This article was written by Daniel R. Levitt
Most famous for his wildly successful tenure in the New York Yankees front office from 1920 through 1945, Ed Barrow left his mark on the Deadball Era as well. Though he never played a game of professional baseball, the ubiquitous Barrow was a key participant in the careers of countless players and a major actor in many of the era’s biggest controversies. The man who scouted Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner, moved Babe Ruth from the pitcher’s mound to the outfield, and managed the Red Sox to their last world championship of the 20th century also experimented with night baseball as early as 1896, helped Harry Stevens get his lucrative concessions business off the ground, and led an unsuccessful campaign to form a third major league with teams from the International League and American Association. In his official capacities, he served as field manager for both major and minor league teams, owned several minor league franchises, and served as league president for the Atlantic League (1897-1899) and the International League (1911-1917).
Hot-tempered and autocratic, over the years Barrow crossed swords with Kid Elberfeld, Frank Navin, Babe Ruth, and Carl Mays, among many others. Harry Frazee, owner of the Red Sox during Barrow’s managerial tenure with the club, jokingly referred to his skipper as “Simon,” after Simon Legree, the infamous slave-driver from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. “Big, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, dark-haired and bushy-browed, [Barrow] had been through the rough-and-tumble days of baseball,” Frank Graham later wrote. “Forceful, outspoken, afraid of nobody, he had been called upon many times to fight, and the record is that nobody ever licked him.”
Edward Grant Barrow was born on May 10, 1868, in Springfield, Illinois, the first of four sons of Effie Ann Vinson-Heller and John Barrow. John and Effie met in Ohio after the Civil War, and the young couple decided to head west for the greener land-grant pastures of Nebraska; Edward’s birth came during that arduous journey.
The Nebraska land the Barrows settled proved unproductive, and the family left for Iowa after six bleak years.
The family finally put down roots near Des Moines. At 16, Ed went to work as the mailing clerk for a local paper, and when later promoted to city circulator, Barrow found himself in charge of the newsboys. A large, strapping, generally good-natured but hot-tempered lad who had some ability as a boxer, Barrow surely had the right attributes for his new job. A baseball enthusiast as well, Barrow pitched on a town team, but his playing career quickly ended when he critically injured his arm pitching in a cold rain. His baseball spirit remained intact, however, and he soon organized and promoted his own town teams. After accepting a more senior position at another paper, Barrow discovered future Hall of Fame outfielder Fred Clarke among his newsboys and recruited him for his ballclub.
After a brief foray into the sale of cleaning products and time as a hotel clerk, in 1895 Barrow returned to baseball when he bought into the Wheeling franchise in the Inter-State League. At mid-season when the league collapsed Barrow moved his franchise into the Iron & Oil League. Baseball management now in his blood, Barrow acquired (with a partner) the Paterson, New Jersey franchise in the Atlantic League for 1896. Just after his acquisition of the Paterson club, Barrow signed the player he would later call the greatest of all-time, Honus Wagner. The following year, Barrow sold Wagner to the major league Louisville club for $2,100, a high price for the time.
The contentious Atlantic League elected Barrow as president for 1897, and for the next three years until the league folded after the 1899 season, Barrow oversaw the inter-owner squabbles, dealt with numerous player disputes, and managed the umpires. As league president during the Spanish-American War, he championed a number of marketing gimmicks to help keep the fan’s interest: he brought in a woman, Lizzie Stroud (she played under last name Arlington) to pitch in exhibition games and heavyweight champions John L. Sullivan and James Jeffries to umpire. Another heavyweight, Jim Corbett, often played first base in exhibitions, mostly in 1897.
For 1900, Barrow purchased a one-quarter interest in the Toronto franchise in the Eastern League and became its manager. With little inherited talent, Barrow brought the club home fifth in his first year. Barrow acquired some better players for the next season, including hurler Nick Altrock, and finished second. Despite losing a number of players to the fledgling American League, Barrow’s club captured the pennant in 1902.
With the tragic suicide of new skipper Win Mercer in January 1903, Detroit Tigers owner Sam Angus hired Barrow as manager on the recommendation of AL president Ban Johnson. Bolstered by two contract jumpers from the NL, pitcher Bill Donovan and outfielder Sam Crawford, Barrow brought the team in fifth, a 13-game improvement over the previous year. In one of the year’s most notorious controversies, Barrow was forced to suspend star shortstop Kid Elberfeld in June after some outlandishly lackadaisical play. The St. Louis Browns were actively tampering with Elberfeld and encouraging him to maneuver for his release. The Giants, too, were likely interfering with the unhappy Elberfeld. Barrow claimed he would see Elberfeld out of baseball before sending him to one of these two teams, and charged “that in three of the last six games lost to St. Louis, Elberfeld made a muff fumble or wild throw at the moment of a critical stage.” Ban Johnson intervened and engineered a trade of Elberfeld to the new AL franchise in New York.
