Ralph Houk dies at 90; Yankees manager won World Series in first 2 seasons

Ralph Houk, who won the

World Series

in 1961 and 1962 in his first two seasons as manager of the

New York Yankees

, died Wednesday in Winter Haven, Fla. He was 90.

Houk went on to lead the

Detroit Tigers


Boston Red Sox

in a 20-year managerial career. His family told the Red Sox that he died of natural causes after a brief illness.

Called "The Major" by his players, Houk spent eight seasons as the backup to Hall of Fame catcher

Yogi Berra

and played on five World Series-winning teams before succeeding

Casey Stengel

as manager.

As a manager, Houk guided Yankees teams headed by

Mickey Mantle

, Roger Maris and

Whitey Ford

to three consecutive

American League

pennants and a pair of World Series titles. He then moved into the front office for

New York

for three years before once again taking over in the dugout. He left the Yankees in 1973.

Ralph George Houk was born Aug. 9, 1919, in Lawrence, Kan., and was a catcher in the Yankees' farm system when the U.S. entered

World War II

. He enlisted and became an Army Ranger, rising to the rank of major — the source of his later nickname — and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded a Bronze Star, Silver Star and Purple


before the war's end.

Houk returned to the Yankees after the war and appeared in 91 games from 1947 to 1954. He managed in the Yankees' minor league system before returning to the major league club as a coach in 1957. He replaced Stengel as manager in 1961.

His first team, led by Maris' 61 home runs and Mantle's 54, won 109 games and beat the

Cincinnati Reds

in five games to win the World Series.

The Yankees won the World Series again in 1962, winning 96 games during the regular season and beating the

San Francisco Giants

in seven games.

New York won 104 games the next season to secure a third consecutive pennant before being swept out of the World Series by the Dodgers.