Birdie Tebbetts

One of the better defensive catchers of the 1930s and 1940s, Birdie Tebbetts was a four-time All-Star, twice before going off to fight in World War II, and twice after. Tebbetts was about 15 years after his time – he was the Deadball Era and 1920s era style catcher – good at handling the piching staff and shutting down the running game, but with very little power. Still, he spent 14 years in the big leagues as a well-respected catcher. After his playing career he launched a long stint as a manager in the minor leagues and for three different major league clubs.

Though he was a native of and raised in New England, Tebbetts came to be a midwestern fixture for much of his major league career. He was scouted and signed by the Detroit Tigers, for whom he played nine seasons, and after 3 1/2 years with the Boston Red Sox, Birdie was back in the center of the country finishing his playing career with the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe offered the 39-year old a managerial job with their top farm club in Indianapolis. Within a year he was poached by Cincinnati and hired by GM Gabe Paul to manage the Redlegs. Birdie improved the club’s record in 1954 by six games, and two years later he had inched the young team to 91 victories and a third place finish. But a poor start in 1958 prompted Birdie to quit his post, despite the pleadings of Paul. Tebbetts was a tough competitor who took every loss to heart and the burden began to take its toll. He told reporters as he left Cincinnati that he would never manage again. But he couldn’t stay out of baseball, and in 1960 he took a front office job with the Milwaukee Braves. In ’61, when manager Chuck Dressen was axed in September, Tebbetts stepped in. He managed the Braves for the entire ’62 season, bringing them in with a winning record in the middle of the pack. But Birdie was always one of Gabe Paul’s favorites, and in the off-season, Paul plucked him to be his manager at Cleveland, where he was now GM. Tebbetts skippered the Tribe for four seasons, missing half a year when he suffered a heart attack. He never got the Tribe above 5th place but he was a respected manager. When he was fired after the ’66 season he gave up managing for good, ending his career with a 748-705 record in 11 seasons. He took jobs as a scout, still maintaining a a connection the game into his 70s. He died at the age of 86 in 1999.