After the season, Angus sold the franchise to William Yawkey after first offering it to Barrow and Frank Navin. The latter, soon promoted to secretary-treasurer, ingratiated himself with Yawkey, becoming his right-hand man. Barrow continued his effort to improve the club by adding several players that would contribute to the Tigers pennant four years later. Not surprisingly, however, Navin and Barrow, both young and ambitious, could not co-exist; with the Tigers at 32-46 Navin gladly accepted Barrow’s resignation.
Following his stint in Detroit, Barrow began a two-year odyssey managing in the high minors. Montreal, in the Eastern League, recruited Barrow right after his resignation to come finish out the 1904 season as their manager. For 1905 he was hired by Indianapolis in the American Association, and 1906 found him back in Toronto. Disheartened with his baseball career after his first-ever last-place finish that year, Barrow left baseball to run Toronto’s Windsor Hotel.
Four years later in 1910, Montreal offered Barrow the manager’s post and a chance to get back into baseball. Barrow happily accepted, and after the season he was elected league president. In recognition of the two Canadian franchises, Barrow persuaded the Eastern League to change its name to the International League (IL) prior to the 1912 season.
In January 1912, Barrow married Fannie Taylor Briggs whom he had met in Toronto many years earlier. It was the second marriage for both and would last until Barrow’s death many years later. Fannie brought her five-year-old daughter, Audrey, into the union, and Barrow raised her as his own. In his many autobiographical writings, Barrow never mentioned his first wife, whom he had married in 1898.
When the Federal League (FL) challenged Organized Baseball as a self-declared major league in 1914, the most severe hardship fell upon the high minors, particularly Barrow’s IL, which lost numerous players to the upstart league. The FL also placed teams in the IL’s two largest markets, Buffalo and Baltimore, significantly affecting attendance. To better position the IL for the struggle, Barrow tried to obtain major league status for his league or some eight-team amalgamation of the IL and the other affected high minor league, the American Association. Not surprisingly, nothing ever came of these efforts.
After holding the league together through the difficult 1914 season, 1915 proved even more challenging. The FL invaded Newark as well, and with Canada now fully engaged in the World War, the Toronto and Montreal franchises operated under wartime conditions. Before and during the season, moves and rumors of moves of IL franchises dominated league business. The financial strain forced the Jersey City and Newark (transferred to Harrisburg) owners to forfeit their franchises to the league, leaving Barrow to run both clubs until new owners could be found.
With the collapse of the FL after 1915, the IL received a brief respite in 1916. In 1917, however, America also entered the First World War, bringing financial hardship back to many of the beleaguered franchises. Barrow again battled to keep his league from folding, while at the same time striving to create a third major league of four IL and four AA franchises. After four extremely difficult years, a number of disagreements and bad feelings had developed between the authoritarian Barrow and several franchise owners, particularly those left out of the third major league scheme. When the owners voted to drastically cut his salary from $7,500 to $2,500, Barrow resigned. For 1918, he eagerly accepted the Boston Red Sox managerial post offered by owner Harry Frazee.
The Red Sox were less affected by war losses than most teams, and Barrow successfully guided the club to the pennant despite a showdown with his star player Babe Ruth in July. Earlier in the year, on the advice of outfielder Harry Hooper, Barrow had shifted Ruth to the outfield to take full advantage of his offensive potential. But when hurler Dutch Leonard left the team due to the war, Barrow looked to Ruth to pitch. Ruth begged off due to a sore wrist. The tension between the two erupted in July when Barrow chastised Ruth after swinging at a pitch after being given the take sign. When Ruth snapped back, the argument escalated, and Ruth left the club and returned to Baltimore, threatening to join a shipbuilding team. Ruth of course soon realized he’d gone too far and wanted to come back. Hooper and Frazee helped mediate and appease the furious, stubborn Barrow. The chastened Ruth ended up pitching a number of games down the stretch. Owing to complications from the war, in mid-year the season was shortened and adjusted to end on Labor Day, at which point the Sox found themselves 2 1/2 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians. In the World Series, the Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs, four games to two.
