Archive for the ‘Executives’ Category

Executives: Albert Spalding

April 1, 2009
I love the mustache. I wish mine could hold up on its own, but then again, I’d look like my dad. Scratch that thought.

Albert Goodwill Spalding was born on September 2, 1850 in Byron, Illinois. His family was very rich, but when his father died in 1858, the family moved away to Rockford. Not knowing anyone and trying to keep loneliness at bay, Spalding started playing baseball, and he became so good that the Forest Citys, a very good amateur team. Soon, the Chicago Excelsiors held a tournament in which Spalding beat the Washington Nationals, and the Excelsiors brought him aboard. When Harry Wright developed the National Association, he brought the young pitcher with him. Besides being one of the National Association’s best pitchers, he and Wright worked together to promote different tours through England to promote the game.

Spalding was an excellent pitcher. While in Boston, he ran off seasons of 38, 41, 52, and 55 wins utilizing a good fastball/changeup combination. However, the National Association had its vices — namely drinking and gambling — , and Spalding severely disapproved. In response, Spalding and others helped form the National League in 1876. He would be part of the first Chicago White Stockings team, and in his first and only season as a pitcher, he again won over 40 games (47 to be exact). Spalding was also the team captain. The next season, in 1877, he curiosly switched positions and became a full-time first baseman, but the team suffered, going from first to fifth. After one game in 1878, he retired from playing at age 27.

The next step in his journey was to the White Stockings front office. Spalding became the secretary (back then, secretaries were often the heir-apparent to owners/presidents and not what we think of them today), and following the death of of president William Hulbert in 1882, he became president. The White Stockings, under his leadership, won pennants in 1882, 1885, and 1886. He would be one of the first teams to utilize Spring Training when they went to Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1886. In the scope of all of baseball, he organized worldwide tours, building on successes he had in England.

All along, Spalding had another profession — sporting goods. He and his brother Walter used his fame to quickly build up the company, which began in 1876. Within a few years, outlets of his store were spread across the country.

Then came labor unrest. Spalding, an owner, was always in favor of promoting the “reserve clause”, but by 1890, the Brotherhood, one of the first players’ unions, threw a fit. They created the Players Association, but Spalding deftly crushed the league and created a monopoly on professional baseball. This grip would be held for another 13 seasons, but the foundation he laid was in use much longer.

One of his most influential moments, if not his most misguided, was his creation of the Mills Commission. Henry Chadwick had written an article stating that baseball came from a British game. Having spent his life making baseball an American game, Spalding, a good friend of Chadwick’s, butted heads with his friend. The Commission found its answer in a letter saying that Abner Doubleday invented baseball. Despite several flaws, Spalding and the Commission adopted the fairy tale.

In 1915, he died of a stroke but not before leaving $600,000 for his family (about $12 million by today’s standards, but I imagine he would have made a lot more if were around today).


Executives: Charlie Comiskey

March 14, 2009
Love him or hate him, he was just taking advantage of the rules.

Charles Albert Comiskey was born on August 15, 1859 in Chicago, Illinois. His father was an alderman in Chicago, and he was so popular that he was given the name “Honest John”. The elder Charles wanted his son to be a plumber, but his son had other ideas. The younger Charles wanted to be a baseball player, but in order to discourage him, Charles sent his son Charles to Saint Mary’s College in Kansas. Unfortunately, that was the best thing for young Charles’ career.

Comiskey met Ted Sullivan, the owner of a team in Milwaukee, who asked him to come play for his semi-pro team. Before 1879, first basemen played with their foot on the bag to start the play, but Sullivan taught Comiskey to play off the bag in order to increase range and get to more balls. Comiskey tried it, and the strategy became such a success that now it’s a common sense practice. Three years later, Comiskey took a step forward and became a member of the American Association, playing for the St. Louis Browns. He wasn’t a particularly good player, but his biggest impact would come as a manager. While player-manager, he led his team to 4 consecutive championships, and as a manager for his 15 seasons, he was 839 and 542 (he also managed the Chicago Pirates and Cincinnati Reds).

