Managing Expectations

Mike Gonzalez was one of the first Latino managers in big league history

September 28, 2012
(NBHOF Library)

By Connor O’Gara

Mike Gonzalez wore a lot of different hats throughout his time in Major League Baseball. As a catcher, Gonzalez played for five different clubs in a career that spanned 20 years. After his playing days were over, the Havana, Cuba native spent 20 more years coaching baseball, including stints in 1938 and 1940 when he served as the interim manager for the St. Louis Cardinals. The managerial hat was a rarity for Latinos as Gonzalez became one of the first pioneers in that category in Major League Baseball.

Gonzalez was used to giving signs. It could’ve been during his time catching when he would call for his battery mate to throw the fastball. Or it could’ve been in his coaching days when he would signal for one of his players to bunt. Gonzalez made a living off of analyzing a situation and making orders.

It comes as no surprise that it was another judgment call that led Gonzalez to the baseball pinnacle.

Gonzalez was coaching third base for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. With the score tied in the bottom of the eighth, Cardinals outfielder Harry Walker was facing a two and one count with future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter on first base. The Cardinals called for a hit-and-run with two outs and the speedy Slaughter representing the go-ahead run.

Walker laced a base hit to center field to presumably bring Slaughter to third. But Gonzalez waved Slaughter home at third base. To the surprise of everyone at Sportsman’s Park on that October afternoon, including Red Sox cut-off man Johnny Pesky, Slaughter raced home safely for the game-winning and World Series clinching run.

The chaotic sequence became known as “Slaughter’s Mad Dash,” and Gonzalez forever became associated with one of the most memorable plays in baseball history.

What would’ve happened had Gonzalez’s bold move backfired?

“I’d been a dumb bunny,” Gonzalez said.

But Gonzalez’s ability to make his own calls made him a mainstay in Major League Baseball despite his difficulties with the English language. It was through a combination of the two that led Gonzalez to once evaluate a defensively talented prospect by saying, “Good field, no bat.” The phrase is one that can still be heard by fluent English speaking scouts today.

Gonzalez’s impact in baseball history can also be felt through his pioneering efforts to get involved in the managerial field as a Latino. Today, there are several Latino big league managers, and there are10 Latin Americans in the Hall of Fame, four of whom are natives of Cuba.        

Connor O’Gara was the 2012 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development .

For information on how to apply for the Class of 2013 Steele Internship Program, click here