Southworth turned Braves into winners in late 1940s

Written by: Craig Muder

In his five full seasons as the Cardinals’ manager, Billy Southworth experienced his toughest times in 1945. Those “tough times” included 95 wins and a second-place finish.

So when the Boston Braves went looking for a manager for 1946 and beyond, Southworth became a prime target.

On Nov. 6, 1945, Southworth left the Cardinals for a three-year contract with the Braves, a team that had suffered through seven straight losing seasons. Immediately, Southworth reversed the team’s fortunes.

“He was kind of my idol in high school,” said Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, who – like Southworth – led the Cardinals to a World Series title. “He won three pennants with the Cardinals and another with the Braves in 1948. And in those days, you had to manage and coach third base.”

Born March 9, 1893 in Harvard, Neb., Southworth enjoyed a 13-year career as a big leaguer, batting .297 with the Indians, Pirates, Braves, Giants and Cardinals. He hit .317 after a mid-season trade to St. Louis during the 1926 season, helping the Redbirds win their first World Series title with a .345 average in the World Series.

After spending 1927 as a reserve player, Southworth became a minor league manager and took over the Cardinals at the start of the 1929 season. But after a 43-45 start and some brushes with his players, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon replaced Southworth with Bill McKechnie – another future Hall of Fame manager.

Southworth returned to the minors and later coached with the Giants before coming back to the Cardinals’ organization as a special instructor. In 1940, he was again named as the big league club’s manager midway through the season, going 69-40 while leading the Cards to 84 wins and a third-place finish.

Southworth guided the team to 97 victories and a second-place finish in 1941, then helped St. Louis reel off an unprecedented string of success from 1942-44 – winning at least 105 games each year and the 1942 and 1944 World Series.

It remains the only three-year stretch in big league history where a team has won at least 105 games in each season.

“We had some great clubs with him as our manager,” said Hall of Famer Stan Musial. “And he was a very good manager. We were all young but he treated everybody fairly.”

After leading Boston to 81 wins in 1946, Southworth improved Boston’s record to 86-68 in 1947, then piloted the Braves to their first pennant since 1914 with a record of 91-62 in 1948.

The Braves lost the World Series in six games to the Indians, and illness forced Southworth to step aside during the 1949 season with the club at 55-54. He returned in 1950 to lead Boston to 83 victories, then resigned early in the 1951 season – again due to health issues.

His final record: 1,044-704, good for a .597 winning percentage that ranks third behind Joe McCarthy and Frank Selee among managers with at least 1,000 victories.

Southworth was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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