This article was written by R. J. Lesch
This article was published in The National Pastime (Volume 27, 2007)
John Drebinger once wrote of Eddie Brannick, “He has legions of friends, remembers the birthdays of many of then, yet once couldn’t recall the date of his own. A gourmet of rare taste, he knows how and where to dine and will order a meal of excellence only to touch scarcely any of it because he is forever hopping up and down, answering phone calls and attending to the difficulties of others. Attired in the height of fashion with a blazing foulard that will knock your eye out at 40 paces, he thinks nothing of also wearing a beard two days old, because his whiskers are very tough, he cannot shave himself and he does not find time to sit long enough in a barber’s chair to have them removed. And, though he has seen thousands of ball games, he has never sat through a complete game in his life.”
During his 65-year tenure with the Giants, Eddie Brannick went from office boy to club secretary, from Manhattan to San Francisco, from schoolboy shorties to sartorial splendor, from a face in the crowd to coast-to coast fame.
He was born Edward Thomas Brannick, at 441 West 31st Street, New York City, on July 22, 1892. This was on the edge of the tough Irish neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen, where, as Brannick put it later, “it was a tossup to see if you became a bad boy or an altar boy.” He had the same name as his father, who was of Scottish descent. His mother Elizabeth’s family was Irish. Her brother, Tommy Mallon, was a semi-pro ballplayer, and it was Tommy who introduced Brannick to the game.
Brannick attended St. Michael’s Parochial School, and would make his way to the Polo Grounds to see the Giants whenever he could scare up a quarter for a bleacher seat. Before long, though, he had the opportunity to see his beloved Giants at close quarters-closer than he ever could have dreamed, and for longer than he could possibly have imagined.
During the heat of the 1904 pennant race, while the Giants were on the road, Giants owner John T. Brush installed a scoreboard in old downtown Madison Square Garden at Madison Avenue and 26th Street, so Giants fans could follow the action. Eddie’s cousin Jimmy Mallon was one of the youngsters hired to run the scoreboard. As news of the games came through the wire, boys would post numbers or move figures around the board to show the score, the outs, and who was on which base. Brush put the board up again during the Giants’ first Western road trip of 1905, which ran from June 1 through June 22, and Jimmy brought Eddie along to assist.
Brush suffered from locomotor ataxia, a degenerative condition of the nervous system. An invalid, he often hired errand boys. He took a liking to Eddie and, after the western road trip was over, hired Brannick as an office boy on June 27, 1905. Eddie continued to run errands for Brush that summer, and also kept Brush’s collection of newspaper clippings about the Giants in a scrapbook. The work paid three dollars a week, excellent pay for a 12-year-old in those days.
In April 1906, when the Giants returned to town for the new baseball season, Giants manager John J. McGraw asked Brush for a boy to work in the clubhouse at the Polo Grounds. Brush sent Brannick, who quit school for good at that point. The gruff McGraw took a liking to the genial lad, and a friendship began which would last until McGraw’s death in 1934.
Not that the arrangement was always carefree. Brush, who rarely tampered with McGraw’s running of the ball club, drew the line at the Giants’ intemperate use of baseballs. In 1908 he made Brannick the custodian of the ball bag. This required Brannick to sit on the bench and to dole out the baseballs as needed. “I want to tell you I kept a sharp eye on them.”
One morning Brush sent Brannick to the bank, and Brannick returned late. “If you are the custodian of the baseballs, be here on time or quit!” McGraw thundered.
“I had to go to the bank for Mr. Brush,” Eddie stammered.
“I don’t care where he sent you,” said McGraw. “When I say I want you here at one o’clock, that means one o’clock and not 15 minutes later. And if Brush or anyone else tells you to do something else, tell him you can’t do it because you have to be here. Do you understand?”
Years later, Brannick said, “That’s when I first knew who was really running the Giants.”
