James Gaffney

This article was written by Rory Costello.

Despite frequent citations over the years, it is not common knowledge that the Braves got their nickname and first Indian-head logo under James E. Gaffney. Then again, nearly a century and two franchise moves have gone by since the owner of yesteryear (December 1911 to January 1916) rechristened his team. The change celebrated his ties to New York City’s political machine, Tammany Hall. “The Big Wigwam” provided not only the Native American imagery but also Gaffney’s fortune – the fruits of “honest graft,” as Tammany colleague George Washington Plunkitt called his own insider dealing.

Whatever one may think of how this man got ahead in life, Gaffney was a good owner in the most important ways. He bankrolled talent, upgraded his ballpark, and hired a winning manager in George Stallings. He also had the sense to give Stallings autonomy with the team – as well as a stock incentive. It all paid off. As William Phelon wrote after the Miracle Braves won their 1914 title, “Fortune was surely kind to Jim Gaffney in his baseball ventures.”1

Who was Gaffney? He was the policeman who turned to politics who to turned to contracting to become several times a millionaire.”

In his history of the Boston Braves, notable Boston sportswriter Harold Kaese described Gaffney deftly in the space of a page, asking and answering this question several times for effect. Kaese set out the guideposts by which we may explore this operator’s life and career in depth. Plunkitt’s credo could just as easily have been Gaffney’s: “I seen my opportunities, and I took ’em.”

Gaffney’s name is now on the periphery of history. Even contemporary stories gave just a superficial view of his personality – but one of his descendants has shed some more light on this area. Doreen Mannion’s great-grandmother Annie was Jim Gaffney’s sister. Her family still owns and resides in the house at Cedarhurst, Long Island, that Jim built on speculation. He “graciously” allowed Annie to live there and his sister Mary to live in another house that he built next door, also on spec.

“I’ve been on a lifelong quest to learn as much as I can about Gaffney,” Mannion said. It started with stories from her grandfather, Charlie Mannion. “My grandfather always referred to him as ‘Uncle Moneybags.’ There was a huge portrait of him hanging above a desk at the family house in Cedarhurst that fascinated me. His tie clip was a question mark. Years later I learned that this was the infamous ‘missing portrait’ that authorities searched for high and low. Little did they know it was tucked away out in the pastures of Long Island!” This portrait is among Mannion’s most prized possessions.

Doreen likened “Big Jim” to another brash, fast-talking Braves owner of more recent times: Ted Turner. “I find the parallels between him and Turner fascinating. Both were scoundrels. Turner loved yacht racing; Gaffney fancied himself a horseman. The size of both men’s egos: tremendous. The most prominent feature of the monument that Gaffney put up at his parents’ grave is the size of his own name, and he is not even buried with them!

“If Gaffney lived in a later time, I have no doubt he would be as well-known as Turner. It is incredible to me that someone who is the reason that the governor of New York state was impeached for the only time in history, who was behind the building of the first baseball stadium where public transportation brought fans right into the park, who owned the team with the most miraculous comeback of all time, has been forgotten by history.”2

Who was Gaffney? He was an East Side boy, reared in the gashouse district where kids grew up to be burglars, cops or firemen.”

The Gashouse District lay on the East River. Its other bounds were 14th Street to the south, 27th Street to the north, and Park Avenue South to the west. The nickname arose in 1842 when a gas plant was constructed on East 21st Street. The foul odor and health hazard from this and other leaky plants meant that the poorest immigrants – chiefly the Irish at first – lived there. The original Gashouse Gang, which inspired the nickname of the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, roamed the neighborhood.

James Edward Gaffney was born on March 7, 1868, in Manhattan. His parents were Patrick Gaffney and Anne Gaffney (née Masterson). Both were born in Ireland, Patrick in 1840 and his wife in 1845. It is not certain when they arrived in America, but the Irish famine of 1845 to 1849 triggered an ongoing wave of emigrants. The Irish-born population of New York City was approximately 70,000 in 1845, but it tripled to 204,000 by 1860.3

Patrick Gaffney, a brickmason and policeman, died in February 1881. He left his wife and five daughters (along with Anne and Mary, there were Margaret, Elizabeth, and Agnes) – plus the man of the house, 12-year-old Jim.

Gaffney became a cop for a little while, then turned to politics and was soon elected district captain.”

Kaese was perhaps drawing from Gaffney’s funeral service notice in the New York Times. It said, “He began his career as a policeman and, after a brief period, left the force and was next heard from again as an election district captain in the district ruled by Billy Murphy, an older brother of Charles F. Murphy.”4 Gaffney’s association with the hugely influential Charlie Murphy and his brothers was central to his career.

While the Mannion family could document that Patrick Gaffney was on the police force, their visit to the NYPD archives found no such record for James. Perhaps the seed of the Times information came from the sketch of Gaffney on the front page of Sporting Life on May 4, 1912, for it is not readily apparent in earlier press coverage.

In 1890, Gaffney married Essa “Essie” Smith.5 The couple had one daughter, named Irene (which was Essie’s middle name). Essie was the subject of a fulsome 1904 article in the New York Times magazine, which depicted the pretty redhead as a woman ahead of her time: a savvy political player with strong business sense.6

He served on the Board of Aldermen. He became a partner of Charles F. Murphy, a Tammany chieftain.”

Several articles describe Gaffney as Charlie Murphy’s brother-in-law, but actually Essie was a dear friend of Margaret Graham, the widow whom Murphy married in 1902.7 “Silent Charlie” was not just any Tammany sachem; he became the last supreme leader of the organization. Murphy was the basis for the character of political boss Jim Gettys in the movie Citizen Kane.8 Gustavus Myers, who chronicled the history of Tammany Hall, devoted several chapters of his book to the former shipyard worker and saloonkeeper.

Murphy grew up in the Gashouse District ten years ahead of Gaffney. He and his seven siblings all “obtained at least the rudiments of a public school education,” but the streets provided their true schooling.9 Without confirmation, it is fair to guess in view of his father’s early death that the same was true of Gaffney.

