SABR

John J. Quinn

This article was written by Rory Costello.

John J. Quinn spent 47 years working for major-league baseball teams, 28 of those as a general manager. During his tenure as GM of the Boston and Milwaukee Braves (1945-58), the franchise won three National League pennants and the 1957 World Series. After owner Bob Carpenter brought Quinn to Philadelphia in 1959, the savvy executive set about rebuilding the Phillies the traditional way: by focusing on the farm system and making judicious trades. Through both these channels, he also gave the system an infusion of black and Latino talent.

On the flip side, Quinn lived up to an Irish stereotype: He liked to drink.1 He also often knocked heads with players when it came to salary negotiations – Richie Allen being perhaps the leading example. As the Philadelphia Daily News put it in 1986, the Phillies were “a team he oversaw with great frugality.”2 “I know I’m accused of being too tight,” he once said. “But you have to keep in mind it’s someone else’s money I’m passing out, not my own.”3

John Jacob Quinn was born on April 1, 1908, in Columbus, Ohio.4 His father, James Aloysius Robert Quinn (1870-1954), also had a prominent career in baseball at many levels – one may trace much of the son’s life history through the father’s movements. Bob Quinn, who had been a minor-league catcher and manager in the 1890s, became general manager of the Columbus Senators in 1902 and served in that capacity through 1917. Bob and his wife, Margaret Clark, had four children. John’s older brother Robert became a Dominican priest, serving as a professor and director of athletics at Providence College. Their two sisters were named Margaret and Mary.5

In 1917 Bob Quinn became business manager of the St. Louis Browns. As a result, John went to St. Louis University High School. The family lived around the corner from Sportsman’s Park, where John kept busy doing “countless little jobs” and “running errands” for his father. He also got to sit on the bench with the likes of George Sisler and Ken Williams, the stars of the team that nearly won the 1922 American League pennant.6

Then in 1923, Quinn père led a group of Columbus investors who purchased the Boston Red Sox from Harry Frazee. The family moved east, and John went to Boston College, where he ran track and tried out for the baseball team (coached by Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy) as a “good field, no hit” outfielder.7 Upon graduating in 1929, Quinn immediately entered a minor position with the Red Sox.8 In 1963 he remembered working with the groundskeeper and in the ticket office.9

After selling the Red Sox to Tom Yawkey in 1933, Bob Quinn served as business manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1934 and 1935 seasons. He then came back to Boston – but joined the city’s other big-league team back then, the Braves, as president and part owner. Upon his father’s return to Boston, John Quinn quit the Red Sox and became club secretary for the Braves. He later became farm director.10 As his father put it wryly in 1945, “He has taken care of what minor-league interests the Braves have had.”11

In February 1934, John had married Miriam Maloney, from Newton, Massachusetts. They had five children: Joan, Robert, John, Margaret, and Susan.12 The Quinn family’s intimate involvement with baseball came to span four generations. After coming up through the minors as an executive and working as a farm director and scouting director in the majors, the third-generation Bob Quinn was general manager for three big-league clubs from 1988 to 1996. His son, also named Bob, became a major-league executive too. John Jr., or Jack, was a minor-league exec, notably with the Hawaii Islanders, which he owned for several years.13 In addition, two of John Quinn’s daughters were close to baseball. Margo married another longtime farm/scouting director and GM, Roland Hemond. Susan worked for a time in the front office of the California Angels while they were the parent club of the Hawaii Islanders.

In February 1945, at the age of 75, the elder Bob Quinn stepped down as general manager of the Braves, becoming farm director instead. He was named director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in July 1948, becoming honorary director in June 1952 following his retirement from the active post. He died in March 1954.14

John Quinn replaced his father (he had become assistant treasurer when new owners Lou Perini, Joe Maney, and Guido Rugo bought control in January 1944).15 Praise issued from Ed Rumill, longtime baseball writer for the Boston-based Christian Science Monitor: “While the promotion of John Quinn to the general managership of the Boston Braves may have come as a surprise to the fandom section of the Hub, it was accepted as a deserving break for one of the game’s most promising young executives by those close to the local baseball situation.” The article’s subhead read, “Good Background, Hard Worker.”16 Such senior baseball men as Branch Rickey, Larry MacPhail, and George Weiss had all been interested in John in previous years. Previously, when Quinn left the Red Sox, Tom Yawkey had thought so well of the young man that he made a key to Fenway Park his parting gift.17

Three years later, the Braves won the National League pennant; as of 1963, Quinn called it his biggest single thrill in the game. “You can’t beat that first one,” he said. He also pointed to his September 1946 trade for heavy-hitting third baseman Bob Elliott as the team’s key acquisition.18 However, he also obtained two other important starters in deals ahead of the ’48 season, Jeff Heath and Eddie Stanky.

