|Wednesday, June 26
Only four GMs in Hall of Fame
By Doug Pappas
Special to ESPN.com
Of the 23 men elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as "executives or pioneers," just four were honored for doing the job of a modern club president or general manager. Several Hall of Fame owners ran their own clubs, and several Hall of Fame managers also oversaw the business side of their organizations, but only Ed Barrow, Branch Rickey, George Weiss and Larry MacPhail were salaried employees responsible for their teams' off-field operations.
All four earned their plaques for services rendered from about 1920 to 1960. Before World War I the owner usually acted as his own GM, while no GM from the expansion era has yet garnered the necessary support from the Veterans Committee. The four inductees include two of 20th-century baseball's greatest innovators and the men responsible for the Yankees' four decades of dominance.
The Cardinals' philosophy was simple. By controlling dozens of minor-league teams (and in at least one case, an entire minor league), they could evaluate hundreds of players at a time, promoting the best and selling the rest to other clubs. The steady stream of young talent also allowed Rickey to keep the Cards' payroll low. He sold off aging veterans as soon as their replacements were ready, convinced that it was better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late.
Between 1922 and 1942, Rickey's Cardinals won six pennants, had just three losing seasons and sold $2 million worth of players to other clubs -- all without buying a single player from another organization. Rickey was amply rewarded for his ingenuity, as his contract gave him a commission of 10 percent on all player sales.
Rickey left the Cardinals after the 1942 season and soon joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite the wartime ballplayer shortage, Rickey invested heavily in prospects, positioning the Dodgers for postwar success. That success, and Rickey's place in the history books, was assured when he stared down the unanimous opposition of every other major league club to break the color line with Jackie Robinson. The Dodgers won the NL pennant in Robinson's first year (1947), then grew stronger as Rickey added Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe.to join him.
After losing a power struggle with Walter O'Malley, Rickey left the Dodgers in 1950. He soon surfaced in Pittsburgh, but the magic touch was gone. Rickey proclaimed a five-year plan to rebuild the Pirates; the team responded by finishing last in four of the five seasons. Rickey, who served on the Veterans Committee from 1953 until his death in 1965, was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.
After running the Cardinals' top minor-league team in Columbus, Ohio, MacPhail came to Cincinnati in 1934 to take over a club so weakened by the Depression that its owner had turned the team over to its creditors. Instead of lamenting that "small markets can't compete," MacPhail embarked on a spending spree to rival the WPA. He recruited industrialist Powel Crosley Jr. to buy the Reds, borrowed $50,000 more from the National League, and spent over $100,000 on players in 1934 alone.
During the offseason he persuaded the NL to let the Reds install the majors' first lighting system. Even with an arbitrary limit of seven night games per season, night ball proved an immediate success. MacPhail's investment brought a quick return both on and off the field: Cincinnati paid off the loan from the league in 1938, then won the 1939 and 1940 NL pennants.
By then MacPhail was competing with his own creation. He had left the Reds in September of 1936 to become a banker, but was soon lured back into baseball to run the Brooklyn Dodgers. As in Cincinnati, MacPhail spent heavily on players and installed lights. He also broke the gentleman's agreement among the three New York clubs to keep their games off the radio, importing Red Barber from Cincinnati to call Dodgers games, and even authorized an experimental television broadcast in 1939. MacPhail's Dodgers won the 1941 pennant, then lost to St. Louis in 1942 despite winning 104 games.
MacPhail left the Dodgers after 1942 to rejoin the Army. After World War II he, Dan Topping and Del Webb bought the New York Yankees from the estate of Jacob Ruppert. The Yankees hardly needed rebuilding and weren't used to the chaos that surrounded MacPhail, who elbowed aside future Hall of Famers Ed Barrow and George Weiss to run the club himself. After the Yankees won the 1947 World Series, MacPhail sold out to his partners and left baseball for good.
The Empire Builders
After leading the Sox to their fifth World Series title, Barrow spent a quarter-century ensuring they wouldn't win a sixth. He left Boston after the 1920 season to become business manager of the New York Yankees. Barrow didn't forget the players he had left behind in Boston. Babe Ruth and Carl Mays had already preceded him to New York; over the next three years, Barrow imported Joe Bush, Joe Dugan, Waite Hoyt, Sam Jones, Herb Pennock, Wally Schang and Everett Scott from the Red Sox as well. When the Yankees won their first World Series in 1923, half of their starting lineup and five of their six top pitchers were former Red Sox.
But instead of fading like dynasties of the past, Barrow's Yankees just grew stronger. He signed Lou Gehrig from Columbia, then opened owner Jacob Ruppert's checkbook to buy Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, Lefty Gomez and ultimately Joe DiMaggio from their minor-league clubs. Noting the Cardinals' success at developing their own players, Barrow hired George Weiss to build a farm system, which soon ranked among the best in the majors.
Barrow ran the Yankees from 1921 through 1944, then served three years as chairman of the board while Larry MacPhail ran the club. During this period the Yankees won fifteen pennants and 11 World Series. When he retired, his record of success seemed impossible to duplicate ... but his successor would prove otherwise.
Weiss was promoted to general manager of the big club after the 1947 season, when Dan Topping and Del Webb bought out Larry MacPhail. He held the position until 1960, when he was forced to retire at age 65. Weiss' clubs won 10 pennants and seven World Series during his 13 years as GM, then ran off four more consecutive pennants after his ouster. All told, from 1936 through 1964 teams built by Weiss claimed 22 of 29 AL titles and sixteen World Series. Perhaps as an act of penance, Weiss finished his career as GM of the expansion New York Mets. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.
Doug Pappas is an attorney with New York's Mintz & Gold LLP, and is Chairman of SABR's Business of Baseball Committee. You can check out more work from the team of writers of the Baseball Prospectus (tm) at their web site at baseballprospectus.com.