It is unclear when Brannick first started to travel with the Giants. Some sources have him making road trips with the Giants during the 1910 season, after club secretary Fred Knowles fell ill with tuberculosis. William M. Gray, a noted theatrical manager and advance agent who knew McGraw and Brush from the prestigious Lambs’ Club, was hired as interim secretary, then became secretary when Knowles was unable to return to his duties. Knowles would eventually succumb in 1911. Brannick was a natural choice for the position of assistant secretary. Whether he went on the road with the Giants in 1910, it is certain that he went to Marlin, TX, with the Giants for spring training in 1911. Brannick was 18 years old.
Of the many stories told about Brannick later in life, none perhaps galled him more than the famous “match fields” story. Brannick, so the tale goes, had never been west of New Jersey in his life. As the train sped through the farmlands of Illinois, Eddie was puzzled by winter stubble on the fields.
He asked Sid Mercer, writer for the New York Globe, “What’s growing in those fields?”
“They’re growing matches,” replied Mercer.
When Brannick showed skepticism, Damon Runyon chimed in: “Where else do you think matches come from?”
Mercer nodded. “The heads should be coming up soon,” he added.
Brannick would never live it down. He would later swear that the story was bunk, but no biography of Brannick, it seems, is without the story of the gullible youngster marveling over the great match fields of Illinois, while reporters stifled chuckles behind him.
Brannick assisted Gray in Marlin, and then got his first chance to fly solo as a road secretary. When the Giants broke camp in Marlin and started back to New York in March, McGraw split up his players into three squads. Each took a different route from Marlin to Richmond, VA, and played exhibition games along the way. Brannick accompanied the third squad, entirely made up of prospects and managed by Otis “Doc” Crandall, himself only 24 and enjoying his first managerial experience. Crandall and Brannick successfully shepherded their charges through two weeks of barnstonning before rejoining the Giants in Richmond.
Brannick served as assistant secretary under Gray through 1911, shouldering road duties and other responsibilities. He stayed on under Joseph O’Brien in 1912, under John Foster from 1913 through 1919, and under James J. Tierney through 1936. Tierney made Brannick the official road secretary in 1922, and for the next 40 years Brannick led the Giants on every road trip.
It seems natural that the young Brannick would have the desire to play ball himself. This is the theme of another famous Brannick story, in which Brannick rushes to the mound to pitch for the Giants in a spring exhibition game. Various dates are given for this feat, all in the mid-191Os, but they seem to agree that the game took place in Columbus, GA. A Fred Lieb account indicates that Brannick’s catcher was Bradley Kocher, who was with the Giants in 1915 and 1916, and the injured pitcher was Al Williams, a Fordham hurler who went to spring training with the Giants in 1914 and later earned fame as a Navy aviator. Williams’s injury left the Giants’ second team without a pitcher that day. Brannick, so the story goes, put a friend in place to watch the turnstiles for him while he jumped into a uniform, warmed up, then pitched seven innings of one-run ball. “Brannick held a 2-1 lead until the eighth inning, when in fielding a ball he turned his ankle. Rube Schauer, whose trade was pitching, then went in and the Giants lost, 3 to 2.”
A game between a Giants squad and the Columbus ball club resembling this description (with Kocher catching and Schauer blowing the lead in the ninth) occurred in spring 1916. The newspaper account of the game lists another pitcher and does not mention Brannick, who in any case did not go to spring training with the Giants in 1916. (The Giants went on to win in extra innings, further spoiling the story.) If Brannick actually pitched for the Giants, the box score has yet to be found.
It is true, however, that on June 9, 1912, Brannick pinch-hit in an exhibition game in Long Branch, NJ, which the Giants won, 11- 10. The New York Times account notes that in his ball playing debut the assistant secretary “ripped a stinging single to right field” in the top of the ninth, then scored. However, his “wabbly” fielding in the bottom half of the frame opened the door to a four-run Long Branch rally, which almost lost the game for the Giants. The Times reporter did not note who handled the turnstile duties for the Giants that day.
McGraw, though willing to humor the young man with an occasional exhibition game stint, discouraged Brannick from going further. “You give up the idea of being a big-league ballplayer and stick with the front office,” McGraw told Eddie, “and someday you MIGHT amount to something.” Brannick agreed. “That was certainly good advice for me.”