Falling attendance and much lower receipts than anticipated from the World Series put additional financial burdens on Frazee. He now became a seller rather than buyer and sent three players to the Yankees for $25,000 prior to the 1919 season. During the year, Barrow became embroiled in two player controversies. The Babe spent the start of the season living the high life in Ruthian fashion beyond even his own standard. One morning on a tip, Barrow burst into Ruth’s room at 6 a.m. right after the latter had snuck back in and caught Ruth hiding under the covers with his clothes on. The next morning in the clubhouse, Ruth confronted and threatened to punch Barrow for popping into his room. Barrow, well tired of Ruth’s shenanigans, ordered the rest of the players onto the field and challenged Ruth to back up his threat. Ruth backed down, put on his uniform, and trotted out with the others. Barrow and Ruth eventually reached an unconventional detente: Ruth would leave a note for Barrow any time he returned past curfew with the exact time he came in.
The other hullabaloo began when star Boston pitcher Carl Mays refused to retake the mound after a throw by catcher Wally Schang to catch a base stealer grazed Mays’ head. Barrow intended to suspend the dour Mays, until Frazee quickly quashed any suspension so as to possibly trade him. After listening to several offers, Frazee sold Mays to the Yankees for $40,000. AL President Johnson voided the sale and suspended Mays, arguing Frazee should have suspended him. In contrast to his Elberfeld machinations, Johnson now argued that a player should not be able force a favorable outcome through insubordination. The Yankee owners went to the courts, which upheld the sale. Boston finished the 1919 season tied for fifth, 20 1/2 games back.
That off-season, when Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees, Barrow grimly told him, “You ought to know you’re making a mistake.” Frazee tried to placate Barrow by promising him that he would get some players in return for Ruth, but Barrow snapped back, “There is nobody on that ball club that I want. This has to be a straight cash deal, and you’ll have to announce it that way.” Yankee owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston paid $100,000–$25,000 down and three installments of $25,000–and Ruppert agreed to personally lend Frazee $300,000 to be secured by a mortgage on Fenway Park.
Frazee desperately needed the money. When Frazee purchased the Red Sox in 1916, he and his partner paid Joseph Lannin $400,000 down and assumed $600,000 in debt and preferred stock, including a $262,000 note from Lannin. With the Federal League war over, Frazee assumed he could pay the interest and principal out of the team’s cash flow. Attendance, though, collapsed in 1917 and 1918, and Frazee could not afford to carry both his ball club and his theater productions.
By the end of 1919, Frazee’s financial situation had become particularly acute. The principal on Lannin’s note was due, and Frazee was in the process of purchasing a theater in New York (the sale price of the theater is unavailable, but it cost $500,000 to build). Shortly after the Ruth sale, Frazee pleaded with the Yankee owners to help him borrow against the three $25,000 notes because he needed the money immediately. He further implored Ruppert to advance the funds from the promised mortgage loan quickly. With the money from the Ruth sale Frazee could meet his immediate financial obligations but showed little interest in reinvesting in his ball club.
The death of Yankee business manager Harry Sparrow during the 1920 season created an opportunity for the two sparing Yankee owners to bring in a strong experienced baseball man to run the team and thus help alleviate the friction between them. After a third-place Yankee finish in 1920, Huston and Ruppert plucked Barrow from Boston to run the baseball operation, technically as business manager, but practically in a de facto general manager-type role. While not technically a promotion, Barrow must have been relieved to escape a deteriorating situation in Boston to join well-capitalized, competitive owners.
One of his first orders of business was to hire Red Sox coach Paul Krichell as a scout. Krichell would actually outlast Barrow as a Yankee, and along the way develop one of baseball’s best scouting organizations. Barrow also quickly reassured manager Miller Huggins of his support despite Huston’s known aversion to his diminutive skipper: “You’re the manager, and you’ll not be second guessed by me. Your job is to win; mine is to get you the players you need to win.” And Barrow lived up to his half of the bargain: he found the necessary players and he did not interfere with his manager.
Forceful and competitive, yet optimistic by nature, Barrow actively sought to solidify his new club. At first this mainly involved going back to his old boss Frazee with Ruppert’s money and acquiring the rest of Boston’s stars. Yankee co-owner Ruppert was willing to spend money to acquire players when many other owners were not, despite the threat to his livelihood as a brewer from Prohibition. With his owners’ encouragement, Barrow spent more, and more wisely, to build the Yankee dynasty.
