Former big league manager Vern Rapp passed away of natural causes on Thursday. He was 87.
Rapp was a career minor league player with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Giants, New York Yankees and Detrot Tigers systems who found success as a minor league manager. Rapp would manage in the Yankees, Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos organizations. While in the Expos organization, Rapp guided the Triple AAA Denver Bears to an American Assocation pennant in 1976. This Bears team included future Expos stars such as Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine, Warren Cromartie and Rodney Scott. At the age of 48, Rapp would also collect a single in a pinch hit appearance for the club.
Based on this success with the Bears, the Cardinals would hire Rapp to manage the team in 1977 replacing the beloved Red Schoendienst. Although the Cardinals finished a respectable third in the NL East that season, Rapp’s disciplinarian style rubbed his team the wrong way. While this approach did wonders in the minor leagues it did not work well with veterans like Lou Brock, Ted Simmons, Bake McBride and reliever Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabrosky whom he ordered to shave off his trademark fu manchu mustache. When the Cardinals struggled early in the 1978 season, Rapp was dismissed in favor of Ken Boyer.
Rapp would return to the Expos organization in 1979 and serve as the team’s first base coach before deciding to retire at the end of the 1983 season. That same year Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski was retiring and as a spoof WHDH, a Boston radio station, decided to have a grand send off for the relatively obscure Rapp.
But when the Cincinnati Reds were made aware of this “tribute”, they convinced Rapp to come out of retirement to manage the team for the 1984 season. Unfortunately for Rapp, his tenure with the Reds was shortlived. With the team in last place in the NL West some 21 games back of the San Diego Padres, the Reds acquired Pete Rose in a trade with the Expos, named him player/manager and abruptly fired Rapp.
A case could be made that Rapp got a bad rap. Whatever the circumstances, Rapp would never work in professional baseball again and retired to Colorado where he became an avid fly-fisherman. A Korean War veteran, Rapp was married for more than 60 years.
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