This article was written by Bill Lamb
This article was published in the Team Ownership History Project
New York Giants manager John McGraw, left, and team owner Charles Stoneham in the early 1920s. (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)
The New York-San Francisco Giants baseball club is among the most storied franchises in the annals of professional sport. To fans, mention of the club’s name promptly evokes images of Willie Mays, Christy Mathewson, Barry Bonds, John McGraw, Mel Ott, Juan Marichal, and other towering figures in the game. Over the decades, the talents of these and other headliners have propelled the Giants to 23 National League pennants, eight world championships, and more game victories than any other team in major league history.[fn]According to statistics compiled through the completion of the 2017 season by Baseball-Reference.com, the Giants’ win total of 11,015 exceeds that of the second-best Chicago Cubs by 112 victories.[/fn] This essay focuses upon the endeavors of less-celebrated but no-less-vital contributors to franchise success: the club’s owners, presidents, and other front office executives. Largely by means of biographical portrait, we chronicle the founding of the club in Manhattan in early 1883 and recall its management history, financial ups-and-downs, and ballpark problems through the visionary, if locally traumatic, relocation of the franchise to the City by the Bay in 1958. We begin this saga, however, with a man who was neither New Yorker nor San Franciscan, club founder John B. Day.
John B. Day
Despite being the nation’s largest metropolis, its business and financial center, and a hotbed of 19th century baseball, the City of New York did not host a team in the first professional baseball league, the National Association of 1871-1875. Nor did the City have an entry when the National League was formed in 1876, as the club commonly known as the New York Mutuals made its home in Brooklyn, then a city separate and distinct from New York and America’s third-most populous municipality.[fn]For most of the 19th century, the City of New York consisted solely of Manhattan, until expanded by annexation of adjoining parts of the west Bronx in 1874. Brooklyn and the other outer boroughs of the current city were not incorporated into New York until 1898.[/fn]
The man who would bring major league baseball to the city proper was a Connecticut cigar manufacturer and avid amateur ballplayer recently arrived in Manhattan for business purposes. His name was John Bailey Day.
Day was born in Colchester, Connecticut on September 23, 1847, the third of five children born to a prosperous Yankee farmer and his wife.[fn]For a more detailed account of Day’s life, see the John B. Day profile on the SABR BioProject website at sabr.org/bioproj/person/c281a493[/fn]. After graduation from prep school in Bridgeport, Day went into the cigar manufacturing business with his brother-in-law Charles P. Abbey. The Abbey & Day firm flourished, with production and wholesale outlets soon placed in several Connecticut locations. In time, the business expanded to New York, opening a large tobacco processing plant on lower eastside Manhattan. To oversee the new operation, Day took up offices near the financial district, while making his home in a Fifth Avenue mansion. He also joined Tammany Hall, the corrupt political organization that controlled the Democratic Party in New York City.
From an early age, Day had been a baseball enthusiast, fancying himself a pitcher. Once in New York, he organized and played on various amateur nines in and around the city. This led to a fateful encounter with Jim Mutrie, an unaccomplished player in assorted New England circuits then at loose ends in Manhattan. Mutrie had energy, a keen eye for baseball talent, and considerable organizational ability. According to popular lore, Mutrie approached Day after coming upon a mid-summer 1880 game in which the wanna-be hurler took a pounding. Pioneer baseball journalist Henry Chadwick, however, maintained that the Day-Mutrie meeting had not been happenstance, but prearranged by the New York baseball press.[fn]The circumstances of the Day-Mutrie meeting are more fully explored in the BioProject profile of Jim Mutrie by 19th Century Committee chairman Peter Mancuso at sabr.org/bioproj/person/430838fd[/fn] Whichever the case, Day quickly accepted a Mutrie offer to scout, sign, and manage a top-flight baseball team for Day, if the well-heeled capitalist would bear the costs. In short order, Mutrie stocked the roster of this new team — formally named the Metropolitan of New York — with first-rate players, many of whom were members of the Unions of Brooklyn or the recently disbanded Rochester Hop-Bitters.
On September 16, 1880, the Mets made a successful debut, defeating the Unions 15-3 on the grounds of the Brooklyn club. Although home playing grounds for the Mets were available elsewhere, Day had his heart set on basing his club in Manhattan. By 1880, however, space in the lower portion of New York ample enough for the erection of a ballpark had long since been gobbled up by tenement housing and commercial buildings. But grounds were available in farther north Manhattan, and soon Day has his eye on an expanse of open field in an affluent neighborhood located just above Central Park. Owned by James Gordon Bennett Jr., the socialite-sportsman editor of the New York Herald, the grounds had been laid out for polo matches among the athletic rich, but were otherwise available for sporting use. On September 29, 1880, professional baseball was inaugurated at the “Polo Grounds,” with a Mets victory over the Nationals of Washington before a throng of some 1,000 spectators.[fn]In a first-person newspaper article published years later, Day recalled his anxiety when the Nationals were late arriving and spectators grew restive at the prospect of seeing the Mets play a pick-up team instead. See “John B. Day Tells of Bitter Hour,” New York Times, February 6, 1916.[/fn]
Playing an assortment of local semipro, college, and amateur nines thereafter, the Mutrie-managed Mets completed an abbreviated first campaign with a commendable 16-7-1 log, which included a 15-6 triumph over Manhattan College in which club owner Day had hurled a complete game. With this modest taste of success, Day was smitten with baseball club ownership and eager to move on to bigger things.
To underwrite his ambitions for the team, Day incorporated the Metropolitan Exhibition Company (MEC), with himself as president and principal stockholder. Tammany Hall cohorts Joseph Gordon[fn]Reminiscing in the early 1950s, Blanche McGraw described Gordon as Day’s brother-in-law. See Mrs. John L. McGraw with Arthur Mann, The Real McGraw (New York: David McKay Company, 1953), 170. A diligently researched history of the early Giants does the same. See James D. Hardy, Jr., The New York Giants Base Ball Club: The Growth of a Team and a Sport, 1870 to 1900 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1995), 32. But genealogical inquiry controverts the notion that Day and Gordon were anyway related. The two were simply friends whose wives shared a common maiden name: Davis.[/fn], Charles T. Dillingham, and Walter S. Appleton were enlisted as minority MEC shareholders and served with Day on the corporation’s board of directors. But in actuality, John B. was in full and unilateral control of club affairs. Once he had secured a long-term lease to the playing field from Bennett, Day began construction of a spacious grandstand and other seating accommodations at the Polo Grounds. Located on 110th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the new ballpark was an immediate hit with baseball fans, if not with neighborhood residents.
Again piloted by Mutrie, the 1881 Mets played a mixed Eastern Championship League/freelance schedule of 151 games, including 60 contests against National League competition. At season’s end, the team’s decent 18-42 performance against the NL prompted the organizers of the rival American Association to offer Day a place in their new major league. But for the time being, Day declined. The 1882 Mets schedule would again consist of a mix of games against major league opposition and local nines. And again, the Mets would play the professionals tough, winning 29 of 74 contests against NL foes while taking all but one game against teams of the fledgling AA.
In 1883, John B. Day entered the ranks of major league team owners — and in a grand way. To some surprise, Day declined an invitation to place the Mets in the National League, the longer-established and more prestigious of the two major circuits. Rather, the Mets joined the American Association, with Mutrie continuing as field manager and MEC stockholder/director Gordon appointed team president. Thereafter, Day boldly announced that an entirely new MEC-owned ball club would be placed in the National League. The nucleus of this team, originally called the Gothams, or simply the New-Yorks, would consist of budding stars like catcher Buck Ewing, first baseman Roger Connor, and pitcher Mickey Welch, plucked from the roster of the recently liquidated NL Troy Trojans. Standout Providence Grays pitcher-infielder John Montgomery Ward would also be wearing a Gothams uniform, while the remainder of the squad would be formed from free agents, cast-offs, and other nonentities. Veteran backstop-manager John Clapp would do the on-field direction, while Day himself would serve as Gothams team president.
To accommodate the two major league teams that would be using the Polo Grounds, a second diamond with separate grandstand was laid on the property. As accorded with its preferred status as Day’s team, the NL Gothams were given the established field on the southeast corner of the Polo Grounds, while the Mets were consigned to a new, landfill-based playing surface situated on the southwest quadrant.[fn]Philip J. Lowry, Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of Major League and Negro League Ballparks (New York: Walker & Co., 3rd ed., 2006), 148.[/fn] When the Gothams and Mets played home games simultaneously, the two diamonds were separated by only a temporary canvas fence, an awkward arrangement that occasionally required outfielders from one league to chase long hit balls onto the field of a rival circuit.[fn]Authorities disagree on just how often such competing Gothams-Mets games were played at the Polo Grounds. For more, see Stew Thornley, Land of the Giants: New York’s Polo Grounds (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), 16-20.[/fn] Differences in standing between the two MEC teams were reflected in the gate, as well. The carriage trade sought by Day for the Gothams was charged 50 cents general admission, while the working classes cultivated by the Mets got in for a quarter. Potent liquid refreshment, however, was available at each venue, Day defying the league-wide ban on alcohol sales at NL games.
The aspirations of the MEC brain trust were confounded in 1883. Behind the stellar pitching of 41-game winner Tim Keefe, a Troy acquisition whom management had deemed unworthy of a Gothams’ roster spot, and the astute generalship of Mutrie, the Mets finished a respectable fourth (54-42) in the AA race. The Gothams, meanwhile, could do no better than sixth (46-50) in NL standings. Club president Day took mild consolation in the fact that his club had drawn more patrons (75,000) to the Polo Grounds than had the Mets (50,000), but neither club was near the fan attraction of their respective league leaders (NL: Boston Beaneaters, 128,968; AA: Philadelphia Athletics, 305,000).[fn]Club attendance figures for the 1883 through 1889 seasons have been taken from Total Baseball, John Thorn, Pete Palmer, and Michael Gershman, eds. (Kingston, New York: Total Sports Publishing, Inc., 7th ed., 2001), 74. Beginning with the 1890 season, attendance numbers have been taken from Baseball-Reference.[/fn] Still, the combined attendance of the two New York clubs would have been good for fourth place (out of 16 major league teams) in a fan patronage race, and with only one ballpark for the MEC to maintain, financial prospects looked promising.
Events continued to disconcert Day during 1884. The Gothams rose no higher than tied-fourth place in NL standings, and the MEC was embarrassed by the late-season need to dismiss new club manager James Price, caught for a second time embezzling funds from Gothams’ coffers. At the same time, the Mets, banished for most of the season to Metropolitan Park, an ill-situated new ballpark erected amidst factory smokestacks along the East River[fn]Constructed on a former landfill site, Metropolitan Park was soon adjudged both unplayable and a health hazard. Mets pitcher Jack Lynch reportedly maintained that an infielder could catch malaria just by fielding a grounder there. See Lowry, 149. By mid-season, Mets games were played at Metropolitan Park only when the Polo Grounds were being used by the Gothams.[/fn], rode the hitting of infielders Dave Orr (.354) and Dude Esterbrook (.314), superb pitching by Keefe (37-17) and Jack Lynch (37-15), and the leadership of skipper Mutrie to capture the American Association flag. The Mets balloon, however, was quickly punctured in the post-season. In the precursor to the modern World Series, the Mets were swept by the National League champion Providence Grays in three non-competitive and poorly attended games played at the Polo Grounds.
Events during the off-season manifested John B. Day’s intention to make a champion of the Gothams. And to that end, the Mets would be sacrificed. First, manager Mutrie was transferred to the MEC’s National League team. Thereafter, he assisted Day in some rule-bending chicanery to bring Mets stars Keefe and Esterbrook over to the Gothams. Shortly before the start of the 1885 season, Mutrie chaperoned the two on a supposed vacation voyage to Day’s onion farm in Bermuda. Once Keefe and Esterbrook were safely out to sea, the MEC released them from the Mets roster. While Keefe and Esterbrook were incommunicado somewhere out of country, the ten-day period that other teams had to sign them as free agents elapsed. Once that happened, Mutrie inked the two to Gothams pacts.
Upon discovery that star players had been slipped out of the league, the American Association howled in protest. But all it could do was ban Mutrie from the league, an empty gesture given that Mutrie had already left for the NL. The AA directors also voted to expel the Mets franchise, but quickly reconsidered. Instead, the Mets were fined $500 for the manner in which Keefe and Esterbrook had been released. The Mets were also required to post a bond, a sort of guarantee that the club would complete its 1885 AA schedule.[fn]For a more detailed account of the affair, see David Nemec, The Beer and Whisky League: The Illustrated History of the American Association — Baseball’s Renegade Major League (New York: Lyons & Burford, 1994), 91-92.[/fn] When the time came, the gutted Mets team played out the season as obliged but plummeted to seventh place in AA standings. But this was of little concern to Day and his MEC associates. In December 1885, the Mets were sold for $25,000 to amusement impresario and local railroad magnate Erasmus Wiman, who promptly removed the franchise to his St. George Grounds on Staten Island, a ferry ride away from Manhattan.[fn]New York Times, December 5, 1885. After two desultory seasons on Staten Island, the Mets player roster was purchased for parts by Brooklyn team owner Charles Byrne. The AA then transferred the franchise hulk to Kansas City.[/fn]
Fortified by its new acquisitions (which also included future Hall of Fame outfielder Jim O’Rourke, late of Buffalo), the Gothams posted a dazzling 85-27 (.759) record in 1885. But same was only good for second place in the NL, as the Cap Anson-led Chicago White Stockings had been two games better. In addition to a change in fortunes, the New York team underwent a name change, as well. During the early part of the 1885 season, the New York Gothams acquired the handle Giants, the moniker by which the team would become famous.[fn]Although widely attributed to manager Jim Mutrie, the nickname Giants may actually have been coined by New York Evening World sportswriter P.J. Donahue. See the Mutrie BioProject profile.[/fn] More important to the MEC bottom line, the club had become the league’s leading draw, with 185,000 fans paying their way into the Polo Grounds[fn]In its final year as a MEC asset, the Mets drew 64,000 fans.[/fn], and was well on its way to becoming the National League’s vanguard franchise.
