Frank Selee (1859-1909) died before he reached 50 years of age. If he had not contracted tuberculosis five years earlier, people might now be calling him the greatest manager of all time.
Even though his career was prematurely shortened, it's clear Selee deserves to be included among the best managers ever. His lifetime winning percentage of .598 is the fourth best in baseball history. Historian Adie Suehsdorf described Selee as "a balding little man with a modest demeanor and a formidable mustache that gave his face a melancholy cast."
Selee never played the game professionally. In 1884, he quit his job in a Waltham, Massachusetts, watch factory with the goal of forming a team. He raised $1,000, hired his players, and his career was underway. Selee won two minor-league pennants in three years of managing before earning a job with Boston of the National League.
Selee quickly earned a reputation as a manager who treated his players like men, not children. So when the Players' League and American Association folded, a lot of grown-up talent wanted to play for him. His Boston teams won five pennants in nine years. His 1894 team set the record for runs scored in a season, 1,220, which still stands. They slugged 103 home runs. No other team would do that until Babe Ruth put on a Yankee uniform.
Selee moved to Chicago for the 1902 season. Under his leadership, the Cubs -- who had been doormats since 1886 -- showed steady improvement, from fifth place to third and then to second in 1904.
Selee had an exceptional skill for putting the right person at the right position. Among others, he converted Frank Chance to first base (then-catcher Chance almost quit baseball over the move), Johnny Evers to second, and Joe Tinker to short. Tinker to Evers to Chance ... sound familiar?
Soon, though, tuberculosis took hold of Selee's body. He had to retire, leaving Chance to manage. The Selee-built Cubs won pennants in four of the next five years, by a total of 51 games.
Selee was less of an innovator than a perfecter. For example, he made sure that Chance practiced turning the 3-6-3 double play. He drilled his charges in the hit-and-run, and he was especially adept at deploying defensive shifts and signals.
In 16 years of managing, Selee never finished lower than fifth place. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. Twelve of his players are also in the Hall, although it is said that Selee rejected both Honus Wagner and Nap Lajoie. He wasn't perfect, after all.
Here are Frank Selee's major league managing totals:
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