Tammany made Murphy leader of the Gashouse District in 1892. “Every night, when a district leader, Mr. Murphy could be found, from 7 to 10 o’clock, leaning against a lamp post at the northwest corner of Twentieth Street and Second Avenue.”10

Billy Murphy, alderman of Manhattan’s Twelfth District, passed away in January 1894.11 Another brother, John J. “Jack” Murphy, filled out the term.12 This provided the opening for Gaffney – who had worked with Jack as a bartender for Charlie – to serve the Gashouse District.13 Starting in 1897, he represented the Board of Aldermen’s Eighteenth District through the end of 1905.14 “Under the tutelage of Little Tim Sullivan he became prominent in that body.”15

Charlie Murphy became dock commissioner of New York City in 1897, during the administration of Mayor Robert Van Wyck, who was widely regarded as a pawn of Tammany. It was the only salaried municipal post Murphy ever held, and during his time in office through 1901, his fortune somehow grew from $400,000 (accumulated in 18 years of running saloons) to at least $1 million.16 Gaffney also had a finger in this pie.

In the summer of 1903, the New York District Attorney’s office launched an investigation into the Dock Board under Van Wyck. The probe concerned “methods of the board in granting leases and conducting their business generally.”17 Gaffney and John Murphy were arrested in early July, and “Big Jim” was indicted later that month, “charged with violating Section 1,033 of the New York City charter, which provides that no member of the Board of Aldermen or other city official shall become interested, directly or indirectly, in the lease of any property belonging to the city.”18

That September, the New York State Supreme Court dismissed Gaffney from custody on technical grounds. Previously, his contracting company – wife Essie was the secretary – had disregarded an order by the grand jury to produce its books!19 In February 1904 District Attorney William T. Jerome dismissed the indictment against Gaffney.20

The New York Construction Company, of which Gaffney was president, excavated for both Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal.”

Gustavus Myers described how – while Murphy was still in office as dock commissioner – his brother Jack, Gaffney, and another political lieutenant named Richard Crouch formed the New-York Contracting & Trucking Company.21 This company succeeded Jim’s own enterprise, James Gaffney & Co.22 It was speculated, but could never be proved, that the three were front men for Charlie.

In 1902 Murphy succeeded Richard Croker as boss of Tammany Hall. The following November George B. McClellan, Jr. (son of the Civil War general) ran for mayor of New York against reformer Seth Low, former Columbia University President. Ahead of the election, the City Club of New York, an anti-Tammany reform organization, issued a statement on the candidates for municipal offices. The pamphlet had stinging words for Gaffney and his politico-business methods: “Gaffney is not popular in his district, being considered too much of a hog. His firm is exceptionally aggressive in seizing upon every private privilege accessible, and it employs the cheapest of labor.”

It provided other interesting color on the company’s activities, though, including how Gaffney had once been a truck driver himself. From its modest start, filling in the back of city bulkheads and dumping at 20 cents a load, the New-York Contracting & Trucking Company grew to a force employing 500 draft horses (in the process, muscling out many of the district’s small carters).23 Jim and Jack made money coming and going. After obtaining contracts for work on West Side subway lines, they were able to use their piers and dumping privileges to get rid of their own rubble and be paid for it.

When McClellan defeated Low, it set the stage for a vivid appearance by Gaffney. Author Jill Jonnes described it in her book about the construction of Penn Station and its tunnels, Conquering Gotham.

“About a week later in Philadelphia at the Broad Street Station offices, William Patton [assistant to Alexander Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad] was surprised by the unexpected appearance of Mr. James E. Gaffney, a rather rough-looking, large and fleshy fellow wearing a loud suit and derby. Patton readily recognized him as Manhattan’s Eighteenth District Alderman, and one of Tammany’s ringleaders in the fight to prevent Cassatt’s winning the franchise.

“Here in the PRR’s home offices, Gaffney was the soul of shameless affability. He had traveled down, he confided proudly to Patton, as the emissary of Mr. Charles F. Murphy. ‘Mr. Murphy would be very glad,’ he suggested, ‘if Mr. Cassatt would give careful consideration to the bid made by the New York Contracting & Trucking Co., of which Mr. John J. Murphy – brother of Chief Murphy – was president. . . . Mr. Murphy is very anxious to see these people get the contract if their prices are anywhere near right.”24

Jonnes noted how the low bidder mysteriously bowed out days after Cassatt informed Murphy of the contract award (a process that Myers detailed at length). “Exulted the shameless Alderman Gaffney, ‘You can bet all the money in New York that it is true and that we have got that contract.’ Giddy with victory and feeling garrulous, Gaffney regaled a reporter with the immensity of it all. . . . The key to it all: Murphy and Gaffney hoped to have thousands of jobs to bestow upon the faithful followers of the [Tammany] Tiger.”25

Myers wrote, “By 1905 it was estimated that the New York Contracting and Trucking Company or its offshoots had received contracts aggregating $15,000,000 – all contracts from corporations and interests benefiting from the city government or depending upon favors from it. Yet two years previously this very company was a nonentity as far as securing large contracts were concerned, and none of its heads had any experience in the contracting business. Now in a certain well-understood field, it was virtually free from competition. . . . Under Murphy’s leadership the obvious methods used were those of ‘honest graft.’ ”26 Tammany’s methods of dissuading other bidders included throwing up obstacles such as indefinite labor slowdowns.

Gaffney really had the luck o’ the Irish. In March 1905 he and Essie were dining with friends. Jim wanted to order chops -- but his companions insisted that he order oysters, and he bit into a large pearl.27

It does not appear that “Big Jim” was involved in the Grand Central Terminal project.28 Perhaps Kaese meant to refer to the bids that another Gaffney venture submitted to build subway lines on the East Side in 1908-09. On July 20, 1909, a Wall Street Journal editorial said, “The more the Bradley-Gaffney-Steers combination is looked into the less it will stand the light of day.”29

He was Tammany’s Man of Mystery.”