In Barrow’s first season at the Yankee helm, New York won its first pennant before losing to the Giants in the World Series. After the season, Ruth left on an off-season barnstorming tour in defiance of an old rule and Commissioner Landis’s warning. Barrow needed to aggressively lobby the furious Commissioner to limit the Babe’s suspension to the first 50 days of the 1922 season.
After the 1922 season, Barrow had to referee a disagreement between his two owners. Huston blamed manager Huggins for the World Series loss and wanted to fire him. Ruppert (and Barrow) supported Huggins, and Barrow helped instigate a relatively amicable solution: Ruppert would buy out Huston’s interest in the franchise. When Ruppert purchased Huston’s 50 percent ownership for $1.25 million, he allowed Barrow to buy a 10 percent interest in the club for around $300,000.
In 1923, the team opened Yankee Stadium, one of the great ballparks of American history. Several years earlier the New York Giants had informed the Yankees’ owners that they were no longer welcome to remain as tenants in the Polo Grounds (the Giants stadium). Ruppert and Huston then initiated a site search for a new stadium. Business manager Barrow played a subsidiary but active role in this politically sensitive project.
Bolstered by the nucleus of the team Barrow had managed in Boston, the Yankees won their first World Championship in 1923. The Yankees’ three straight pennants after Barrow joined the team foreshadowed the effectiveness of the Ruppert-Barrow team. The perfectionist Ruppert provided the capital and positive reinforcement to support Barrow’s own competitive desire and competence. Barrow proved able to impose his will on the Yankee front office to direct his team-building plans. And due to his good judgment, these were typically sound.
By 1925 the Yankees had fallen to seventh. Ruth’s illness and antics made the year especially frustrating. Barrow began the season by extricating an incapacitated Ruth–he had succumbed to his world-famous “stomach ache”–through the window of a train car. Later in the year Huggins fined Ruth the then exorbitant sum of $5,000 after a confrontation regarding his off-field self-indulgence and tardiness to the ballpark. Ruth threatened to quit unless Huggins backed down, but Barrow stood behind his manager.
The team returned to the top of the AL in 1926 behind a number of young stars including future Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, and Tony Lazzeri. The world champion 1927 ball club is considered by many to be the greatest team of all-time. Ruth and Gehrig were at the top of their game, and the club boasted a crack pitching staff as well. The Yankees repeated in 1928 despite a summer charge from the Philadelphia A’s.
Huggins died at the end of the 1929 season, and the club fell to second. At a game in May, two people died and many more were injured when fans tried to exit the right-field bleachers during a rainstorm. Barrow publicly defended the safety rules at Yankee stadium and showed little sympathy for the trampled fans amid accusations that particular doors were improperly locked. After a drawn-out legal process, the Yankees were eventually found partially liable, but damages were reduced well below what the injured plaintiffs were seeking.
To replace Huggins, Barrow eventually settled for his third choice, former Yankee pitcher Bob Shawkey. After Shawkey brought the team home third, a frustrated Barrow jettisoned Shawkey in favor Joe McCarthy. McCarthy proved a brilliant choice and would go to win seven World Series with the Yankees.
By 1932, after paying $125,000 for minor leaguers Lyn Lary and Jimmie Reese, neither of whom turned into stars, the success of the Cardinals minor league operation, and changes to the player limit and option rules, the Yankees recognized that they needed to develop a farm system. Following the acquisition of the Newark International League franchise, the club hired another future Hall of Fame executive, George Weiss, to run it. Barrow actually wanted to hire Bob Connery of the St. Paul Saints with whom the Yankees had a long relationship, but Ruppert insisted on Weiss. Barrow and Weiss soon fell into a smooth working relationship and created one of baseball’s most efficient farm systems. Krichell’s wide network of scouts fed Weiss’ well-run minor league clubs to produce some of the greatest teams in minor league history and several Hall of Fame ballplayers.
In McCarthy’s second season, on the back of one last hurrah from Ruth and a typically great season by Gehrig, the Yankees again won the World Series. Over the next three seasons, however, the Yankees could not recapture the pennant. The clubhouse atmosphere was further eroded by an aging and dispirited Ruth. Frustrated by his declining skills and salary, Ruth desperately wanted to manage the Yankees, causing anxiety for McCarthy and a headache for Barrow. Barrow shrewdly engineered a move of Ruth to the Boston Braves, temporarily soothing Ruth and preventing the public relations nightmare of a disgruntled Ruth in New York.