As the standing of his team increased in the NL, the stature of club president Day among his fellow magnates rose with it. With dominant team owners A.G. Spalding (Chicago) and John I. Rogers (Philadelphia), Day was chosen to represent the league on the important Joint Rules Committee of Organized Baseball. He was also appointed to the NL Board of Arbitration and became a heeded voice in executive conclaves. Meanwhile, top salaries, first-rate road accommodations, and bonhomie — John B. was on familiar terms with many of his charges — garnered the New York club boss esteem and good will in player ranks.[fn]Years later, former Giants outfielder John Henry recalled that “Day travelled with his men on many [road] trips and nothing was too good for the players.” And when he felt “that his players were tired and needed relaxation, [Day] would order champagne and wine for them and do other things for their comfort,” as per an unidentified circa 1923 newspaper article contained in the John B. Day file at the Giamatti Research Center, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, NY.[/fn]
In 1888, the Giants players rewarded Day’s amity by bring home the National League pennant. And a record-setting 305,455 paid admissions to the Polo Grounds swelled MEC coffers. New York then made its triumph complete by downing the AA St. Louis Browns in a post-season match of league champions. Unfortunately, the club did not fare as well against a different adversary: city planners determined to complete the local traffic grid by running a street through the Polo Grounds outfield. From the beginning, Central Park North residents had resented the intrusion of a baseball park into their upper crust neighborhood, and their political emissaries on the city council had finally pushed through a scheme for removing it — the opposition of Tammany Hall notwithstanding.[fn]Although Day himself was little more than a Tammany member, the other Metropolitan Exhibition Company stockholders were heavily involved in local politics — particularly Joseph Gordon, elected to the New York state assembly from a Manhattan district in 1888. But even a Sachem heavyweight like Gordon proved unable to save the Polo Grounds from demolition.[/fn] Rearguard legal action had forestalled the street improvement project from commencing while the 1888 season was in progress, but by early the following year it had become evident that the Giants would have to find a new playing field.
Manhattan-born Joseph Gordon, the real estate-savvy member of the MEC, informed Day that grounds might be available in far north Manhattan. But Day was unable to reach agreement with James J. Coogan, the estate agent for the site’s owners, the vastly propertied Gardiner-Lynch family.[fn]Descended from the 17th century settler-soldier Lion Gardiner, the Gardiner clan — for whom New York’s landmark Gardiner’s Island is named — held vast tracts of Manhattan, Westchester County, and Long Island real estate. William L. Lynch, the late husband of descendant Sarah Gardiner, had been a wealthy tea merchant.[/fn] Frustrated, Day then placed an extraordinary advertisement in the New York Times which solicited an angel to come forth and purchase the property, and then lease it to Day for $6,000 per year.[fn]New York Times, April 9, 1889.[/fn] To no great surprise, the needed intermediary failed to materialize, leaving Day’s ball club without a home field as Opening Day 1889 loomed on the horizon.
In desperation, the Giants began the season in Oakdale Park, a decrepit facility in Jersey City. After two games there, the club switched to the St. George Grounds on Staten Island, erstwhile home to the now-defunct Mets. But poor weather and an inconvenient locale proved a serious drag on fan attendance. So the search for a suitable ballpark site continued. In time, Day reentered negotiation with Coogan[fn]Irish immigrant James Jay Coogan (1845-1915), originally the co-proprietor of a successful lower Manhattan furniture store, had married into the Gardiner-Lynch family in 1885 (as had his brother Edward the year before). At the time of his dealings with Day, Coogan also served as executor of the estate of his recently deceased father-in-law William L. Lynch.[/fn] regarding the Gardiner-Lynch property, a grassy tract located at 155th Street and 8th Avenue, hard by the Harlem River. Although in sparsely populated territory far removed from mid-town and bordered to the north by a 175-feet high escarpment later dubbed Coogan’s Bluff, the intended playing grounds were flat, vacant, and most important, serviced by a station on the New York & Northern elevated railway. In early June, agreement was reached on a five-year leasehold. But in a decision that he would soon have occasion to regret, Day declined to rent the entire tract. Instead, he leased only as much property as was needed for the construction of a new ballpark. Within a remarkable three weeks thereafter, the small army of workman engaged by Day had erected a usable, if unfinished, ballpark on the grounds. When completed that winter, this handsome facility would seat more than 14,000 and be named the New Polo Grounds.[fn]New York Times, April 9, 1889, and elsewhere.[/fn]
On July 8, 1889, the Giants inaugurated their new home field with a 7-5 victory over Pittsburgh, a harbinger of the second-half surge that would see New York nip the Boston Beaneaters at the wire for the NL pennant. The Giants then successfully defended their world champions title, defeating the AA Brooklyn Bridegrooms behind the hurling of unlikely mound heroes Cannonball Crane and Hank O’Day.[fn]For a fuller account of the events attending the erection of this new Giants ballpark, see sabr.org/bioproj/park/8a2a9a1f the BioProject entry for Manhattan Field, aka the New Polo Grounds[/fn] Ballpark problems had reduced the season’s home attendance to 201,989, but over a five-year span the club had drawn well over 1 million fans.[fn]Crane and O’Day posted all six Giants victories in the best-of-ten games series. Future Hall of Famers Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch went winless for New York.[/fn] Counting modest revenues contributed by the ownership and sale of the Mets franchise, the New York Times calculated that the operation of their ball clubs had netted Day and his junior MEC partners a profit of $750,000 in the less-than-ten years of the corporation’s existence.[fn]Per Total Baseball, the New York Giants’ total home attendance during the 1885-1889 seasons was 1,144,389.[/fn] Doubtless, anticipation of continued profits from his now two-time defending world champion nine prompted Day to turn down the $200,000 offer for the Giants tendered late in the 1889 season by Polo Grounds landlord Coogan.[fn]New York Times, September 6, 1889.[/fn] Within months, however, calamitous events would thrust the thriving franchise to the brink of bankruptcy.
The Talcott Group
John B. Day’s enjoyment of the Giants’ second championship campaign was tempered by a sense of foreboding. The 1889 season had been conducted amidst simmering player discontent, longstanding player resentment of the reserve clause having been exacerbated by the imposition of a tight-fisted salary classification scheme, adopted by the National League over Day’s objection. Even as the Giants rallied for the pennant, plans for a new major league, one controlled by the players themselves, were taking shape. Ominously, the chief promoters of this nascent rival, from visionary organizer John Montgomery Ward to lead player recruiters Tim Keefe and Jim O’Rourke, all wore a New York Giants uniform.
On November 4, 1889, the players’ intention to form a new major league was publicly announced.[fn]New York Times, November 4, 1889. A verbatim reprint of the players’ declaration of war and an apt summary of the situation is provided in Mike Roer, Orator O’Rourke: The Life and Times of a Baseball Radical (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2005), 169-172. For a more expansive treatment of Players League hostilities in New York, see Hardy, 92-133.[/fn] As New York was the very font of rebellion, Day’s Giants would be particularly hard hit by player defection. The Giants quickly lost the team’s entire everyday lineup to the Players League, save for aging pitcher Mickey Welch and outfielder Mike Tiernan. To counteract the attrition, the National League formed a War Committee chaired by the hard-nosed Spalding, with Day and Rogers as the other members. The two leagues then began maneuvering. Ward and his comrades, genuinely fond of Day and eager for a defection in NL ownership ranks, attempted to entice Day to their side by offering him a lucrative position in PL executive offices. Ever the NL loyalist, Day refused and was soon busy trying to lure PL enlistees — notably Giants star Buck Ewing and second baseman Danny Richardson — back to the NL fold. But to no avail.[fn]The unrequited wooing of Ewing and Richardson received ample press coverage, much to Day’s chagrin. Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1890; Boston Globe, February 18 and 23, 1890; and Sporting Life, February 26, 1890. The reported vacillation of Ewing, however, would earn him lasting mistrust in the Players League ranks.[/fn] Thereafter, Day adopted a litigation strategy, instituting reserve clause-based suits against Ward, Keefe, Ewing, and O’Rourke. The courts entertaining such actions, however, were uniformly unsympathetic, declining to grant Day relief in any form.
With his roster depleted and the start of the 1890 season on the horizon, Day took the first of the steps that would hasten his departure from the game: he tendered Indianapolis team owner John T. Brush a $25,000 note in exchange for Jack Glasscock, Jerry Denny, Amos Rusie, and other players under contract to the just-liquidated Hoosiers franchise.[fn]Over the strenuous protest of Brush, the weakling Indianapolis (and Washington) franchises had been dissolved by the National League as a preemptive early wartime measure. As Brush was the author of the salary classification scheme that precipitated the Players League strife, irony abounded. But Brush, a resilient and resourceful department store magnate, would soon convert the situation to his advantage, capitalizing on Day’s approaching fiscal distress to advance a new Brush objective — control of the New York Giants.[/fn] Long-term implications aside, the move yielded immediate benefits. Day would now be able to put a presentable nine on the field. And he would need to, for the inter-league competition in New York would be cutthroat. In a display of hubris and disdain, War Committee chairman Spalding had arranged the National League schedule to place his league’s teams in direct head-to-head completion with the upstart PL whenever possible. This made the atmosphere in New York particularly fraught, as the circuits’ rival clubs would be doing battle in the closest of quarters.
The prime architect of the Players League franchise in New York was Wall Street financier Edward Baker Talcott. Of privileged birth — his lineage descended from 17th century English settler gentry and his father was a wealthy banker and commodities broker — Eddie Talcott (as the sporting press referred to him) was an avid baseball fan and one-time amateur club pitcher.[fn]One press report described Talcott in his youth as “a pitcher of no mean ability.” Charleston Evening Post, February 6, 1899.[/fn] By 1883, the former “boy broker of Wall Street” had become a wealthy 35-year-old and a Polo Grounds regular. When Giants slugger Roger Connor hit a tape-measure home run during the 1889 season, “Eddie Talcott, broker and baseball fan, jumped up and started a collection. … [Spectators who] chipped in [included] Col. [Edwin] McAlpin and [Albert] Johnson. They gave Roger a big gold watch.”[fn]John Kieran, “The Brave Days of Old in Baseball,” New York Times, January 7, 1931.[/fn] But Talcott, tobacco company tycoon McAlpin, and street car magnate Johnson were up to more than just taking in ball games together. Each was preparing to assume a pivotal role in the oncoming Players League. Johnson would provide crucial seed money for the new circuit. McAlpin would become league president, and Talcott would chart the course of the PL’s cornerstone franchise, the PL New York Giants.
Incorporated in Albany as the New York Base Ball Club Limited, the franchise’s chief financial backers were Talcott, McAlpin, Pittsburgh stockbroker (and McAlpin brother-in-law) Frank B. Robinson, and New York City Postmaster Cornelius C. Van Cott. Executive positions were doled out, with Van Cott assuming the post of club president. But Talcott did most of the lifting, including the securing of playing grounds for the PL operation. Despite his pre-existing relationship with John B. Day, New Polo Grounds landlord Coogan had no compunction about leasing the adjoining property to Talcott. And soon, a brand new 16,000 seat edifice (Brotherhood Park) sat directly alongside the New Polo Grounds, the two ballparks separated by no more than their stadium walls and a ten-foot wide alley.[fn]The extraordinarily close proximity of the two ballparks is illustrated in Thornley, 33.[/fn]
The fan allegiance question was settled on Opening Day when 12,013 attended the debut of the star-laden Ewing Big Giants, while only 4,644 chose to watch Day’s Real Giants play next door. As the season progressed, both teams drew poorly, but the NL club suffered more, attracting little more than one-third the fans of the PL Giants. With five major league clubs (NL New York Giants, PL New York Giants, NL Brooklyn Bridegrooms, PL Brooklyn Ward Wonders, and AA Brooklyn Gladiators) playing in greater-Gotham, there simply were not enough fans to keep New York professional baseball viable. Awash in cash only a season earlier, the cost of new stadium construction and expensive litigation had taken a significant toll on MEC finances. And when dwindling gate receipts failed to cover operating expenses, the NL Giants quickly sank into the red.[fn]According to one early Giants historian, the club drew the 1,080 spectators needed to meet daily expenses only 12 times during the 1890 season. See Hardy, 122.[/fn] Summoned to a private meeting convened in Brooklyn in mid-July 1890, NL magnates were stunned by the degree of their New York club’s fiscal distress. Only infusion of $80,000 would stem franchise bankruptcy. To avert the collapse of the league’s flagship franchise, A.G. Spalding orchestrated a financial bailout on the spot, pledging $25,000 to Day in return for stock in the Giants. Boston boss Arthur H. Soden did the same, while Brooklyn owner Ferdinand Abell and Philadelphia co-owner Al Reach made smaller investments in Giants shares. John T. Brush, meanwhile, agreed to convert Day’s outstanding $25,000 player payment note into a Spalding/Soden-sized stake in the Giants operation.[fn]Harold Seymour and Dorothy Seymour Mills, Baseball: The Early Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), 238.[/fn] When word of the arrangement leaked, the press took to referring to the strapped team owner as John Busted Day. And the process through which Day would lose control of the New York franchise had been set in motion. But in the short term, the financial aid had the desired effect, and the NL Giants managed to stagger to the 1890 season finish line, its 68-63 record good for sixth place.
While the PL Giants had achieved a more competitive third-place (74-57) finish and far outdrawn their NL counterparts at the gate (148,876 to 60,667), the Talcott group had also lost buckets of money. And unlike Day (and silent Giants minority shareholders like Spalding and Brush), the PL club backers were not die-hard lovers of the game, in for the long haul. To the contrary, the Talcott group viewed Players League baseball mainly as a business venture, and expected a prompt and reliable return on their investment. This made them receptive to settlement overtures from their next-door rivals. Preempting larger National League-Players League consolidation talks, Day and Talcott swiftly reached an agreement to merge the two New York teams, cutting out John Montgomery Ward and his Players League directory in the process.
Day, a one-time friend of the renegade players, had been adamant that player representatives be excluded from NL-PL merger discussions. Said Day, “The players have nothing to say at all. The capitalists on both sides will do the negotiating. The players will have to do what they are told to do.”[fn]Chicago Tribune, October 15, 1890.[/fn] Talcott concurred, brushing off objections by Ward. “I don’t propose to have Mr. Ward or anybody else criticize my business methods,” declared Talcott, testily. “Nor shall I allow Mr. Ward to tell me how my financial interests must be arranged. The fight cannot go on another year, for baseball will become a dead sport. Ward can say what he likes but it cannot alter matters with us a particle.”[fn]Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1890, and Sporting Life, November 8, 1890.[/fn] With its New York operation co-opted, the Players League soon passed from the baseball scene, its remaining backers scrambling to reach consolidation or buyout agreements with National League counterparts. By late-November 1890, a triumphant A.G. Spalding could accurately proclaim, “The Players League is as dead as the proverbial doornail.”[fn]Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1890.[/fn]
While it may have been dead, the brief existence of the Players League had exacted a fearsome toll on the fortunes of John B. Day. Competitive pressures had drained MEC coffers and prompted Day to tap his personal funds to keep the Giants afloat. And when this proved inadequate to the task, Day had been forced to seek monetary aid from fellow NL club owners, whose combined investment in the New York franchise now exceeded Day’s own. The subsequent issuance of bonds to cover franchise indebtedness reduced Day’s ownership share even further.
