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Seeking help in the heartland in his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York turned to a family friend, Stan Musial of the Cardinals.

Fifty years ago, on April 24, 1968, Musial was selected to lead National Sportsmen for Kennedy, a committee of sports figures recruited to boost the national candidacy of the younger brother of the late President John F. Kennedy.

Though Musial disliked controversy, and usually took every precaution to avoid getting embroiled in the kind of conflict politics naturally created, he waded with eyes wide open into the tumultuous 1968 presidential campaign because of his loyalty to the Kennedys.

Ties that bind

The relationship between Musial and the Kennedys began in Milwaukee in September 1959. Musial, still a prominent player at 38, was with the Cardinals for a series with the Braves. Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, 42, was in town, campaigning for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination.

“I was standing in front of the hotel, waiting for the bus for the game,” Musial told The Sporting News, “and a man came up to me and said, ‘You are Stan Musial and I’m glad to meet you. I’m Jack Kennedy.’ Of course I knew him. And then he said, ‘You’re too old to play ball and I’m too young to be president, but maybe we’ll fool ’em.’ ”

In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for president as the Democratic nominee against Republican Vice President Richard Nixon, Musial was part of the first National Sportsmen for Kennedy committee. Among those joining Musial on the 1960 committee were baseball’s Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Herzog and Willie Mays; football’s Sam Huff and Johnny Unitas; and basketball’s Bob Cousy.

Kennedy won the election and named his brother, Robert, to the position of Attorney General.

President Kennedy met with Musial at the 1962 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. The next day, Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri arranged for Musial, wife Lillian and daughter Janet to receive a VIP tour of the nation’s capital.

While at the Department of Justice, the Musials were greeted by Attorney General Kennedy, who asked whether they wanted to go to the White House and visit the president. Though Musial didn’t want special favors, Robert Kennedy insisted on arranging the White House meeting, and the Musials were brought to the Oval Office to see President Kennedy.

A few days later, on July 26, 1962, a letter from Attorney General Kennedy arrived for Musial at his St. Louis restaurant. Robert Kennedy wrote, “Dear Stan, many thanks for your nice note. It was good to see you and your family when you were in Washington and I am glad you enjoyed the tour of the White House and your meeting with the president.”

Two years later, in February 1964, Attorney General Kennedy and his wife Ethel attended the swearing in ceremony for Musial at the White House when the retired ballplayer was named by President Lyndon Johnson to lead the nation’s physical fitness program.

Two months after that, on April 17, 1964, with Musial at his side, Attorney General Kennedy threw the ceremonial first pitch at the Red Sox home opener at Fenway Park.

Open competition

By March 1968, President Johnson’s popularity waned because of the United States involvement in the war in Vietnam. On March 16, Senator Robert Kennedy announced he would seek the Democratic presidential nomination. Two weeks later, President Johnson declared he wouldn’t seek re-election.

With the president out of the running, the race for the Democratic nomination centered on Kennedy, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy. The winning candidate would need to show strength in the remaining state primaries.

Kennedy first focused on the May 7 primary in Indiana, a state considered especially challenging for an East Coast liberal.

With an eye toward boosting his appeal among Midwesterners, Kennedy tapped Musial to lead the committee of sports figures who would campaign for him. In addition to his sterling reputation, Musial also was the senior vice president of the defending World Series champion Cardinals.

Among those joining Musial on the 1968 National Sportsmen for Kennedy committee were Hank Aaron, basketball’s Bill Russell and football’s Gale Sayers, Herb Adderley and Paul Hornung.

Help with Hoosiers

On May 2, 1968, Musial played a visible role in joining Robert and Ethel Kennedy on the campaign trail in the northern Indiana towns of Elkhart and Mishawaka, near South Bend and the University of Notre Dame. An article in the next day’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, “Musial perched on the back of Kennedy’s open automobile along with Mrs. Kennedy in a motorcade through Elkhart and Mishawaka.”

The sight of Musial stumping for Kennedy helped to counter the work of celebrities such as actor Paul Newman, who campaigned for McCarthy in Indiana.

Kennedy won the Indiana primary and followed that with victories in primaries in Nebraska, South Dakota, Washington, D.C., and California.

