In a move made as much for its public relations value as for on-field leadership, the Cardinals, in effect, hired two managers to replace Rogers Hornsby.
A week after Sam Breadon created an uproar when he traded Hornsby to the Giants rather than give in to his contract demands, the Cardinals’ owner attempted to quell the controversy by naming one of the club’s most popular players as manager.
Ninety years ago, on Dec. 27, 1926, Bob O’Farrell, a Cardinals catcher and recipient of the 1926 National League Most Valuable Player Award, was chosen as Hornsby’s successor. At the same time, Bill McKechnie, former Pirates manager, was hired as Cardinals coach and assistant to O’Farrell.
O’Farrell, 30, had no experience managing. McKechnie, 40, had managed the Pirates for five seasons (1922-1926) and led them to a NL pennant and World Series championship in 1925. The Pirates produced winning records every year under McKechnie and finished no lower than third place. He was fired when the defending champion Pirates placed third, 4.5 games behind the first-place Cardinals, in 1926.
McKechnie had been considered a candidate to replace Hornsby, but Breadon opted instead for a manager who already was well-liked by fans and players.
Like latter-day Cardinals catchers such as Tim McCarver, Ted Simmons and Yadier Molina, O’Farrell was smart, talented and respected.
O’Farrell batted .293 with 30 doubles for the 1926 Cardinals, handled the pitching staff superbly and led NL catchers in putouts. In the 1926 World Series against the Yankees, O’Farrell hit .304 and threw out Babe Ruth attempting to steal, ending Game 7 and sealing the Cardinals’ championship.
Who’s the boss?
Few could have predicted the Cardinals would be seeking a manager in December 1926.
Hornsby, a second baseman who won the NL batting title in six consecutive seasons (1920-25) with the Cardinals, became their player-manager in 1925, replacing Branch Rickey.
After Hornsby, 30, led the Cardinals to their first pennant and World Series crown in 1926, he demanded a three-year contract. Breadon offered a one-year deal. When Hornsby persisted, Breadon traded him, incurring the wrath of Cardinals fans. The St. Louis Chamber of Commerce was so upset that it asked Breadon to withdraw his membership in the group.
Breadon offered O’Farrell a one-year contract to be player-manager. The catcher called Hornsby and sought his approval. Hornsby assured O’Farrell he wouldn’t be disloyal if he accepted the offer. Breadon was relieved when he did.
In the St. Louis Star-Times, James Gould wrote, “The naming of O’Farrell undoubtedly will be as popular a choice as could be made under the circumstances … None is better liked by his teammates.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called O’Farrell “the only man perhaps who was sure to be received pleasantly by the fans and the players.”
Breadon was “as jubilant as a 2-year-old” when he got both O’Farrell and McKechnie, the Star-Times reported.
“The offer I made to O’Farrell was positively the only one I made to anyone since Hornsby was traded,” Breadon said. “… He is absolutely the only man who could be chosen for the post. But the greatest joy of all was the signing of McKechnie.”
Breadon told the Star-Times that McKechnie “ought to help O’Farrell guide the Cards to their second pennant.”
Unfair to O’Farrell
O’Farrell told the Post-Dispatch “I never dreamed” of inheriting a World Series championship team. “I consider Hornsby the greatest manager I ever saw and just as he let the club play its own games I will let the fellows do their own thinking.” O’Farrell said. “You can’t think for 25 men.”
Hornsby, who also had no managing experience when he got the job, said O’Farrell was “a fine choice” and “he ought to make a good manager.”
Noting his proven skill in working with pitchers, The Sporting News suggested O’Farrell “probably knows more about the pitching part … in a day’s workout than Hornsby would learn second hand in a year.”
With his focus on managing, O’Farrell was limited to 61 games in 1927. Splitting the catching chores with Frank Snyder and Johnny Schulte, O’Farrell hit .264 with 10 doubles.
As manager, O’Farrell delivered high-caliber results. His 1927 Cardinals produced a 92-61 record _ better than the 89-65 mark of the 1926 championship club _ but St. Louis finished in second place, 1.5 games behind the Pirates.
Afterward, Breadon replaced O’Farrell with McKechnie and gave O’Farrell a pay raise to remain on the team as a catcher.
His tenure, though, was short-lived.
In May 1928, O’Farrell was traded to the Giants. McKechnie led the Cardinals to the 1928 pennant.
Previously: How Red Schoendienst became Cardinals manager