On January 24, 1891, the concerned parties met to reorganize the franchise under the laws of New Jersey. The proceedings were dominated by the Talcott group, which now held slightly over half of the Giants stock. Other NL owners (Spalding, Soden, Brush, et al.) controlled just over one-quarter combined, while the stake of John B. Day and his MEC associates had been reduced to about 15 percent. Former PL organizers Ward, Keefe, O’Rourke, plus a few others held the remaining odd stock lots.[fn]Extrapolated from data published in Sporting Life, October 17, 1891. New York sportswriter George H. Dickenson calculated that Day’s individual stake in the New York Giants constituted less than ten percent of the club stock. Fellow MEC members Joseph Gordon and Charles Dillingham retained even smaller holdings, while the by-now bankrupt Walter S. Appleton was no longer counted among franchise shareholders.[/fn] The new organization was christened the National Exhibition Company, the corporate handle used for all the ensuing years that the New York Giants would be in existence. The respected Day was bestowed the title of club president, but executive power would be wielded by Vice-President Talcott and his allies.
An early sign of Talcott ascendency was embodied by the selection of the team’s playing site for the 1891 season. Day had built and paid for the New Polo Grounds less than two years earlier and the stadium was a fine baseball venue. But Brotherhood Park was the home base of the Talcott forces, and Talcott himself was responsible for the ten-year lease that the PL Giants had signed with landlord Coogan. With no intention of having an idle ballpark on his books, Talcott had Brotherhood Park renamed the Polo Grounds and designated as the permanent playing field for the New York Giants. Day’s adjoining stadium was re-titled Manhattan Field and relegated to hosting college football, track meets, horseracing, and other secondary sports. Day’s diminished stature in the new Giants operation was also reflected in the treatment of his old friend and collaborator Jim Mutrie. Although continued as Giants manager at Day’s insistence, Mutrie was shorn of effective command, supplanted in authority by Buck Ewing, the former PL Giants field leader. At the conclusion of the 1891 season, Mutrie was unceremoniously severed from franchise employ, with Day powerless to prevent it. John B. continued to hold the title of club president for another season, but was now little more than a figurehead.
The next season was a trying one for New York, both on the field and at the gate. The 71-80 Giants of 1892 were mediocre non-contenders, and Polo Grounds attendance (130,566) remained only a fraction of the crowds attracted only four years earlier. Meanwhile, the Talcott group increased its grip on franchise operations by purchasing the bonds that had to be issued to cover club indebtedness.
In February 1893, Day resigned. He was a good man and a lifelong lover of baseball, but deeply ingrained traits of personal rectitude and institutional loyalty left Day ill-equipped to deal with the fast changing baseball scene of the early 1890s and the cold-blooded entrepreneurs who had entered the game with it. At a farewell meeting of franchise stockholders, John Montgomery Ward, a small-stake Giants shareholder, offered a motion of thanks to the departing club chief. Although he and Day had had their differences, Ward pronounced himself “deeply aggrieved to see Mr. Day retire from the presidency.”[fn]New York Times, February 10, 1893.[/fn] The motion was thereupon seconded by John T. Brush who added “a glowing tribute to Mr. Day as a baseball president, a companion and a gentleman.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn] Upon unanimous adoption of the testimonial, Day, “overcome with emotion,” could do no more than reply, “I thank you, gentleman.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn] And with that, the founding era of the New York Giants passed into history.[fn]Shortly thereafter, Day’s cigar manufacturing business failed, and he spent the remainder of his life in much-reduced circumstances, eking out an existence on the margins of baseball and commerce. His final years were eased by a small pension granted by the National League. John B. Day died in Cliffside Park, New Jersey on January 25, 1925, age 77.[/fn]
Following Day’s departure, Cornelius Van Cott assumed the post of club president. But as before, the franchise course would be steered by Edward B. Talcott, the New York Herald reporting that it was “an open secret that [Van Cott] has but little knowledge of the national game and that Mr. Talcott will be ‘the power behind the throne.’”[fn]New York Herald, February 10, 1893. Similar sentiments were expressed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, February 10, 1893, and elsewhere.[/fn] Having reconciled with John Montgomery Ward, now manager of the NL Brooklyn Dodgers, Talcott decided to improve club prospects through securing the accomplished Ward for the Giants. For $10,000 or a share in Giants gate receipts — accounts differ — Ward was acquired as player-manager for the 1893 season.[fn]For more on the machinations that attended Ward’s transfer to New York, see Bryan DiSalvatore, A Clever Base-Ballist: The Life and Times of John Montgomery Ward (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999), 348-349.[/fn] Shortly after his installation at the helm, Ward dispatched aging Giants icon Buck Ewing to Cleveland for young infielder George Davis, whose Hall of Fame career blossomed once in a Giants uniform. With fireballer Amos Rusie performing yeoman work on the mound and Ward and Davis anchoring the infield, the Giants began to climb in NL standings. Attendance surged as well, with the 387,000 patrons drawn to the Polo Grounds during the 1894 season setting a major league attendance record. Capping the Giants campaign was a four-game sweep of the NL pennant-winning Baltimore Orioles in the 1894 Temple Cup match.
Notwithstanding the improvement in Giants fortunes, it appears that baseball club ownership had not produced the financial return anticipated by its commerce-minded ownership group, and by late-1894, Talcott in particular wanted out. The timing of events could not have been better for Andrew Freedman, a young Manhattan real estate millionaire who had already begun quietly acquiring shares in the New York club.[fn]For the past year, Freedman had been attempting to acquire control of the Giants, but had kept his objective concealed, at times accumulating franchise stock through intermediaries like circus impresario James A. Bailey.[/fn] Apart from personality differences — Talcott was polished and personable, Freedman volatile and prickly — the two men had much in common. Both were intelligent and handsome, astute in financial matters, and influential Tammany Hall insiders. In January 1895, Talcott delivered a slim but working majority of New York Giants stock into Freedman’s hands. And at a bargain price, too, variously estimated between $48,000 and $54,000.[fn]1895 Reach Official Base Ball Guide ($48,000) and Hardy ($54,000). In his determination to sever his financial connection to the game, Talcott was willing to let his franchise stock go for “50 cents on the dollar,” and persuaded McAlpin, Van Cott, and a reluctant Frank Robinson to do the same, Baltimore Sun, January 18, 1895; and Chicago Inter-Ocean, January 17, 1895.[/fn] For the next eight seasons, the New York Giants would be controlled by a club boss soon deemed the most-hated man in turn-of-the-century baseball.
Andrew Freedman was born in midtown Manhattan on September 1, 1860, the second of four children born to well-to-do German-Jewish immigrants. His father Joseph was a prosperous businessman, variously described in census reports as a silk importer, dry goods merchant, and realtor.[fn]Bill Lamb, “Andrew Freedman: A Different Take on Turn-of-the-Century Baseball’s Most Hated Team Owner,” The Inside Game, Vol. XIV, No. 3, June 2014, 13. For a more comprehensive biography of Freedman, see his SABR BioProject profile at sabr.org/bioproj/person/51545e58[/fn] By the time that Andrew was born, there were already servants in the Freedman home and he was raised in comfortable circumstances. A precocious but indifferent scholar, young Andrew (he hated the nickname Andy which everyone used, but not to his face) dropped out of City College of New York after his freshman year and began his working life at age 16 as a clerk in a wholesale dry goods house. But he soon gravitated to real estate, the field where he would make his first fortune.[fn]The frequent assertion that Freedman was a lawyer is erroneous. Freedman never studied law. Nor was he a member of the bar. Apart from being a social member of the Manhattan Lawyers Club, Freedman’s only connection to the law was that, as an adult, he was often in need of an attorney.[/fn]
In 1881, 21-year-old Andrew Freedman made the move that would dictate the course of his adult life: he joined Tammany Hall, the corrupt political machine that controlled the Democratic Party in New York City. There, Freedman became a protégé of Richard Croker, the shrewd, ruthless, and unapologetically avaricious politico who assumed control of Tammany in late 1885. While he may not have invented it, Croker perfected “honest graft,” the protection money that a Tammany-controlled NYPD collected from every saloon, brothel, betting parlor, dance hall, drug den, and other outpost of the Manhattan demimonde. During the Croker reign, Tammany coffers filled to overflowing, with Boss Croker and those close to him becoming very wealthy in the process. This included Andrew Freedman. What first drew the two men together is uncertain, but in time Croker and Freedman became both business associates and close, lifelong friends.[fn]Freedman later introduced Croker to his late-life mistress, Beulah Benton Edmondson, and served as one of three best men when the couple married in November 1914.[/fn]
Frank Graham, Noel Hynd, and other New York Giants historians have portrayed Freedman as an uncouth lout, and his failings — arrogance, a ferocious temper, and mean-spiritedness — are undeniable. But Freedman was also a man of formidable abilities. He was smart, possessed of fierce energy, and had extraordinary business acumen. Indeed, Freedman had an absolute genius for making money. During his lifetime, he would amass fortunes in three separate fields: (1) real estate, (2) municipal bonding, insurance, and finance, and (3) subway construction. In addition, Freedman was a savvy investor in the corporate endeavors of other entrepreneurs (including the Wright brothers).
The first of these fortunes was made in real estate where Freedman’s high-priced services were regularly retained by property owners, construction firms, city contractors, and others requiring the favor of Boss Croker. The Freedman real estate business flourished and by the early 1890s, he had become very wealthy. But Freedman’s revenue sources were not confined to real estate. Tammany-friendly judges often appointed him to lucrative fiduciary positions such as business conservator, bankruptcy trustee, or estate guardian. And in early 1893, Freedman’s appointment as trustee of the financially failing Manhattan Athletic Club (MAC) led to his introduction to major league baseball.
Freedman was not an athlete himself and never played any sports, as far as is known. But his stewardship of the MAC included oversight of operations at Manhattan Field (nee New Polo Grounds), only recently the home field of the New York Giants, now playing next-door at Polo Grounds III (originally Brotherhood Park). With the premises no longer needed by the Giants, the lease to Manhattan Field had been acquired by the MAC for use by its baseball, football, and track teams, and for rental for other activities. As the lease was a prime asset of the MAC, the operation of Manhattan Field required the attention of trustee Freedman, who frequently visited the stadium to ensure proper administration of the revenue-generating events (harness racing, track meets, college football) conducted there. Freedman would later maintain that his interest in baseball stemmed from dropping in on Giants games played at Polo Grounds III while on his rounds at Manhattan Field.[fn]New York Times, December 5, 1915.[/fn]
Freedman took a quick liking to the game and quietly began gathering stock in the Giants in 1894, often using proxies to disguise his interest in the franchise. Freedman accelerated his stock acquisition after Tammany lost the New York City municipal elections in November and Boss Croker temporarily withdrew to his estates in the British Isles. In January 1895, Freedman publicly acknowledged his intention to assume control of the Giants.[fn]Chicago Inter-Ocean, New York Herald, and New York Tribune, January 17, 1895.[/fn]By month’s end and with Talcott facilitating matters, he had captured working command, acquiring the additional shares needed to take the club over. According to sportswriter O.P. Caylor, the shares previously acquired by Freedman and those obtained from Talcott, E.A. McAlpin, J. Walter Spalding, Frank Robinson, C.C. Van Cott, and John Montgomery Ward combined to give Freedman 1,191 shares of Giants stock, or eight more than needed for an absolute majority.[fn]New York Herald, January 17, 1895. Caylor calculated the total number of Giants shares extant at 2,380. Club owners Arthur H. Soden (Boston), John T. Brush (Cincinnati), Ferdinand Abell (Brooklyn), and Al Reach (Philadelphia) refused to part with their Giants stock and remained minority stockholders in the New York franchise.[/fn] At a board of directors meeting conducted days thereafter, Freedman assumed the mantle of club president. The new club commander wanted Talcott to remain on the Giants board, but Talcott declined “for personal reasons.”[fn]Chicago Inter-Ocean and New York Tribune, January 25, 1895, and elsewhere.[/fn] Still, Talcott got his successor off on the right foot, arranging a meeting between Freedman and Polo Grounds landlord Coogan where the two political adversaries “buried the hatchet.”[fn]New York Herald, January 30, 1895. Coogan, a two-time gadfly candidate for the New York City mayoralty, was then a minor thorn in the side of Freedman’s political patron, Boss Croker. But in relatively short order, Coogan was converted into another Croker vassal, and later rewarded with appointment to the post of Manhattan Borough president in January 1899.[/fn] Talcott also furnished the incoming regime with a ringing endorsement. “I have no hesitation in saying that the incoming [Giants] Board will be the finest body of men which ever represented a baseball club,” he said. “They are all men whose standing in the commercial world is the very best.”[fn]New York Herald, January 30, 1895.[/fn]
Talcott was not the only one singing the praises of the new club boss. Wealthy, politically connected, and a native son, Freedman’s acquisition of the club was generally well-received. The New York Herald predicted that the new owner “will wear well … He is young, with excellent business ideas, liberal in his dealings, pronounced in his ideas of right and wrong, and quick to recognize an advantage.”[fn]New York Herald, February 9, 1895.[/fn] Even future adversaries applauded. A.G Spalding stated, “That from what I hear, Mr. Freedman is a clever businessman and will prove successful. I hope he makes a lot of money,”[fn]The Sporting News, February 5, 1895.[/fn] while John Montgomery Ward — whose 30 shares transfer had been crucial to Freedman attaining majority control of Giants stock — approved the new magnate, particularly after Freedman ratified Talcott’s appointment of Ward favorite George Davis as Giants playing manager for the upcoming season.[fn]David Stevens, Baseball’s Radical for All Seasons: A Biography of John Montgomery Ward (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1998), 183.[/fn] Overlooked in the glow of the good feeling was a dubious opening move by Freedman. Despite being a novice owner with limited prior contact and understanding of the game, he eliminated the post of managing director of the club. As club president, Freedman would oversee Giants operations personally.
