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Pinky Higgins

Pinky Higgins

Position(s):
2B, 3B, SS
Nicknames:
Pinky
Born:
May 27, 1909
Bats:
Right
Throws:
Right
Height:
6' 1"
Weight:
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
6-25-1930 with PHA

Michael Franklin "Pinky" Higgins (May 27, 1909 — March 21, 1969) was an third baseman, manager, front office executive and scout in Major League Baseball who played for three teams and served as manager or general manager of the Boston Red Sox during the period of 1955 through 1965. He batted and threw right-handed.

Playing career

Higgins was born in Red Oak, Texas. He was nicknamed "Pinky" as a baby, and according to some reports, detested the name. Alternatively, he was identified by each of his given names. He signed some autographs as Frank Higgins, but was predominantly known as Mike, especially later in his career. Higgins graduated from W. H. Adamson High School in Dallas where he played on the 1926 state championship runner-up team. He attended the University of Texas at Austin before beginning his career with the Philadelphia Athletics on June 25, 1930. After having only 24 at bats that year, he did not play in the majors again until 1933 when he finally began to play full-time for the A's. In his rookie season of 1933, he batted .314, with 13 home runs and 99 RBIs. He hit for the cycle on August 3 in a 12-8 win over the Washington Senators. That season, his team finished third in the American League.

By 1938, when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for fellow third baseman Billy Werber, he was considered one of the better hitting third basemen in the league, having made the top in batting average in 1933 and 1934. In his two years with the Sox (1937, 1938), he batted over .300 with a career-high 106 RBIs in each year. In June 1938, Higgins set (and still holds) a major league record with base hits in 12 consecutive at bats. Higgins accomplished the feat over 14 plate appearances, because he also received two bases on balls during the skein. His mark was tied by Walt Dropo in 1952, who made his 12 straight knocks in 12 appearances, with no bases on balls in between.

He would next head to the Detroit Tigers in a trade for Elden Auker, where he would spend the majority of his playing career. It was also where his hitting numbers began to dissipate, but his power numbers still stayed fairly strong, but not in the same realm as his career-high of 23 homers back with Philadelphia in 1935.

Boston got Higgins back in mid-1946 and he was the team's regular third baseman as they won the AL pennant by 12 games (although they dropped the 1946 World Series). He was released by them at the end of the season and then retired to become a manager in the Red Sox farm system. His final numbers included a .292 batting average with 140 home runs and 1,075 RBIs. He accumulated 1,941 career hits in 6,636 at bats. He made the All-star game three times (1934, '36, '44).

Postseason

Higgins played in two World Series: one with Detroit in 1940 and one with Boston in 1946. His team lost both, but Higgins had a .271 all-time batting average with 1 home run (DET) and 8 RBIs (6 DET, 2 BOS). He had 13 hits in 48 at bats.

Managing and front office career
Manager

Higgins started his managing career with the Class B Roanoke Red Sox of the Piedmont League in the Red Sox farm system in 1947. After eight seasons of managing in the minors — including four (1951–54) at the helm of the Red Sox' AAA affiliate, the Louisville Colonels of the American Association — he became Boston's skipper in 1955. Before taking the Red Sox promotion, Higgins was under consideration as a manager-in-waiting with the Baltimore Orioles, where fellow Texan and former Tiger teammate Paul Richards had just been installed as the O's general manager and field manager in September 1954.

Higgins' first team got off to a quick start, but faded late in the year, finishing fourth. Although he had winning, first division teams through 1958 and Ted Williams won two more batting titles (1957–58), the Red Sox never seriously contended — never finishing less than 12 games in arrears of the first-place New York Yankees. In 1959, with the 40-year-old Williams injured (and turning in the only sub-.300 season of his career), the Red Sox lost 42 of their first 73 games, and on July 3, Higgins was replaced as manager by Billy Jurges, a coach with the Washington Senators. Higgins then became a special assistant to owner Tom Yawkey, with whom he had become friends.

