This article was written by L. Robert Davids
This article was published in 1980 Baseball Research Journal
Major league players, after their active diamond days are over, move into a range of occupations that are not much different from those which apply to most of the male population. Of course, a certain percentage branch off into other baseball or related positions, such as manager, coach, umpire, scout, executive, or broadcaster, which are an extension in some form of what they were doing earlier.
This brief survey of post-playing careers deals primarily with selected former players who went into a non-sports field and established a career identity of some importance which was separate from baseball. Of course, some of those we will discuss did not have much baseball identity except for playing at least for a short time in the major leagues. Even this minimum criterion eliminated our best candidate in the literature or writing field — Zane Grey — who played in the minors but never made it to the Big Time, at least in baseball.
There follows a discussion of some of the more prominent and specialized cases by occupational category.
Politics and Government: Gibson to Mizell
The category of Politics and Government is the easiest to document because the person is measured by the position he holds. Very few high positions have been held by former players. For example, no major league player has ever made it to the President’s cabinet and only two reached the sub-cabinet level. None has ever become mayor of a large U.S. city; it is worth noting, however, that Bobby Avila served as Mayor of Vera Cruz, Mexico.
Only two served as Governors of States, and four served in the U.S. Congress — three in the House and one in the Senate. As far as we can tell, only one became a Federal judge. The latter case may be a good starting point in a survey of former players who went into politics and government.
When mention is made of ball players becoming lawyers, the two who most immediately come to mind are John Montgomery Ward, the head of the Brotherhood of Baseball Players in 1890 and Dave Fultz, who established the Baseball Players Fraternity in 1912. Both were successful New York attorneys who continued their baseball connections. Two contemporary lawyers — Robert Murray Gibson and Fred Herbert Brown gained their reputations outside of baseball.
Robert Gibson, son of a Presbyterian minister, was born in Western Pennsylvania in 1869. He attended Penn State one year and was graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1889. He was a good baseball pitcher in the Pittsburgh area and was signed, not by Pittsburgh, but by the Chicago team in the Spring of 1890. Then Cap Anson had the audacity to start Gibson in a game against the Pittsburgh NL club on June 4, 1890. The hometown boy beat the Innocents (Pirates) 5-1. In spite of that auspicious start, Gibson did not want to leave the Pittsburgh area so Anson let him go. The embarrassed Innocents then picked him up, but he lost all three of his starts for them. Pittsburgh had a horrendous team in 1890, winning only 23 games and losing 113.
Gibson shortly left baseball to study law and was admitted to the Washington County bar in 1894. He became Assistant U.S. Attorney for Southwestern Pennsylvania in 1903 and in 1914 he became the First Assistant District Attorney of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh area). He had gained some attention three years before when he was assigned to prosecute Alaskan boundary cases. In 1922 President Harding appointed Gibson, a recognized Republican, as U.S. District Judge for Western Pennsylvania.
In his first ten years on the Federal Bench, Gibson handled a large volume of prohibition cases. Later he established an outstanding record in bankruptcy and selective service cases. He drew national attention in 1937 when he granted an injunction which temporarily halted the Government’s anti-trust suit against the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa). President Roosevelt was very upset by this decision and said the injunction in the Alcoa case was one of the reasons for seeking reform of the Federal Court. Judge Gibson replied, “We little fellows have to take the laws they give us and interpret them to the best of our abilities.”
For 26 years Gibson’s white moustache and tall (6’3″), spare frame were a familiar sight on the Federal bench. He was 79 when he retired in January 1949 as senior judge of the U.S. District Court. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorialized: “It will be a long time before whoever gets the appointment can hope to fill in the District the particular place that Judge Gibson had won among his respectful and admiring neighbors.” The Judge passed away in Pittsburgh on December 19, 1949.
Fred Herbert Brown was born in Ossippee, New Hampshire, in 1879 and worked his way through Dartmouth College. He was an outstanding athlete there and was catcher on the baseball team. Brown was signed by the Boston Nationals upon graduation and played in Haverhill, Providence, and later in Jersey City. He was with the Braves in both 1901 and 1902, getting into a few games as an outfielder and pinch hitter before returning to the minors. In the off-season he attended the Boston University Law School, and, after passing the bar exam in 1907, gave up baseball.
Brown practiced law in Somersworth, N.H. and served as mayor from 1914 to 1922. He also served in the State legislature and advanced in the political field. A Democrat, he was elected Governor of New Hampshire in 1922, serving two years. He was defeated for re-election and served as a member of the New Hampshire Public Service Commission from 1925 to 1933.