In September 1951, according to the Boston Post, after Ford Frick succeeded Happy Chandler as commissioner of baseball, Quinn was rumored to succeed Frick as National League president.19 However, the job went instead to Warren Giles.

The Braves didn’t win again until 1957, by which time they had moved to Milwaukee. The Quinn family didn’t find it easy to uproot from Boston, but as John said in 1963, “We went and it turned out great.”20 Quinn continued to focus on the farm system, from which such top players as Eddie Mathews and Johnny Logan had sprung even before the move. From the moment he took over, he said, “Dad and I have always felt that farms are the only way to develop a winning major-league club.”21 A focus on adding talent from the Negro League brought Bill Bruton and Hank Aaron; Quinn rightly regarded landing Hammerin’ Hank as his best transaction.22

Ironically, Aaron’s opening came earlier than the team expected because of a Quinn deal that he acknowledged as a bust: the 1954 trade of Johnny Antonelli for Bobby Thomson.23 A few years later, though, he sent Thomson (plus two other players) back to the Giants and got second baseman Red Schoendienst. “We won twice with him,” said Quinn of Schoendienst. “It was no accident.”24

On January 13, 1959, Quinn resigned from the Braves and joined the Phillies. The man he replaced in Philadelphia, Roy Hamey, went back to the New York Yankees as assistant general manager. Although Hamey accepted diminished responsibilities, he had spent 17 of his 34 years in the game with the Yankees. Quinn, described as “a self-effacing man appearing 10 years younger than his 50 years,” accepted a five-year contract. He said, “It is quite a challenge. We have a lot of work ahead of us.” He denied the talk that his departure was related to the appointment of Birdie Tebbetts as executive vice president in Milwaukee, noting that Phillies owner Bob Carpenter “offered me a proposition I just didn’t feel I could turn down.”25

Carpenter said, “I wanted to get the best, and my first choice was John Quinn.”26 A few days after the new GM took over, he said, “The club has good pitching but needs help elsewhere, especially in the infield.”27 The Phillies also needed to get younger and make a break with the past; they were still clinging to several heroes of the 1950 NL pennant winners, the Whiz Kids. From March 1959 to October 1961, “traded, sold or released were Robin Roberts, Curt Simmons, Granny Hamner, Willie Jones, Richie Ashburn, and Stan Lopata.” In May 1964 Quinn said, “Releasing Simmons was the one move that came back to haunt us. But who would have dreamed his arm would become sound?”28

Another link to the Whiz Kids was manager Eddie Sawyer, whom Roy Hamey had brought back in July 1958. Sawyer resigned after Opening Day 1960, saying, “I am 49 years old and want to live to be 50.” One game later, Quinn installed his choice: Gene Mauch. In 1963 Quinn recalled, “I had placed Gene in his first managerial job at Atlanta and he had great success there. Then he went to Minneapolis and got into the Little World Series two-for-two, winning it once. With that record, plus his experience, he was my man.”29

The hiring of Mauch was rooted in the decision that Quinn came to view as his worst: giving Tommy Holmes the manager’s seat in Boston in 1951. “Tommy was our most popular player, and when Billy Southworth quit, I thought promoting Holmes would stimulate interest. But Tommy was lost and it taught me a lesson – unless a man had minor-league managing experience, it was a terrible gamble to turn a major-league club over to him.”30

As early as June 1960, an article for the Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate was touting how well the rebuilding program was going. Among other things, NEA sportswriter Harry Grayson said, “The quick result is an exciting young club which has rekindled interest.”31 Just a couple of weeks later, Oliver Kuechle, sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal, echoed the theme. Kuechle proclaimed, “The best rebuilding job in baseball today is being done by John Quinn of the Phillies, and it isn’t going to be too long before he has a club the rest of them can really begin to worry about again.”32