On June 5, hours after he won the California primary, Kennedy, like his brother five years earlier, was shot by an assassin. He died on June 6 at age 42.

Humphrey won the Democratic nomination but was defeated in the election by Nixon.

Previously: Stan Musial shared a special bond with JFK

Previously: While nation mourned RFK, Cards reluctantly played

 

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The St. Louis Hawks were a first-place NBA team in 1968, but they were also-rans in the hearts of hometown sports fans.

Fifty years ago, on May 3, 1968, club owner Ben Kerner sold the Hawks to a group that moved them to Atlanta. The departure occurred 10 years after the franchise won its only NBA championship in 1958.

Though the Hawks were Western Division champions in 1968, finishing the regular season with a 56-26 record, their average home attendance was 6,288. Struggling to attract customers to St. Louis’ Kiel Auditorium, the Hawks played six of their home games in Miami during the 1967-68 season.

In 1955, when the Hawks relocated from Milwaukee, the baseball Cardinals were the only other major professional sports franchise in St. Louis. By 1968, though, the Cardinals and Hawks had been joined in St. Louis by the NFL Cardinals, the NHL Blues and the Stars of the North American Soccer League.

The baseball Cardinals were longtime kings in St. Louis, and the football Cardinals, as well as the Blues, who joined the NHL in 1967, surpassed the Hawks in popularity.

“Things have been going downhill slowly,” Kerner said to the Associated Press. “Since 1960, when the football Cardinals came here, people instead of buying eight season tickets from us split it four and four. The same thing happened again with hockey.”

Money ball

After beating the Boston Celtics in the 1958 NBA Finals, the Hawks had their peak home attendance years in the next three seasons, averaging 8,548 in 1958-59, 8,409 in 1959-60 and 8,561 in 1960-61, according to the Association for Professional Basketball Research.

The baseball Cardinals and the football Cardinals benefitted from the 1966 opening of Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis. The Blues, who reached the Stanley Cub Finals in their debut season, played at St. Louis Arena.

“The Hawks, it developed, could stand everything except competition for the sports buck,” Bob Broeg wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Coached by Richie Guerin and bolstered by standout players such as Zelmo Beatty, Lenny Wilkens, Joe Caldwell, Bill Bridges, Paul Silas and Lou Hudson, the Hawks opened the 1967-68 season by winning 16 of their first 17 games, but ticket sales remained flat.

“When your team starts off with a 16-1 record and you have a hard time drawing crowds at home, you have to wonder,” Kerner said.

Facing the San Francisco Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks played the first two games at St. Louis, drawing crowds of 5,018 and 5,810 to Kiel Auditorium, according to the Post-Dispatch. With the best-of-seven series tied at 2-2, Game 5 was played at St. Louis’ Washington University and attracted slightly more than 4,000.

“The crowds at the playoff games were very discouraging,” Kerner said. “This certainly was a factor in my decision to sell the club.”

Fast break

The Warriors, featuring players such as Rudy LaRusso, Nate Thurmond and Jeff Mullins, upset the favored Hawks, winning four of six games in their playoff series. Soon after, Kerner was approached by an Atlanta group, led by real estate developer Thomas Cousins and former Georgia governor Carl Sanders.

“Negotiations progressed rapidly,” Kerner said.

Cousins told The Atlanta Constitution a deal was reached quickly “because there were other cities who would have jumped in had we sat back.”

Kerner sold the Hawks for about $3.5 million, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“The attendance for the last four or five years has not been good,” Kerner said. “It appears that the interest is not there. If you have a product that people don’t want, you can’t make them buy it.”

Kerner said he tried to find a St. Louis group to purchase the Hawks, but didn’t find any.

Wrote Broeg: “Public apathy was apparent. The man was justified in selling, though it’s too bad he couldn’t have given St. Louisans one more chance or, because he’d become wealthy here, been willing to take a little less to keep it here.”

New South

Guerin told The Atlanta Constitution he was eager to coach the Hawks in Atlanta because the city was “very progressive, fast-growing and, equally, fast-developing.”