With the nucleus of the 1894 Temple Cup champions returning (sans the retired John Montgomery Ward),[fn]The oft-claimed notion that Ward resigned as NY Giants manager to avoid working for new owner Freedman is bogus. An 1885 Columbia Law School graduate, Ward left baseball after the 1894 season to study for the New York bar examination and begin the practice of law. Like most others, Ward approved the sale of the Giants to Freedman.[/fn] great things were expected from the Giants. But the team started the new season sluggishly. Impatient New York scribes were quick to assign blame as did Giants fans, and the new team president was not exempted from their censure. Combative and surprisingly thin-skinned, Freedman reacted badly. He began by firing his managers. Davis, Jack Doyle, and Harvey Watkins would all be relieved of duty by season’s end. Freedman also had troubles with his players, particularly star hurler Amos Rusie who chafed under the owner’s disciplinary measures.[fn]Late in the 1895 season, Freedman imposed a $200 fine on Rusie for being out of condition. Although the sporting press and Giants fans lined up solidly behind the pitcher’s refusal to pay, allegations made by Rusie’s wife during acrimonious 1900 divorce proceedings suggest that the grounds for the fine may not have been as capricious as originally supposed.[/fn] Nor did Freedman enjoy cordial relations with his fellow magnates, most of whom found Freedman abrasive and impossible to get along with.[fn]According to A.G. Spalding — a suspect source when it comes to Freedman — the Giants owner was “so obnoxious to most of those concerned with the game that nobody outside his own following could endure his eccentricities of speech or action. He would apply to other members of the league, in ordinary conversation, terms so coarse and offensive as to be unprintable.” A.G. Spalding, America’s National Game (New York: American Publishing, 1911), 192.[/fn]
Worse still, Freedman got into fights — at times literally, for he was ill-tempered and quick with his fists — with writers on the Giants beat[fn]On October 12, 1896, Freedman was convicted of assault and given a suspended sentence for punching Edward Hurst, a critical New York Evening World sports columnist, New York Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer, October 13, 1896. Freedman, however, did not confine his aggressions to local sportswriters. Bad-tempered and pugnacious, he also had physical altercations with political correspondent Paul Theman, retired umpire Watch Burnham, theatrical agent Bert Dasher, fellow team owners John T. Brush and Harry Vonderhorst, and any number of Tammany Hall adversaries.[/fn], at times denying them admittance to the Polo Grounds or refusing to communicate about club matters. Led by New York American sportswriter Charles Dryden, the baseball press retaliated by publishing imaginary interviews with Freedman, complete with maladroit quotes designed to make the cosmopolitan Giants owner appear an ignoramus.[fn]Whatever his shortcomings, Freedman was an articulate, sophisticated man not given to uttering malapropisms. Unhappily for the Giants owner, a credulous public treated these newspaper satires as factual. Later generations of New York sportswriters did the same, repeating an apocryphal Freedman threat to push Dryden over “the brink of an abscess” and other such nonsense: Frank Graham, The New York Giants: An Informal History of a Great Baseball Club (New York: Putnam, 1952), 19.[/fn] A public relations nightmare, Freedman quickly managed to alienate most of the baseball world. In the meantime, his Giants team staggered home a disappointing ninth-place finisher (out of the 12-team National League).
Whatever his troubles elsewhere, Freedman encountered little opposition at Giants headquarters. Apart from a fractious relationship with board member J. Walter Spalding (A.G. Spalding’s younger brother and business partner), NEC directors supported Freedman policies and practices almost reflexively. Nor did minority Giants shareholders like John T. Brush and Arthur Soden challenge Freedman’s running of the club, notwithstanding their frequent opposition to him in National League executive council meetings. Freedman, for all practical purposes, personified the New York Giants franchise. That franchise, however, was headed for another rocky season in 1896. Crippled by the absence of Rusie, who sat out the entire season rather than capitulate to tight-fisted salary terms, the Giants finished a distant seventh in NL standings, 27 games behind pennant-winning Baltimore. In the off-season, the Freedman/Rusie impasse was finally resolved via the unofficial intervention of fellow NL team owners. Alarmed by the threat posed to the reserve clause system emanating from a federal lawsuit filed on Rusie’s behalf by newly minted attorney John Montgomery Ward, these owners endorsed a Brush proposal to settle the lawsuit out-of-court for $5,000 — all without Freedman’s knowledge or consent. Indignant when he found out, Freedman refused to contribute to the settlement and fumed at the magnates’ intrusion into his operation of the Giants.
Despite all the headaches he caused, Andrew Freedman was pretty much a dilettante when it came to owning the Giants. Like the collection of French landscape paintings, opera patronage, and yacht racing, guiding a baseball club was essentially a pastime for Freedman, a diversion from the weighty political and business affairs that consumed his life. As a consequence, his stewardship of the franchise was mercurial, with highly publicized battles with his players, fellow club owners, and the baseball press alternating with extended periods of Freedman indifference to Giants’ fortunes. Nowhere is this best exemplified than in 1897. With Rusie back in uniform and George Davis (.355, 10 home runs, a NL-leading 136 RBIs, and 65 stolen bases) playing a superb shortstop, the Giants surged in league standings. But in the midst of an exciting pennant chase, Freedman did what many wealthy New Yorkers did to escape the August heat: he sailed for Europe. Oblivious to baseball, he spent the next six weeks taking the waters and plotting a Tammany comeback in the November elections with Boss Croker. The (83-48) Giants’ third-place finish was easily the club’s best during the Freedman years, but paled in significance for the club owner compared to Tammany’s smashing victory at the polls on Election Day. Ever the backstairs operative, Freedman declined office in the administration of in-coming Mayor Van Wyck, but, at Croker’s insistence, he assumed the post of treasurer of the National Democratic Party.
When not attending to political concerns, Freedman busied himself with the formation of the Maryland Fidelity and Guarantee Company, a municipal bonding, insurance, and finance venture that would yield him a second fortune. But a now-rare visit to the Polo Grounds in July 1898 for a game against the Baltimore Orioles precipitated the incident that would cast a pall upon Freedman’s legacy as Giants owner. Full accounts of the Ducky Holmes affair can be found elsewhere.[fn]“The Ducky Holmes Game” in Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games in Nineteenth Century Baseball, Bill Felber, ed. (Phoenix: SABR, 2013), 268-269; Burt Solomon, Where They Ain’t: The Fabled Life and Untimely Death of the Original Baltimore Orioles, the Team That Gave Birth to Modern Baseball (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 129-131.[/fn] For here, suffice it to say that Freedman, enraged by umpire refusal to take action following an anti-Semitic slur loudly uttered by ex-Giant Holmes, ordered his club off the field, triggering a forfeit. The $1,000 game forfeiture fine subsequently imposed on the Giants aggravated Freedman further, while the season-long suspension imposed on Holmes infuriated Baltimore, as well as players throughout the league.
The truly pivotal event, however, was the stance publicly adopted by other National League team owners. Deeming Holmes’ suspension illegal (because it had been imposed without first affording Holmes a hearing), the magnates sided with Holmes and urged the lifting of the sanction on him. This development stunned Freedman, who viewed the controversy as a matter of honor and respect. In Freedman’s mind, the magnates’ position and the ensuing official reinstatement of Holmes represented nothing less than league countenance of a gross personal insult. And Freedman would not abide it.
Freedman’s revenge took the form of a punishing financial lesson for NL club owners. Although Freedman adversaries like Cincinnati’s John T. Brush and Baltimore’s Harry Vonderhorst were prosperous businessmen, they lacked the wherewithal to conduct their baseball operations at a loss indefinitely. Andrew Freedman was different. While not in the plutocrat class of a Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, or Carnegie, Freedman was truly wealthy, with a personal fortune that was likely the equal of his fellow magnates put together.[fn]McGraw and Mann, 171. Distinguished baseball historian David Quentin Voigt described Freedman as the “wealthiest of baseball magnates.” See David Quentin Voigt, The League That Failed (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1998), 220.[/fn] As Freedman did not need income from the Giants — he drew a $100,000 annual salary from Maryland Fidelity alone[fn]Ibid.[/fn] — he would suffer no great injury if Giants performance nosedived and the club lost its appeal at the gate. But real pain would be felt by other club owners, particularly those in smaller markets (like Cincinnati and Baltimore) who relied greatly upon games against New York to bolster revenues.
Immediately after the Holmes imbroglio, Giants fortunes plummeted, with the 1899 squad posting a non-competitive 60-90 record, finishing a full 42 games behind pennant-winning Brooklyn. Repelled by the situation and with no end in sight, fans avoided Giants games in droves. Attendance at the Polo Grounds shrunk from a league-leading 390,340 in 1897 to 121,384 in 1899, and Giants drew only small crowds on the road.
The league’s distress gave Freedman no end of satisfaction. As the Giants’ dismal 1899 season drew to a close, Freedman declared, “Base ball affairs in New York have been going just as I wished and expected them to go. I have given the club little attention and I would not give five cents for the best base ball player in the world to strengthen it.”[fn]Sporting Life, September 30, 1899.[/fn] And as even his detractors knew, Freedman meant it.
With their horizons bleak and certain of Freedman’s ruthlessness, NL owners soon entreated for peace. But reconciliation with Freedman would come at a high price. First and foremost was submission to Freedman’s demand for reduction of the NL to an eight-club circuit and the elimination of syndicate team ownership — the twin policy prescriptions that fig-leafed the deeply personal nature of Freedman’s bitterness toward the league. The owners also acceded to his demand that the Giants receive the pick of the players available from the liquidated teams. In addition, the league agreed to reimburse Freedman the $15,000 that the yearly rent of Manhattan Field cost him, lest the grounds become available for some future competitor. Last but an important matter of principle to Freedman, the NL refunded the $1,000 fine imposed upon the Giants for forfeiting the Ducky Holmes game — with six percent interest.[fn]Seymour and Seymour Mills, 304-306.[/fn]
Another ramification of the mollification process was the emergence of a wholly unexpected alliance between Freedman and longtime nemesis John T. Brush, the league’s most influential magnate and heretofore leader of the Freedman opposition in NL owners ranks.[fn]Reputedly, Freedman and Brush had once even come to blows in the taproom of a New York hotel.[/fn] Following a meeting with Brush arranged by Boston owner (and minority Giants shareholder) Arthur Soden, Freedman informed the baseball press: “I have patched up the differences I had with John T. Brush and acknowledge it with pleasure. We will now work on the most friendly terms and will work in harmony for the best interests of the sport.”[fn]Sporting Life, October 14, 1899. For more on the Freedman/Brush rapprochement, see William F. Lamb, “A Fearsome Collaboration: The Alliance of Andrew Freedman and John T. Brush,” Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, Vol. III, No. 2, Fall 2009, 5-20.[/fn]
The baseball press and most fellow club owners were mortified by the prospect of Freedman and Brush working in concert, and with good reason. But little immediate benefit from the Freedman/Brush collaboration accrued to their respective franchises, as the Giants and Reds alternated as the league’s cellar dwellers for the 1900 and 1901 seasons. This may have been because both men had larger endeavors on their mind than the immediate pennant races. Freedman, in fact, had taken to almost entirely ignoring the Giants, his energies devoted to the task that would yield his most enduring memorial: construction of the Interborough Rapid Transit line, New York City’s first underground railway system.[fn]Initially, Freedman acted as liaison between John D. McDonald, the subway’s general contractor, and the bankers who financed the project. Thereafter, Freedman was active in every phase — property acquisition, tunnel construction, station designation, railway car manufacturing — necessary to make the subway system operational.[/fn] Brush, meanwhile, was busy at work on a longtime pet project, a scheme to convert the independent franchises of the National League into a jointly held trust.[fn]Although often ascribed to Freedman, the National Base Ball Trust was almost entirely the brainchild of Brush. Well before Freedman took any interest in the game, Brush had proposed to Chicago club president James Hart that the minor Western League be operated as a trust, as reflected in an unidentified January 30, 1892 newspaper clipping contained in the John T. Brush file at the Giamatti Research Center in Cooperstown.[/fn] As Brush envisioned it, NL assets would be pooled into a holding company managed by a board of regents. Players and managers would be licensed by the board and assigned to various teams consistent with establishing competitive parity. Costs would be controlled by means of stringent salary caps and by the manufacture of baseball equipment by a Trust subsidiary. Apportioned profits to trust shareholders would be meted out at season’s end.[fn]As outlined by Brush in a letter to Freedman, later obtained and published in the New York Press, November 11, 1901. For a comprehensive exposition of the Trust, see Hardy, 171-191.[/fn] The trust scheme was scuttled at contentious NL winter meetings held in early 1901, spawning a court battle that Spalding won on the public relations front, but lost in court to the Freedman legal corps.
By now, baseball club ownership had lost its charm for Andrew Freedman, and the trust debacle may have finalized his intention to depart the game.[fn]In his 1911 memoir America’s National Game, Spalding portrayed himself as the instrument of Freedman’s departure from baseball, Freedman’s sale of the Giants being Spalding’s price for relinquishment of his claim to the National League presidency. Although accepted by some baseball historians, the assertion is specious. For a more ample treatment of the matter, see again, “Andrew Freedman,” The Inside Game, June 2014, 13-18.[/fn] But before he took his leave, Freedman assumed a supporting role in a 1902 Brush plot to disassemble the Baltimore franchise in the upstart American League, and thus preclude its imminent relocation to New York. Although this scheme eventually failed, as well, it did yield an incidental but long-lasting benefit: the engagement of disgruntled Orioles manager John McGraw as new field leader of the New York Giants.
In August 1902, Freedman announced that he had appointed John T. Brush managing director of the Giants, and transferred day-to-day control of club operations to him.[fn]Sporting Life, August 12, 1902, and elsewhere.[/fn] Freedman retained the title of club president, but not for long. Six weeks later, he severed most connection with the club, selling all but a few shares of his majority interest in club stock to Brush for a reported $200,000.[fn]For more detail on the sale, see William A. Cook, August “Garry” Herrmann: A Baseball Biography (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2007), 38-40. Following the transfer of club ownership, Freedman declined a seat on the Giants board of corporate directors.[/fn] Still, Freedman remained an actor to be dealt with by major league baseball. Although the fall of Boss Croker following Tammany’s crushing defeat in the 1901 New York City municipal elections had stripped Freedman of much of his political influence, his superintendence of the massive subway project still gave him considerable sway over New York City real estate — a power that he would now exercise. Whether prompted by a sense of obligation to Brush, disdain of American League president Ban Johnson, or sheer malice, Freedman stymied AL entrance into Manhattan for months, condemning for putative subway purposes any possible ballpark site that Johnson had shown interest in. With the start of the 1903 season looming, only the acquisition of a desolate north Manhattan mesa overlooked by Freedman afforded the AL a foothold in New York.[fn]The site of what would quickly become Hilltop Park was unearthed by former Metropolitan Exhibition Company partner Joseph Gordon, at the time the figurehead club president of the American League New York Highlanders.[/fn] After that, Freedman withdrew from the New York baseball scene.