Kuechle also noted that five of the Braves’ scouts followed Quinn to Philadelphia.33 In May 1964 Quinn stated, “When I came here, I said that no major-league club could be successful without a productive farm system. You have to find and raise your own. You can’t buy good ballplayers.” This, of course, was a decade before the free-agent era dawned. Nonetheless, Quinn continued, “Scouts are the most important people connected with a big-league club. . . . The fact that 24 of the 40 players we are permitted to control came up through our six-club chain is evidence that our scouts know a ballplayer from a paperhanger. Twelve are with the parent club.”34

Yet Quinn also made numerous canny trades, the most notable being the acquisitions of Johnny Callison (December 1959), Tony Taylor (May 1960), Wes Covington (July 1961), and Jim Bunning and Gus Triandos (who came over together in December 1963). Quinn credited his father’s teaching: “My dad always said never to be afraid to give up three players for one or four for two so long as you got the man you wanted. He was never worried about how much he helped the other team. He was only concerned how much good he did for himself. He wasn’t trying to trim anybody.”35

The Callison deal was a prominent example of this philosophy. “There’s another case where my father’s creed held up for me. To get Callison I had to give Gene Freese to the White Sox. Freese was then our leading home-run hitter. But I couldn’t worry about what I was doing for the Sox. The only thing that was important was that I felt Callison could do more for us.”36

Another interesting deal involved Roy Sievers, the veteran first baseman who arrived in November 1961. The Phillies already had a good first baseman in 27-year-old Pancho Herrera (though the Cuban did strike out a lot), but Quinn wanted to change the team’s chemistry. As it turned out, Sievers had two good seasons left. Though not much was in the tank by 1964, that July Quinn said, “We wanted a seasoned clutch hitter, feeling his presence would pep up the other players on the team. We think that has been accomplished.”37

Still other useful pickups came via the Rule 5 draft: Both catcher Clay Dalrymple (November 1959) and reliever Jack Baldschun (November 1960) were acquired for just $25,000 apiece. It is also noteworthy that in 1961, Quinn called for Major League Baseball to adopt an amateur draft similar to pro football’s. In the past, he had paid some big bonuses – Johnny Antonelli’s being one example – but he said, “The whole situation has gotten out of hand. . . . It’s suicide the way it is right now.”38

The Phillies finished last in 1959, 1960, and 1961, enduring a 23-game losing streak in ’61. Things started to look up in 1962; even though the team merely finished in seventh place, the record was above .500 (81-80). The 1963 season was another stride forward, with an 87-75 mark that was good for fourth place. That August Bob Carpenter gave Quinn a vote of confidence, saying that he planned to rehire the GM when his initial five-year contract expired. Carpenter said, “He’s built the ballclub and it’s starting to arrive. We’re getting better and we’re going to see this through. We’re planning two years from now. If we get first and third base help we’ll be in good shape.”39

In October 1963, while attending a luncheon to announce the retirement of farm director Gene Martin, Quinn collapsed. “The condition of the 55-year-old baseball official was so serious for a time that a priest administered last rites as he lay on the floor. . . . When Quinn could not be revived he was taken by rescue truck to Jefferson Hospital. There he regained consciousness, sat up and wanted to leave.”40 He made a rapid recovery; “Doctors attributed Quinn’s troubles to overwork and tension but found nothing seriously wrong.”

A few days after Quinn went into the hospital, he was eager to return to his desk.41 By November he was back working, but on a limited schedule.42 Soon he and Mauch were in full swing at the winter meetings, making deals like the Bunning-Triandos swap. In early 1964 Quinn was also wrangling over salaries. In a way, it was a good problem because younger players were coming into their own. But as Philly beat writer Allen Lewis observed, “Quinn is reluctant to jump youngsters on the way up into the big money after one good year. He feels that it takes at least two good seasons to determine a player’s probable future. When they have established themselves, the general manager seems to have little trouble coming to agreement with them.”43 In later years, though, various players would say otherwise.