When Charles Murphy took the Tiger’s reins in 1902, the New York Sun described John Murphy and Gaffney as his “constant attendants and advisers. They are near him when he is at Tammany Hall, and they are never far away when he is at the Anawanda Club.”30 The Anawanda Club was the Democratic (i.e., Tammany) headquarters of the Gashouse District. It was located at 345 Second Avenue, at 20th Street – Murphy’s lamppost stood on the same corner. Jim and Essie lived in an apartment above the club for a time before moving to grander quarters.31

It is interesting to note that the introduction to the minor classic Plunkitt of Tammany Hall describes George W. Plunkitt too as “one of the closest friends and most valued advisers of Charles F. Murphy.”

He was a big, red-faced, healthy-looking specimen –modest, quiet and retiring.”

Though existing photographs of the ruddy Irishman are in black and white, we do have the large portrait of him that Doreen Mannion owns; it was done in 1912.32 As for his size, he stood 6 feet tall and weighed 185 pounds as of 1911. At that time, he was described as “always in condition, being a very active golfer.”33 The “quiet and retiring” part is at odds with other descriptions, though.

Who was Gaffney? The New York Herald said: “Jim Gaffney is the most picturesque figure that the recent turbulent times have brought to the surface. As a power under cover, his position has been unprecedented.”

U.S. Senator James Aloysius O’Gorman put it more bluntly in 1913: “Don’t you know that Gaffney is Murphy’s chief bagman?”

John Montgomery Ward, New York lawyer, wanted the [Boston Braves] club. His angel, he thought, was James E. Gaffney.”

William Hepburn Russell, who had purchased the Boston National League franchise in 1910, died on November 21, 1911. As McClure’s magazine wrote in 1912, “Ward . . . had an option on the team, so the tale is told, but had no money of consequence. There were various bidders, and there seemed little chance of Ward’s getting a backer. Almost on the expiration of the option, he got on the track of Gaffney, who had been a great ‘fan’ for years.” The article then presented a comical imagining of the deal, but, turning serious again, added that the franchise’s value had declined sharply since its heyday in the 1890s. “What Gaffney will do with it is a speculation for the ‘fans,’ but those who know the Gaffney business methods predict great things.”34

The deal, which Sporting Life detailed more fully, came together on December 12, 1911. Ward became president of the club and Gaffney the treasurer. Sporting Life reported that the amount paid for Russell’s stock (945 of the 1,000 shares outstanding) was $174,000.35

Rebranding was among the new ownership’s first steps. The Braves name had served as an occasional alternate for Beaneaters in the past, as seen in 1904 and 1905.36 At least one account in December 1911 said that Ward suggested the Braves concept, associated with Tammany and its followers since the society’s beginnings. Gaffney liked it.37 Thus the Rustlers name, which had been in effect only for 1911, was discarded. Another key reason was to change the team’s luck and sell more tickets.38

Shortly thereafter, Ward felt compelled to dismiss the rumors that Charlie Murphy was a silent partner. “ ‘Absolute rot’ was the way Mr. Ward put it.”39 It is worth noting, though, that Murphy was a longtime fan who had organized a club called the Senators in the Gashouse District back in the 1870s.40

There was irony in the transaction. William Hepburn Russell, who like Ward was an attorney in New York, had Tammany connections – but severed them. He served as the city’s commissioner of accounts under Mayor Low. Russell had charged that Murphy, as dock commissioner, had leased piers to another Tammany figure named Daniel McMahon at below-market rates.41 Eventually the city’s Finance Department determined that this was not the case.42

Gaffney was a fan, a close friend of Clark Griffith, and an avowed rival of Frank J. Farrell, owner of the New York Highlanders. One reason why Gaffney bought the Braves, it was said, was his desire to have a winning team before Farrell, in which he was successful, since Farrell never had a winner.”

According to Sporting Life, Gaffney was “a very intimate friend of Clark Griffith and the latter got him interested in base ball.” 43 The two men almost certainly met when Griffith was player-manager for the Highlanders from 1903 to June 1908. There was also a rumor that Gaffney put up $200,000 for Griffith to buy the Washington Senators.44 Ward denied this, saying, “Whatever interest Griffith has in the Washingtons, he bought himself with money received from the sale of his ranch.45 The McClure’s story fell somewhere in the middle, stating that Griffith bought $25,000 in Senators stock with Gaffney’s backing.46 The club’s principal owner then was Thomas Noyes, proprietor of the Washington Star; Noyes sold controlling interest to Griffith in 1919.

During the 1914 World Series, “in the official program at Fenway Park there was a picture of Griffith and Jim Gaffney taken together. Underneath the caption read, ‘Clark Griffith, the man who induced James Gaffney to enter base ball.’ ”47 Sporting Life alleged, “He [Gaffney] tried to buy the Boston Club two years ago.”48 The weekly had reported in November 1910 that Gaffney “had recently shown a disposition to enter the national game,” but that his offers for the Cardinals and Reds had been turned down.49

Frank Farrell was a notorious gambling kingpin in New York who ran a string of poolrooms. Big Bill Devery co-owned the Highlanders with Farrell from 1903 to 1915. He was a picturesque former beat cop “who boasted that he had carried his father’s dinner-pail when the elder Devery was laying the bricks of Tammany Hall.” Devery became chief of police under Mayor Van Wyck.50 He was also Richard Croker’s right-hand man, and he took a Tammany approach to police work. “His philosophy was simple. He saw nothing wrong with his code. The police . . . should get their share of whatever was going round.”51

At one time Gaffney and Farrell worked together, controlling the National Sporting Club, a Tammany-dominated outfit founded in 1907.52 This club, whose membership was exclusive, mainly promoted boxing. Boston sportswriter Tim Murnane described the men as “warm friends.” 53 Farrell hired Griffith and also named a prize racehorse that he owned “Jim Gaffney.”54 As New York Sun sportswriter Joe Vila wrote after Gaffney’s death, however, “a quarrel of a trivial nature split Gaffney and Farrell wide apart.”55

Ward was elected president, Gaffney treasurer of the new syndicate. But if Ward held the scepter, Gaffney wielded the power.”

