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Marty Marion, manager between managers

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Marty Marion, shown in his 1951 Bowman card, never left St. Louis mentally.
Marty Marion, shown in his 1951 Bowman card, never left St. Louis mentally.

It hasn't been a good year for former White Sox managers, as Marty Marion joined Chuck Tanner in the Great Comiskey Park Dugout in the Sky on Tuesday after an apparent heart attack.

Marion, 93, managed the White Sox from the last couple weeks of 1954 through 1956, and while his South Side career was short, it resulted in the answer to a great trivia question -- "Which White Sox manager has the highest winning percentage since the Black Sox scandal?" At .564 (179-138), Marion sits behind only Fielder Jones, Clark Griffith and Pants Rowland.

Despite the success, Marion's existence on the South Side was tenuous at best - on both sides.

Marion was just 36 years old when he was promoted from an assistant coaching position to fill Paul Richards' big shoes. Richard had left for Baltimore with a few weeks to go after feuding with Frank Lane, and so Marion inherited a team that had finished third for three straight years, and so the front office and fans looked to Marion to shake them loose.

When September 1955 rolled around, it looked like the Sox were on the verge of something special. The Sox had rolled off three straight victories to put them in first place by a half-game over the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians as the calendar turned to September - and a crucial four-game series with the Tribe.

The Sox enjoyed an easy victory over Cleveland in the opener, but lost the next three to put them 1 1/2 games out of first. It would be a steady slide out of contention, as a .500 September was not nearly good enough to keep up with the class franchises of the 1950s American League.

Marion received the brunt of the frustration, but Dick Donovan's subversive appendix had more to do with it than any managerial maneuvers. Donovan had gone 13-4 with a 2.70 ERA through July, finishing the month with eight innings of one-run ball in vain against the Yankees on July 26. Five days later, he underwent an emergency appendectomy on July 31.

When he returned three weeks later, he started with a complete-game victory over the Detroit Tigers. Then he gave up five runs in a third of an inning against the Senators, and he went 0-5 with an 8.07 ERA when the Sox needed him the most. Given the stiff competition from the Yankees and Indians, the Sox needed all hands on deck to pull off the upset. Losing Donovan was merely awful luck, but Marion had to hear about it the same.

Even if the Sox survived the loss of Donovan and finished second or first, Marty Marion probably wouldn't have been long for Chicago.

Marion was his own man in many ways. He never bothered to attempt to relate to players, even though age should have been on his side. Fans rode him for not giving veterans like Billy Pierce and Nellie Fox the benefit of the doubt in late-game situations. He also was a stickler for rules regarding carousing - in his opinion, personal and professional lives were nearly impossible to effectively separate:

"I feel ballplayers' personal problems interfere with their playing on the field. I don't permit any of them to answer phone calls in the clubhouse. Once they get in uniform, I don't want them thinking about anything but baseball. If they're happy at home, they tend to play better ball. I don't like to see athletes marry glamour girls. I like to see them marry homey girls who are interested in marriage and children."

"There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Some guys have marital difficulties, and it doesn't affect their play. Enos Slaughter has had five wives, and every time he gets married, he has a good year. But go figure it. A ballplayer who thinks he can go out and do things, or dissipate and get away with it, is crazy. There is no place he can go and hide. Too many people know you and too many people are willing to talk."

Give Marion credit for walking the talk in one respect: One of the loved ones he leaves behind is Mary, his wife of 74 years.

Yet his departure was ironic, because Marion's personal life undermined his managerial career. It wasn't the booze or skirts, though - it was the siren song of the Show-Me State.

The Sox finished third in Marion's other full season, and pulled off another agonizing tease. They unleashed catharsis all over Comiskey Park during a four-game weekend sweep of the Yankees. Not only did the Sox figuratively knock out Whitey Ford after an inning in the third game, but Dave Philley literally knocked out Yankee pitcher Bob Grim, gaining revenge after Grim beaned Minnie Minoso the year before.

That sweep pulled the Sox within a game of first, but a killer July crushed any hope. They lost 11 in a row and 17 out of 20 to put them 16 1/2 games out of contention. It was during this time that Marion's dalliances with his home state really started to get under the skin of his bosses

Marion lived in Missouri and owned plenty of land in central Illinois, so he spent just about every off day heading downstate and across the Mississippi River. Take the nuisances caused by Mark Buehrle's St. Louis ties and multiply it by a million, and that's probably how annoyed Chuck Comiskey and new GM John Rigney felt. Later in life, he told Bob Vanderberg that he couldn't blame them for being bothered by his absences.

Neither side shed much of a tear when they parted ways after the 1956 season. Marion headed back to Missouri and into the comfort of his family, the Cardinals organization and his millions of dollars of land. He really had no reason to continue with the tiring travel and the repetitive trauma of finishing behind the Yankees and Indians.

His general disenchantment actually benefited the Sox handsomely. Had Marion been more engaged and invested, perhaps Chuck Comiskey wouldn't have had the time and desire to monitor the Al Lopez situation in Cleveland. Indians GM Hank Greenberg talked Lopez out of retirement after a late-season fade in 1955, but after suffering another numbing finish behind the Yankees, Lopez decided he needed a change of scenery. The Sox signed Lopez as fast as they could, and Lopez managed the Sox for the next nine seasons.

By all accounts, Marion didn't really have many thoughts about his time in Chicago. Managing the White Sox seemed to be something he just did for a couple years to pass the time. In heart and in history, Marion was merely a placeholder, and judging by his winning percentage, he couldn't have found a better time to be one.

Information culled from my go-to Sox lore books: Richard Lindberg's Total White Sox and Bob Vanderberg's Sox: From Lane to Fain and Zisk to Fisk.