In 1894, Comiskey began a new career as an owner. He left Cincinnati to buy a team in Sioux City, Iowa, and he immediately moved it to St. Paul, where it became the St. Paul Saints. Not really content in St. Paul, Comiskey negotiated with the National League in order to bring his team to Chicago and share the city. Not seeing him as a serious threat, they allowed it. In 1900, Comiskey moved his team to Chicago where they became the White Stockings. The next season, the American League became an official major league, and the battle was on. Over the next thirty years, Comiskey would help build Comiskey Park in 1910 and oversaw five American League championships.

Comiskey’s career, however, was not all happy. Referred to as “frugal” by his supporters, Comiskey was closer to stingy and outright abusive to his players. His players frequently made less than $5,000 a season in a time where most still made over $10,000, but because free-agency didn’t exist, there wasn’t a thing a guy like Shoeless Joe Jackson could do. When Comiskey promised Eddie Cicotte $10,000 for winning 30 games, he benched the pitcher in order to avoid paying him once Cicotte reached 29 wins. When the 1919 Black Sox scandal occurred, one reason for it was that the players had been so underpaid. The bet was easy money. Originally, Comiskey supported his players but ultimately supported Landis and the MLB. Deprived of his best players, he, karmically, never saw his team have another winning record.

Despite his reputation being tarnished, Comiskey still went in the Hall of Fame in 1939.

Executives: George Wright

February 17, 2009
Love the hair.

Born on January 28, 1847, George Wright was the original shortstop for the original Cincinnati Red Stockings in the original National League, but his career in baseball is much more involved. At first, he played for the New York Gothams, the second oldest baseball team after the Knickerbockers, as the catcher. After the 1864 season, he went to play for a cricket team for a year until the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) became better organized and membership tripled. In the 1866 season, he switched from catcher shortstop. At this point, the association was purely amateur, but that changed in 1869.

George and his brother Harry moved to Cincinnati to start a new team, and the NABBP finally allowed the players to be paid. The team played in 1869, but in 1870, it folded even though it was possibly the best team and had just gone undefeated across the continent the year before. Harry was hired to build a team in Boston, so he took George and went to Boston, also bringing along the Red Stockings nickname. In their first National Association season in 1871, the Boston team almost won the first pennant, but George broke his leg, missing most of the season. After making a few changes to the team, Boston won the next four pennants, but despite the dominance, four of their best players left the team when the new National League was created.

The next stage of George’s career was management. He took over the Providence Grays and bested his brother’s team, but he would quit after the season to go back to playing. In the meantime, George helped start a sporting goods company called Wright & Ditson, and afte the 1879 season, he went back to Boston to take care of the business. Two years later, Harry was hired by Providence, and he brought back his brother for one more season in which George hit .320.

Later, he would work on the Mills Commission trying to discover the beginnings of baseball. He would also help the Baseball Hall of Fame work on the centennial celebrations and the initial inductions. He would be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937, just before a fatal stroke. He would not be alive to be inducted or to see the fruits of his labor.

Executives: Ban Johnson

January 27, 2009
The man behind the AL — more on that tomorrow.

Byron Bancroft Johnson was born January 5, 1864 in Norwalk, Ohio. He first went to Marietta College to study law, but he would not complete his degree. Instead, Johnson went to work for a paper in Cincinnati and eventually became the sports editor. While in Cincinnati, he became friends with Charles Comiskey and Reds owner John Brush. After seeing his intelligence, the two suggested he be the next commissioner of the faltering Western League. A few years later, the Western League, a minor league, was the best-run league in baseball.

How did he do it? Well, Johnson wasn’t a fan of the National League. He hated the atmosphere which drove away families and women. In response, he supported his umpires and fined players and managers who disrespected umpires. Johnson would also fine players and managers who used foul language. This created an atmosphere of obedience to a sport without any, and the additional crowds brought in more money.