Naturally, money equaled power. The new owners also had to assume a land mortgage of $210,000, and they decided to revamp their ballpark, South End Grounds. They renovated the field, reconfigured its dimensions, and expanded seating capacity. Sporting Life columnist W.S. Farnsworth said, “Altogether it will take three quarters of a million or more to get the property on a proper working basis. The outlay on new talent is not included in this estimate.”56

On July 31, 1912, only seven months after he acquired his interest in the Braves, Ward sold out to Gaffney and resigned as president of the club. Sporting Life reported, “It is understood that Ward and Gaffney didn’t agree on matters of business policy and that for some time it was probable that one would buy out the other.” Gaffney also bought out the other owner, John Carroll – another Tammany crony – and took over as president.57

Sporting Life columnist A.H.C. Mitchell wrote, “Until I can learn just what the trouble was between Ward and Gaffney, it will be better not to make any comment in these columns.” At least publicly, Gaffney backed Ward when the latter made the Braves players carry their own bags, as he had done in his playing days, and pay for their own taxis.58 One reason may have been that Gaffney liked Mike Donlin, who was “thoroughly disgusted” when Ward made Johnny Kling manager for the 1912 season. The Braves then dealt Turkey Mike to Pittsburgh.59 Gaffney also signed Rabbit Maranville for the team, taking New Bedford manager Frank Connaughton’s word over Ward’s.60

Only a few weeks before, Gaffney had strongly denied the notion that Ward would leave. He said, “President Ward has been elected to serve three years as president of the Boston club, and he will serve out that term. Make that as strong as you will. If he does retire, if he gets out of base ball, I get out, too.”61

That article went on to support the previous report that Gaffney had been interested back in 1910. “I could have purchased this club before Mr. Russell did, but I wasn’t ready then, because Mr. Ward [then feuding with American League President Ban Johnson] wasn’t ready.” On a final note, he added a baseball truism, “Young blood and more speed are what we require, and what we are after.”

Gaffney did not wait long to take action. In August 1912 Sporting Life reported that he had come to terms with George Stallings to manage the Braves in 1913. “He and Gaffney are very warm friends. Gaffney learned to admire him when Stallings was manager of the New York Americans, succeeding Clark Griffith.” According to Joe Vila’s 1932 recollection, it was the taunts of Frank Farrell and his friends over the Braves’ poor showing that also prompted Gaffney to hire the Highlanders’ discard.62 Stallings, who was then managing Buffalo in the International League, denied that he was going anywhere.63 Gaffney confirmed the signing officially, however, that October.

In November Gaffney said, “I have left the playing end of the club entirely in the hands of Stallings. He is a base ball man and I am not. He can buy or trade whatever players he chooses. I won’t interfere with him. I did not interfere with Kling – reports to the contrary notwithstanding.” Big Jim had opened up his checkbook to field a winner. He may have underrated his own eye for talent, though, since he was “particularly sweet” on pitcher Bill James, whom he purchased from Seattle in the Pacific Coast League. He said, “James to me looks like a wonder. I have been told he looks like a second Mathewson.”64

Gaffney provided an extra carrot for Stallings – he made him a stockholder. “President Gaffney said he thought a manager who was also part owner would be able to exercise better control over the players than one who was merely an employe [sic] of the club.”65

The Braves did improve measurably in 1913, climbing out of the cellar (52-101 in 1912) to fifth place (69-82). Gaffney was critically ill with intestinal trouble in the early part of the season and underwent an operation in April. He lost 40 pounds. After getting out of the hospital, he saw his team play for the first time that year on May 1, against Brooklyn; Casey Stengel’s two home runs won the game for the Dodgers. Big Jim recuperated at his home in Cedarhurst (the Gaffneys also had a Manhattan townhouse at 72nd and Broadway.) He needed a second operation in June, and it took him until August before he was close to full recovery.66

In early August Gaffney showed a progressive approach, visiting the Long Branch club in the New York-New Jersey League and purchasing the release of several Cuban players. The most prominent was Adolfo “Dolf” Luque, who would make his big-league debut with the Braves in 1914. Boston already controlled catcher Miguel Ángel “Mike” González, who had played one game with the Braves in 1912 and later became famous for his classic summation, “Good field, no hit.”67 The deal led to a clash with Frank Farrell, who said that he had a prior claim, though it was a verbal contract.68

Among other things, in late August Gaffney also sent an open telegram to National League President Thomas Lynch exhorting him to review the league’s umpires. The broadside came after ump Cy Rigler suspended second baseman Bill Sweeney (acting manager while Stallings was absent) for a protest during a game with Pittsburgh. The point of interest was that Gaffney had helped keep the president in office by casting the tiebreaking ballot in 1912 during a movement to depose Lynch.69 After the season, however, he threw his support behind Lynch’s successor, John Tener.

Even while owner of the Braves, he was the subject of an inquiry into the awarding of contracts in New York.”

This was the biggest issue surrounding Gaffney in 1913. It made the headlines from March of that year into early 1914. New York Governor William Sulzer had appointed John A. Hennessy to investigate graft in state government. In October 1913 Manhattan District Attorney Charles Whitman then instituted “John Doe” proceedings (essentially an inquest during which a judge determines if a crime has been committed and by whom) to investigate Hennessy’s charges. It was during this time that James A. O’Gorman – who became Senator only after a group led by Franklin Delano Roosevelt blocked Charles Murphy’s ally – made his “bagman” remark about Gaffney.

To summarize the relevant section of Gustavus Myers’ history, Sulzer – a longtime Tammany loyalist who had served nine terms in the U.S. Congress – was elected governor in 1912. According to Sulzer, Charlie Murphy expected him to remain “pliable and docile” concerning the Tiger’s interests. Among other things, the governor alleged that Murphy said, “If I wished a new state superintendent of highways, ‘Jim’ Gaffney was the best all-around man for the job.”70

Sulzer declined to appoint Gaffney, whose name had arisen in various conflicted deals related to contracts for roadbuilding, the Catskill Aqueduct, and barge canals. In response Murphy announced, “Well, it’s Gaffney or war.” Sulzer held his ground after O’Gorman’s impassioned plea not to give in – which featured some more choice words for Gaffney. Murphy then brought his power in the state legislature to bear, and Sulzer was impeached. He was removed from office that October.