“The only thing about the sale that I’m a little down about is the fact I’m parting company with such a fine man as Mr. Kerner,” Guerin said. “It has been more than just a coach-owner relationship between the two of us. Mr. Kerner is a man for whom I have the greatest respect.”

The Hawks became the third major professional sports franchise to come to Atlanta since 1965, joining the baseball Braves and the NFL Falcons.

In 1968-69, their first season in Atlanta, the Hawks played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the Georgia Tech campus and averaged 4,474 per home game.

The Hawks never have won a NBA championship since moving to Atlanta. St. Louis never has gotten a NBA franchise since the Hawks departed, though they did have the Spirits, a team in the American Basketball Association, from 1974-76.

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Andy Benes left the Cardinals and went to the Diamondbacks because he, his agent and general manager Walt Jocketty couldn’t follow baseball rules.

On Feb. 3, 1998, Benes, a starting pitcher, signed a three-year contract worth $18 million to play for the Diamondbacks, who joined the National League as an expansion team that season.

Benes had reached an agreement to stay with the Cardinals, but the deal came together after expiration of a deadline mandated by the baseball owners’ Player Relations Committee.

Instead of getting the Cardinals’ offer of a five-year contract worth $32.5 million, Benes settled for less with the Diamondbacks.

Deadline pressure

Benes joined the Cardinals as a free agent after the 1995 season. He was 18-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 1996 and 10-7 with a 3.10 ERA in 1997 before becoming a free agent again.

The Cardinals wanted to re-sign him and Benes indicated he wanted to remain in St. Louis, but negotiations stalled.

Because the Cardinals hadn’t offered Benes salary arbitration, baseball rules established by the Player Relations Committee dictated he and the club had to reach a contract agreement by midnight on Dec. 7, 1997, or else Benes would not be eligible to re-sign with the Cardinals until May 1, 1998.

Benes didn’t want to wait until May to sign a contract, so it became imperative he and the Cardinals reach an agreement by the Dec. 7 deadline if he was to stay in St. Louis.

Breaking the rule

Jocketty and Benes’ agent, Scott Boras, went down to the wire in the negotiations. When it became apparent they needed more time, they asked Major League Baseball officials for an extension and were granted an additional 30 minutes to get a deal done.

The deadline extension passed without an agreement being reached. About two hours later, the sides settled on the five-year, $32.5 million contract.

The Player Relations Committee, however, ruled the agreement invalid because it hadn’t been reached in the allotted time.

Benes and the Cardinals initially appealed the ruling, but dropped the matter when it became clear baseball officials wouldn’t budge.

Bernie Miklasz, columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, questioned why the agreement wasn’t approved. “The bureaucrats who run baseball are poised to kill the deal and all of this good faith because of some arcane rule? Absurd,” Miklasz wrote.

Go west

With the Cardinals out of the picture, Benes and Boras negotiated with the Cubs, Mets and Indians, but got no offers, in part, because Boras wanted a contract clause that would allow Benes the option to leave his next team after one season.

With little bargaining leverage remaining, Benes agreed to the three-year offer from the Diamondbacks that gave him the option to depart after two seasons.

Though he could have waited until May and signed with the Cardinals, Benes feared he could suffer an injury during the wait and ruin any chance for a contract offer, so he opted to sign the guaranteed contract from the Diamondbacks.

“We made a very substantial offer, which unfortunately wasn’t able to get completed on time,” Jocketty said. “We can’t look back.”

Said Benes: “I was disappointed with the way things didn’t work out in St. Louis, but things sometimes don’t work out for a reason. Maybe (Arizona) is the place I was supposed to be after all.”

Post-Dispatch columnist Dan O’Neill described Benes’ departure as “a messy tale of a ballplayer burned by the system, a victim of bad timing, a casualty of miscommunication and red tape.”

Playing for a Diamondbacks club managed by Buck Showalter, Benes was 14-13 with a 3.97 ERA in 1998 and 13-12 with a 4.81 ERA in 1999. After that, he exercised his option, departed Arizona and rejoined the Cardinals, playing his final three seasons (2000-2002) with St. Louis.

