Ralph Houk was the first manager to have two World Series championships in his first two seasons, piloting the 1961 and 1962 New York Yankees to triumphs over the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. A backup catcher throughout his playing career, he sought to build the morale and confidence of his players and seldom criticized them publicly.

Houk was born on August 9, 1919, in Lawrence, Kansas. His baseball education began at the tender age of eleven. His uncles played weekend baseball on a semipro club, the Belvoirs. His uncle Charlie, the manager, took Ralph to a tryout with the Lawrence Twilight League, a circuit sponsored by fraternal orders and small businesses for boys eleven to seventeen. The following year, Ralph filled in at catcher, became the regular, and found his niche in baseball.

He was also drawn to football. At Lawrence High, he played quarterback and defensive back. He earned all-state honors, and the Universities of Kansas and Oklahoma, and several smaller colleges, offered him football scholarships. Yet as much as the teenager desired a college education, he wanted a career in baseball.

At sixteen, Ralph moved up from the Eagles to the Belvoirs and also played for a Lawrence team in the Ban Johnson League, a regional circuit for teenagers. He batted .411 as Lawrence raced into the league tournament at Kansas City, Kansas. 

Yankees scouts later went into the clubhouse and signed the nineteen-year-old to a contract with a $200 bonus. In March 1939 he went to spring training with Joplin (Missouri) Miners of the Class C Western Association. Later in the season he was assigned to the Neosho (Missouri) Yankees in the Class D Arkansas-Missouri League and was promoted back to Joplin in 1940.

After opening the 1941 season with the Binghamton (New York) Triplets of the Class A Eastern League, he was demoted to the Augusta (Georgia) Tigers of the Class B South Atlantic League. 

In February 1942, Ralph joined the Army and was sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was made the manager of the camp baseball team. He also applied for Officer Candidate School, and were accepted and was sent to the armored warfare school at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Upon graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, and in July 1944 was sent overseas with the 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron of the Ninth Armored Division.

A few days after D-Day Houk landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy. As the GIs pushed through Europe, Houk and his troops found themselves in the Ardennes Forest, where the Germans launched the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Silver Star and later was given a battlefield promotion to first lieutenant. Just before the war’s end he was promoted to captain and was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Before being discharged he was automatically lifted one grade to major, which accounted for his postwar nickname, “the Major.”

In 1946 the Yankees assigned the twenty-six-year-old, four years removed from his last Minor League season, to the Class Triple-A Kansas City Blues. After eight games he was sent down to the Class Double-A Beaumont (Texas) Exporters. He went to spring training with the Yankees in 1947, where he competed for the catching position. He was sent from the Yankees’ main camp at St. Petersburg, Florida, to their Minor League camp in Bradenton. and when the Yankees headed north, he was with the team.

On April 26, 1947, he made his Major League debut against the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium. The next year he was sent to Kansas City, took advantage of his club’s location and often returned to Lawrence. He played behind the plate and at third base for the Blues, batted .302 and got a late August call-up to the Yankees.

After a brief stint with New York in 1949, Ralph was back with the Blues. From 1949 through 1954, he played in only thirty-six games as a Yankee. His final game was on May 1, 1954, against Cleveland at Yankee Stadium. Later that season, he showed interest in managing. In 1955, at the age of thirty-five, he became manager of the Yankees’ new American Association farm club in Denver. 

Houk had coached for the Yankees and in 1958 the Yankees brought him back as a coach to replace Bill Dickey. The Yanks won the pennant that year and defeated the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series, but the 1959 club slipped to third place, only four games above .500. Speculation centered on Houk as a possible replacement for Stengel. In 1960 the Yankees won the pennant but lost the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After the Series, Stengel was fired and Ralph Houk was named to replace him.

In 1961, the Yankees won 109 games and defeated the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. When he again led the Yankees to pennants in 1962 and 1963, he became the first manager since Hughie Jennings of the 1907–1909 Detroit Tigers to win pennants in each of his first three seasons. In 1964, the New York hierarchy moved him up to the general manager’s post.

His Yankees were not contenders and the 1973 Yankees finished in fourth place. He resigned on the final day of the season but was not unemployed for long. Two weeks after resigning he was hired by the Detroit Tigers. From 1974 to 1978, the Tigers finished at or near the bottom of the six team division.

After the 1978 season he retired to Florida. Three years later he returned to baseball as the manager of the 1981 Boston Red Sox. Under his leadership the Red Sox contended for the playoffs in only the second half of the strike-shortened 1981 season. At the age of sixty-four he retired from managing. In twenty years Houk had been at the helm for three different clubs

In November 1986 he became a vice president of the Minnesota Twins where he helped assemble the Twins’ 1987 world championship team and then retired again in 1989.

On July 21, 2010 at age ninety, Ralph Houk passed away at his Winter Haven, Florida, home.