Brown ran for the U.S. Senate in 1932 and won in the Franklin Roosevelt/Democratic landslide of that year. He served one six-year term, 1933-39, and was defeated for re-election. However, he was the only former player ever to serve in the Senate. While in Washington he watched the baseball Senators at Griffith Stadium, and, because of his past baseball association, was usually included in the Presidential party at the opening game ceremonies.
President Roosevelt appointed him Comptroller General of the U.S. in 1939. The next year he was made a member of the U.S. Tariff Commission, but resigned in 1941 because of poor health.
These were the top positions achieved by any former player in the Executive Branch of Government.
In spite of declining health, Brown remained a power in New Hampshire politics. Democratic Presidential candidates, such as Harry Truman in 1948, consulted with him before entering the New Hampshire Presidential primary. Truman had been a Senate colleague of Brown in the late l930s. Brown died in Somersworth, N.H. February 3, 1955.
Fred Brown was not the first former player to become a State Governor or a Member of Congress. That distinction fell to John K. Tener, who served hi the House, 1909-11, a seat he gave up to become Governor of Pennsylvania, 1911-15. Ironically, Tener did not give up the Governorship in December 1913 when he began a 4½-year period as President of the National League. Such dual responsibility would not be possible today.
Tener, born in Ireland in 1863, played one game in the outfield for Baltimore in the American Association in 1885. He then pitched two years for the Chicago Colts in 1888-89, and one season for the Pittsburgh entry in the Players League in 1890. He settled in the Pittsburgh area and was a banker before he ran for Congress in 1908. Tener starred in the first Congressional Baseball Game in 1909. This popular outing, which pitted Congressional Democrats against Republicans, was played on an irregular basis until the mid-1950s when it became an annual event in Washington.
Pius Schwert, a name more suitable for a clergyman than a baseball player or a Congressman, nevertheless was a back-up catcher for the Yankees in 1914-15, and a Democratic Congressman from New York in 1939-41. Born near Buffalo in 1892, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1914 and was captain of the baseball team. He played in the minors in Jersey City, Newark, and Buffalo until 1917 when he served as a naval officer in World War I. He did not go back to baseball after the war, but, like Tener, went into the banking business.
From 1933 to 1938 Schwert was Erie County Clerk in Buffalo. He won election to Congress in 1938 from essentially the same district that sent pro football star Jack Kemp to Congress in 1970. Schwert won a second term in 1940. On March 11, 1941, in the middle of a speech in Washington where he announced he was going to run for Mayor of Buffalo, he collapsed and died. He was only 48.
The best known former player to serve in Congress was Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, who served three terms as Republican Representative from North Carolina, 1969-75. He was born in Vinegar Bend, Alabama, which he described as a town so small that the city limits signs were placed back-to-back. He went to school across the state line in Mississippi and played most of his major league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. How did he then wind up in North Carolina? The answer is that he played minor league ball in Winston-Salem and that’s where he met Nancy McAlpine, whom he married in 1952. Ten years later when a sore arm ended his pitching career, he returned there to work for the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company.
How did he get into politics?
“Well, I was working in public relations and I made a lot of speeches around Winston-Salem. I’ll bet I made about 100 speeches a year. I always enjoyed talking to the public I used to do this with the Cardinals, talking at PTA meetings and to church groups in the St. Louis area. In 1966 I was elected Chairman of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners for a four-year term. The next year a Republican delegation came to see me and asked me to seek the Fifth District seat in Congress. I thought about it a little and said yes. It was as simple as that.”
Mizell beat his Democratic opponent by 9,000 votes, not a wide margin, but enough to send him packing to Washington. He was a striking figure, 6’3½” and weighing about 215, and wearing his dark hair in a crew cut. He was a strong “law-and-order” Representative and reflected the conservative views of his constituency. His humble beginning and his lack of education beyond high school didn’t seem to handicap him as he twice won re-election. And when he lost out in 1974, former Republican House colleague Gerald Ford, who had become President, appointed him an Assistant Secretary of Commerce. He served 1975-76 and ran again for the House seat in the Bicentennial Year. But the Democratic ticket headed by Jimmy Carter swept much of the South and Mizell again went down to defeat. Another southern casualty that year was Bobby Richardson, former Yankee second baseman, who lost his bid to become a Republican Representative from South Carolina.
Mizell says his biggest baseball thrill was playing in the 1960 World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The big southpaw quickly admits that he performed poorly, being knocked out of the box by the Yankees in the first inning, but the ultimate Pirate Series win over the New Yorkers on Bill Mazeroski’s home run was more than enough to balance out his personal disappointment. He was a team player, on the ball field and in Congress.