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In November 1947, Sam Breadon was 71 years old and he was thinking about mortality. He had been principal owner of the Cardinals for 27 years, operating the club with a hands-on approach, and he didn’t think he could do the job much longer.

Though his heart favored keeping the business he loved, Breadon chose the path that made the most sense to him. He decided to sell.

By selling, Breadon would acquire the cash to ensure financial security for his wife and two daughters.

A sale also would enable Breadon to handpick buyers who were willing to keep the club in St. Louis and protect the jobs of his top employees.

Seventy years ago, on Nov. 25, 1947, Breadon sold the Cardinals to Robert Hannegan and Fred Saigh. Hannegan, 44, a St. Louis native, was Postmaster General of the United States. Saigh, 42, was a lawyer in St. Louis.

“It is unpleasant for me to dispose of the Cardinals,” Breadon told reporters, “but I believe, in the interest of the Cardinals, a man of the character and ability of Bob Hannegan, a younger man, will be able to do more in keeping the Cardinals in the position they are today than I could do from now on. This is the main reason for disposing of my interests.”

Two years later, both Breadon and Hannegan would be dead and Saigh would be the Cardinals’ majority owner.

Buy low, sell high

Breadon, a car dealer, was part of a group that bought the Cardinals in the spring of 1917. Three years later, he became majority owner and club president.

Together with his top baseball executive, the innovative Branch Rickey, Breadon brought the Cardinals from the brink of bankruptcy to top-tier status as one of baseball’s most successful franchises. From 1926 to 1942, the Cardinals won six National League pennants and four World Series titles.

When Rickey left in late 1942 and joined the Dodgers, Breadon didn’t replace him. Breadon, determined to show he could succeed without Rickey, took on many responsibilities of the top baseball executive. Over the next five seasons, the Cardinals finished first (1943), first (1944), second (1945), first (1946) and second (1947) and won two World Series crowns.

With the franchise’s value at a peak, Breadon made plans to sell. He knew and liked Hannegan. The two began negotiations after the 1947 season, Breadon told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Big deal

The purchase price, estimated by both the Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Star-Times to be about $4 million, was the “biggest financial transaction in baseball history,” according to United Press.

The buyers agreed to pay all Cardinals shareholders $400 per share. Breadon owned 77 percent of the stock.

“Sam said he would sell at a certain figure and, naturally, it was up to us to accept that price. We did,” Hannegan said to the Star-Times.

By what Saigh termed a “gimmick” in the tax law, he and Hannegan were able to make the transaction for a cash outlay of only $60,800, according to the Associated Press.

In addition to the major-league franchise, the sale included the Cardinals’ 16 minor-league clubs and property in St. Louis on Chouteau Avenue at Spring Avenue. Breadon had purchased that land as a possible site to build a ballpark for the Cardinals, who rented Sportsman’s Park from the American League Browns.

As majority owner, Hannegan “personally will have controlling interest” in the Cardinals, Breadon told the Star-Times. Hannegan was named club president and chairman of the board of directors. Saigh was given the titles of vice president and treasurer.

Well-connected

Hannegan, son of a St. Louis police captain, grew up a Cardinals fan. As a youth, he sold peanuts at Cardinals games and he was a member of the club’s original Knothole Gang.

After he was graduated from St. Louis University, where he played football and baseball, Hannegan became a lawyer and got into local politics as a ward boss for the Democratic Party.

From there, Hannegan steadily grew his political stature at the state level and he became friends with Harry Truman. President Franklin Roosevelt named Hannegan chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1944. A year later, Hannegan was appointed Postmaster General in the Cabinet of President Truman. Hannegan also stayed involved in sports, becoming a stockholder and board member of the Browns.

On the day he purchased the Cardinals, Hannegan resigned as Postmaster General. “The country is losing the services of a most efficient public servant,” Truman said.

Saigh, whose father operated groceries and department stores in northern Illinois, developed a law practice in St. Louis and “figured in several important real estate deals involving downtown office buildings,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Unhealthy situation

Hannegan said leaving Washington, D.C., and returning to St. Louis to run the Cardinals was “the happiest homecoming of my life.”

