Robert B. Ward

This article was written by Joel Rippel

Robert B. Ward (National Baseball Hall of Fame)Robert B. Ward didn’t get involved with professional baseball to make money.

Ward, a successful businessman who owned the largest baking company in the United States, got involved with the Federal League after listening to a sales pitch from James Gilmore, the president of the league.

“I never expected to make any fortune in baseball,” said Ward. “No business man, who has been in business as long as I have, is carried off his feet by the visionary schemes of any promoter. Mr. Gilmore had a concrete proposition, and I took it. I took it because I was interested in baseball, had always been interested in baseball. I like the sport above all others. It appeared to me that the time had come when major league baseball might logically expand.”1

Ward was born in New York City on November 11, 1851, two years after his father, Hugh, a master baker, had come to this country from Ireland. When Ward was 5, the family moved to Pittsburgh. Ward started working for his father at a young age, because of a labor shortage during the Civil War. Ward baked cakes and then delivered them to a market to be sold.

After completing his secondary education, Ward attended business college in New York City. He returned to Pittsburgh to work for his father and by the age of 21, he was a foreman for his father, making $18 a week.

“At that time,” said Ward, “My father called me into the office and told me that he thought I was old enough to start in some business for myself. The proposition suited me and as I had accumulated three hundred dollars I was able to buy into a small grocery store. My partner in the enterprise, who was afterward my brother-in-law, decided, when we had been in business together for about three years, that he would like to get married. At the time I entertained a similar ambition. We finally agreed that the business was not large enough to maintain two families and as I had another trade, while he had none, he expressed the opinion that I ought to sell out my interest and go back to my original calling.”2

Ward agreed with his future brother-in-law. In a Pittsburgh newspaper, he found an advertisement for a bakery for sale. The price was $400. He sold his share in the grocery store for $300 and borrowed $100. In early February of 1878 he closed the deal. A little over two months later, he married Mary C. Breining.

That Pittsburgh bakery was eventually so successful, that Ward and his younger brother, George S. Ward, expanded and opened a bakery in Chicago. The success of that bakery led to the Wards opening bakeries in Providence, Boston, Cleveland, and New York.

The move into New York brought innovations to the baking business. Ward invested heavily in a bakery and in machinery that allowed a loaf of bread to be baked without being handled.

The product was advertised with the slogan, “Bread from Baker to Consumer, untouched by the Human Hand.”3

“We have always been liberal advertisers … but if the goods we sell were not of the first quality no amount of advertising would maintain our business,” Ward told Baseball Magazine. “In my day, we kneaded bread in stationary troughs by hand. I myself introduced troughs with casers, which might be rolled from place to place. This was an improvement, but a small one. Later, we hit upon the idea of suspending the troughs from the ceilings and running them on rollers. This is but one of the many ideas which contributed to the revolutionizing of the bread industry.”4

By 1913, Ward’s bakeries had created nearly 250 million loaves of bread. The business had grown a thousand-fold from the first bakery in Pittsburgh.

“‘That little bakery,’ said Ward, “‘had a capacity of fifteen barrels of flour a week. Last year, we used in our business eight hundred thousand barrels of flour.’”5

In February of 1914, Ward met with Gilmore.

“I was at Toronto … visiting a friend, and it so happened that Gilmore was also in the city at the same time. A friend of my son’s knew Mr. Gilmore and introduced us. The next day Mr. Gilmore wished to see me. He outlined his proposition. I said to him ‘Mr. Gilmore, if you will put all your cards on the table and things are as you represent them, I will go into this scheme with you.’ He did as I suggested. I investigated carefully and took the Brooklyn franchise.’”6

A week after their meeting in Toronto, Gilmore officially introduced Ward as the president of the Federal League’s Brooklyn franchise. Gilmore said the team would play at Washington Park, which had been the home of the Brooklyn Superbas before they moved into Ebbets Field in 1913. Gilmore announced that a renovation of the ballpark — paid for by Ward — would add a steel and concrete grandstand seating 18,000 and be ready for beginning of the Federal League season in April. Ward spent a reported $250,000 on the upgrade of the ballpark.