Murphy disavowed the “Gaffney or war” quotation and the threats to wreck Sulzer’s administration. Gaffney, George W. Plunkitt, and another Tammany figure, J. Sergeant Cram, also denied the charges made by Hennessy and Sulzer.71 One of the more sensational aspects of the John Doe inquiry came in February 1914, when D.A. Whitman sought older pictures and movie footage of Gaffney – as well as his portrait – because his appearance had changed following his illness and operations.72 This came after state contractor James C. Stewart, who had alleged that Gaffney sought kickbacks from him, testified that he could not identify Gaffney positively – effectively blunting the inquiry.73

New York City’s chief magistrate, William McAdoo, dismissed the John Doe proceedings in April 1914. Though some minor indictments resulted, the overall outcome was mixed. “The testimony which District Attorney Whitman succeeded in bringing out shed light on some interesting political practices . . . [but his] attempt to convict ‘the man higher up’ by tracing money secured in this way to the coffers of Charles F. Murphy and James E. Gaffney was unsuccessful.”74

It does not appear that this entanglement discomfited Jim Gaffney much. When he appeared before the Supreme Court Grand Jury in March 1914, he “was smiling when he went into the Grand Jury room, and he had the same broad smile when he emerged.”75 At any rate, the conclusion of this inquiry came just in time for the great season that lay ahead: the ascent of the Miracle Braves.

* * * * *

Actually, to start that season Gaffney promptly went back into court, but this time he prompted the proceedings. The Baltimore club in the upstart Federal League had induced pitcher Jack Quinn (4-3 in eight games for the 1913 Braves) to jump ship. Gaffney brought suit for $25,000, saying, “I don’t want the money, but my lawyers declare I have a dead open and shut case, and I want to teach the Federal Leaguers a lesson.” The Sporting Life account added, “Quinn offered to jump the Feds if the Boston Club returned the $3,500 advanced to him by the Baltimore Feds, but Gaffney turned down the offer promptly.”76

Early in the season, while the Braves were stuck in last place, Gaffney continued his beefing against umpire Cy Rigler (who eventually worked in ten World Series). His faith in the team was also shaken at times. He later recalled that after a drubbing in both ends of a doubleheader, “That team looked to me like the worst combination of ball players ever gathered together. . . . the Dodgers simply wiped up the lot with my team. . . . I had enough. I got out of my seat and jumped for the nearest exit. On the way I met [club secretary] Herman Nickerson. ‘Say, when you see Stallings, tell him to take that ball club and dump it into the ocean,’ I said.”77

Gaffney’s memory may have folded together the sweep that the Braves suffered versus the Giants on June 26 and Brooklyn’s sweep on July 4. Independence Day was the low ebb, though – after that, the Braves began their surge. Perhaps superstition helped a bit. During the World Series celebration, “Gaffney showed the crowd the little purple aster in his buttonhole. That’s the Braves’ lucky flower, for ever since the Braves started to win the Boston owner has worn a fresh one on his coat every day. No matter where the team was on the road, the purple aster came to the hotel every day.”78

Near the end of the regular season, there was a distracting rumor: On October 1, the newspapers reported that Gaffney was in negotiations with Frank Farrell and Bill Devery to buy the Yankees. Supposedly Stallings was going to come with him.79 Nothing came of this, though: Farrell and Devery sold to Colonels Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston in 1915.

After the 1914 World Series Pittsburgh’s owner, Barney Dreyfuss, commented on Gaffney as a sportsman. “I venture the assertion that throughout that series, Mr. Gaffney never thought how much money he would get out of it. I believe he never thought of anything except victory for his team.” 80

Dreyfuss wasn’t exactly right, but he was close. Before the fourth and final game of the Series started, Gaffney reportedly said, “Boys, I want you to go out and win this series in four straight. I beg of you to win today. I know that it would make a difference of $50,000 to me to have the series go two more games, but, boys, I implore you to bring the series to an end today. Let us set a record they will never beat.”81

Gaffney also offered another notable remark after the Series. While disclosing that his club had made no money, he said, “The Braves have won the world championship and that is enough. They have vindicated George Stallings and Johnny Evers and have given me a chance to laugh at my old friend Farrell.”82

In November 1914 Gaffney prepared to drop his suit against the BaltFeds, “with a view to showing the utter contempt in which [Jack] Quinn and the Federal League are held by the Boston owner.”83 Gaffney went on to make public comments in this vein. “I said then and I repeat now that every player who quit me will remain out of the major league if I have my way. I didn’t lose anybody worth worrying about, it is true. But that is not the point. A player who would jump a contract would throw a ballgame, in my opinion.”84

It was rich to hear pronouncements on the sanctity of contracts coming from Gaffney. The soundness of his judgment was mixed, too. Although outfielder Guy Zinn never returned to the majors, Jack Quinn got 181 of his 247 wins after he returned from the Federal League. On the other hand, the notoriously crooked Hal Chase was a prominent jumper. Allegations of game fixing also clung to Benny Kauff, “The Ty Cobb of the Feds,” although it remains debatable whether he was truly involved with the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Gaffney’s feeling against the “outlaw” Kauff ran so high that he refused to let the Braves take the field against the Giants on April 29, 1915. The game was going to be forfeited until John Tener ruled that it should proceed with Kauff on the bench.85

The Braves slipped to second place in 1915, the last season that Gaffney would own the club. The year’s most notable event – leaving aside the owner’s near-drowning on a quail hunt at George Stallings’ Georgia estate that January! – was the opening of Braves Field in August. It wasn’t the first ballpark Gaffney had worked on. His company had built the stands for the Polo Grounds at Coogan’s Bluff.86

The SABR Research Journal of 1978 and the Boston Braves Historical Association newsletter of Spring 2009 both described Braves Field and its history. Gaffney started by purchasing the former Allston Golf Club. (As Harold Kaese noted, he put the park on the back of the property and “was able to sell the frontage at a handsome profit.”) He also oversaw the construction, making the playing field vast on purpose because he liked seeing inside-the-park homers. Gaffney promised that the park would be “a model baseball plant – in fact, the last word in such plants.” In many ways, though, Braves Field proved to be an albatross, notably in its dimensions with the advent of the lively ball.

