All-Time Indians: Lee Fohl

Name: Leo Alexander Fohl Position: Manager
Tribe Time: 1915-1919 DOB: 11/28/1876
As Manager W L T W%    
Best Season (1917) 88 66 2 .571    
Career 327 310 10 .505    

Lee Fohl was Ohio, through and through. He was born in Lowell in 1876, then in his short career played four of his five games for the Cincinnati Reds. Of course, the reason he is remembered here is for his career as a manager of the Cleveland Indians. 

Fohl was manager of the team in their first season after being renamed the Cleveland Indians, taking over shortly into the 1915 season for player/manager Joe Birmingham. Birmingham had lead the 1914 Naps to a 51-102 record, despite having a team that included players like Napoleon Lajoie, Ray Chapman, Jack Graney and Willie Mitchell. After a 12-16 start in 1915, Birmingham was let go and the 38 year old Fohl took over. Of course, Fohl didn't fare much better, finishing the season 45-79, but things were about to change.

In 1916, two new starting pitchers, Stan Coveleski and Jim Bagby, Sr., joined Guy Morton and turned things around for the Tribe as the trio won 43 games between them. Fohl guided this advancement, as the team finished with an even record of 77-77. This was good enough for a sixth place finish in the eight team American League, just 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox, a vast improvement from the 44.5 games back they were in 1915 (and the 48.5 behind Philadelphia they were the year before).

Both good and bad for Fohl, future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker also joined the team in 1916. It was good as Speaker was arguably the best hitter in the American League at the time, leading the league in doubles six of his first eight years with the Indians, but it also hurt Fohl as his replacement was now with the team. In 1917, the Indians hit their highest point in a decade with Fohl at the helm. The Indians won 88 games and moved to third place in the AL, but still finished 15 games behind the White Sox who had a fantastic season and won their last World Series until 2005. Starting pitching lead the way for the Tribe again that season with the top five starters all finishing with ERAs below 2.75 and with Bagby and Coveleski finishing with 42 wins between them.

The following season was shortened by World War I, but at 41, Fohl was a little too old to participate and he was able to lead the Indians to his best finish in record and winning percent. The Tribe went 73-54, this time finishing just 2.5 games behind the Red Sox as the team continued to show promise with improvements from every season from 1915 on.

In 1919, Fohl was let go without due cause mid-season, only to be replaced by Tris Speaker in the growing trend of player managers. Fohl had started the season 44-34 and had the Indians sitting in third when the move was made. Pre-divisional managers sometimes get judged harshly because the most common way to compare managers is with play-off records. While Fohl never made it that far, using current standards, he would have seen post-season action in both 1917 and 1918 and was on pace in 1919.

In the end, only five managers have managed more than the five seasons Fohl lead the Tribe and his .505 winning percent was better than two of those. Most likely, it was only the unfounded removal of Fohl for Speaker that kept Fohl from winning the World Series just one season later. He was undoubtedly on of the best managers in Indians history. After leaving Cleveland, Fohl went on to manage the Browns and Red Sox, but never saw the success he did in his later years with the Indians. After retiring in 1926, Fohl moved back to Cleveland, where he lived until he died at the age of 88 in 1965. 

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.

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