As the Phillies got off to a strong start in 1964 and stayed at the top of the heap, the press had plenty of plaudits for Quinn. That July Jim Foster, sports editor of the Spartanburg (South Carolina) Herald, called him “a miracle worker,” observing, “One of the factors behind his success was disclosed by his visit to the Spartanburg Phillies, the lowest of the Philadelphia farm teams in classification. His presence shows that the big man keeps his eyes focused on the entire operation of the Phillies – even in a year when all goes well. Foster added, “Refusing all credit for himself, Quinn said: ‘We have a very good manager in Gene Mauch. He’s done wonders with the kids. I’d say it’s a case of our young players who we knew had potential coming through for us this year.’ ”44

Yet in June, Allen Lewis issued a Cassandra-like prediction: “Walter Alston may be something of a prophet. When honored by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association, June 3, at a Baseball Forum luncheon, he told Phillies’ officials and fans, ‘Enjoy yourselves; things may not always be this easy.’ ” The Dodgers manager, who had seen his team lose to the Phillies on both previous nights, added, “If I didn’t know who was in first place, all I’d have to do would be to look around here. . .or see the smiles on the faces of Mauch and John Quinn over there.”45

Quinn was active when the circumstances dictated in that 1964 season, especially trying to fill the troublesome first-base position when Roy Sievers was no longer producing. Picking up Frank Thomas from the Mets was a great move, and getting Vic Power after Thomas got hurt was the best he could do under the circumstances. The man he really wanted to get from the Angels was Joe Adcock, but Quinn’s counterpart in California, Fred Haney – the skipper of the 1957-58 Braves – wouldn’t make Adcock available.46

Then and later, Quinn refused to pin the collapse on Gene Mauch. “We’re both responsible,” he said. “Mauch gets paid for the managing and I get paid for doing everything else. Don’t blame Gene.”47 Needless to say, he ranked it as his greatest disappointment in baseball. In 1972 he told Allen Lewis, “We looked like we had a commanding lead, and that made it all the harder. It looked like the fruit of your efforts and that it would all pay off, and then to lose it like that.”48

The Phillies remained fairly respectable from 1965 through 1967, winning 85, 87, and 82 games, but finished in the middle of the pack in the National League. During this time, the team acquired veterans (Dick Stuart, Bill White, and Dick Groat, among others) and parted with young talent (Alex Johnson and especially Ferguson Jenkins). Ahead of the 1968 season, the team was described as “in the process of at least a partial rebuilding program.”49 They fell below .500 and to seventh place, and Gene Mauch lost his job that June.

Another notable event for Quinn that year showed his social conscience. Just before Opening Day 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. All big-league clubs postponed their openers except for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Quinn said he would rather forfeit the game and pay a fine than take the field. After Dodgers president Walter O’Malley met with NL President Warren Giles and Quinn, the decision became unanimous.50

Only the presence of an expansion club, the Montreal Expos, saved the Phils from finishing last in the NL East in 1969 and 1970. The following year, they dropped to the cellar. Quinn came under pressure for not making trades that winter, but he stuck to his guns. In late January 1972 he remarked, “As I’ve said right along, I’m not going to make a deal just for the sake of making a deal. All the deals that other people want to make with us would be strictly in their favor. I don’t think that we should deviate from the policy that we’ve established, that there are five or six young players on this club that we should not deal.” The “untradables” included a number of players who never really panned out – but at least two of them were integral parts of Philadelphia’s revival: Greg Luzinski and Larry Bowa.51

Less than a month later, Quinn did make a big move, for a centerpiece of the winning teams to come. In his final trade – which some observers rate as his best ever – he acquired future Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton from the St. Louis Cardinals even-up for Rick Wise. Authors Steve Bucci and Dave Brown described Quinn in their book about Carlton and the 1972 Phillies, Drinking Coffee With a Fork. The scene was spring training in Clearwater, Florida, and the occasion was the wedding anniversary of farm director Paul “The Pope” Owens. Accompanied by their wives, the men were out for a dinner celebration.

“Quinn never liked to talk business at the dinner table, not in front of the wives. He didn’t think it was particularly polite. John was gentlemanly and old school. Always dressed to the nines, he wore a suit and tie with suspenders and a white-starched collar everywhere. And always smelled like ‘your father’s after-shave,’ as one Phils employee put it.

