- OF, 2B
- March 9, 1893
- 5' 9"
- 170 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 8-04-1913 with CLE
- Hall of Fame:
A boyish Nebraskan, Southworth entered professional baseball against his father's wishes and spent four decades in the game as a player and manager. As a lefthanded-hitting outfielder, he displayed consistency at the plate, speed on the bases, and sure-handedness afield. He tied for the NL lead with 14 triples for Pittsburgh in 1919 and had his best all-around season with the Giants and World Champion Cardinals in 1926, batting .320 with 16 HR and 99 RBI. His three-run homer in Game Two of the '26 Series secured the victory for Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Southworth managed Rochester to the 1928 International League pennant and was promoted to the Cardinals the following year. Attempts to force his methods on former teammates led to dissension, and he was dismissed in July. Returning to Rochester, he won three successive pennants from 1929 to 1931, but because of bitterness and personal difficulties, he continued to incur the disfavor of the Cardinals organization. He coached the Giants in 1933, but was soon out of baseball.
Offered another chance by the Cardinals in 1935, Southworth worked his way back to the majors. Taking over in July of 1940 with St. Louis in sixth place, he guided the club to third. Under his direction, the Cardinals finished second in 1941 and then captured three successive NL pennants (1942-44) and two World Championships. He was a strict taskmaster, but displayed great skill with young players. A $50,000 offer lured him to the Braves in 1946, and two years later he led them to their first pennant since 1914.
In 13 years as a ML manager, Southworth only once finished in the second division. TSN named him Manager of the Year in 1941 and 1942. His .593 won-lost percentage places him sixth among ML pilots.
William Harrison Southworth (March 9, 1893–November 15, 1969) was an American right fielder, center fielder and manager in Major League Baseball. Playing in 1913 and 1915 and from 1918 to 1929, he batted left-handed and threw right-handed. Southworth managed in 1929 and from 1940 through 1951. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Born in Harvard, Nebraska, and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Southworth decided to play baseball despite his father's wishes. He batted .300 three times in his career, not counting shortened seasons.
In a 13-season career, he batted .297 with 52 home runs with 561 runs batted in. He stole 138 bases in his career. He had 1,296 hits in 4,359 at bats.
Southworth's cousin, Bill Southworth, also played in the majors.
Billy Southworth died in 1969 and is buried at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus.
Early career as a manager
As a manager, he was very successful; his .597 winning percentage is second all-time to Joe McCarthy's .615. Southworth's major league managerial won-loss record was 1,044–704 with four first-place finishes, and he won two World Series titles (1942, 1944) as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Southworth also won one World Series as a player (1926, also with the Cards). Southworth was the first to win the World Series as a player and again as a manager. However, his career as a manager was paved with obstacles.
It began in 1928 with the Rochester Red Wings of the AA International League, the top club in the Cardinals' leading-edge farm system. After winning the IL championship, Southworth was promoted to St. Louis as manager for 1929, replacing Bill McKechnie, who had won a National League pennant in 1928 but lost the World Series in four straight games to the New York Yankees.
Southworth, a player-manager who was only one year removed from being a teammate of his charges, attempted to impose discipline on the Cards, banning them from driving their own automobiles. But the Redbirds did not respond to his hard line and won only 43 of their first 88 games. Southworth was sent back to Rochester and McKechnie was rehired. Although Southworth immediately resumed his successful minor league managerial career, the firing and personal tragedy — the death of his first wife, Lida Southworth, at age 42 — began a downward spiral. Beset by struggles with alcoholism, he even left baseball for two seasons. Finally, after a recovery, he rejoined the Cardinals' minor league system in 1935 and by 1939 he was again enjoying success as Rochester's manager.
A second chance with the Cardinals
In June 1940, he received a second chance with the struggling Cardinals when owner Sam Breadon fired manager Ray Blades and promoted Southworth from Rochester. This time, the Cards flourished under him. With talented players such as Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion, Stan Musial, Walker Cooper, Mort Cooper, Whitey Kurowski and Johnny Beazley being harvested each spring from the club's farm system, the Cardinals entered a Golden Age in their history. Upon Southworth's appointment, they won 69 of 109 games and jumped from seventh to third place in 1940. The following season they won 97 games and finished second. Then, from 1942–44, the Cardinals won 106, 105 and 105 games, three pennants and two World Series titles. Southworth had presided over one of the most dominant three-year stretches in National League history.
But another personal tragedy awaited Southworth. On February 15, 1945, his son, Major William Brooks Southworth, USAAF — also a professional baseball player — died in a plane crash in Flushing Bay, New York, during military flight training. Still, the Cards' skipper began managing at the beginning of the 1945 season; the Redbirds won 95 games but finished second, three games behind the Chicago Cubs.
One final NL pennant for Boston
Southworth then moved to the Boston Braves in 1946, signing a then-lucrative managing contract for a reported $50,000 per season, and immediately led the Braves into the first division. In 1948, spearheaded by the National League's best one-two pitching combination, left-hander Warren Spahn and right-hander Johnny Sain, the Braves won their second NL pennant of the 20th century but were defeated in six games by the Cleveland Indians in the 1948 World Series.
The following season saw Boston struggle on the field and in chaos off the diamond. Southworth was rumored to be drinking heavily and near nervous collapse, and some players resented his rules and regulations and the amount of credit he had received for the 1948 pennant. With Boston at 55-54 in August, Southworth turned the Braves over to coach Johnny Cooney for the remainder of 1949. After some of the rebellious players (including starting shortstop Alvin Dark and second baseman Eddie Stanky) had been traded, Southworth returned to his post in 1950 and led the Braves back into the first division, but an aging team and declining attendance bode poorly for both Southworth's career and the Braves' future in New England. In 1951, Southworth's club was only 28-31 on June 19 when he was fired and replaced by his former standout right fielder, Tommy Holmes. While he remained with the Braves as a scout, Southworth never managed again in the major leagues and the Braves abandoned Boston for Milwaukee in March 1953.
'A genius on the diamond'
Billy Southworth died of emphysema in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio, at the age of 76, and was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery. On the occasion of Southworth's election to the Hall of Fame, one of his former players on the 1948 Braves, Clint Conatser, paid tribute to his old manager. "He just had a gut feeling about the right thing to do in a situation," Conatser recalled. "The moves he would make would work for him — all the time, not occasionally. Leo Durocher was the same way. It's like some guys can pick horses out of nowhere. Southworth was a genius like that on the diamond."
- Billy Southworth