Boston Mayor James Curley approved the vote of the city’s street commissioners to name the broad thoroughfare along the park’s eastern edge Gaffney Street.87 The owner added his own sentimental touch, inviting old friend Clark Griffith to throw out the first pitch on August 18, with George Stallings catching. According to Gaffney, the pitch was to count officially as a ball or strike.88 The Old Fox did indeed get it over the plate, but as the box scores showed, the delivery remained ceremonial.89

During the 1915 World Series, Gaffney helped bring peace between the Federal League and the majors, brokering a settlement.90 After the season, he sent a letter to all members of the Braves team about rowdyism, which Baseball magazine printed in full the following February.91 It was one of his last acts as owner. In January 1916 Gaffney and club director Robert H. Davis sold the franchise to a group headed by Harvard football coach Percy Haughton. Coming off the World Series win, he had said it would take $1,500,000 to buy his club.92 He wound up accepting $500,000.

The deal came as a surprise. Baseball magazine wrote, “Why should a mighty magnate, master of a great ball club and of a splendid stadium, sell out his prize?” The article speculated that Gaffney was interested in the New York Giants; his partner was said to be oil magnate Harry Sinclair.93 Other stories in the press indicated that Gaffney’s business interests in New York were claiming more of his attention. Big Jim’s own statement said, “When I discovered that I could secure a price upon the stock that would net me a handsome profit, I could not as a business man turn down the proposition.”94

As Father Gerald Beirne of the Boston Braves Historical Association said in 2011, “Gaffney came across to me as much less flamboyant than Ted Turner. Gaffney’s reputation at NL owners’ meetings was one of quiet distinction, he knew how to get things done. And he was most instrumental in settling the Federal League problem, over Ban Johnson’s truculence. For one of lowly, humble, uneducated beginnings, Gaffney seemed above the petty squabbling of the other so-called moguls, whose bickering got them nowhere. Being probably the only Catholic in the group in that era had to be a disadvantage, and yet he seemed to gain their respect. The Sporting News regretted his leaving baseball, saying ‘the National League will miss him.’ ”95

Gaffney continued to own Braves Field, but he never re-entered baseball, although he was “still deeply interested” and “still a big power behind the throne.”96 As Gerald Beirne wrote in 2010, “(T)he cozy Boston-New York businessman’s relationship quietly persisted, through some of the team’s New York-based directors. Gaffney’s connections were Robert Davis, Frederick Killeen, and attorney John Toole, all of New York.” Beirne pointed to a pattern of numerous trades between the clubs in subsequent years, noting a line from New York Times sportswriter John F. Kieran – “it came across as ‘two organizations with one set of books.’ ”97

Joe Vila said that health was an issue; “(T)hough Gaffney loved the game he did not care again to stand the wear and tear.”98 Even so, rumors continued to surface over the next couple of years. In October 1916 he expressed a desire to buy the Dodgers from Charles Ebbets if the price was right. Ebbets wanted $750,000.99 That December Barney Dreyfuss reportedly had his Pittsburgh club up for sale, but here too the sides were not able to agree on a price.100 In October 1917 there was talk that Gaffney would take the Braves back off Percy Haughton’s hands and install Johnny Evers, whom he had acquired for the Miracle Braves, as manager.101 Then in December 1918, the New York Times reported that Gaffney was looking to buy the Boston Red Sox and move them from Fenway Park to Braves Field.102 If that deal had gone through, it might have been another grudge for Red Sox fans to nurse against Harry Frazee – but then again, would Gaffney have sold Babe Ruth?

In 1923 the Palm Beach Daily News ran a most intriguing interview with Gaffney, who was wintering in Florida with Essie for a month at the Breakers Hotel. He was going to every game between the African-American squads of the Breakers and a rival hotel, the Royal Poinciana. Gaffney called John McGraw “the greatest baseball club manager of all time” and “the greatest man in either league.” He also named Johnny Evers as “the world’s greatest baseball player.”103

Even more interesting were Gaffney’s remarks on the business of baseball – it would have been fascinating to see him in the free-agent era, competing with the likes of George Steinbrenner. “The enormous differences in the cost of running a baseball club and hiring ballplayers of the National Pastime of today, and a few years ago, is [sic] a fine thing for the game, and will prove beneficial in the end in spite of the criticisms that baseball clubs are spending too much money for players and for operating baseball clubs, or, in other words, ‘buying a pennant.’ ” He added, “It brings the game to a higher standard.”104

As late as 1925, Gaffney was mentioned as a possible buyer for the Dodgers, following the deaths of Charles Ebbets and Edward J. McKeever.105 By this time, however, his primary pursuit was horseracing. Like many Irishmen, Gaffney loved “the sport of kings” – he had owned horses since the early 1900s (not to mention a donkey on his Cedarhurst property). Perhaps this influenced the dimensions of Braves Field. On another note, he had faced another graft allegation in 1908, denying before the Legislative Investigating Committee that he had received $125,000 from turf interests to buy the votes of four Tammany members of the Legislature to defeat the Hart-Agnew Anti-Race-Track Gambling bills.106

In May 1931 Gaffney’s horse Irene’s Bob (named for his daughter’s son) won the Juvenile Stakes at Belmont Park. The New York Times called him “former owner of the Boston Braves and more widely known twenty years ago than at present.”107 Indeed, when he passed away a little more than a year later at age 64, the obituaries were not lengthy.

Gaffney and Essie were spending the summer of 1932 in East Hampton, Long Island. On Sunday, August 12, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and he died on August 17 with his wife and daughter at his side. The New York Times said that he would be buried in Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Gaffney is interred, however, at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester County.