Brannick was on hand for many of the highlights in Giant history. He was guarding the ball bag on the Giants bench on September 23, 1908, during the infamous “Merkle Game.” He was checking the turnstiles at Fenway Park during the last inning of game eight of the 1912 World Series, when Fred Snodgrass dropped Clyde Engle’s fly ball. “I knew it before it happened,” Brannick said.
“John Beydler was with me and a fan came up and shook my hand in congratulation for the victory of the Giants. I said to John Beydler, ‘That jinxes it! We’ll lose now.’ … By the time I had the turnstile checked Boston had won the series.
“But don’t forget,” the Giants’ goodwill ambassador would say, “we had our good days, too.” He considered the 1921 Giants the best team he had ever seen. “They were a collection of star players everybody knew and respected,” he said. “They had the psychological edge the great champion has, like a Dempsey or a Louis, of imparting fear to an opponent before a ball was pitched.”
Whenever a reporter asked Brannick to name favorite Giants, one name always topped the list: Christy Mathewson. The tall, handsome, gentlemanly Mathewson was everyone’s hero, of course. It was with some reluctance, though, that Brannick once had the unpleasant duty of consigning the great Matty to an “upper” on a road trip.
The sleeper cars on trains had upper and lower berths. The upper berths were less desirable because people in them felt the train car’s swaying motions more keenly. The curtains sometimes did not block the corridor lights effectively, either. For that reason, sometime early in his tenure, Brannick was nervous when on one trip there weren’t enough lower berths in the Pullman sleeper car and six players had to take upper berths.
McGraw told the young Brannick to let the players draw berths out of a hat. Brannick laid aside a lower for Matty, but McGraw said ”Nothing doing. Let him draw with the rest. There are no stars on this ball club.”
Sure enough, Mathewson drew an upper.
This still took McGraw aback, but as he told Brannick, “That’s the way to work for me-always treat all the Giants alike.”
To Brannick’s relief, Mathewson waved it off. “When I’ m on my own,” he told the young assistant, “I always buy an upper. It’s cheaper.”
Brannick usually put Carl Hubbell in the same class as a pitcher, and also listed Mel Ott and Willie Mays as among the top Giants. Few men, of course, had the same opportunity to compare these great ballplayers that Brannick had.
Brannick’s personal life began to stabilize after Charles Stoneham took over ownership of the Giants in 1919. Brannick kept his job despite a front-office purge, even becoming good friends with Stoneham’s son Horace. In 1920, Brannick “took the pledge.” This was around the time when McGraw’s drinking began to take its toll; the ugly drunken brawl between McGraw and actor John Slavin was in August of that year. Perhaps his friend’s behavior was a factor in Brannick’s decision to quit drinking. Brannick became a prodigious coffee drinker instead. In June 1922 he married Kathleen Duggan. T heir marriage lasted 53 years.
On February 15, 1936, a month after the death of the elder Stoneham, James J. Tierney resigned as club secretary. New president Horace had to look no further than his good friend Brannick, who by then had already celebrated his 30th anniversary with the Giants. Brannick remained club secretary for the next 35 years. It was said of the Giants’ road secretary that he “never lost a ballplayer or a piece of luggage.” He was just as valuable to the reporters and VIPs who traveled with the Giants. Though sticking to his pledge, he always knew where to find alcohol during Prohibition, no matter which city the Giants visited. “Since the passing of McGraw,” said one reporter, “the man who can beat Eddie to grabbing the check has yet to be born.”
But Brannick’s value to the Giants went beyond his logistics skills. “Eddie was a priceless goodwill man for the whole game,” wrote Red Smith. “He was naturally gregarious with a genuine liking for people. He didn’t drink, but he could stay up all night buying. Wherever he went he made friends for baseball and the Giants. He was at home in the New York of Delmonico’s and Rector’s and in the New York of Jim Moore’s, 21 and Toots Shor’s. He was also at home in Chicago and St. Louis and Miami. To a lot of people in those towns, he epitomized New York.”
His facility with the press was particularly valuable to a ballclub whose managers-McGraw, Bill Terry, Leo Durocher-had a knack for making enemies. It fell to Brannick to deliver bad news, smooth ruffled feathers, and mend fences. His easy grin, friendly manner, and generous nature made friends for himself and his Giants. Not only did Brannick get along with writers, but also he was voted honorary membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America and the Press Photographers Association. His gold-mounted honorary BBWAA membership card was one of his most prized possessions.