“From my boyhood, I have held fast to the belief that Sam Breadon and the Cardinals were champions, not only of a clean sport but in the eyes of the nation,” Hannegan said. “They have become, like our churches, schools, hospitals, parks and press, one of St. Louis’ finest civic assets.”

Good to their word, Hannegan and Saigh made no major changes for the 1948 season. The Cardinals again placed second with basically the same roster that had finished second in 1947, featuring manager Eddie Dyer and players such as Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter, Terry Moore and Marty Marion.

Hannegan, however, was in poor health. He had a history of high blood pressure.

By 1949, both Hannegan and Breadon, who had prostate cancer, were in rapid decline. In January 1949, Hannegan sold his shares to Saigh, giving him total control of the franchise.

Breadon, 72, died on May 8, 1949. Five months later, on Oct. 6, Hannegan, 46, died of heart disease.

In April 1952, Saigh was indicted on federal charges of income tax evasion. After he was sentenced to 15 months in prison, Saigh sold the Cardinals to Anheuser-Busch.

Previously: How close did Cardinals come to moving to Milwaukee?

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Club owner Sam Breadon wasn’t satisfied with Bob O’Farrell managing the Cardinals to a 92-win season. Breadon wanted O’Farrell to perform at the level of a most valuable player, too.

On Nov. 7, 1927, Breadon changed managers, replacing O’Farrell with coach Bill McKechnie, even though in his first season as player-manager, O’Farrell, a catcher, led the 1927 Cardinals to a 92-61 record and second place in the National League, 1.5 games behind the Pirates.

The 1927 club was the franchise’s first to achieve more than 90 wins in a season since the Cardinals joined the National League in 1892.

The year before, the 1926 Cardinals, with Rogers Hornsby as player-manager, finished in first place with 89 wins and defeated the Yankees in a seven-game World Series. O’Farrell’s play was significant in the success of the 1926 Cardinals. Solid on defense, he worked well with the pitching staff and batted .293 with 30 doubles and 68 RBI. O’Farrell was named winner of the 1926 NL Most Valuable Player Award.

In 1927, O’Farrell batted .264 with 10 doubles and 18 RBI. Though O’Farrell was slowed by injuries, Breadon concluded the catcher’s play was impacted negatively by the responsibilities of managing. With McKechnie, the former Pirates manager who led Pittsburgh to the 1925 NL pennant, on the coaching staff, Breadon opted to return O’Farrell to the status of fulltime player and promote McKechnie.

Who’s boss?

O’Farrell had done Breadon a big favor by agreeing to become player-manager in 1927.

After the Cardinals won their first World Series title in 1926, Hornsby demanded a three-year contract. Breadon offered a one-year deal. Unable to reach agreement, Breadon traded Hornsby to the Giants for Frankie Frisch, sparking a public outcry.

Attempting to quell the backlash, Breadon turned to O’Farrell, who was popular with the fan base.

Breadon wanted McKechnie, fired by the Pirates, to manage the 1927 Cardinals, but that wasn’t likely to appease the critics. Breadon got the next-best arrangement when McKechnie agreed to be a coach and serve as O’Farrell’s assistant.

“O’Farrell never was considered an outstanding candidate for a managerial job,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch declared, “and he was named as Hornsby’s successor chiefly because of his having been honored as the league’s most valuable player.”

At 1927 spring training, O’Farrell injured his right shoulder in an exhibition game. “The injury handicapped him most of the year,” the Post-Dispatch reported. Late in the season, O’Farrell also dislocated a thumb.

O’Farrell was limited to playing in 61 games and making 51 starts at catcher. He split playing time with Frank Snyder (55 starts) and Johnny Schulte (46 starts).

According to a biography of McKechnie by the Society for American Baseball Research, O’Farrell didn’t want to be manager and “he leaned heavily on McKechnie, occasionally calling time in mid-inning to go to the bench and consult his assistant.”

The Post-Dispatch suggested fans were aware McKechnie was calling the shots “under the disguise of a coach.”

James Gould, columnist for the St. Louis Star-Times, credited McKechnie with having “a quiet, suave handling, and a calm, collected policy.”