The Commonwealth Realty Trust, acting as trustees on behalf of the Gaffney estate, continued to own Braves Field through early 1949. Essie Gaffney, who lived until 1955, was still one of the stockholders. After owner Lou Perini and his associates moved the Braves to Milwaukee, they sold the facility to Boston University, which renamed it Boston University Field and then Nickerson Field. On November 11, 1995, Gaffney Street was renamed Harry Agganis Way to honor the Red Sox star who died at age 25 in 1955.108

James E. Gaffney’s tenure in baseball was short – just four seasons. Had he stayed on the scene longer, various alternate histories might have unfolded and he could be better remembered today. Maybe the Braves would not have taken a back seat to the Red Sox when Boston was a two-team town. Maybe the Brooklyn Trust Company would not have held the Ebbets estate’s half of the Dodgers . . . and then Walter O’Malley would not have gotten involved with that franchise. However, Robert Fuchs, son of Judge Emil Fuchs, who owned the Braves from 1922 to 1935, summed it up succinctly: “Gaffney knew when to buy and when to sell.”109


This biography is included in "The Miracle Braves of 1914: Boston's Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions" (SABR, 2014), edited by Bill Nowlin.



Thanks to Doreen Mannion, great-great-niece of Jim Gaffney, Eric Costello, and Father Gerald Beirne for their assistance.



Harold Kaese. The Boston Braves, 1871-1953. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004 edition (originally published 1948, 1954): 128-129.

Gaffney family names:

RootsWeb’s WorldConnect Project:

FamilySearch Database:

Gaffney’s middle name:

“Post and Paddock Entries.” Daily Racing Form, June 11, 1931: 15. (1870 and 1880 census information).

Encyclopedia of New York.



1 William A. Phelon. “Sidelights on the New World’s Champions.” Baseball, February 1915: 43.

2 Boston Braves expert Bob Brady says of Braves Field, “A special spur off of the Commonwealth Avenue line was specifically constructed that connected Babcock Street and Gaffney Street through tracks that ran through stadium property with an exclusive ballpark stop. Travelers were dropped off and picked up within the confines of the ballpark’s footprint during game days. I believe that this was a first among the concrete and brick stadia. Whether any of the precursor old wooden ballparks had a similar feature is not within my field of knowledge.” E-mail from Bob Brady to Bill Nowlin and Rory Costello, September 3, 2011. For further detail, see “A Streetcar Named Braves Field.” Boston Braves Historical Association newsletter, Spring 2010.

3 Ira Rosenwaike. Population History of New York City. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1972: 41.

4 “J.E. Gaffney Services to Be Held Tomorrow.” New York Times, August 18, 1932: 19.

5 “J.E. Gaffney Dies at East Hampton.” New York Times, August 17, 1932: 17.

6 “Mrs. Gaffney.” New York Times, June 26, 1904: Magazine-2.

7 Ibid.; Nancy Joan Weiss. Charles Francis Murphy, 1958-1924. Northampton, Massachusetts, Smith College, 1968: 36.

8 Pauline Kael (1985). The Citizen Kane Book. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.

9 Gustavus Myers. The History of Tammany Hall. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1917: 299.

10 Ibid.: 303.

11 “Funeral of Alderman W.H. Murphy.” New York Times, January 11, 1894: 2.

12 “Tammany’s New Boss.” New York Sun, November 10, 1902.

13 “Yielding to Graft.” Boston Evening Transcript, April 29, 1904: 2.

14 “For Aldermen.” New York Times, October 12, 1905: 2.

15 “J.E. Gaffney Services to Be Held Tomorrow.”

16 “Tammany’s New Boss”; Myers, op. cit.: 301.

17 “Alderman Figures in Dock Inquiry.” New York Times, June 26, 1903: 5.

18 “Alderman Indicted in Pier Lease Case.” New York Times, July 22, 1903: 14.

19 “Putting Up Strong Men.” Boston Evening Transcript, September 22, 1903: 9.

20 “Gaffney Charges Dropped.” New York Times, February 17, 1904: 5.

21 Myers, op. cit.: 302.

22 “Alderman Gaffney Indicted.” New-York Tribune, July 22, 1903: 1.

23 Statement by the City Club of New York as to Candidates for Municipal Offices. October 30, 1903: 11.

24 Jill Jonnes. Conquering Gotham: a Gilded Age Epic. New York: Viking, 2007: 157-158.

25 Ibid.: 161.

26 Myers, op. cit.: 318-319.

27 “Priceless Pearl Found.” New York Times, March 22, 1905: 9; “The ‘Bone’ in the Oyster.” Hartford Courant, March 23, 1905: 8.

28 This immensely complex feat of engineering began in August 1903, and the original excavation contractor was O’Rourke Engineering and Construction, which suffered heavy losses and dropped out in 1907. The New York Central Railroad then finished the job over the next six years with its own labor force. Kurt Schlichting. Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Engineering, and Architecture in New York City. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001: 69.

29 “McAdoo Version is Popular.” Public Service, September 1909: 74.

30 “Tammany’s New Boss.”

31 “Mrs. Gaffney”

32 “Seeks Old Picture of ‘Jim’ Gaffney.” New York Times, February 1, 1914: 14.

33 “Boston Bosses.” Sporting Life, December 23, 1911: 7.

34 Edward Mott Woolley. “The Business of Baseball.” McClure’s, Volume 39, May to October 1912: 249-50.

35 “Boston Bosses.” The total purchase price was later reported as $187,000. See also W.S. Farnsworth. “Ward’s Opportunity.” Sporting Life, January 6, 1912: 12.

36 “Brooklyns the First to Score.” The World, April 21, 1904: 2; “St. Louis Squad Scalped by the Boston Braves.” Los Angeles Herald, June 22, 1905: 4.

37 “The Name’s All Right.” Milwaukee Journal, December 20, 1911: 25.

38 Jeffrey P. Powers-Beck. The American Indian Integration of Baseball. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2004: 172.

39 “No Syndicate Ball.” Sporting Life, December 30, 1911: 7.

40 “Tammany’s New Boss.”

41 “Tammany’s New Boss.”

42 “Justifies Pier Leases.” New York Times, August 5, 1903: 14; “Pier Report Favors Gaffney.” Boston Evening Transcript, August 5, 1903: 3.

43 “Boston Bosses.”

44 “Tammany Leader Said to Be Real Owner of Boston.” Pittsburgh Press, December 22, 1911.

45 “No Syndicate Ball.”

46 Woolley, op. cit.: 255.

47 J. C. Isaminger. “Griffith ‘Disloyal.” Sporting Life, October 24, 1914: 16.

48 “Boston Bosses.”

