Atlanta Braves Franchise Top Managers: #5 – Fred Haney

At Spring Training: your 1957 Milwaukee Braves.... 9 years before becoming the Atlanta Braves (Photo by: Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
At Spring Training: your 1957 Milwaukee Braves.... 9 years before becoming the Atlanta Braves (Photo by: Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
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Sixty years before Atlanta Braves All-Star Ozzie Albies manned second base Felix Mantilla turned double plays for the Milwaukee Braves. 1959 Press Photo Braves Felix Mantilla Tags Out Phillies Player
Sixty years before Atlanta Braves All-Star Ozzie Albies manned second base Felix Mantilla turned double plays for the Milwaukee Braves. 1959 Press Photo Braves Felix Mantilla Tags Out Phillies Player /

Number five on the list of Atlanta Braves Franchise’s best managers in was at the helm for only three and a half seasons and never finished lower than second place. Fred Haney even won a World Series.

The Atlanta Braves like to keep successful managers on board, but that’s not how the franchise historically handled the job. After cutting ties with Billy Southworth in 1951, and Tommy Holmes shepherded the club through its last year in Boston, Charlie Grimm took over.

Jolly Charlie raised the team to second in 1953 and led the team to a 317-263 record – .467 W-L% when the 1955 season ended. Instead of roaring out to start a championship run, the team started 1956 24-22. Braves leadership felt Grimm was too laid back and replaced him with the number five manager on my all-time list, Fred Haney.

Natural Athlete

Fred Girard Haney was born in New Mexico Territory 14 years before it became a state. His family moved to Los Angeles, where Haney attended Polytechnic High School and where his SABR Bio tells how he became one of the first great high-school athletes in the history of Los Angeles.

“. . . he was a four-year letterman in three sports. Named twice to the All-California Interscholastic football team (held) several swimming titles, (was) a member of the water polo team, and the city’s junior handball champion,”

At 5’7 and 170 pounds, Haney wasn’t svelte, but he was fast, a trait he relied on throughout his playing days. He began his minor league playing career in 1919 with Portland in the old Pacific Coast International League. He moved up to the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League later in the year and played there through 1920.

In 1921 he moved to Omaha in the Western League and played well enough to convince the Tigers to purchase his contract for $5000 plus four players, including the then 19-year-old Heine Manush.

Manush would move to Detroit in 1923 and earn a plaque in Cooperstown. Haney’s career wasn’t as lauded as that of Manush. Haney would become a frequently traded super-utility man on the Red Sox, Cubs, and Cardinals before losing a kidney ended his Major League playing career in 1931.

Milwaukee Braves Skipper Fred Haney. receiving an award for his charitable work. (Photo by Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images)
Milwaukee Braves Skipper Fred Haney. receiving an award for his charitable work. (Photo by Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images) /

A Long Road to the Majors.

Haney played under Ty Cobb at Detroit and asked the same things of his team as Cobb had asked of him; competitiveness, aggressiveness, and an unending desire to win. He took that philosophy to Toledo in 1934 when he became player/manager of corporal Klinger’s favorite team, the Mudhens.

“. . . he protested a doubleheader loss . . .after the umpire delayed a game while a telegram was sent to the league president changing the Columbus roster . . . The next day he was still seething and vigorously protested a call. He was ejected and, when he refused to leave the field, was escorted out by the police and suspended. . . .”

The following year he got in a fight on the field with Burleigh Grimes. Haney was out of his weight class; it was a two-hit fight; Grimes hit Haney, Haney hit the ground, then Grime tried to adjust Haney’s looks with his spikes.

The Browns noticed Haney’s leadership in Toledo and made him their new skipper. He lasted through the start of the 1941 season before being demoted back to Toledo as manager.

He quit the game at the end of 1942 and returned to LA, where he became play-by-play announcer for both the Angels and Hollywood Stars minor league teams.

A Manager Again

Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker worked his way up the Braves system to earn his current post. But  in the early days of the game, it was seldom done that way.

The Hollywood Stars asked Hany to manage in 1949. Haney wanted to keep his job as program director for KLAC and his radio show, and the team agreed. Before he signed his deal, he called Dodgers President Branch Rickey and got assurances the Dodgers would make the Stars one of their farm teams.

Acting as GM and manager, Haney replaced 16 of the 25 players on the Stars roster and warned his players that failing to hustle would result in their release. The Stars won the pennant by 5 1/2 games, and Haney was named Minor League Manager of the Year.