But apparently there were some in Organized Baseball who weren’t impressed. One unnamed owner of an American League team, asked baseball writer F.C. Lane, “what the h— does he know about baseball? Here are men who have spent a lifetime in building up the game, and a rank out-sider, a baker, butts in and tries to get away with a whole major league.”7

Ward told Lane, “I never knew there was any black art about baseball. Judging from some of the men I have met in the profession and the success they have made, I would not say that intelligence of the first order was necessary to a rather complete mastery of the game.

“For myself, I was always interested in baseball more than most things. When I was my father’s foreman and working nights, I always set apart a sum of money to buy a season’s ticket to the old Pittsburgh grounds and attended practically every game of the season. That showed how much interest I used to have in baseball, for money at that time was a distinct object, and I had none too much at my command. Furthermore, I might say I have never ceased to have an interest in the game. I am a member of golf clubs, but the only athletic pursuit in which I have ever had any concern has been baseball. Busy as I have been, I have always appropriated time when I could to go to a ball game.”

“As for my knowledge of baseball, that mysterious thing they talk so much about, I guess I can learn what I don’t know that I need to know. There was a time I didn’t know anything about the bakery business, but I learned; I am not worrying about baseball.”8

Newspaper reporters called Ward’s team the “Tip-Tops,” choosing the name of the most popular brand of bread produced by his bakery. A few critics wondered if Ward was just using the baseball team to advertise his bakery business.

Ward disagreed with that notion.

“I am not in baseball as an advertising business, never was and never will be. … Even if I had tried to ‘play both ends against the middle’ and use baseball to advertise my other business and my other business to advertise baseball, there would be nothing criminal about it. It would be perfectly lawful and perfectly proper and might even be considered good business. But I haven’t done so. My club was nicknamed ‘Tip-Tops’ by the sporting writers. They took the name from my favorite brand of bread, very true, but they did so without my knowledge or without consulting me. As far as I am concerned, I am sorry they did, for it lays me open to some criticism. But a nickname is like a disease. It comes without the consent or knowledge of the person who has it. And once fastened on an individual or a club it is almost impossible to shake off.”9

One thing that Ward was adamant about before he agreed to take over the Brooklyn franchise was that his team wouldn’t play on Sunday.

Ward, a Methodist, said, “I am opposed to the desecration of the Sabbath. Those are my convictions and whatever example I can set along those lines will be set. I care nothing what a man’s religion may be, so long as he is true to his particular faith. That is merely what I am trying to do. Perhaps my belief has cost me money. I have been told that it has. But I have noticed as the years go by that I have seemed to get ahead as fast as the rest. So I guess I will stick to my old principles.”10

The 1914 season started off slowly for the Tip-Tops. In late June they were struggling with a 24-32 record and were in seventh place in the eight-team league. But the Tip-Tops regrouped by winning 18 of their next 21 games and by early September had moved into third place, 3½ games behind first-place Indianapolis. But the Tip-Tops slumped, losing seven of their next eight. From September 10 until the end of the season on October 10, the Tip-Tops won just 11 of 30 games as they finished in fifth place with a 77-77-3 record.

Shortly after the end of the 1914 season, a newspaper report said that Ward had “received overtures from ‘organized baseball’ to purchase the (New York) Yankees from Frank Farrell.”11

Ward’s brother George said that “organized ball had approached the Federal League with the idea of making a peace compact before next season. This offer to sell the Yankees to the Federals, was one of the first steps in this direction.”12

Farrell said, “[T]he report is without a grain of truth. My club is not on the market at any price.”13

In November, a newspaper recap of a gathering of several National League team owners said, “It was stated by a man who is supposed to be in pretty close touch with the baseball situation that yesterday’s informal meeting had for its object the sale of the (Philadelphia) Phillies to the Ward brothers. This rumor was spiked by both [Pennsylvania Gov. John] Tener and [Phillies owner] William F. Baker.”14

The 1915 season was a roller-coaster for the Tip-Tops. After a 28-24 start, they lost 21 of 24 games between June 17 and July 10 to fall 14 games under .500 (31-45). A 10-game winning streak in early September improved their record to 67-69. But the Tip-Tops closed the season by losing 13 of their last 16 games to finish with a 70-82 record — in seventh place, 16½ games behind first-place Pittsburgh.