The Cardinals were in the 1927 pennant race until the end. They would have repeated as league champions if they’d done better against the Pirates. The Cardinals were 8-14 against Pittsburgh and 84-47 versus the rest of the National League.

Assessing value

Breadon and his top baseball executive, Branch Rickey, were impressed by McKechnie, especially with how he related to prospects.

Breadon met with O’Farrell after the 1927 season and informed him of his intention to make McKechnie the manager. O’Farrell “seemed to be willing and ready to slip out from under the tasks of a manager and devote all his time to playing,” The Sporting News claimed.

In the Star-Times, Gould surmised, “We cannot picture Bob O’Farrell as terribly unhappy over the change in his status.”

To lessen the sting of the demotion _ and perhaps to soothe his own conscious _ Breadon increased O’Farrell’s pay by $5,000, giving him a salary in excess of $20,000 and making him the highest-paid catcher in baseball, according to the Post-Dispatch.

While acknowledging the injuries O’Farrell suffered in 1927 _ “Had he escaped injuries, I believe we would have won the pennant,” Breadon said _ the owner insisted the manager job largely was responsible for the drop in the catcher’s performance.

“I believe that, with O’Farrell free to devote all his time to catching, his arm will come back and he once more will be the outstanding catcher in baseball,” Breadon said. “… I believe O’Farrell will be of more value to us as a catcher without the worries of management.”

Sent packing

McKechnie said he consulted with O’Farrell before agreeing to replace him. “I never would have accepted the managership of the Cardinals had not Bob O’Farrell decided it best for himself to step out and confine his efforts to catching in 1928,” McKechnie said.

McKechnie had a splendid season in 1928; O’Farrell did not.

The Cardinals finished in first place at 95-59, two games ahead of the Giants.

O’Farrell hit .212 in 16 games before he was traded to the Giants on May 10, 1928, for outfielder George Harper.

Jimmie Wilson, acquired from the Phillies, replaced O’Farrell as Cardinals catcher.

O’Farrell, who began his major-league career in 1915, played until 1935, including stints with the Cardinals in 1933 and 1935. He was player-manager of the Reds for part of the 1934 season.

After the Cardinals were swept by the Yankees in the 1928 World Series, Breadon demoted McKechnie to a position in the minor leagues and replaced him with Billy Southworth. When Southworth proved unprepared for the job, Breadon brought back McKechnie during the 1929 season.

Breadon asked McKechnie to stay as manager in 1930, but McKechnie instead accepted an offer to manage the Braves. He later became Reds manager and led them to two pennants and a World Series title.

McKechnie, who won pennants as manager of the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Previously: How Bob O’Farrell went from NL MVP to manager

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Four weeks after experiencing one of his most satisfying feats _ a 1942 World Series championship for a Cardinals team composed primarily of players developed within the minor-league system he created _ Branch Rickey left the organization.

Though he had played a major role in the Cardinals becoming one of baseball’s best franchises, Rickey’s relationship with club owner and president Sam Breadon had deteriorated beyond repair.

Seventy-five years ago, on Oct. 29, 1942, Rickey, the Cardinals’ vice president and general manager, resigned and signed a five-year contract to become president and general manager of the Dodgers.

He left the Cardinals in good shape.

Benefitting from the farm system, the Cardinals had a pipeline of talent despite departures of players into military service during World War II. In their first four seasons after Rickey left, the Cardinals won three National League pennants (1943, 1944 and 1946) and two World Series titles (1944 and 1946).

Rickey, meanwhile, upgraded the Dodgers’ farm system _ his moves positioned Brooklyn to win six NL pennants in a 10-year stretch (1947-56) while the Cardinals had none in that period _ and prepared to make his most important contribution: integrating the major leagues by bringing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers in 1947.

Golden magic

In 1917, Breadon was part of a group of St. Louis investors who bought the Cardinals from Helene Britton. The new owners lured Rickey from the crosstown American League Browns, named him president and put him in charge of baseball operations.

Breadon became the Cardinals’ principal owner in 1920. Rickey, dubbed by writers as “The Brain,” served at various times as Cardinals president, vice president, general manager and manager.