Johnson, however, still despised the National League, and working with Comiskey, the two set out to make another major league. In 1900, he renamed the Western League the American League, and a year later, he removed the Western League from the National Agreement, which was an understanding between the National League and the other minor leagues. This effectively made the American League a professional league. Johnson placed teams in Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. in order to directly compete with the National League, and when the NL capped salaries at $2,400 in 1901, Johnson pounced. AL teams began to offer larger contracts, and players jumped from the NL to the AL. The AL would win those attendance wars in the big cities and forced the NL to come to an agreement. In the new National Agreement, the NL made the AL a co-major league.

That would be the high point of Johnson’s career. Possibly because of his overconfidence in office, Johnson took full control of the American League and would even refuse certain people to join if they disagreed. This caused a rift between the league’s teams. Teams began to defy Johnson, and the final straw came in 1920. He refused to believe Comiskey’s warnings that the White Sox were fixing the World Series, and when it was discovered, the two leagues decided for another leader to head the two leagues. Kenesaw Landis became that man and took the reins as the first Commissioner of Baseball. Johnson and Landis butted heads, but because Johnson had already caused trouble in the AL, Landis won the battle, officially transforming baseball from Sparta (two kings) to Macedonia (one king).

Johnson was officially pushed out in 1928, but he would still be elected into the Hall of Fame in 1937. An interesting note — he died on my birthday (March 28) in 1931.

Executives: Morgan Bulkeley

January 21, 2009
I want a ‘stache like that.

A slight twist from the Hall of Fame series, this series includes executives, mainly from the Hall of Fame (if you know some that aren’t in the Hall but deserve to get a shoutout, shoot me an email), whereas the Hall series is strictly players (yeah, that isn’t exactly fair, but I kind of wanted to separate them and make sure they got special attention). Anyway, these are the same type of mini-bios. Baseball is more than just players, okay.

Morgan Gardner Bulkeley was born December 26, 1837 in East Haddam, Connecticut into a family descendant from the Mayflower. His father was a prominent member of the Connecticut Republican Party, which would serve his son well later, and the founder of the Aetna Life Insurance Company. The elder Bulkeley wouldn’t let his son bask in the family wealth, however, and made him sweep the floors for a dollar a day. Later, the younger Bulkeley would go work for H.P. Morgan and Company as a salesman and errand boy. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the Union Army. After the Civil War, he came back to work for H.P. Morgan, but his father died in 1872, leading to the younger Bulkeley returning to Hartford to form the United Bank of Hartford.

Two years later, he came into contact with baseball and formed the Hartford Blues as part of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBB). In 1876, the NAPBB was replaced by the National League, and Hartford became a charter member and Bulkeley became the first President of the National League. He didn’t last long in the position as William Hulbert replaced him a year later. As President, Bulkeley targeted illegal gambling and drinking, trying to improve baseball’s image, but he left because of his desire to get into politics.

First, he served on the Board of Alderman in Hartford and became the third president of Aetna. In 1880, he ran for both the gubernatorial seat of Connecticut and the mayorial seat of Hartford. He lost the governor’s race but won the mayorial race, but after serving as mayor for eight years, he ran and won the governor’s race. He actually had fewer votes than the other major competitor, but neither got the required 50%. The legislature took it from there, and the largely Republican legislature made Bulkeley the governor. A weird incident left him in as governor in 1890 even though he didn’t run. After serving the term anyway, he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1905 and won.

Just in case you think he had nothing else to do with baseball, he was part of the Mills Commission that decided Abner Doubleday was the inventor of baseball (maybe we should just leave his legacy as his presidency and his politics). Connecticut later honored Bulkeley by naming a bridge after him, and as odd as this sounds, they had a birthday party for the bridge this past October. In 1937, he was further cemented into baseball lore when he was elected into the Hall of Fame.