In retrospect, the eight years of the Freedman regime can fairly be judged the darkest in New York Giants history. The team had been a contender only once during that span (1897) and had reached bottom (a 44-88 last-place finish) by the time Freedman abandoned the game. Chronically impatient with his club’s standings, he inflicted 13 managerial changes on the Giants during his tenure as majority club owner. Worst yet, Freedman’s peevish battles — with his players, NL umpires, fellow owners, league officials, the sporting press — and his ferocious vindictive streak drained vitality from baseball’s flagship enterprise and hurt the game itself in the process.
In the ensuing decade, Freedman continued to prosper, adding to his fortune via various business endeavors. At the time of his death from a stroke in December 1915, he had accumulated an estate estimated at $7 million, almost all of which the life-long bachelor left to charity. By that time, the fortunes of the New York Giants had also rebounded — the legacy of an exceptionally congenial pairing of an astute club owner with a baseball-savant manager.
The Brush-McGraw Years
On the surface, John T. Brush and John McGraw seemed an oddly matched pair. A generation older than his manager, the new club boss was dour, often inscrutable, and physically frail, his body long-ravaged by the effects of locomotor ataxia, a painful wasting disease. The Giants field leader was the opposite: feisty, often voluble, and near bursting with energy and good health, the very antithesis of John T. Brush. Their differences notwithstanding, the two men, both spawn of a grim, impoverished childhood in upstate New York, had immense regard for one another. And they worked almost perfectly together. The decade of the Brush-McGraw collaboration would see the New York Giants attain the club’s first period of sustained success.
Reams have been written about John McGraw, one of early-20th century baseball’s most celebrated figures. The following will focus on his now nearly forgotten senior partner. John Tomlinson Brush was born on June 15, 1845 in Clintonville, New York, a remote hamlet situated near the Canadian border. The beginnings of his life were the stuff of Dickensian melodrama. His father, the first John Tomlinson Brush, died a month before his namesake’s birth. Mother Sarah Farrar Brush succumbed in 1850, orphaning five-year-old John and his three older siblings. Taken in by a severe paternal grandfather, young John spent most days tending to the exhausting drudgery of farm work and nights sleeping in an unheated barn.
Brush set off on his own at age 17, taking a brief course of study at Eastman’s Business College in Poughkeepsie before enlisting in the First New York Artillery Regiment in September 1864. By the time he reached 20, he was a battle-tested Civil War veteran. Mustered out unscathed in June 1865, Brush proceeded to Troy where, in time, he was befriended by George Pixley, a principal in a newly formed retail clothing business. Within ten years, Brush advanced from clothing salesman to store manager to partner in Owen, Pixley & Company. Along the way, he married Margaret Agnes Ayres, a woman about whom little is known except that her marriage to John T. appears to have been a troubled one. Daughter Eleanor Gordon Brush, destined herself to be a somewhat significant figure in New York Giants history, was born in March 1871.[fn]A second daughter named Adelaide did not survive infancy.[/fn]
In 1874, Brush was dispatched to Indianapolis as Owen, Pixley expanded operations westward. After frustrating delays, a company outpost whimsically named the When (as in When will it finally open?) Store opened its doors in March 1875. With consumer interest whetted by Brush’s unlikely flair for advertisement and promotion, the operation was a resounding success, eventually becoming the largest department store between New York and Chicago.[fn]The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, David J. Bodenhammer and Robert G. Barrow, eds. (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994), 1424-1425.[/fn] The store’s boss, meanwhile, immersed himself in the civic affairs of his new hometown, and soon became a leading figure in assorted community and fraternal organizations.
Not an athlete himself, John T. first seized upon baseball as a vehicle for promoting his business. But he quickly became infatuated with the game. In 1882, Brush organized a municipal baseball league, constructing a diamond with grandstand in northwest Indianapolis and hiring future major leaguer Jack Kerins as player-manager for the When Store team. When the professional game mushroomed to three major leagues in 1884, Indianapolis was granted an American Association franchise. Historical accounts differ on whether or not Brush owned the one-year AA Indianapolis Hoosiers, but it seems more likely that Joseph Schwabacher, “a local liquor dealer beat Brush to the franchise.”[fn]J. Taylor Spink, “World Series Started with J.T. Brush Fire,” The Sporting News, October 8, 1939. An informative unpublished profile of Brush by Indianapolis native Guy M. Smith contained in the John T. Brush file at the Giamatti Research Center concurs that Brush’s desire to obtain the AA franchise was frustrated by Schwabacher. But in 1975, an elderly Natalie Brush maintained that her father was indeed the owner of the 1884 Indianapolis AA club. See Rick Johnson, “The Forgotten Indiana Architect of Baseball,” Indianapolis Star Magazine, May 4, 1975.[/fn]
In the years that followed, Brush’s interest in baseball only intensified. First, he placed an Indianapolis nine in the newly formed Western League, only to see the circuit collapse around his league-leading Hoosiers. Brush then became the driving force behind local acquisition of the National League St. Louis Maroons and the relocation of that club to Indianapolis. In time, he acquired a controlling interest in the new Indianapolis franchise and assumed the post of club president. In addition to running his own club, Brush promptly threw himself into the administration of NL affairs, sitting on various of the league’s policy-making boards.
The adoption of one Brush initiative, a tight-fisted salary classification plan, was a major cause of the player revolt that led to the debilitating Players League War of 1890. Ironically, Brush himself was one of the conflict’s first casualties, the National League liquidating his non-competitive Indianapolis club (and weakling Washington, as well) as a preemptive wartime measure. Brush, however, had no intention of being forced to the sidelines. He exacted stiff reparations from the league, remained a member of the NL owners council, and obtained the promise of the next available franchise from his fellow magnates. Thereafter, at the clandestine meeting of NL club owners organized by A.G. Spalding to bail out the financially failing New York Giants, Brush agreed to the conversion of the $25,000 note for Indianapolis players earlier given him by Giants boss John B. Day into stock in the New York franchise. Like Spalding, Boston’s Arthur H. Soden, and other new Giants stakeholders, Brush made no attempt to intrude on Day’s operation of the New York club. But acquisition of the stock fired a new Brush ambition: gaining control of the New York Giants for himself.
Fulfillment of that ambition would be deferred for more than a decade. For the short term, Brush turned his attention to Cincinnati, outmuscling one-time Players League angel Al Johnson for the new National League franchise allotted to the Queen City. Brush was delighted to once again have control of a major league baseball club, but his experience in Cincinnati would prove an unsatisfying one. Brush declined to relocate, maintaining his residence in Indianapolis. Thereafter, when the Reds were generally a non-contender in NL pennant races, the absentee club owner became a favorite target of local press critics, particularly sportswriter-editor Ban Johnson of the Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette.
Brush’s disappointment with the Reds was counterbalanced by new-found joy in his personal life. In 1894, Brush — his long-estranged first wife having died six years previously — married Elsie Boyd Lombard, a stage actress little older than his daughter Eleanor. A year later, the birth of baby Natalie increased the Brush household.[fn]For more on the domestic life of John T. Brush, see the BioProject profile of the Brush Family Women at sabr.org/node/26334[/fn] The vivacious Elsie was a natural hostess, and soon the Brush estate, named Lombardy in her honor, became a regular stopping place for theater stars, literary lions, and other celebrities sojourning in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, Eleanor Brush married an earnest Philadelphian named Harry Hempstead, a union that would soon provide John T. with a trusted business subordinate and two grandchildren. Aside from his underperforming ball club, Brush had only the onset of health problems to contend with.[fn]As Brush’s health worsened, he required first canes, and then a wheelchair, to get around. The sporting press readily identified the Brush ailment as locomotor ataxia. But its etiology — locomotor ataxia is almost always a manifestation of syphilis — was never mentioned in newsprint during Brush’s lifetime.[/fn]
When the expiration of the Players League and American Association yielded the bloated 12-team National League of 1892, Brush became the leader of the “Little Seven” (Baltimore, Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Louisville, St. Louis, and Washington) faction of club owners. While he quietly worked at achieving their ends, the public image of John T. Brush took frequent hits. A master of backroom intrigue with fellow owners but guarded and often uncommunicative with the Fourth Estate, Brush was neither loved by players nor admired by sportswriters. “Chicanery is the ozone which keeps his old frame from snapping, and dark-lantern methods the food that vitalizes his bodily issues,” intoned one critic.[fn]See the SABR BioProject profile of John T. Brush by John Saccoman at sabr.org.bioproj/person/a46ef165[/fn] Impervious, Brush did not much care about bad press.
After outsider Andrew Freedman gained control of the New York Giants in early 1895, Brush made heavy-handed overtures toward buying Freedman out. The easily offended Freedman, whose personal wealth vastly exceeded that of Brush, resented Brush’s presumption, and the two men quickly became antagonists in NL owners ranks. They even reportedly came to blows in the tap room of the hotel where NL winter meetings were held one year.[fn]The barroom brawl between Freedman and Indianapolis theatrical agent Bert Dasher, a friend of John T. Brush, is well-documented. Sporting Life, October 17, 1896, and February 23, 1907. But whether Dasher’s pummeling of Freedman was payback for a Freedman assault on the physically frail Brush is less certain.[/fn] But a Freedman-Brush detente was engineered in 1899 by Boston club boss (and minority Giants shareholder) Arthur Soden. Emerging from a private meeting at the Manhattan Democratic Club, Freedman informed the press that he and Brush had resolved their differences and would now act in concert.[fn]Sporting Life, October 14, 1899.[/fn] The baseball world shuddered at the prospect.
While never becoming pals, Brush and Freedman developed a harmonious working relationship and collaborated on various fronts: elimination of syndicate club ownership; reduction of the National League to an eight-club circuit; the gutting of the American League Baltimore Orioles; the National Base Ball Trust scheme; the obstruction of AL efforts to place a team in New York, and lesser ventures.[fn]Lamb, “A Fearsome Collaboration.”[/fn] Thus, when Freedman’s interest in being a baseball club owner waned and he was ready to get out, Brush was his logical successor as boss of the New York Giants.[fn]In a superb dual biography of New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and manager Miller Huggins, the authors posit that Ruppert had expressed interest in acquiring the New York Giants from Freedman as early as 1900, and thought that he possessed a right of first refusal if Freedman ever decided to sell the club. Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg, The Colonel and Hug (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2015), 47-48. In a late-life interview, Ruppert maintained that he attempted to purchase the Giants long before he and Tillinghast Huston acquired the Yankees in January 1915. But no contemporaneous reference to a circa 1900 Ruppert interest in buying the Giants has ever been seen by the writer.[/fn]
On August 12, 1902, Brush assumed effective command of the New York Giants, appointed managing director of the club by president Freedman. Six weeks later, he was Giants boss in toto, having purchased Freedman’s majority interest in New York Giants stock for $200,000, a sum[fn]Some sources put the Giants purchase price at $150,000.[/fn] that Brush raised through sale of his Cincinnati Reds holdings to a consortium of local politicos.[fn]The new Reds owners were Cincinnati mayor and yeast company magnate Julius Fleischmann, his adventurer brother Max Fleischmann, Cincinnati Republican Party boss George B. Cox, and city water commissioner August “Garry” Herrmann. Any shortfall in the New York Giants purchase price demanded by Freedman was likely covered by Cincinnati pharmacy owner Ashley Lloyd, Brush’s junior partner in ownership of the Cincinnati Reds and a trusted friend.[/fn] Shortly thereafter, Brush entrusted operation of his commercial interests in Indianapolis to son-in-law Harry Hempstead, and relocated to New Rochelle in suburban Westchester (New York) County, a short train ride away from the Polo Grounds. He also took up rooms at the Lambs Club, a show business social club situated on Broadway.
At the annual off-season meeting of the National Exhibition Company, Brush was formally installed as New York Giants president. Simultaneously, son-in-law Hempstead and Ashley Lloyd, Brush’s junior partner in the Cincinnati franchise and now a minority Giants shareholder, were elected to the club’s board of directors. With fiery manager John McGraw already in the dugout, a compliant corporate board in place, and an able, experienced chief executive at the helm, the fortunes of the last-place (44-88) Giants were ready to skyrocket.
From 1903 through 1912, the New York Giants enjoyed great success: four National League pennants (plus a famous final game loss to the Chicago Cubs in 1908) and a 1905 World Series title[fn]The first modern World Series was played in 1903 and adjudged a triumph by most baseball observers, but not John T. Brush and John McGraw, hardcore antagonists to any reconciliation with Ban Johnson’s American League. When the Giants captured the National League pennant in 1904, Brush and McGraw disdained the post-season challenge of the AL champion Boston Americans, as detailed in Benton Stark, The Year They Called Off the World Series: A True Story (Garden City, New York: Avery Publishing Group, Inc., 1991). Subjected to an avalanche of criticism, the pair reversed course the following post-season, with the Giants besting the Philadelphia A’s in a famous all-shutouts World Series played under rules devised by none other than John T. Brush. With minor modifications, the Brush rules govern World Series play to this day.[/fn] amid a decade of first division finishes. All the while, John T. Brush, a noted stickler for decorous diamond behavior and previously the author of lampooned and unenforceable player conduct standards[fn]Adopted by the National League in 1898 and commonly known as the Brush Resolutions, this 21-point code of player conduct was largely ignored and died from non-observance two years later.[/fn], privately reveled in the raucous on-field behavior of manager McGraw and his charges.[fn]John J. McGraw, My Thirty Years in Baseball (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1923), 176-177.[/fn] Wisely, he gave McGraw a free hand regarding diamond strategy, player acquisition and salary, and involved him in other operational aspects of club-running. McGraw was also consulted on policy and business-related issues. Not only did the formula produce winning baseball on the field, attendance at the Polo Grounds soared. In 1908, the Polo Grounds gate of 910,000 represented triple the figure of the 1902 season, and set a new National League attendance record that would stand until 1920.