After recovering from viral pneumonia in the winter of 1951, Haney led the Stars to another pennant. This time Rickey Called Haney and made him manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Pirates were the worst team in baseball, and Rickey had ordered him to play the young players regardless of the results. The club was still the worst three years later, and Haney’s contract wasn’t renewed.

He’d expected it, but after a taste of the majors wanted to stay in the game at that level.  He got his wish when the Braves hired him as a coach for Charlie Grimm.

light. Related Story. Billy The Kid

Skipper of the Braves

Haney’s tenure with the Milwaukee Braves began 46 games into the season, and in many ways, mirrored Southworth’s start with the Boston Braves ten-years earlier.  Grimm was a player’s manager who used a strict platoon with Joe Adcock facing lefties and Frank Torre facing righties.

Adcock hit all of the home runs, and while Torre had a good average, a .690 OPS isn’t good enough for a first baseman.

Haney scrapped the platoon, and Adcock responded by going 4-8, including three homers to help the Braves win both games of the doubleheader, and terrified National League pitching for the rest of the season.

The Braves won the next nine games; they started June 17, 24–22, five games out of first and ended July 36-25, in first place and one game up on the Reds. Despite a slump at the plate in September, the Braves led on September 28th

The Braves won the last game of the season behind the underrated Lew Burdette to finish 92-62-1, but the Dodgers won their game as well, giving them a 93-61 season and leaving the Braves in second, one game back. Under Haney, the Braves went 56-37 (.602 W-L%).

Just as Fans lined Peachtree for the Atlanta Braves World Series parade, Milwaukee Braves fans lined Wisconsin Avenue to their 1957 World Series win.
Just as Fans lined Peachtree for the Atlanta Braves World Series parade, Milwaukee Braves fans lined Wisconsin Avenue to their 1957 World Series win. /

Why They DIDN’T Win in ’56?

Two weeks into Spring Training, Roy Terrell penned Fred Haney Lights A Fire for Sports Illustrated. He wrote that managers of other teams expected the Braves to win, and when they didn’t, many implied Grimm and Haney should have done better.

Knowing he’d remain anonymous, one manager said if he’d managed the team, the Braves would have won the league by 10 games. Terrell asked Haney what happened, and his response was more candid than any I’ve heard from an Atlanta Braves manager in a similar situation.

“The failure to hit up to expectation all season long at four positions: catcher, second base, third base and left field . . .  failure to (execute) – lousy bunting, poor base running, throwing to the wrong base- lost . . . games. And a hitting slump in September.
“Everybody has hitting slumps; ours just happened. . .at the worst possible time. . . .”

Haney was correct that Danny O’Connell at second and Bobby Thomson in left didn’t produce much all season.

However, as I wrote in 2021, Del Crandall was one of the best catchers in Atlanta Braves history and, at that time, a better hitter than Roy Campanella. he posted a .866 OPS in April, 1.010 OPS in May, .815 OPS in June, and a .786 OPS in July.

His slump began to bite in August when he started to wear down from playing almost every day, and it really began to be a burden in September. Haney rested him when he could, but both backup options were worse at the plate.

Third baseman Eddie Mathews had a typical Eddie Mathews season:

  • 21 doubles,
  • two triples,
  • 38 homers – fourth in the NL –  and
  • batted .272/.373/.518/.892, walking 91 times, and striking out 86.

But after hitting 14 homers in August and posting a 1.114 OPS, he “slumped” to a .280/.374/.409/. 782 OPS in September.

MVP Seasons Win Championships

After that cutting diagnosis, it’s no wonder the 1957 Braves had a different Spring Training than they did in the past.

Haney wanted a team that didn’t wear down as quickly and didn’t repeat the mistakes of 1956. He worked the team harder than at any time since Southworth held the reins, emphasizing conditioning and fundamentals.

After a few days of this, he told them what their hard work now would do for them.

“You may hate me in the spring but you’ll love me in the fall when you pick up your World Series checks.”

Haney was right.

Like the Atlanta Braves of the 90s, their pitching dominated the league.