Outside baseball, Brannick numbered actors, politicians, and business tycoons among his friends. Brannick was even approached to run for New York’s Fifth Congressional district, some time during the Roosevelt years, but Brannick declined. “My wife Kathleen was against my going into politics,” he said. “Besides, all I ever wanted was to be with the Giants.”
His style of dress evolved into something newsworthy as well. Just as rare as a photo of Brannick not smiling is a description of him that does not contain the word “dapper.” “He was a dude, from his floppy Panama hat to the two-toned black and white shoes,” wrote Jimmy Cannon. “The sports coats are a boisterous plaid, and his neckties are designed to frighten horses.” When Brannick went to Italy on vacation following the 1938 season, he returned with several new suits, a rich vocabulary of Italian words, a rosary blessed by the Pope (who had granted an audience), and a mustache. The facial hair gave his reporter friends material for several months. The amusement ended on May 13, 1939, with the Giants in next to last place with a 9-12 record. To kill the jinx, Brannick shaved off his mustache. The Giants won the next day, though not even a clean-shaven secretary could help them finish the season higher than fifth place.
Although Brannick got along with everyone, he inherited McGraw’s and Brush’s antipathy for the American League and the Brooklyn Dodgers. A fierce National League partisan, he once refused to speak to his good friend Tom Meany for several years after Meany wrote an article titled “The National, the new Minor League” in the late 1930s. Brannick said, “Tommy couldn’t have offended me more had he written disparagingly of my brother.” As for the Dodgers, he once said, “There is something about Dodgers that I can’t stand.” Friends would tease him by asking whether it was true that the Dodgers had made him an offer to be their club secretary, just to enjoy Brannick’s explosive reaction. Yet upon the occasion of his 50th anniversary with the Giants in 1955, even Walter O’Malley attended the gala in Brannick’s honor at the Waldorf-Astoria.
Brannick naturally had a box in the Polo Grounds grandstand, but loaned it to friends. Superstitious, he watched from the bleachers instead, always leaving around the seventh inning to make the rounds and check the gates. When Brannick finally watched a game from beginning to end from his Polo Grounds box, it was September 29, 1957. The Pirates sank the Giants 9-1, in their last home game in New York. Afterward, Brannick watched sadly as fans tore signs off walls, telephones from booths, and chunks of the pitching rubber and home plate from the field.
Horace Stoneham’s decision to move the Giants to San Francisco forced Brannick, the true New Yorker, to make a difficult decision: his city or his ball club? “Eddie would look lost away from Broadway,” wrote one reporter. “He’s as much a part of the main stem as a Damon Runyon character.” In the end, though, when the Giants moved West, Brannick moved with them. One of his first questions, to a San Francisco reporter, was “Will we be able to stir up something against the Dodgers?” W hen assured that a San Francisco-Los Angeles rivalry was virtually a sure thing, Eddie grinned. “Count me in on the fun.” He and his wife embraced San Francisco, though naturally they kept an apartment in New York.
Eventually, even the dynamic Brannick needed to slow down. He developed pneumonia in February 1963 and missed spring training for the first time since 1916. Two years later, he turned over the road secretary duties. At last, on February 23, 1971, he sent a telegraph to Horace Stoneham, announcing his resignation as club secretary. Stoneham informed the press, his voice heavy with emotion. The last link with the Giants of McGraw and Mathewson was gone after 65 years of service. Brannick and his wife retired to West Palm Beach, FL, living quietly until his death on July 18, 1975, at the age of 82.
R.J. LESCH (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Adel, Iowa, with his lovely wife, Christee. When not doing systems analysis, cheering on the White Sox or researching the Deadball Era, R. J coaches sabre (naturally) at the Des Moines Fencing Club.
The material in this article comes largely from the Eddie Brannick file in the National Baseball Library, from Retrosheet and from the online archives of the New York Times. Special thanks goes to Gabriel Schechter for his assistance and encouragement.