This year marks the 130th birthday of one of Niagara University’s, Western New York’s and professional baseball’s most successful figures. Born on April 21, 1887, Joseph Vincent McCarthy emerged from the Germantown section of Philadelphia to become a legendary manager in Major League Baseball. Best known for his 16-year tenure as skipper of the New York Yankees from 1931-1946, McCarthy led the club to eight World Series appearances and seven championships.
McCarthy’s baseball career began back in 1905 as a member of the Niagara University baseball team. Per his biography from the Society of American Baseball Research, McCarthy was offered a baseball scholarship at Niagara despite never playing high school ball. He left Niagara after two years of playing the infield to begin a professional career in the minor leagues which lasted until 1921. This included a two-year stint with the Buffalo Bisons in 1914 and 1915. McCarthy came to regard Buffalo and Western New York as his home, thanks to marrying his wife, Elizabeth; a Buffalo-native.
Following a seven-year stretch as manager of the minor league Louisville Colonels, he received his first taste of the majors in 1926, taking over the managerial reigns of the Chicago Cubs. He led the Cubs to 98 wins and the National League pennant in 1929, ending with a 442-321 record in five years with Chicago.
McCarthy became manager of the Yankees in 1931, and oversaw a club constructed of many of the game’s greatest players. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon and Red Ruffing were among the Hall of Famers on his Yankee teams, which won over 100 games six times, along with seven World Series crowns. Only Casey Stengel has won as many titles as a manager, and his 1,460 wins are most in Yankees history. His .614 winning percentage ranks tops in the history of MLB as well.
“He’s probably the greatest manager in Yankees history,” John Boutet, the curator of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame said. “He coached with the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox. He retired [in Western New York] and lived in the town of Tonawanda the rest of his life, and is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kenmore.”
In his famous 1939 speech at Yankee Stadium announcing his retirement due to his battle with ALS, Lou Gehrig took the time to personally thank McCarthy, calling him an “outstanding leader,” a “smart student of psychology,” and “the best manager in baseball today.”
After managing the Boston Red Sox from 1948-1950, McCarthy retired from baseball, spending his last decades on his farm in Tonawanda, NY. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1957, and remains the only Niagara alumni to receive baseball’s highest honor. He died at Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo on January 13, 1978. In 1985, he was posthumously elected to the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame in the hall’s first year of existence. In 1991, he joined the Greater Baseball Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Joe McCarthy was named a to NU’s Niagara Legacy-Alumni of Distinction program. A plaque dedicated to him resides in the first floor of NU’s Academic Complex, noting his memorable career in baseball.