Professional Baseball Player and Manager
Liberty Memorial High School
A native of Lawrence, Kansas, Houk was a catcher working his way through the Yankees' farm system when the U.S. entered World War II. He enlisted in the armed forces, became an Army Ranger, and rose to Major (the source of his Yankee nickname). He was a combat veteran of Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge, and was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and the Silver Star with oak clusters.
Returning to baseball after the war, Houk eventually reached the major leagues, serving as the Yankees' catcher behind Yogi Berra. Houk's last years as an active player were actually spent as the Yankees' full-time bullpen coach, thus beginning his managerial apprenticeship. In 1955, he was named manager of the Yanks' AAA affiliate, Houk returned to the Bronx as Stengel's first-base coach from 1958 to 1960. After the 1960 season he was hired as Yankee's Manager
Houk was known as a "player's manager" The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, of which Houk is a member, describes Houk as "rough, blunt and decisive" and his tantrums in arguments with umpires earned him 45 ejections as a manager in the majors. Houk is tied with Billy Martin for fourteenth place on baseball's "most ejected" list.
The early 1960s Yankees responded to Houk's leadership; the 1961 team led by Roger Maris Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games in the World Series. His 1962 club won the World Series. In 1963, the Yanks won the pennant, but lost the Series.
Houk moved into the Yankees' front office as general manager on October 23, 1963. In 1967 he then returned to the bench and was manager from 1967 to 1973.
After Houk left the Yankee organization, he became the manager of the rebuilding Detroit Tigers. By 1978, Houk had restored Detroit to respectability. After two years of retirement, in 1980 Houk became the manager of the Boston Red Sox.
His final record, over 20 years with the Yankees (1961-63, 1966-73), Tigers (1974-78) and Red Sox (1981-84) was 1,619 wins and 1,531 losses (.514), plus eight wins and eight losses in the World Series.
He died in July 2010 in Winter Haven, Florida. At age 90 he was, at the time, the oldest living manager of a World Series-winning, pennant-winning, or post-season team.
On July 22 the Yankees announced players and coaches would wear a black armband in Houk's memory on the left sleeve of their home and away uniforms for the remainder of the 2010 season.