Manager John McGraw leads the New York Giants onto the field at the Polo Grounds in New York, circa 1911. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, BAIN NEWS SERVICE)
During the decade of Brush-McGraw collaboration, the only real concern was the club boss’s frailty. Starting in the early 1890s, Brush encountered increasingly serious health problems. More than once during his tenure as Cincinnati Reds president, he was not expected to survive. But John T. always managed to pull through. By the time he assumed command of the Giants, Brush, gaunt and usually grim-faced, looked well past his 57 years of age, and his use of his limbs had become limited. In time, he took to watching home games from the front seat of a chauffer-driven limousine parked deep along the right field foul line. Throughout these years, treatment of Brush’s condition was complicated by his refusal to take palliative but potentially addictive medications. Often his pain was constant, and when accompanying the Giants on road trips, the intensely disciplined club boss was given to playing solitaire through sleepless nights.[fn]Mike Sowell, July 2, 1903: The Mysterious Death of Hall of Famer Big Ed Delahanty (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 37.[/fn]
As he came to grips with his approaching mortality, Brush had to deal with an unexpected crisis. On April 14, 1911, an early morning fire destroyed large portions of the 20-year-old Polo Grounds (nee Brotherhood Park). Brush wanted to rebuild the ballpark, replacing its charred wooden superstructure with modern construction materials, but had to weigh the costs (perhaps as high as $1 million) against the future financial needs of his family. Surging Giants’ revenues made the money available, but Brush would not go forward with rebuilding plans unless wife Elsie approved. Happily for New York baseball, she did. And with New York Highlanders boss Frank Farrell magnanimously offering use of Hilltop Park to the Giants, the 1911 season got off without a hitch. Two months thereafter, the Giants were back home, playing in a new iron-and-steel ballpark, the iconic bathtub-shaped Polo Grounds IV, and heading toward the 1911 National League pennant.
A National League flag in 1912 was John T. Brush’s last hurrah. As an accommodation to the visibly failing Giants boss, the customary pre-World Series meeting of club representatives, officials, and league dignitaries was held at the Brush residence in New Rochelle where, among other things, Brush reconciled with American League president and longtime adversary Ban Johnson.[fn]Two months later, Johnson was a conspicuous presence at the Brush funeral, informing gathered press that he and Brush had “parted the best friends in the world. I am very glad that we had the opportunity to agree and forget what had been.” Sporting Life, December 7, 1912.[/fn] Following a heart-breaking Giants loss to the AL champion Boston Red Sox, Brush presided over a hastily convened meeting of the NEC board wherein Harry Hempstead was designated board chairman and club president-in-waiting. John T. then embarked upon a health-restorative railway trip to the West Coast. He never made it, dying outside Seeburger, Missouri on November 25, 1912. John T. Brush was 67. Baseball notables flocked to the Brush funeral in Indianapolis, none more grief-stricken than pallbearer John McGraw. “A gamer, braver man never lived,” McGraw said.[fn]Indianapolis News, November 27, 1912.[/fn]
The Hempstead Regency
The beneficiaries of the Brush will were his widow Elsie and daughters Eleanor and Natalie, each of whom was bequeathed a one-third share of the Brush estate. The estate holdings included the clothing business in Indianapolis and real property, but its principal asset was majority ownership of the New York Giants. The year before Brush’s death, Helene Britton had blazed the trail of female stewardship of a major league ball club, inheriting control of the National League St. Louis Cardinals upon the death of her bachelor uncle, Stanley Robison. Thereafter, Mrs. Britton took an active role in the management of Cardinals’ affairs. But the Brush family women had no interest in running the Giants. Nor would a man as tradition-minded as John T. Brush have wanted them to.
The terms of the Brush will entrusted disposition of estate assets, including the Giants, to co-executors Harry Hempstead and Ashley Lloyd. Immediately after the Brush funeral, Hempstead quelled rampant speculation about an imminent sale of the ball club. The New York Giants would remain in the possession of the Brush family, he informed the press.[fn]Denver Daily News and Trenton Evening Times, December 2, 1912, and elsewhere.[/fn] Then, as foreordained by his late father-in-law, Hempstead took over superintendence of the Giants, installed as corporation chairman and club president at the January 1913 NEC board meeting. A quiet, honorable man of sound but cautious judgment, Hempstead would administer the franchise capably, but with a constant eye upon what was in the best interest of the Brush heirs. Regrettably, his risk-averse temperament and lack of vision proved costly. In January 1919 and over the dissent of his wife Eleanor, Hempstead relinquished a controlling interest in the New York Giants franchise to a syndicate headed by Manhattan stock trader Charles A. Stoneham. In so doing, Hempstead deprived the family of the financial windfall that attended baseball club ownership during the Roaring Twenties.
Franchise regent Harry Newton Hempstead was born in Philadelphia on June 25, 1868. He was the youngest of six children born to the head of a customs brokerage firm, and grew up in comfortable circumstance.[fn]More detail on the early life of Harry Hempstead is provided in his BioProject profile at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/9790a1ac[/fn] Although Lafayette College-educated to be a chemist, Harry began his working life as an executive in a New York City freight hauling company. Thereafter, he met and began courting Eleanor Gordon Brush, the daughter of [then] Cincinnati Reds owner John T. Brush. The couple married in October 1894, some four months after John T. had taken 24-year-old stage actress Elsie Lombard as his second wife.[fn]Elsie Lombard Brush, Eleanor Brush Hempstead, and Harry Hempstead were contemporaries, all in their early 40s when John T. Brush died in November 1912.[/fn] In 1898, the Hempsteads relocated to Meadville, Pennsylvania where Harry assumed the presidency of the Garfield Chewing Gum Company. Four years later, Hempstead’s acceptance of day-to-day oversight of the When Store operation in Indianapolis freed his father-in-law to remove himself to New York and focus his attentions on the fortunes of the Giants.
Although no stranger to the game — Harry Hempstead had played outfield for prep school and college nines in his younger days[fn]The Cincinnati Post, December 10, 1912, stated that a promising baseball career had been short-circuited when Hempstead suffered an eye injury during his college years.[/fn] and was a ten-year member of the New York Giants’ corporate board — the successor of the renowned John T. Brush was a blank to most baseball fans. The Cincinnati Enquirer informed readers that the new Giants boss was “a young man of engaging personality and quiet business temperament … [who had been] a careful and quiet student of the game for many years.”[fn]Cincinnati Enquirer, December 12, 1912.[/fn] The New York faithful were reassured by news that John McGraw would continue as Giants manager, signed to a new $30,000 per year contract.[fn]Sporting Life, January 11, 1913.[/fn] And Hempstead would continue the Brush policy of giving McGraw free reign over game strategy and personnel moves. But unlike his predecessor, Hempstead did not seek McGraw’s advice on larger matters, like franchise direction and business outlook. Here, Hempstead relied on the counsel of minority owner/treasurer Ashley Lloyd and club secretary John B. Foster.[fn]Hempstead’s attitude was a bitter disappointment to McGraw, who had long aspired to ascend to a front office position. In his 1923 memoir, McGraw recalled club boss John T. Brush fondly. Harry Hempstead went unmentioned.[/fn]
An early order of business for the fledgling administration was reciprocating a kindness extended two seasons before by the American League New York Highlanders. When the junior circuit rival lost their leasehold on Hilltop Park at the close of the 1912 season, Hempstead promptly made the Polo Grounds available. For the next decade, the renamed New York Yankees would call the Polo Grounds home — while depositing $50,000 per annum rent into Brush family coffers. The accommodation also ushered in an era of cordial relations between the two New York clubs that would last the duration of the Hempstead regime.
The new club order began successfully, with the Giants winning a third consecutive National League pennant in 1913, only to lose a third consecutive World Series to an American League foe, in this instance, the Philadelphia Athletics. But trouble in the form of the upstart Federal League soon emerged. Although Hempstead would usually be a listener rather than a talker at NL owners’ conclaves, he was prompt to sound the alarm about the outlaw league, the peril posed by the Federals driven home to Hempstead when its backers inadvertently solicited him to invest in their Indianapolis franchise.[fn]An investment prospectus was delivered to Hempstead at his Indianapolis business address, prompting the Giants club president to exclaim, “What do you think of that for gall?” New York Times, January 23, 1914.[/fn] To reduce player receptivity to Federal League inducements, Hempstead persuaded fellow NL magnates to concede certain contract-related demands recently made by the players, a strategy subsequently rewarded by the loyalty of Christy Mathewson and other Giants stalwarts when the FL came calling.
While generally perceived as a genial, mild-mannered man, Hempstead had a cold, clear eye when it came to business — as his fellow club owners and league officials would discover in early 1915. With the financially strapped International League franchise in Jersey City likely to be bankrupted by competition from the FL champion Indianapolis club just relocated to Newark, the leaders of Organized Baseball proposed to save the Jersey City club by moving it to the Bronx for the 1915 season. Such a placement, however, required the permission of the New York Giants, which held territorial rights over the borough. But Harry Hempstead would not grant it. In his view, another professional baseball club playing in New York City was not in the best interests of the Brush family. Notwithstanding pointed criticism by American League president Ban Johnson, International League boss Ed Barrow, and The Sporting News, Hempstead would not yield. The Jersey City club stayed put.[fn]Sporting Life, February 20, 1915. The Jersey City Skeeters toughed out the 1915 season, only to finish last in International League standings and go broke by season’s end.[/fn] Months later, the Federal League got a similar dose of Harry Hempstead, the steely businessman. The Federals’ plan to place a team in Manhattan was quietly but neatly thwarted by the Giants boss. In a move reminiscent of Andrew Freedman in his heyday, Hempstead dispatched agents to scoop up the East Side Manhattan building lots that had been designated as the site of the FL club’s ballpark, thereby depriving the would-be interlopers a place to play.[fn]Sporting Life, August 15, 1915.[/fn]
The rational, business-first side of Hempstead was next put on display after the Federal League expired after the 1915 season. Although Organized Baseball had emerged triumphant in the battle with the Federals, a fearful toll on the game’s wellbeing had been extracted, in Hempstead’s opinion. Citing calculations made by NL officials, Hempstead observed that the minors had contracted from 49 leagues in 1913 to 26 presently, while more than 5,000 former players had lost their place in professional ranks, all of which Hempstead attributed to the havoc caused by the conflict with the outlaw circuit. “The man who thinks wars are good for baseball has never had anything to do with a club in a time of war,” he declared.[fn]Sporting Life, January 1, 1916.[/fn] That outlook propelled the “affable and likeable” Giants president to “the center of one group of good souls” who urged reconciliation with Federal League backers during a post-war parley of NL/AL/FL principals.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
One such backer was Harry F. Sinclair, the swashbuckling oil tycoon who had owned the FL Newark Peppers. In the winter of 1915-1916, Sinclair set his sights on acquisition of the New York Giants. Soon, rumors abounded. When queried on the subject, Hempstead — ever the businessman — revealed that “while he had received no definite offer for the club, he would sell [the Giants] if the offer was alluring.” Moreover, “he was open to proposals.”[fn]New York Times, December 17, 1915.[/fn] But a prospective sale foundered when Sinclair declined to meet the reported Hempstead asking price of $2 million for the New York club, an amount that Sinclair deemed “beyond all reason.”[fn]New York Times, January 13, 1916. See also, The Sporting News, January 20, 1916.[/fn] For the time being, therefore, the franchise would remain in the hands of the Brush family.
Unlike his predecessor, Hempstead was not fixated on baseball. During his tenure as Giants president, he continued oversight of Brush family business operations in Indianapolis, served as a trustee of his alma mater, Lafayette College[fn]At the direction of club president Hempstead, New York Giants players were oft-times dispatched to tutor the Leopards nine. In October 1916, an exhibition game between the Giants and the Lafayette varsity drew a crowd of 1,500 to the Easton, Pennsylvania campus. The Giants won, 9-0.[/fn], and enjoyed winter sporting activities in Lake Placid. But tending to the Giants was never too far from his mind. The 1917 season brought a second National League pennant to the Hempstead administration, but things had not gone agreeably. Manager McGraw had become resentful of his diminished role in franchise operations, and relations between him and Hempstead grew more distant. The Giants roster also contained personality types, particularly contrary second baseman Buck Herzog, not to the club president’s liking. When Herzog refused to accompany the club on a late-season trip to Boston, Hempstead suspended him. Buck was reinstated in time to play in the World Series, but the results were another Giants disappointment: a loss to the Chicago White Sox in six games.
A more long-term concern of Hempstead was the effect that American entry into World War I was having on baseball. Although the 1917 season had not been seriously affected by the war effort, 1918 would prove a different matter. Player ranks were thinned by the call to military service or to work in defense industries, the regular season abbreviated, and the Fall Classic hurriedly completed by September 11. All the while, attendance at Giants games plummeted. The gate for 1918 home games was only 256,618, barely half that of the previous season and more than 400,000 below the inaugural 1913 campaign of the Hempstead administration. The major leagues as a whole had fared no better in 1918, each circuit losing more than one million patrons from the previous year. Drastic measures were needed to restore the game to good health. To that end, Hempstead and new Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee proposed the installation of former US President William Howard Taft as an all-powerful one-man executive-in-charge of the major leagues.[fn]New York Times, November 24, 1918.[/fn] While respectfully received, the Hempstead-Frazee proposal went nowhere.
Professional baseball was on the verge of a golden era. The game would enjoy immense popularity in the 1920s, with ballpark attendance skyrocketing and club investors reaping the rewards. But Harry Hempstead did not see this. In January 1919, Hempstead saw only hard times ahead, with baseball being no place for the Brush family women and their money. His determination to sell the ball club, however, created a split in family ranks. Elsie Brush trusted Hempstead’s judgment and would do as he advised, while daughter Natalie, although now a young adult, would do what her mother told her. Eleanor Hempstead was another matter. A private woman who shunned the limelight, she had inherited her father’s business acumen and was fiercely protective of his legacy.[fn]Some 60 years after the fact, half-sister Natalie revealed that Eleanor Brush Hempstead had burned their father’s papers after his death, lest they fall into the hands of an unsympathetic biographer. Johnson, 47.[/fn] To Harry’s chagrin, Eleanor would not sell her interest in the club. Nor would minority club owner Ashley Lloyd part with his Giants holdings. Still, Hempstead managed to cobble together a block of club stock sufficient to constitute a majority interest in the New York Giants franchise.