  • 36-year-old Warren Spahn posted a 21-11 record with three saves in 39 games – 35 starts- while pitching to a 2.69 ERA in 271 IP that included 18 complete games and four shutouts.
    • Spahn finished fourth in NL MVP voting
  • Burdette appeared in 367 games, made 33 starts, posted a 3.72 ERA over 256.2 IP, and posted a 17-11 record that included 14 complete games and one shutout.
    • Burdette finished 24th in NL MVP voting and went on to pitch three complete games in the World Series and won all three – two were shutouts – and was named World Series MVP.
  • The man few remember, Bob Buhl, posted an 18-7 record and pitched to a 2.74 ERA in 216.2 IP that included 14 complete games and two shutouts.
    • Buhl finished 14th in NL MVP voting
  • Closer Don McMahon appeared in 32 games and recorded eight saves while pitching to a 1.54 ERA.

Aaron batted .322/.378/.600/.978 with 44 homers, 27 doubles, and six triples and was named NL MVP.

Eddie Mathews batted .292/.387/.540/.927 and hit 32 homers, and rookie left fielder Covington posted an .875 OPS and finished eighth in N MVP voting.

Johnny Logan finished 25th in NL MVP voting,

The Braves finished 95-59-1 and rode Aaron, Mathews, Covington, and Burdette to the second World Series title in franchise history.

Braves Juan Pizarro, Humberto Robinson, and Felix Mantilla at Yankee Stadium before the start of game three of the World Series on October 4, 1958. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
Braves Juan Pizarro, Humberto Robinson, and Felix Mantilla at Yankee Stadium before the start of game three of the World Series on October 4, 1958. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images) /

Repeats Illude the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995, as Milwaukee did in 1957, and reached the series in 1996, as Milwaukee did in 1958, but the Braves lost both times because baseball is hard, and winning a World Series is incredibly hard.

In 1996, the Atlanta Braves jumped out to a three-game lead only to have the Yankees bounce back and sweep Atlanta in the next four games.
Injuries to Adcock and Connelly and the absence of Schoendeinst, who was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, didn’t stop Haney from leading the 1958 Braves Braves to a 92-62-0 record and another NL Pennant.

The Milwaukee Braves took the first two games at home, lost game three, then won game four in New York, only to have the Yankees sweep the next three games.

The Braves weren’t as dominant in 1959. Covington played only 103 games and didn’t hit with the same consistency, Schoendeinst missed the season, and Burdette took a step back.

Still, they ended the season tied with Dodgers for first but lost the two-game playoff and finished in second place with an 86-70-1 record, two games behind the eventual World Series Champions.

Bye-Bye Fred

Haney’s. After leading the Braves to a 341-231-3 record, 110 games over .500 (.596 W-L%), two second-place finishes, two NL Pennants, and the second World Series Title in the history of the franchise, the Braves fired Fred Haney.

Reports of Haney’s departure offered two explanations: he asked owner Lou Perini for more authority over player acquisition, or Haney wanted to return to LA; Haney’s career suggests either was possible.

Haney had hinted during the season that it could be his last with the Braves, and some think that’s why he left. Others suggested Haney wanted a bigger say in player acquisition and trades, a skill he’d used with great success in his minor league managerial days.

Haney may have known something others didn’t; his friend Gene Autry was about to win the bidding for an expansion team in LA, the Angels.

Epilogue

If anyone can claim the title of midwife of a franchise, it’s Fred Haney. Haney dug out under-value veterans instead of declining big names and snatched Dean Chance and Jim Fregosi in the expansion draft.

He drove the refurbishment of Wrigley Field – the one in Los Angeles – created a Spring Training facility in Palm Springs, made 20 trades before Spring Training began, and when the 1961 season ended, the Los Angeles Angels were 70-61-1.

The Angels’ finish remains the highest finish of any expansion team in its first year. In 1962, they finished third, earning Haney the Major League Executive of the Year from The Sporting News and UPI.

Haney remained as Angels GM through the club’s move to Anaheim, then became a special assistant to Autry. Every year the Angels present the Fred Haney Award  He followed the Angels until his death in 1977.

That’s a Wrap

Today’s Atlanta Braves fans have seen Brian Snitker take a team that wasn’t competitive and, after one season, turn it into a perennial contender, yet many don’t appreciate Snitker’s role in the process.

Next. George won the first one. dark

Managers must be able to right the ship or, to mix metaphors, get the team back on track; that skill separates managers from coaches. Snitker’s proved he has it over the last five seasons as Atlanta Braves skipper, and from 1956 through 1959, so did Fred Haney.

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