Armed with a recommendation from his excellent scouts, in late 1934 Barrow took a chance on young west-coast star Joe DiMaggio despite a knee injury. The future Hall of Famer spent one final season in San Francisco before debuting with the Yankees in 1936. With DiMaggio on board and several other prospects emerging as well, the Yankees began another run of dominance as they won the next four World Series and seven of the next eight pennants.
During the Yankees string of titles, an incident in Chicago testified to the racism and race insensitivity in mainstream America. Before a July game in 1938, Yankee outfielder Jake Powell was asked on the radio how he kept in shape over the winter. “Oh, that’s easy, I’m a policeman,” Powell replied, “and I beat N______ over the head with my blackjack.” When first publicized, the baseball establishment, the mainstream press, and Yankee management (including Barrow) were little exercised by this remark. The Black press, however, jumped on this egregious, racist remark and argued that Powell and his comments should be censured. Barrow tried to mitigate the fallout with the Yankees Black fans by ordering Powell on an apology tour of Black newspapers and establishments. In a reflection of their growing clout, Landis suspended Powell for ten days. Unfortunately the lesson the baseball establishment and mainstream press learned form this sorry episode was simply that players should be more careful when speaking on the radio.
Ruppert died in 1939, and his will left the team (along with his other holdings) to a trust for the benefit of his two nieces and a young female friend. As expected, the trust named Barrow the new Yankees president; he had reached the pinnacle of his baseball career. His autonomy, particularly in financial matters, however, was limited by the estate tax requirement that tied up much of the team’s capital.
After the 1939 season, Barrow further found himself hamstrung in his team building efforts because of a startling rule introduced by his American League rivals. He lacked the political skill necessary to counter the anti-Yankee sentiment, and at the winter meetings the league passed a rule prohibiting the league champion from making trades (unless the player(s) cleared waivers) until it was no longer the champion. Clearly (but not publicly) directed at the Yankees after their four straight pennants, the decree seemingly achieved its unspoken objective as the Tigers broke the Yankees streak and won the 1940 pennant.
Barrow’s Yankees returned to the top in 1941 and continued to win during the first years of World War II with generally the same players (until they went into the military, of course) as during the late 1930s. But the replenishment of young stars slowed through this period. Naturally the war claimed healthy young men, but a couple other factors were at work as well. The push to the background of all non-military related activities during World War II leveled the economic playing field in baseball. In addition, the Yankees were now run as a trust, not as wealthy sportsman’s hobby, cutting into the franchise’s financial flexibility.
In early 1945, the Yankees were sold to a triumvirate of Larry MacPhail, Del Webb, and Dan Topping. Barrow disliked the flashy MacPhail and tried to interest his hunting buddy and Boston owner Tom Yawkey in purchasing the club. The trust, however, needed money to pay its taxes, and the war-depressed sale price of only $2.8 million was well below the pre-war value estimate. Selling to an old rival and receiving no more for his interest than he originally paid 20 years earlier must have greatly annoyed Barrow. After the sale, the new ownership kicked Barrow upstairs with a title of chairman of the board, but it was a purely symbolic position.
Barrow’s daughter Audrey lived an unhappy and unlucky life. She was first married in the mid 1920s and shortly thereafter she had two children, a girl and a boy. Unfortunately, thenceforth her life began to spiral downhill. In 1933, her husband committed suicide by running his car in a closed garage under the house. In the process, he nearly asphyxiated the two children as well. A young mother with two young children, Audrey fell back on her parents for financial support.
In 1940, Audrey remarried an older man, but it didn’t take, and less than three years later she moved out to Reno to get a Nevada divorce. Shortly thereafter she married the nephew of the late Jacob Ruppert. Her new husband promptly joined the air force and headed off to WWII, leaving Audrey and her two children in their new waterfront home not far from the Barrows. Sadly, this marriage didn’t last either. In the late 1940’s, Audrey tried marriage one more time and wedded an executive at a real estate agency. Tragically, in 1950 her fourth husband died at home from a heart ailment. A year later a despondent Audrey jumped (or fell) to her death from her 11th floor suite.
Barrow officially retired in 1946 but remained fairly active in baseball. He participated in several ceremonial events and served on the Hall of Fame old-timers committee, the body responsible for inducting players passed over by the baseball writers or excluded from their purview. Barrow survived a heart attack during the 1943 World Series, but in December 1953 at age 85 Barrow passed away after several years at home in ill health, just three months after his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
This biography was consolidated from Dan Levitt’s book Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees First Dynasty (University of Nebraska Press, 2008). Please contact the press at: http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu.