Former MLB player and manager Alvin Dark has passed away after a lengthy illness. He was 92.
A native of Louisiana, Dark was a standout athlete at LSU excelling in baseball, football and basketball. However, Dark enlisted in the Marines and would serve in Peking in a non-combat role in the final year of WWII.
Dark was good enough at football to be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, but his first love was baseball and he signed as a free agent with the Boston Braves in 1945. He would have a cup of coffee with the team in 1946, before emerging as a star in 1948. That year Dark hit .322 as the Braves would win their first NL pennant in 34 years. Dark would be named the MLB Rookie of the Year finishing ahead of Cleveland Indians knuckleballer Gene Bearden and future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn. At the time, MLB only had one rookie of the year. It wasn’t until the following year that the AL and NL issued separate Rookie of the Year honors.
Prior to the 1950 season, Dark and Eddie Stanky would be traded to the New York Giants for several players, Sid Gordon being the most prominent. A favorite of manager Leo Durocher, Dark was named captain of the team and he would enjoy his best seasons with the Giants. He would be named to 3 NL All-Star teams, hit over .300 thrice and became the first NL shortstop to hit 20 or more HR in a season twice. During Dark’s tenure with the team, the Giants won the NL pennant in 1951 and 1954 earning a World Series ring with the latter team.
In the middle of the 1956 season, Dark and Whitey Lockman would be traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Jackie Brandt and Red Schoendienst. Dark never enjoyed the same level of success that he had as a Giant. Two years later, the Cards would deal Dark to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher and future author Jim Brosnan (who also passed away earlier this year). Dark moved from short to third as the Cubs had Ernie Banks playing short. Prior to the 1960 season, the Cubs dealt Dark to the Phillies for Richie Ashburn. Midway through that season, the Phillies would deal Dark back to the Braves who by this time were playing in Milwaukee.
At the end of the 1960 season, the Braves traded Dark to the Giants who, of course, by now were playing in San Francisco. But the Giants had other plans for Dark who named him their manager prior to the 1961 season. In only his second year as a big league manager, Dark would guide the team to the NL pennant and if Bobby Richardson hadn’t caught that line drive off Willie McCovey’s bat might have not fallen short to the New York Yankees in the 1962 World Series.
But during the final game of the1964 season, the Giants dismissed Dark and replaced him with Herman Franks. Dark would soon land a job in the front office of the Kansas City Athletics. In 1966, Dark became the team’s manager. But the A’s mercurial owner Charlie Finley would dismiss him midway through the ’67 season in favor of future Hall of Famer Luke Appling. It would not be the last team Dark and Finley would cross paths.
In 1968, Dark was hired as manager of the Cleveland Indians and guided the team to a respectable third place finish in the AL. The following year, Dark was also named the team’s GM. This was a bad move and the Indians soon reverted to their losing ways and Dark was fired midway through the 1971 season.
Dark would reunite with Finley in 1974 when he was again hired to manage the A’s. By this time, the A’s were now in Oakland and had won back to back World Series titles. But Finley, mercurial as ever, had fired Dick Williams. The A’s didn’t miss a beat and would win their third consecutive World Series title. Dark joined Joe McCarthy and Yogi Berra as the third big league manager to win pennants in both leagues. The A’s were arguably even better in 1975, but Finley would fire Dark after Oakland was swept by the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.
In the middle of the 1977 season, the San Diego Padres hired Dark as their manager replacing John McNamara. But the Padres fared no better under Dark and after some controversial on-field moves (including naming Ozzie Smith as the starting shortstop), owner Ray Kroc opted to fire Dark only days before the beginning of the 1978 season replacing him with pitching coach Roger Craig. Kroc said that Dark was overmanaging. Many of the players resented Dark for prosthelytizing his newfound Christianity. This proved to be Dark’s last job in MLB.
In 1980, Dark published an autobiography (co-written with John Underwood) titled When In Doubt, Fire The Manager. I remember reading it when I was in high school. Dark mostly writes about meeting his second wife, Jackie, and how they became born-again Christians in the early 1970’s. He would later establish the Alvin Dark Foundation to support various Christian ministries.
A final thought on Dark’s his baseball career, Dark collected 2,089 hits over parts of 14 seasons and had a respectable lifetime batting average of .289. He would be on the Hall of Fame ballot for 15 years but could never get more than 20% of the vote falling well short of the 75% required to be inducted. Dark’s stats are comparable to those of his New York contemporaries Pee-Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto who were both enshrined in Cooperstown. If nothing else, when the Golden Era Veterans Committee convenes for the 2018 ballot, Dark should at least get some consideration.
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