution was to purge the team of high-salaried veterans and bring up young players from the farm system—the same tactic he'd used to rebuild the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers. However, it backfired disastrously in Pittsburgh, and Meyer was saddled with what amounted to a minor-league team at the major-league level. The Pirates managed to improve to seventh in 1951, but lost 112 games in 1952—the second-worst record in franchise history, and the third-worst in modern (post-1900) National League history. Meyer resigned at the end of that campaign.
|Billy Meyer's number 1 was retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1954.|
Honored by native city
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. Additionally, the Pirates retired Meyer's uniform number (1), despite the horrible 1952 campaign.
In popular culture
After his managing days, Meyer worked as scout and troubleshooter for the Pirates until he suffered a stroke in 1955. Meyer died two years later, in Knoxville, of heart and kidney ailments at age 64.
- Baseball Digest, 1948, by Vince Johnson from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- James, Bill (1997). The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers. Diversion Books.
- The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia by David Finoli and Bill Ranier, 2003.
- 1939 Kansas City Blues at MiLB.com
- Billy Meyer resigns as Pirates' manager
- Meyer is quitting game
- Former Pittsburgh Manager Billy Meyer dies at 65 years