On January 14, 1919, Hempstead released a public statement announcing that “with many regrets,” the Brush family had sold the New York Giants. The new club owners were a syndicate headed by Manhattan stock trader Charles A. Stoneham. Giants manager John McGraw and New York City magistrate Francis X. McQuade were small-stake syndicate members and would become club officers, as well. The sale price was generally reported as $1 million.[fn]Chicago Tribune and New York Times, January 15, 1919. Later, Giants historians raised the franchise purchase price to $1.3 million: Tom Schott and Nick Peters, The Giants Encyclopedia (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing, Inc., 1999), 90.[/fn] Although Eleanor Hempstead and Ashley Lloyd would retain their stakes[fn]In June 1924, Eleanor Brush Hempstead sold her stock in the Giants to one-time St. Louis Cardinals part-owner Warren “Fuzzy” Anderson, New York Times, June 13, 1924. Her price was in the $200,000 range, Washington (DC) Evening Times, June 12, 1924. Ashley Lloyd was no longer a voice in the running of the club but was still a substantial New York Giants stockholder at the time of his death in January 1925.[/fn] in the club into the mid-1920s, the guard at the Polo Grounds had changed.
The Stoneham Syndicate
In the early 1920s, the New York Yankees began the assembly of a professional sports dynasty, with many pundits rating the 1927 Yanks the best ballclub in major leagues history. Yet during the first half of the decade, the New York Giants outdid their local rival. Piloted by John McGraw and with a lineup featuring future Hall of Famers Frankie Frisch, George “High Pockets” Kelly, Dave Bancroft, and Ross Youngs, the Giants captured four consecutive National League pennants (1921-1924) and two World Series crowns, both taken at the expense of the Yankees. Remarkably, these feats were accomplished despite a fractious and oftentimes dysfunctional front office. At the center of the turmoil was one of baseball’s more improbable figures: club president Charles A. Stoneham.
Short, stout, and jowly, Good Time Charlie Stoneham embodied a Jazz Age stereotype — cutthroat businessman by day, boozy bon vivant by night. Even before he took over the Giants in January 1919, Stoneham was a familiar name to the readers of New York City tabloids. Beginning with the well-publicized suicide of a mistress[fn]For more on the Charles Stoneham-Olivia Gray affair, see Bill Lamb, “Suicide at the Imperial Hotel,” The Inside Game, Vol. XIV, No. 1, February 2014, 26-29.[/fn] in 1905, Stoneham’s messy personal and business life was periodically in the news. Thereafter, the Giants principal owner had to contend with federal indictments, civil lawsuits, hostile fellow magnates, and troubles with booze, gambling, and yet more women. But during his 16-year tenure as club president, the Giants achieved more success than the club had had under any prior regime.
Charles Abraham Stoneham was a man of modest origins. Born in Jersey City on July 5, 1876, he was the older of two sons born to a Civil War veteran-turned-bookkeeper and his Irish immigrant wife. By the mid-1890s, Charlie was employed as a board boy by a mining stock brokerage. Adept with numbers and innately shrewd, he quickly advanced in the profession. By 1903, he was senior partner of his own Manhattan brokerage firm. And by 1908, he was being sued for fraud by firm clients.[fn]“Broker Stoneham Sued by Farmer,” New York Times, January 16, 1908.[/fn] Undaunted by bothersome litigation, Stoneham expanded his stock trading operations, becoming active on the New York Curb Exchange, a frenetic, unregulated open-air marketplace for the purchase and sale of stocks that did not qualify for registration on respectable exchanges. Many curb exchange firms were actually bucket shops, establishments wherein the customer was sold what purported to be a derivative interest in a stock or commodity future, but no transfer or delivery actually accompanied the transaction. Rather, the order went into the “bucket,” with the customer, in effect, betting against the broker on the stock’s rise or fall.[fn]The United States Supreme Court defined a bucket shop as “an establishment, nominally for the transaction of a stock exchange business … but really [a place] for the registration of bets and wagers, usually for small amounts, on the rise or fall of the prices of stocks, grain, oil, etc.. there being no transfer of the stock or commodities nominally dealt in.” Gatewood v. North Carolina, 203 U.S. 531, 536 (1906).[/fn] The potential for fraud here was enormous and many jurisdictions, including New York, made operation of a bucket shop (as opposed to a facially licit, if risky, curb exchange brokerage) a criminal offense. Still, bucket shops flourished.
For a compulsive gambler like Charles Stoneham — he was a regular at race tracks, casinos, and other gaming haunts — stock speculation/bucketeering converted his pleasure in endeavors of chance into a livelihood, and he prospered spectacularly. In time, Charles A. Stoneham & Company would expand operations to Boston, Providence, Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere, in addition to maintaining the home office in New York City’s financial district. By the advent of World War I, Stoneham was rich, so well-off that he could afford to lose $70,000 to Arnold Rothstein’s Partridge Club playing roulette one evening — over the telephone![fn]David Pietrusza, Rothstein: The Life, Times and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003), 129.[/fn] But gambling was hardly Stoneham’s only vice. He was also a heavy drinker and fond of the opposite sex. With second wife Hannah safely stashed in their Jersey City home[fn]Stoneham had married Johannah (Hannah) McGoldrick, the mother of his sons Charles Jr. and Horace, in 1900. Stoneham’s first wife Alice Rafter Stoneham had died in 1898, shortly after giving birth to daughter Mary.[/fn], Stoneham nightly prowled the Manhattan demimonde, usually with drink in hand and often with a chorus girl mistress on his arm.
As rumor that the New York Giants were for sale became public during the winter of 1918-1919, candy manufacturer George Loft and Broadway showman George M. Cohan were identified as the most likely club buyers. Surprise therefore greeted Harry Hempstead’s January announcement that a majority interest in the franchise had been sold to a syndicate headed by Charles A. Stoneham, a stranger to Giants fans who did not follow newspaper gossip or the financial pages. Joining the Stoneham syndicate as much-junior partners were Giants manager John McGraw and Manhattan magistrate Frank McQuade, both of whom shared Irish-Catholic ancestry, connection to Tammany Hall, and a love of baseball, horse racing, and midtown night life with Charlie Stoneham.[fn]Ownership of the New York Giants was not the only joint Stoneham-McGraw venture. In October 1919, the two purchased a Havana racetrack, the Cuban-American Jockey Club.[/fn] At the ensuing meeting of the Giants corporate board, Stoneham, holder of 1,166 syndicate shares, was appointed club president. McGraw and McQuade, holders of 70 shares each (purchased from Stoneham for $50,000), assumed the posts of vice-president and treasurer, respectively.[fn]The financial arrangements among ownership syndicate members was later set forth in the decision rendered by the New York Court of Appeals in McQuade v. Stoneham, 189 N.E. 234, 263 N.Y. 323 (1934)[/fn]
Like John T. Brush, Stoneham had total faith in manager McGraw, leaving roster decisions and game strategy entirely to the “Little Napoleon.” Stoneham was also liberal with his checkbook, bankrolling the improvements sought by McGraw. Otherwise, Stoneham withdrew, avoiding locker room contact with Giants personnel and observing game action from a window in his distant Polo Grounds office. From there, Stoneham enjoyed the play of four consecutive NL pennant-winners and the resurgence of the faithful at the ballpark turnstiles. Between 1920 and 1924, the Giants averaged better than 900,000 fans per season for home games, swelling the club treasury. Only the Yankees, Polo Grounds tenants through 1922, drew better.
The New York Giants and Boston Braves gather on the field at the Polo Grounds for Opening Day in 1923. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, BAIN NEWS SERVICE)
Through this great run of club success, Stoneham tried to avoid the limelight. But he seemed unable to escape press and public attention. The January 1922 financial collapse of E. D. Dier & Company, a brokerage firm in which Stoneham was a silent principal, generated a bevy of civil lawsuits against him.[fn]The allegations of one of these suits, initiated by a Virginia lumber dealer, were published in the New York Times, June 20, 1922.[/fn] Then, trouble erupted in club management ranks, culminating in a rumored fist fight between Stoneham and McGraw, the latter being given to fisticuffs when intoxicated.[fn]A drunken McGraw had fractured the skull of Broadway actor John C. Slavin in August 1920, an unsavory incident that somehow resulted in McGraw being charged with violating the Volstead Act (rather than atrocious assault). Represented by William J. Fallon, the brilliant but unscrupulous star of the NYC criminal defense bar, McGraw was acquitted at trial, Charles Alexander, John McGraw (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), 221-224.[/fn] By October, Stoneham was believed to be entertaining a buy-out offer from erstwhile Giants president Harry Hempstead and one-time New York Highlanders front man Joseph Gordon.[fn]Gordon had been one of the principals of the Metropolitan Exhibition Company, the original corporate alter ego of the New York Giants. The Hempstead-Gordon overture to Stoneham was first reported in the New York Sun, October 14, 1922, and pursued thereafter by other baseball news outlets. See e.g., the New York Times, October 26, 1922, and The Sporting News, November 2, 1922.[/fn] Believing that they had a first option on Stoneham’s stock in the Giants, McGraw and McQuade raged at such reports and threatened legal action. Evasive non-denials by Stoneham only inflamed the situation, prompting the club president to retreat to Havana until the furor abated.[fn]The Sporting News, November 23, 1922.[/fn] In the end, Stoneham held on to his Giants stock, permitting an uneasy truce to descend upon the franchise’s front office.
A problem far graver than difficulty with his baseball junior partners soon confronted Stoneham: the implosion of E. M. Fuller & Company, a notorious Manhattan bucket shop. Summoned to testify before bankruptcy commissioners, Stoneham was unable to provide a plausible explanation for the $147,000 that he had passed to Manhattan Sheriff (and Tammany powerbroker) Thomas F. Foley via Fuller accounts. Stoneham’s claim that the money was a personal loan to Foley subsequently formed the gravamen of a perjury indictment obtained by federal prosecutors.[fn]New York Times, September 1, 1923. Stoneham’s affiliation with Tammany Hall had long insulated him from investigation by local and state authorities, but conferred no immunity from Republican federal prosecutors in New York appointed by the Harding and Coolidge administrations.[/fn]
Stoneham’s denial of the charge and his resolution to go to trial placed baseball’s governing hierarchy in a bind. Although fellow club owners were clamoring for Stoneham’s ouster as Giants president, National League president John M. Heydler felt powerless to act. “I have neither the inclination nor the right to discuss Mr. Stoneham’s affairs outside of baseball,” Heydler insisted. “As [NL] president, I have only to do with Mr. Stoneham as a club owner and league member,” adding, on that account, that he had found Stoneham to be “a good sportsman, fair and straight in all his league dealings … and reasonable in his official dealings with my office.”[fn]Ibid. See also, the Boston Herald and New York Times, September 2, 1923, for similar remarks by Heydler and an unnamed NL official who observed that as long as Stoneham maintained his innocence on the charges, the league would take no action against him. Stoneham’s voluntary resignation was the only available resolution of the problem at that point.[/fn] The silence of Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis bespoke a similar disinclination to institute action against Stoneham, at least for the time being.[fn]Landis’s refusal to act upon the Stoneham situation was reported in the Boston Herald, September 5, 1923, and elsewhere. For a cogent overview of baseball’s predicament, see “Stoneham Faces Crisis in Career,” New York Times, September 9, 1923.[/fn]
The troubles facing Stoneham expanded exponentially when a superseding federal indictment was unsealed in January 1924. Deeper investigation into Stoneham’s involvement in the Fuller operation had yielded fraud, theft, and related criminal charges against him. Stoneham now faced a lengthy prison sentence, if convicted. Worse yet for Organized Baseball, the new indictment also charged others associated with the New York Giants: brother Horace A. Stoneham and reputed brother-in-law Ross F. Robertson[fn]At the time, news accounts regularly identified business associate Robertson as Charles Stoneham’s brother-in-law. See e.g., the Boston Herald, January 12, 1924, and the New York Times, January 15, 1924. But genealogical inquiry has failed to substantiate any marital connection between the Canadian-born Robertson and the Stoneham family.[/fn], both members of the Giants’ corporate board, and Stoneham attorney Leo F. Bondy, legal counsel to the Giants. After a trial punctuated by acrimonious wrangling between the trial judge and prosecutors, and post-verdict allegations of jury tampering, Stoneham and the others were acquitted.[fn]New York Times and Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, February 28, 1925, and elsewhere. The charges against Bondy and a Fuller firm cashier had been dismissed mid-trial by the court due to insufficient evidence.[/fn] Stoneham’s legal problems, however, were far from over. Civil judgments obtained against him by defrauded investors plagued him, while ceaseless attorney’s fees taxed the Stoneham bank account.[fn]These civil judgments (such as $2,095 awarded to Robert Harford, and $4,782 to Dr. John Duncan) rarely exceeded nuisance amounts for a man of Stoneham’s wealth. But the cost of continually having to defend himself in court was not trivial, and press coverage of the litigation did little to restore Stoneham’s reputation.[/fn] Although the Giants continued to draw well at the gate[fn]From 1925 through 1932, the New York Giants were the National League’s second-best home draw, with attendance figures topped only by the Chicago Cubs. The major leagues’ biggest draw, however, was the Babe Ruth-led New York Yankees, playing a long fly ball away from the Polo Grounds in newly constructed Yankee Stadium.[/fn], Stoneham needed money and sought to enhance the revenue derived from his leasehold on the Polo Grounds by renting the ballpark to boxing promoter Tex Rickard, a summer opera company, professional soccer teams, and college football, with mixed financial returns. Whatever his money troubles, Stoneham no longer gave thought to selling the Giants, now intended as a legacy for son Horace, then getting his feet wet in club management.[fn]When Eleanor Brush sold her Giants stock to Fuzzy Anderson in 1924, it was rumored that the stock sale was merely a prelude to acquisition of the Giants by Anderson’s friend, circus master John Ringling, Rockford (Illinois) Register-Gazette, June 24, 1924. Nothing ever came of that or subsequent reports of an impending Stoneham buyout.[/fn] But the pressure on the Stoneham treasury meant that manager McGraw would no longer have unfettered access to the club owner’s checkbook.