“Finding it impossible to compete in the open market for players, Rickey conceived the idea of finding prospects when they were young and planting them on minor-league clubs, or farms,” wrote J. Roy Stockton of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Rival baseball operators laughed at the idea, but it worked with golden magic.”

From 1926-42, the partnership of Breadon and Rickey produced six NL pennants and four World Series titles.

For most of that time, Breadon and Rickey were an odd couple who worked well together.

“It was a strange partnership always, with each having a great respect for the ability of the other while their personalities, habits and views of extracurricular things were so diametrically opposed that there never was any strong bond of friendship between the partners,” Stockton wrote.

Ice formations

The relationship began to change in 1939 when the Cardinals got embroiled in a scandal.

Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who disliked Rickey, launched an investigation into the farm system and determined the Cardinals had violated rules by colluding to control minor-league franchises and their players.

Embarrassed, Breadon concluded Rickey had betrayed his trust.

According to Murray Polner, author of “Branch Rickey: A Biography,” Breadon “insisted his reputation had been stained, his honesty questioned” because of Rickey’s actions.

“To have the stigma broadcast by Landis, whom he loathed, was simply too much for Breadon to bear,” Polner wrote.

Breadon also was miffed with Rickey’s role in a managerial turnover. Frankie Frisch, a Breadon favorite, feuded with Rickey. Fed up, Rickey threatened to join the Cubs unless the Cardinals changed managers. In September 1938, Breadon reluctantly fired Frisch. Rickey hired a friend, Ray Blades, to replace Frisch. When the Cardinals started poorly in 1940, Breadon fired Blades without consulting Rickey.

“Persons close to the club had noticed a coolness developing between president and general manager in recent years,” Stockton wrote.

Time to go

In spring 1941, the relationship reached a breaking point. Breadon informed Rickey he wouldn’t renew his contract at the present terms when the pact expired in December 1942. Rickey was getting a yearly salary of $50,000 and a percentage of the club profits.

(The Post-Dispatch estimated Rickey received more than $1 million in salary and bonuses during his time with the Cardinals.)

Looking ahead to when his contract would expire at the end of 1942, Rickey began to plot an exit.

The 1942 Cardinals won 106 games during the regular season and edged the Dodgers, who won 104, for the pennant. When the Cardinals won four of five against the Yankees to earn the World Series crown, Rickey said it was the happiest moment of his life “because it was a victory for his boys, young men who, with only a few exceptions, were products of the now far-flung chain store system Branch had fathered and developed,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Dodgers, seeking a team president to replace Larry MacPhail, who was commissioned into the Army as a lieutenant colonel, contacted Rickey, 60, after the World Series. Rickey’s son was head of the Dodgers’ farm system.

Rickey also was approached by the Browns, who made a surprisingly lucrative offer. “Under its terms, Rickey might have made stock arrangements that would have netted him as much as $100,000 in little more than a year,” The Sporting News reported.

Said Browns owner Donald Barnes: “We went the limit trying to keep Mr. Rickey in St. Louis … We probably went higher in our offer than present conditions would justify. We wanted him that badly.”

Tempted to remain in St. Louis, Rickey came “very, very close” to signing with the Browns, The Sporting News wrote.

However, because the Cardinals and Browns had their offices at Sportsman’s Park and played their games there, Rickey and Breadon would have had to work in close proximity to one another. “Sam and Branch could no longer live in the same ball park,” The Sporting News concluded.

Rickey notified Breadon in a telegram that he was joining the Dodgers.

Saying he wished Rickey “all the luck in the world,” Breadon told the Post-Dispatch, “We hardly ever had a hard word … If we failed to agree on a policy, we would iron it out. We never had any hard feelings. There are none now.”

Because of federal wartime restrictions on income, Rickey agreed to a yearly salary with the Dodgers of $35,000, but he negotiated a bonus plan in which he “stands a good chance of drawing close to a quarter of a million dollars” over the length of the contract, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported.

Breadon decided to divide Rickey’s duties among various Cardinals personnel rather than hire a replacement.

Previously: Top 5 reasons why Sam Breadon should be in Hall

Previously: Why Branch Rickey was unable to save Ray Blades

 

 

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