49 Sporting Life, November 26, 1910: 17.

50 Lothrop Stoddard. Master of Manhattan: The Life of Richard Croker. New York Longmans, Green and Co., 1931: 207; “ ‘Big Bill’ Devery Dies of Apoplexy.” New York Times, June 21, 1919: 1.

51 Ibid.: 206.

52 Donald Spivey. Sport in America: New Historical Perspectives. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1985: 109.

53 Tim Murnane. “New Boston Magnates.” Sporting Life, December 30, 1911: 13.

54 “Jim Gaffney Wins Albany Handicap.” New York Times, August 22, 1907: 8.

55 Joe Vila. “Gaffney Death Recalls Ending of Federal War.” New York Sun, August 25, 1932.

56 “Ward’s Opportunity.”

57 “Ward Steps Out.” Sporting Life, August 10, 1912: 4.

58 “Ward’s Winning Way.” Sporting Life, May 11, 1912: 1.

59 Tim Murnane. “The Donlin Transfer.” Sporting Life, February 24, 1912: 3.

60 Robert S. Fuchs and Wayne Soini. Judge Fuchs and the Boston Braves, 1923-1935. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 1998: 73.

61 “Ward’s Tenure.” Sporting Life, July 13, 1912: 1.

62 Vila, op. cit.

63 “Braves’ Boss.” Sporting Life, August 24, 1912: 4.

64 “Boston Budget.” Sporting Life, November 16, 1912: 17.

65 “Boston Braves Ready for the Business of the Next Campaign.” Sporting Life, December 14, 1912: 14.

66 Sporting Life, April 12, 1913: 6; “Stengel's Hitting Lands Close Game,” New York Times, May 2, 1913: 9; Sporting Life, May 3, 1913: 1; Sporting Life, May 17, 1913: 23; Sporting Life, June 14, 1913: 15; Sporting Life, August 2, 1913: 6.

67 “Cubans for the Boston Club.” Sporting Life, August 16, 1913: 10.

68 “Magnates Clash.” Sporting Life, August 16, 913: 1.

69 “Boston Magnate’s Break.” Sporting Life, August 30, 1913: 6.

70 Myers, op. cit.: 361-362.

71 “Murphy And M'call Are Still Silent.” New York Times, October 25, 1913: 2.

72 “Seeks Old Picture of 'Jim' Gaffney.”

73 “Met by Stewart, Gaffney Balks.” New York Times, January 31, 1914: 1.

74 Alice M. Holden. “The Graft Investigations of a Year.” National Municipal Review, Volume III, 1914: 530.

75 “Got None Of $41,250 Graft, Says Gaffney.” New York Times, March 21, 1914: 1.

76 A.H.C. Mitchell. “Boston Braves.” Sporting Life, April 18, 1914: 7.

77 Frank Menke. “Sport Dope.” St. Petersburg (Florida) Evening Independent, October 29, 1914: 6.

78 “Braves Capture World's Series In Four Straight.” New York Times, October 14, 1914: 9.

79 “Owner of Braves Reported to Have Bought Yankees.” Pittsburgh Press, October 1, 1914: 24; “Owner of Braves Sells Club to Buy Yankees.” Chicago Tribune, October 3, 1914: 17.

80 Ralph S. Davis. “Boston’s Triumph Pleases the Fans.” Pittsburgh Press, October 14, 1914: Sports-4.

81 Ibid.

82 Vila, op. cit.

83 W.J. McBeth. “Tired of Lawing.” Sporting Life, November 7, 1914: 6.

84 W.J. McBeth. “Some Gaffney News.” Sporting Life, November 21, 1914: 2.

85 “Trouble at Giants’ Game.” Reading Eagle, April 30, 1915: 16.

86 Francis C. Richter. “Senior League.” Sporting Life, December 23, 1911: 10.

87 “Clipped Tips.” The Day (New London, Connecticut), August 18, 1915: 12.

88 “Griffith to Twirl for Braves Tomorrow.” Lewiston (Maine) Daily Sun, August 17, 1915.

89 “Braves Open New Park and Win.” Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle, August 19, 1915: 10.

90 Vila, op. cit.

91 “Clean Baseball.” Baseball, February 1916: 83.

92 McBeth, “Some Gaffney News.”

93 William A. Phelon. “Baseball History in the Making.” Baseball, March 1916: 18; “Percy Haughton Owner of Braves.” The Day, January 10, 1916: 12.

94 “Braves Sold to Haughton.” Pittsburgh Press, January 9, 1916.

95 E-mail from Gerald Beirne to Rory Costello, September 7, 2011.

96 “One Hit for the Cardinals.” New York Times, April 14, 1916: 10; “Nicknames Given Major Leaguers.” The Day, July 19, 1917: 10.

97 Beirne, Fr. Gerald. “Were the Boston Braves Really Controlled by the Giants and Tammany Hall?” Outside the Lines, SABR’s Business of Baseball Committee newsletter, Fall 2010. E-mail from Gerald Beirne to Rory Costello, September 7, 2011.

98 Vila, op. cit.

99 “James Gaffney Willing to Buy Brooklyn Club.” Hartford Courant, October 12, 1916: 16.

100 “To Increase Price of Bleacher Seats.” New York Times, December 16, 1916: 10.

101 “Gaffney May take Boston Club Again.” Pittsburgh Press, October 14, 1917.

102 “Gaffney Is Possible New Owner of Red Sox.” New York Times, December 23, 1918: 12.

103“Cost Increase of Running Ball Clubs Is Beneficial.” Palm Beach Daily News, February 5, 1923: 1.

104 Ibid.: 4.

105 “Death Takes Second Owner of the Robins.” New York Times, April 30, 1925: 1.

106 “Gaffney Denies Having Graft Fund.” New York Times, October 23, 1910: 16.

107 Bryan Field. “Irene’s Bob First in Juvenile Stakes.” New York Times, May 27, 1931: 39.

108 “Getting His Way.” Boston Globe, November 12, 1995:

109 Fuchs and Soini, op. cit: 26.

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