No sooner had Stoneham finally put his brokerage-related headaches behind him than he was confronted with an ugly internal fracas in the Giants ownership syndicate. The Stoneham-McGraw-McQuade triumvirate had long been a troubled one, and replacement of McQuade as club treasurer during a May 1928 National Exhibition Company meeting precipitated a very public falling out. Shortly thereafter, McQuade filed suit to regain his corporate office, alleging, among other things, that Stoneham had used NEC funds to finance personal ventures. Stoneham admitted making use of the money, but maintained that he had long ago repaid the corporate treasury, with interest. Stoneham then counter-sued, accusing McQuade of padding the Polo Grounds free pass list with a multitude of McQuade cronies, and of threatening Stoneham with physical harm when Stoneham complained. The McQuade-Stoneham suit dragged on for years before a $42,827 judgment obtained at trial by McQuade was vacated by New York’s highest appellate court, and his lawsuit dismissed.[fn]McQuade v. Stoneham, above. Also, “Award of $42,827 Is Lost by M’Quade,” New York Times, January 18, 1934.[/fn]
While the intra-management lawsuit played out, the 30-year tenure of manager John McGraw came to an end. Frustrated by his recent inability to win a pennant and perhaps suffering the early effects of the stomach cancer that would claim his life, McGraw resigned midway through the 1932 season. His successor, star first baseman Bill Terry, quickly succeeded where McGraw had not, leading the Giants to the 1933 NL crown. The Giants then assumed the mantle of baseball champions for the first time in more than a decade, defeating the Washington Senators in a five-game World Series.
The reign of club owner Charles A. Stoneham was also approaching its end, hastened by the onset of Bright’s Disease (kidney failure). As Stoneham’s health declined, son Horace took on a more substantial role in the Giants front office. In late-December 1935, Charles journeyed to Hot Springs, Arkansas, but its medicinal waters did not restore his wellbeing. Lapsing into a three-day coma, Stoneham died there on January 6, 1936. He was 59. Following a hasty and very private funeral, the deceased was laid to rest in Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City. Three days later, the Stoneham will was filed for probate by executor Leo Bondy. According to its terms, the estate would be divided equally among wife Hannah and the two Stoneham children, Mary and Horace.[fn]New York Times, January 11, 1936.[/fn]
Some three months later, the shroud placed over the Stoneham funeral became understandable. Charles Stoneham had had another “wife” and family ensconced in Westchester County. In April 1936, a former showgirl named Margaret Leonard filed a court petition seeking support and maintenance for herself and children Russell Stoneham, age 16, and Jane Stoneham, age 12. Whether the long-suffering Hannah Stoneham or her son Horace were previously aware of Charles’ second family is unknown, but neither ever publicly acknowledged it.[fn]A check of the 1930 US Census reveals Charles A. Stoneham living in two separate places: in Jersey City with wife Johannah Stoneham, and in Westchester County, New York with wife Margaret Stoneham and children Russell and Jane Stoneham.[/fn] The existence of the second family, however, was no secret to executor Bondy or Charles’ brother Horace A. Stoneham. Both men served as trustees of a fund that Charles had set up for the benefit of children Russell and Jane.[fn]As revealed when Margaret Leonard/Stoneham filed suit to have Horace A. Stoneham and Bondy removed from their trustee positions, New York Times, April 16, 1936. Also, Robert E. Murphy, After Many a Summer: The Passing of the Giants, the Dodgers and a Golden Age in New York Baseball (New York: Union Square Press, 2006), 32-33.[/fn] Fortunately for baseball, the new Mrs. Stoneham laid no claim upon New York Giants stock, and stewardship of the club passed to son Horace.
In terms of moral character, Charles A. Stoneham — shady stock speculator, ethically challenged businessman, criminal court defendant, serial philanderer, and quasi-bigamist — was easily the worst person ever associated with Giants ownership. But in purely baseball terms — five NL pennants and three World Series titles in a 16-season span — the Charles Stoneham years were the most successful in New York Giants history.
Horace Stoneham and Relocation of the Franchise to San Francisco
In January 1936, boyish Horace Stoneham inherited stewardship of the New York Giants from his late father. Over the ensuing two decades, Horace would devote himself single-mindedly to the club’s success. Then, confronted with poor financial prospects, a declining fan base, and a decaying ballpark, he decided upon a course once unimaginable — relocation of New York’s most venerable sports team to the West Coast. Gotham sportswriters and legions of local Giants fans never forgave him, and thereafter took delight in Stoneham’s many travails as owner of the San Francisco Giants. Guided by a traditionalist unable or unwilling to adapt to changing times, the club was in serious financial trouble by the time that Horace took his leave of the game in early 1976. Although many in baseball liked the genial Horace Stoneham, few expressed regret at his departure.
Born in Jersey City[fn]Reference works that cite Newark as Horace’s birthplace are incorrect. At the turn of the century, the Stoneham family resided in Jersey City, and Charles’ children, including Horace, were born there.[/fn] on April 27, 1903, Horace Charles Stoneham was the younger son of enterprising stock speculator Charles A. Stoneham and his second wife, the former Johannah McGoldrick. Horace never knew his older brother Charles A., Jr., who died as a four-year-old in a tragic drowning accident, but had the childhood company of his half-sister Mary and domestic help engaged by the Stonehams.
Following his attendance at local parochial schools, Horace was enrolled at Loyola Academy in Manhattan, where he compensated for underperformance in the classroom by excelling on the school’s ice hockey and baseball teams. After further academic grooming in prep schools — he eventually graduated from the Pawling School in upstate New York — Horace matriculated to Fordham University in the Bronx. He lasted four days.[fn]John Kieran, “A Presidential Party,” New York Times, January 20, 1936.[/fn] His father then dispatched Horace to California for a sobering encounter with pick and shovel in the copper mines. The experience, surprisingly, agreed with Stoneham, fostering the ambition to enter engineering school. Sadly, as Horace later recalled, “I wasn’t smart enough,” and the following year he headed to Giants spring camp in Florida, where a long apprenticeship in club operations commenced.[fn]Robert Shaplen, “The Lonely, Loyal Mr. Stoneham,” Sports Illustrated, May 5, 1958, 75.[/fn] While learning the ropes, Horace met and began courtship of a young dancer named Valleda Pyke. The couple was married in 1924 and soon had two children, Mary Valleda (born 1925) and Charles Horace, called “Pete” (1927).
Charles A. Stoneham always maintained that he had purchased the Giants in order to pass the club on to his son. But before Horace inherited, he would be thoroughly schooled in all aspects of franchise operation. He worked in the ticket office, assisted the grounds crew, learned the intricacies of handling travel accommodations, and was given responsibility for scheduling non-baseball events at the Polo Grounds. When his father’s health began to fail, Horace assumed more front office responsibilities. Thus when Charles died in January 1936, Horace was ready to take over and his succession as franchise boss was a smooth one. When he formally installed in office as New York Giants president, the 32-year-old was reported to be the youngest chief executive in major leagues history.[fn]John Drebinger, “Giants Transfer Is Held Unlikely,” New York Times, January 8, 1936, and “Reorganization of the Giants Makes Horace C. Stoneham President of the Club,” New York Times, January 16, 1936. Also, Shaplen, 75.[/fn]
The ballclub whose fortunes the youthful Stoneham would now oversee was a veteran one, studded with future Hall of Famers like Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell, Mel Ott, and Travis Jackson. Emulating his father’s example, Horace gave manager Terry a wide berth, avoiding the club locker room and watching game action from the same distant clubhouse window that Charles Stoneham had used. The immediate results were gratifying — at least until World Series time. The Giants captured the NL pennant in 1936 and 1937, only to lose the fall classic each year to the Yankees.
Although Terry hung up his first baseman’s glove after the 1936 season, he remained as manager through the 1941 season. When Ott succeeded him as club skipper, Stoneham assumed a higher profile, becoming, in effect, the Giants general manager, as well as being club president. During the 1940s, the Giants were also-rans in National League standings, as the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers vied for the league pennant most seasons. Like many other franchises, however, the Giants benefitted from the post-World War II spike in fan attendance. From 1946 through 1951, more than 1 million patrons passed through Polo Grounds turnstiles each season. The revenues generated by a robust gate were important to Horace Stoneham for, unlike a coming generation of club owners, he was not some multi-millionaire dabbling in baseball. The New York Giants represented Stoneham’s almost exclusive source of income.
A frequent criticism of the Stoneham regime was that it was suffused with nepotism, a practice started by Horace’s father. Although he had left the baseball side of the Giants operation entirely to vice-president-manager John McGraw and his managerial successor Bill Terry, Charles Stoneham found club employment for various family members. He had hired footloose son Horace, first assigning him to menial tasks and then to the Giants front office. Charles also bestowed incomes upon his brother Horace A. Stoneham and reputed brother-in-law Ross F. Robertson via membership on the franchise’s corporate board. As club president, Horace maintained this tradition. His cousin, another Charles A. Stoneham, was appointed a Giants scout and later became farm system director. Nephew Charles Stoneham “Chub” Feeney was recruited for the Giants front office immediately after his law school graduation, while son Pete Stoneham was made a junior club executive while still in his late-20s, just as Horace had been.
Worse yet to some observers, Horace often formed emotional attachments to veteran Giants players, treating them akin to family members and, as a result, was reluctant to part with their services even when their usefulness to the club had waned.[fn]Shaplen, 76. Also, Art Spander, “Game Was Stoneham’s Passion and Blind Spot,” The Sporting News, January 22, 1990; and Robert E. Murphy, “The Real Villain of Baseball,” New York Times, June 24, 2007.[/fn] In mid-season 1948, however, the Stoneham sentimentality was little in evidence. With the (37-38) Giants stuck mid-pack in NL standings, Stoneham abruptly fired 23-year club member Mel Ott as manager, replacing him with stormy Leo Durocher. The move so upset Horace’s daughter Mary Valleda that she “didn’t speak to [Stoneham] for a month.”[fn]Shaplen, 77.[/fn] But the team rallied under Durocher’s direction, and the Giants would be a pennant contender for most of Lippy Leo’s eight-season managerial tour.
Belying his later reputation as a hidebound traditionalist, Stoneham pursued innovation, at least for a time. Beginning in the late 1930s, he invested heavily in developing a minor league farm system for the Giants. With Cleveland Indians boss Bill Veeck, Stoneham was in the vanguard of placing spring training in Arizona, removing the Giants from their longtime camp in Florida to Scottsdale in 1947. That same year, Horace was one of the first baseball club owners to embrace television, signing a contract for the telecast of Giants home games with the local NBC station (then called WRCA-TV).
Far more important, Stoneham quickly embraced integration — once Brooklyn and Jackie Robinson had breached the color barrier. By 1949, the Giants lineup featured former Negro League standouts Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson, with the incomparable Willie Mays soon to join them.[fn]The Giants also signed Negro League great and future Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge, but the aging third baseman never got a shot with the Giants. His time in the organization was spent with their Triple A affiliate in Minneapolis.[/fn] Stoneham was also fast to explore the foreign player market, and soon modest talents like Ray Noble (Cuba), Ruben Gomez (Puerto Rico), Ramon Monzant (Venezuela), Ozzie Virgil (Dominican Republic), Valmy Thomas (Virgin Islands), and Andre Rodgers (Bahamas) were accorded spots on the New York Giants roster (with Latin greats like Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, plus the Alou brothers and Jose Pagan to follow after the club arrived in San Francisco). But the event which cemented Horace Stoneham’s place in baseball annals was the relocation of the storied New York franchise.
Although the Giants had experienced some recent success — winning National League pennants in 1951 and 1954, and the World Series in the latter year — the club was now playing a decided third fiddle to the Yankees and Dodgers with New York-area baseball fans. In 1956, only 629,179 patrons attended Giants games at the Polo Grounds, little more than half the number of only two seasons earlier, and a fraction of the Yankees (1,491,784) and Dodgers (1,213,562) gate. The Giants’ 1911 ballpark was falling into disrepair and the north Manhattan neighborhood where the Polo Grounds sat had changed for the worse, much to the discomfort of fans coming in from the Westchester and New Jersey suburbs. Meanwhile, after 50 years of stability, major league franchises were on the move — the Boston Braves to Milwaukee in 1953; the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore in 1954; the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City in 1955. And soon rumors of relocation attached to the New York Giants.
In years past, Stoneham had publicly denied any intention of moving the Giants.[fn]“Talk of Giants Moving to West Coast Idle Gossip, Says Stoneham,” New York Times, November 6, 1954. Stoneham assured fans that “the Giants are not planning to vacate the Polo Grounds.”[/fn] But that changed as the club’s situation worsened in the mid-1950s. Decreased ball park attendance — whether the product of declining talent on the field, the decaying state of the Polo Grounds, parking problems, competition from nightly trotting races at nearby Roosevelt Raceway, and/or television — precipitated problems meeting payroll. Meanwhile, the abandonment by city officials of proposals for the construction of a new sports stadium on Manhattan’s west side may have crushed whatever hope Horace held for a Giants renaissance in New York.
Whatever the underlying reasons, he came to the conclusion that New York “could not support three baseball teams.”[fn]Joe King, “Now It’s Certain: Giants Will Move After This Year,” The Sporting News, July 24, 1957.[/fn] Testifying in July 1957 before a Congressional subcommittee probing the relocation of baseball franchises, Stoneham declared that “if our club doesn’t make an immediate move, it is faced with the problem of diminishing income and may lose the opportunity to move later.”[fn]Jack Walsh, “Three’s a Crowd in NY, Says Stoneham,” The Sporting News, July 24, 1957.[/fn] Stoneham set his immediate sights on Minneapolis, where the Giants maintained an American Association farm club. But another prospective transfer location thereafter emerged: San Francisco. Aggressively, albeit discreetly, promoted by Bay Area officials acquainted with Horace, and with a Giants-friendly fan base derived from a decade of Arizona spring training baseball already in place, San Francisco was soon designated the new hometown of the Giants.[fn]During his Congressional testimony, Stoneham stated that he “would recommend” franchise relocation to the Giants corporate board. See “Baseball Is His Life: Horace Charles Stoneham,” New York Times, July 18, 1957. But given that Horace and his sister Mary Stoneham Aufderher (formerly Feeney) controlled 60 percent of the Giants stock, such a recommendation would be tantamount to a command.[/fn] Years later, Stoneham dismissed the widely held notion that he had served as cats’ paw for Brooklyn boss Walter O’Malley, intent on moving the Dodgers to Los Angeles and needing a relocation partner to saddle with San Francisco, the less-desirable West Coast venue. Said Horace: “If Brooklyn had picked San Francisco first, I would not have gone to Los Angeles. San Francisco was the place I preferred. Believe me when I say, San Francisco first, Los Angeles never.”[fn]The Sporting News, January 22, 1990.[/fn]
- Read more: Click here to read Part 2 of this series, on San Francisco Giants ownership history (1958-present)
BILL LAMB spent more than 30 years as a state/county prosecutor in New Jersey. He is the editor of “The Inside Game,” the newsletter of SABR’s Deadball Era Committee and the author of “Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial and Civil Litigation” (McFarland, 2013).