“Old J.Q. may not have liked to talk baseball in front of the ladies, but on this night he must’ve been busting.” Quinn sought Owens’ opinion on the Carlton deal and got an unequivocal yes.52

Less than four months later, on June 3, the Phillies were in fifth place with a 16-27 record, 15 games out of first. Even Steve Carlton, who finished 27-10 that year, had lost five straight starts. Quinn – by then the dean of major-league GMs – was fired, and Paul Owens took his place. Bob Carpenter declared that he had decided to make a change because of the team’s unexpectedly poor showing. He did, however, retain Quinn as a vice president on a consulting basis until the latter became eligible for a pension on his 65th birthday, April 1, 1973.53 Quinn himself said, “I hope I can remain in baseball because I feel I can still make some fine contributions to this great game.”54

Indeed, once the consultancy agreement ended, Quinn officially retired from the Phillies organization – and promptly joined the Houston Astros, becoming a special-assignment scout for general manager Spec Richardson.55 Their friendship went back to the ’50s, when Richardson was business manager for the Jacksonville Braves.

After a long illness, John Quinn died on September 20, 1976. He was survived by Miriam and four of their five children (Joan predeceased him). In his obituary in The Sporting News, one Quinn quote ran, “We all make glaring errors and we all make good deals sometimes.”56 Yet he summed up his philosophy even better in May 1964. “You never look back after making a deal. You don’t hope the man you give away flops. You simply hope who you get does the job for you.”57

 

This biography is included in the book "The Year of the Blue Snow: The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies" (SABR, 2013), edited by Mel Marmer and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.

 

Sources

www.baseball-reference.com

www.retrosheet.org

 

Notes

1 Quinn’s son Bob talked about this and his own drinking in 1992. Paul Daugherty. “The Mighty Quinn.” Cincinnati, March 1992, 24.

2 “Samuel Strikes Pay Dirt in Settlement.” Philadelphia Daily News, February 12, 1986.

3 “John Quinn Dead at 68; Former G.M. of Braves and Phillies.” The Sporting News, October 9, 1976, 53.

4 “John Quinn Is Now Aiding Astros.” Associated Press, April 2, 1973.

5 Loretta J. McLaughlin. “For John Quinns, Almost Everything Comes After Baseball.” Milwaukee Sentinel, April 6, 1953, Sports-1. Quinn’s mother’s maiden name came from his brother’s obituary. “Rev. Robert G. Quinn; formerly head of P.C. education department, athletics.” Providence Journal, January 4, 1987, C-10.

6 Barney Kremenko. “He’s Putting the Whiz Back in Fizz Kids.” Baseball Digest, March 1963 65. Originally published in the New York Journal-American. Rumill, Ed. “Dad Quinn Coaches Son Into Own Job.” The Sporting News, February 22, 1945,7.

7 Ibid.

8 McLaughlin, op. cit.

9 Kremenko, op. cit., 64.

10 McLaughlin, op. cit.

11Ed Rumill. “Dad Quinn Coaches Son Into Own Job.”

12 McLaughlin, op. cit.

13 The third-generation Bob Quinn was a minor-league executive with the Braves and Phillies starting in 1959. He was Minor League Executive of the Year for Class AA with the Reading Phillies in 1967. He then became farm director for the Milwaukee Brewers (1971-73) and scouting director for the Cleveland Indians (1973-83). Later, he served as general manager of the New York Yankees (1988-89), Cincinnati Reds (1990-92), and San Francisco Giants (1993-96). His son Bob worked in the Giants front office from 1994 to 2002; he then became a Milwaukee Brewers executive in 2003, where he remained as an executive vice president as of 2011. Jack Quinn was twice Minor League Executive of the Year, in 1962 with the San Jose Bees (lower classifications) and in 1966 with Hawaii (AAA). After leaving Hawaii, he was vice president and GM of the Vancouver Canadians, another team in the Pacific Coast League (1978-83). He then served as GM and later president of the St. Louis Blues franchise in the National Hockey League (1983-86).

14 “Bob Quinn, Former Hall of Fame Director, Dies.” Otsego (New York) Farmer, March 19, 1954, 1.

