All-Time Indians: Birdie Tebbetts

Name: George Robert Tebbetts   Manager/Catcher
Nick Name: Birdie       15  
Tribe Time: 1963-66/1951-52     11/10/1912
As Manager W L W% Finish                  
Best Season (1965) 87 75 0.537 5 of 6                  
Career 278 259 0.518                    
As Player G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO OBP SLG AVG OPS
Career 97 238 12 61 10 3 26 20 16 .319 .361 .256 .680

Birdie Tebbetts had a long and successful career as a back-up catcher from 1936 through 1952, missing just a few years in the middle for World War II, but the reason he is an All-Time Indian is for his second career that started in 1954. The Indians did buy his contract for his final two seasons, where he put up the limited offensive statistics listed above. After retiring from his playing career, Tebbetts joined the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1954 as manager, where he stayed through 1958, accumulating a record of 372-357. 

In 1963, Tebbetts took over the helm for the Cleveland Indians. The team had been struggling since their last trip to the World Series in 1954, finishing fourth or worse in the American League for three straight years. In the six years prior to Tebbetts taking over, the Tribe won 80 or more games just twice and finished above .500 in just 1957 and 1958. Frank Lane did his best to ruin the team during these years, including trading the Indians most beloved player in history, Rocky Colavito, to the Tigers for AL batting champion Harvey Kuenn. It was an unenviable situation and many had failed already when trying to take over. From when Al Lopez left the team in 1956 until Tebbetts took over in 1963, the Indians used seven different managers, the most successful being Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Gordon (184-151).

Mel Harder started the 1962 season as manager and Mel McGaha replaced him, but neither would remain through 1963. Tebbetts was then brought in to start that season, but finished 79-83 in sixth place and was fired at the end of the season. George Strickland was brought in at the beginning of 1964, but there is only so much a manager can do without a good team and after a 33-39 start, he was replaced with Tebbetts who finished the year. He was able to turn things around and finished the season 46-44, giving the Indians an identical 79-83 overall record.

Confidence restored, Tebbetts finally got the season he had been working towards his whole managerial career. It took awhile to revamp the starting rotation after the greatness of the early 1950's, but in 1965 the young pitchers were finally ready. Sam McDowell, Sonny Seibert and Luis Tiant lead the way with 47 wins between the them as the Indians ran to their best record since 1959 of 87-75. This still ended up in a fifth place finish out of the ten team American League, but there was a lot of promise for the future.

Of course, baseball is about more than pitching and in from the time of Al Rosen (the 1950's) until the time of Andre Thornton (1970's), the Indians didn't have one. The team regressed, even with break out seasons from Seibert and Steve Hargan. Despite a winning record (66-57), Tebbetts was fired mid-season and Strickland was brought in again to finish out the season. Showing he was a much better first baseman than a manager, Strickland finished the season with a .500 record in fifth place, blowing Tebbetts nine games above .500.

Tebbetts career ended after that season, but with just 11 Indians managers who have ran the team for more than 500 games, he is should immediately be considered in the top ten as he finished with a record above .500. Of the ten Indians managers to have been in more games than Tebbetts, three had losing records (Eric Wedge, Pat Corrales and Al Dark) and four were Hall of Famers (Lou Boudreau, Tris Speaker, Lopez and Nap LaJoie), so there is a wide disparity, but Tebbetts fits right in the middle. He finished with a record well above .500, but never sniffed the play-offs. Of course, not many Indians managers (just six) have, so being as successful as he was during a decade of rebuilding is extremely impressive. 

After retiring, Tebbetts moved to Florida, where he lived until his death in 1999 at the age of 86. While he may not be remembered by many, Tebbetts was an important part of the Tribe during a very dismal time and is among the greatest managers in team history.

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since it's inception in 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians.

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