Atlanta Braves Franchise Top Managers–#6 George Stallings
Stallings the Manager
Stallings and Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox were alike. Bobby was a hard taskmaster, who lost his temper occasionally, never gave up on a game, and emphasized pitching by hiring Leo Mazzone as pitching coach.
Stallings wasn’t a touchy-feely lets-talk-about-it, manager. Newspaper reports quoted in The Miracle Braves of 1914, Boston’s Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions, suggested swore like a sailor and had a “legendary temper.” According to his SABR biography, Stallings was two different men
"“a pitiless and abusive critic while the game is on. When the game is over, he is mingling with his players, among whom he is immensely popular, laughing and jollying them in preparation for the morrow.” (Harvey T. Woodruff in the Chicago Tribune, September 6, 1914)"
Both managers were superstitious. We saw Bobby change where he stood in the dugout if luck was running against the Braves. Stallings did that as well, but his SABR biography indicated that he took it to extremes.
". . .Once, or so the story goes, he happened to be leaning over to pick up a pebble when the Braves started a rally; after it was over, he was so stiff he had to be helped off the field."
Unlike most managers, Stallings wore a suit and tie in the dugout. He got so nervous that he literally wore out the seat of his trousers sliding up and down the bench during games.
Atlanta Braves vs. Boston Braves worst-to-first
Comparing the worst-to-first runs must begin with the rosters, As GM Cox built a farm system that led to him taking over on the field. Stallings didn’t have that luxury; he was responsible for general manager duties as well as managing the team on the field.
Atlanta Braves players were well-paid professionals who came to spring training in shape and with an understanding of how the game is played.
Stallings’ squad consisted of poorly paid players who had to work at other jobs during the off-season to eat. Spring Training included more fitness work in one spring than Cox watched over in five with Atlanta.
Over the winter of 1912, Stalling began to “purchase, dicker and swap” players, a process he described as a fascinating puzzle. Just as Cox needed Leo Mazzone, Stallings needed Fred Mitchell.
"I picked up Mitchell, the veteran catcher, who had been with me with the Yankees and in Buffalo, because . . . Mitchell is the greatest man in his line, to my way of thinking, at developing young pitchers. . . (Miracle Braves, page 338)"
Years later, Stallings described his initial impression of the 1913 squad.
"When I first faced the members of the Boston team in Macon, Ga. in the Spring of 1913, I had before me a misfit outfit, but some material with which to build and which could be developed, I felt sure. (Miracle Braves, page 340)"
Hello, I’m the new boss.
Stallings introduced himself to his players that spring, by telling them what lay ahead.
"“First . . . I am a strict disciplinarian. . .We are all here for work and not for play. We are here to begin training for a season of hard work (when) no ball game is . . . considered lost . . .until the last man is out . . .”"
He began each day with two hours of “classroom” work to go over plays and warned players to take his classroom seriously. Two veterans didn’t, and he fired them on the spot.
Thirteen players remained from the 1912 squad to start the season; 20 games into the season, six were gone. Stallings sent catcher Hank Gowdy to Buffalo for seasoning, leaving three everyday players from the 1912 squad; Bill Rariden, second basemen Bill Sweeney, and shortstop Rabbit Maranville.
We watched the Atlanta Braves go through a long, painful rebuilding process. Stallings rebuilt the Boston Braves in two seasons. Among his early additions was pitching coach Fred Mitchell. Stallings gave him some new arms to polish, and he did his job well.
Stallings retained pitchers Lefty Tyler, Otis Hess, Walt Dickson, and Herb Perdue to start 1913 and added two young, talented, but raw arms, Bill James and Dick Rudolph.
James didn’t qualify for the ERA title in 1913, but his 2.79 ERA and 118 ERA plus matched Hall of Famer Pete Alexander’s numbers. In 1914 James went 22-7, threw 332.1 innings pitching to a 1.90 ERA that was good for second in the league, posted a 7.8 rWAR, and finished third in voting for the Chalmers MVP Award.
I listed Rudolph at number seven in my 2019 post of the top-16 franchise-making trades because he was a stud. His first four seasons with the Braves were worth 17.4 rWAR, and despite injury and illness, his 11 seasons with the Braves were worth 21.4 rWAR
Retooling the Lineup
Stallings understood that his pitchers needed better defense and began filling that need by acquiring outfielder Joe Connolly off waivers. Connolly’s career ended after four years, but in his first three seasons, Connolly provided 8.0 rWAR.
In 1914 he added future hall of Famer Johnny Evers. Evers was 32 when he joined the Braves, but became the driving force behind the miracle finish. Evers and Maranville became the best double-play combination in the League, and it showed in MVP voting: Evers won the Chalmers Award in 1914, and Maranville finished second.