Birdie Tebbetts (November 10, 1912 - March 24, 1999) was born in Burlington, Vermont, and was raised in Nashua, New Hampshire. Tebbetts acquired his nickname as a boy when an aunt said of his high-pitched voice, "He chirps like a bird".
In 1924 he graduated from Providence College with a degree in philosophy; an unusual beginning for one of the most abrasive managers in baseball history, whose major league career encompassed 53 years as a catcher (14), manager (11) and scout (28).
Tebbetts played with the Detroit Tigers between 1936 and 1947 -with the exception of three years that he served in World War II (1943-45)-, and also played for the Boston Red Sox (1947-50) and Cleveland Indians (1951-52). He batted and threw right-handed, was a career .270 hitter with 38 home runs and 469 RBI in 1162 games, and made four All-Star teams.
After his playing career, Tebbetts was a moderately successful manager who compiled a 748-705 record with the Cincinnati Redlegs (1954-58), Milwaukee Braves (1961-62) and Cleveland Indians (1963-66). In April 1964 he suffered a heart attack. Three months later, he returned to limited duties and resigned in August 1966. Tebbetts enjoyed his best season for the 1956 Cincinnati Redlegs with a 91-63 mark and a third place, being rewarded by The Associated Press as the NL Manager of the Year. From 1968 to 1994, he scouted for the Mets, Yankees, Orioles and Marlins.
Tebbetts also earned a reputation for speaking his mind and for his frank assessments. About his career, he regarded himself as an ordinary player and manager who worked hard. Between other things, he said:
My whole world is wrapped up in baseball, and that means I must live the loneliest of lives. I can't discuss my problems with my friends or the newspapermen or the players or the coaches or my wife. I was sold for a dollar by one drunk owner to another. There ought to be a second-string or "Junior Hall of Fame" for guys like me. I had a lifetime average of .270 and I'm proud of it. I poured my life's blood into it. I clawed and scrambled and fought and hustled to get it. In 1950 Tebbetts referred to some of his Red Sox teammates as "moronic malcontents" and "juvenile delinquents". In consequence, he was traded to Cleveland at the end of the season. He also dismissed former Detroit teammate Hal Newhouser as a World War II phenomenon who "got into the Hall of Fame by begging to get in."
About the theory that catching was difficult, he expressed:
I don't think the physical part of catching is what it's cracked up to be. I think it's an easy job. The only thing about it is you sweat more than anybody else. Most catchers catch because they can't play anyplace else. They don't have much to complain about. They've got to be happy. There are too many catchers who are not good catchers who are showboating too much so that they can keep their job. When Tebbetts scouted for Cincinnati, in 1953, he filed such no-nonsense reports as this on a promising young pitcher:
"Major league stuff and a great arm. Screwy in the head. Eliminate head and I recommend him. Get good surgeon." But perhaps most revealing of Tebbetts's character is his recollection of an umpire who suffered dizzy spells following his return from the war. Afraid of losing his job, the umpire asked Tebbetts, then the Tigers catcher, to help calling balls and strikes, and Tebbetts tipped him off with hand signals following each pitch.
Finally, Tebbetts also offered his version of what makes a baseball manager successful:
If my players like me it's an accident of personality. I happen to like my players and I treat them like men. If a manager doesn't have confidence in his ball players, even when they're going badly, they're not going to have confidence in themselves. And when a ballplayer's confidence is gone, you haven't got a ballplayer. If you want to be a good manager, get good ballplayers. Birdie Tebbetts died in Bradenton, Florida, at age of 86.