15 King, Bill. “Boston Braves Are Now Home Owned As Joe Maney, Guido Rugo, and Louis Perini, Contractors, Buy Stock Control.” Associated Press, January 22, 1944.

16 Ed Rumill. “John Quinn Much-Sought-After Young Man.” Christian Science Monitor, February 15, 1945.

17 Ibid.

18 Kremenko, op. cit., 64.

19 “John Quinn Is Mentioned for NL President.” Otsego (New York) Farmer, September 28, 1951, 2.

20 Kremenko, op. cit., 66.

21 Rumill, “Dad Quinn Coaches Son Into Own Job.”

22 “John Quinn Dead at 68; Former G.M. of Braves and Phillies.”

23 Kremenko, op. cit., 66.

24 Ibid., 64.

25 “Quinn To Phils, Hamey Back To Yank Office.” Associated Press, January 14, 1959.

26 “Big League Executive Switches.” United Press International, January 14, 1959.

27 “Pitching Good, But Phillies Need Infield Aid, Says Quinn.” Baltimore Sun, January 17, 1959, S12.

28 “Quinn Makes Another Winner With Phillies.” Associated Press, May 24, 1964.

29 Kremenko, op. cit., 63-64.

30 “John Quinn Dead at 68; Former G.M. of Braves and Phillies.”

31 Harry Grayson. “Quinn Trades Give Phillies New Whiz Kids and Future.” Newspaper Enterprise Association, June 30, 1960.

32 Oliver E. Kuechle. “Time Out for Talk.” Milwaukee Journal, July 11, 1960, Part 2: 9.

33 Ibid., loc. cit.

34 “Quinn Making Contender Out of Phils.” Pittsburgh Press, May 17, 1964, Section 2: 4.

35 Kremenko, op. cit., 65.

36 Ibid., 64.

37 Jim Foster. “No More Jokes On The Phils.” Spartanburg (South Carolina) Herald, July 16, 1964, 34.

38 “Quinn Urges Majors Adopt Pro Football’s Draft Method.” The Sporting News, June 28, 1961, 11.

39 “John Quinn To Be Rehired, Says happy Phils’ Owner.” Associated Press, August 8, 1963.

40 “Phillies Boss Rests After Collapsing.” Associated Press, October 11, 1963.

41 “Overwork, Tension Blamed for Collapse of G.M. Quinn.” The Sporting News, October 26, 1963, 18.

42 Allen Lewis. “Phillie Fodder.” The Sporting News, November 16, 1963, 20.

43 Allen Lewis. “Phil Salaries Soar; Youngsters in Line for King-Size Hikes.” The Sporting News, January 25, 1964, 14.

44 Foster, op. cit.

45 Allen Lewis. “‘Live It Up,’ Alston Tells Phils; ‘You May Run Into Roadblocks.’” The Sporting News, June 20, 1964, 6.

46 Allen Lewis. “John Quinn Recalls His Biggest Disappointment in Baseball.” Baseball Digest, October 1972, 65. Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

47 “John Quinn Dead at 68; Former G.M. of Braves and Phillies.”

48 Lewis, “John Quinn Recalls His Biggest Disappointment in Baseball.”

49 Ed Rumill. “Phillies: partial rebuilding.” Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 1968, 7.

50 “Majors’ Openers Set Back In Mourning for Dr. King.” The Sporting News, April 20, 1968, 28.

51 Ralph Bernstein. “John Quinn Prefers To Wait Rather Than Trade, Believing Phillies’ Young Men Will Prove To Be Stars In Many Future Years.” Associated Press, January 26, 1972.

52 Steve Bucci and Dave Brown. Drinking Coffee with a Fork: The Story of Steve Carlton and the ’72 Phillies. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Camino Books, 2011.

53 “Phillies’ Paul Owens: ‘I’d Trade My Mother’.” Associated Press, June 4, 1972.

54 Lewis, op. cit., 65.

55 “John Quinn Is Now Aiding Astros.” “Quinn Now With Astros.” The Sporting News, April 21, 1973, 36.

56 “John Quinn Dead at 68; Former G.M. of Braves and Phillies.”

57 “Quinn Makes Another Winner With Phillies.”

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