After a promising end to the 1959 season, Jurges' Red Sox plummeted into last place in the opening weeks of the 1960 campaign. Jurges was fired on June 10, 1960; then, after coach Del Baker handled the Red Sox for seven games, Higgins resumed his old job. However, the Red Sox continued to lose. Nevertheless, on September 30, 1960, Higgins was signed to a three-year contract extension as field manager, and given control of all playing personnel in the Boston organization — effectively adding the duties of general manager (without the formal title) to his managerial role.

Higgins formally hung up his uniform and joined Boston's front office full-time as executive vice president and general manager after the 1962 campaign, finishing his managerial career with a record of 560-556 (.502) in 1,119 games. His best finish was third place (1957-58), although his best winning percentage came in 1955 and 1956, when he ended both seasons with an 84-70 record, a .545 winning percentage (Boston finished fourth in each season).

He was 53 when he fully retired from managing. As a skipper, Higgins was known for being well-liked by players and very laid back. He would not go out to the mound to talk to his pitcher very often and once said, "I don't believe in that business of walking out to the mound every time a pitcher's in trouble. You can't tell him anything new."

General manager

Higgins' record as a general manager, like his managing record, was mediocre. Apart from swapping shortstops with Paul Richards' Houston Colt .45s—acquiring Eddie Bressoud for Don Buddin—Higgins made no significant trades during the two seasons (1961–62) he served as both manager and supervisor of playing personnel. Once he was named full-time general manager, in the autumn of 1962, Higgins made a few major trades, one of them netting slugger Dick Stuart, but they did not materially improve the club on the field. He made no further major deals until after the 1964 campaign, when he sent Stuart to the Philadelphia Phillies for left-handed starting pitcher Dennis Bennett, who suffered from a sore arm and would win only 12 games (losing 13) in 286⅓ innings pitched over 2½ seasons in a Boston uniform. Higgins also clashed with Johnny Pesky, who had been personally chosen by Yawkey as his managerial successor for 1963; by the end of the 1964 season, Higgins had pushed Pesky aside, replacing him with his own man, Billy Herman.

At the MLB level, the Red Sox continued to struggle, and in 1965 they lost 100 games for the only time during the Yawkey era. But meanwhile, in the minor leagues, the Red Sox—led by farm system director Neil Mahoney—were amassing talent (including African-American players such as Reggie Smith, George Scott and Joe Foy) that would lead to an improbable AL pennant in 1967.

Higgins, however, was finally ousted by Yawkey on September 16, 1965, ironically the day on which 21-year-old Boston right-hander Dave Morehead threw a no hitter. He then joined Houston as a scout, hired by Richards. It would be his last job in baseball.

Role in forestalling integration

Red Sox historians often single out Higgins, along with Yawkey, when they discuss the root of the club's reputation for resisting racial integration. The Red Sox were the last of the then-16 major league teams to play an African American and fielded an all-white team from Jackie Robinson's debut in 1947 through Higgins' first managerial term. Higgins was quoted by one Boston baseball writer, the late Al Hirshberg, as saying, "There'll be no niggers on this ball club as long as I have anything to say about it." He also reportedly called sportswriter Clif Keane "a fucking nigger lover" upon hearing Keane praise the talents of outfielder Minnie Miñoso, a Cuban of African descent.

The Red Sox' first African-American player, utility infielder Pumpsie Green, was recalled from the minor leagues in July 1959, during Jurges' brief tenure as pilot.

However, Higgins had no control over the big league roster until he became Red Sox manager in 1955, and the club's hostility toward breaking the color line appeared to be in place well before then under Yawkey and his front office bosses, Eddie Collins and Joe Cronin.

When Higgins returned to his managerial post from mid-1960 through 1962, he managed an integrated roster, and did acquire a few nonwhite players (outfielders Roman Mejias, Lenny Green and Al Smith and infielders Felix Mantilla and Billy Harrell) during his GM tenure.

Death

In February 1968, Higgins was arrested after killing one and injuring three others with his car. He suffered two heart attacks between the time of his conviction and sentencing. He pled guilty to driving while drunk, and was sentenced to four years, but was paroled after two months of his sentence.

One day after being paroled, he died of a heart attack in Dallas, Texas at the age of 59.

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Baseball History, Boston Red Sox, General manager, Manager, Pinky Higgins, Pumpsie Green, Tom Yawkey

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