Less than three weeks after the end of the 1915 season, Ward died on October 18 at his home in New Rochelle, New York, from heart failure. A week earlier, he had been stricken with neuritis and rheumatism. His death came less than a month before his 64th birthday. He was survived by his wife and his nine children. At the time of his death he was a vice president of two banks in Pittsburgh, a director of the Franklin Savings and Trust Company, and a trustee of American University in Washington, D.C. His estate was estimated at $5 million (an estimated $122 million in 2018).15

“As vice-president of the Federal League, Mr. Ward insisted that the great and small of the organization should stand or fall together,” the New York Sun commented. “It is said that certain of his associates were ready to make peace by buying into organized baseball clubs, but that Mr. Ward insisted upon full protection for the operators of the struggling clubs, who would in that case have been left out in the cold.”16

Ward was credited by the New York Tribune as “the man who put the Federal League on its feet when it was about to expire because of a lack of funds.” The Tribune added, “Mr. Ward, always a baseball fan, went into the work enthusiastically, carrying nearly $1,000,000 with him, and but for his wealth and his fighting spirit the independent league would have perished. Mr. Ward owned stock in clubs other than Brooklyn. He is said to have backed the Buffalo Feds and to have been interested in the Pittsburgh team. His character gave the independents a great deal of prestige. Baseball had no more honorable magnate. He always insisted that the business of his team be conducted with absolute fairness.”17

The Tribune cited as an example of this how Ward handled a situation during the 1914-15 offseason. Ward reportedly offered New York Giants left-hander (and future Hall of Famer) Rube Marquard, who had won 85 games in the previous four seasons, a $10,000 contract.

“He signed Rube Marquard, of the Giants, last winter, after Marquard had made an affidavit that he had no binding contract with the New York club. As soon as Mr. Ward learned that Marquard had misstated conditions (Marquard was under contract with the Giants for two more seasons), the pitcher was turned back to organized baseball.”18

Two months after Ward’s death, it appeared that Organized Baseball and the Federal League had reached an agreement. As part of the agreement, the Tribune noted, “the Brooklyn Tip-Tops will withdraw from Washington Park, leaving the site barren of baseball and the city (Brooklyn) in the hands of the Superbas. Organized baseball will reimburse George S. Ward annually with 5 percent of the assessed value of Washington Park for 20 years.”19

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Newspapers.com, and Retrosheet.org.

Notes

1 F.C. Lane, “Famous Magnates of the Federal League — R.B. Ward, the Master Baker, Vice-President of the Feds,” Baseball Magazine, July 1915: 24.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 “Yankees Not for Sale at Any Price,” New York Times, October 20, 1914: 11.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 “National League Spikes All Talk of Peace,” New York Sun, November 21, 1914: 13.

15 After Ward’s death, the company continued to grow. In 1921 William Ward, his grandson, took over the company. In 1925 he renamed the company Continental Baking Company. The company then acquired Taggart Baking Company, the maker of Wonder Bread. In the early 1930s, the company introduced a cake product called Hostess Twinkies.

16 “Robert B. Ward Is Dead at 64 years,” New York Sun, October 19, 1915: 9.

17 “Robert B. Ward Dies Suddenly,” New York Tribune, October 19, 1915: 5.

18 Ibid.

19 Frank O’Neill, “Some Snags in Way of a Baseball Peace,” New York Tribune, December 18, 1915: 16.

Full Name

Ward

Born

November 11, 1851 at New York City, New York (United States)

Died

October 18, 1915 at New Rochelle, New York (United States)

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