Posts Tagged ‘1883’

The Hall of Fame Case for Charles Ebbets

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

For reasons passing understanding, Charles Ebbets is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is shameful at best and unforgivable at worst.  Imagine a baseball lineage without Ebbets Field, which débuted in 1913, becoming the home for a team with various names—Trolley Dodgers, Dodgers, Flock, and Robins were interchangeable monikers until the Dodgers label was officially affixed through a vote of the press in the 1930s.

With an unparalleled loyalty to his Brooklyn brethren, Ebbets sold half his ownership in the team to finance the construction of the stadium bearing his name.

Hired on the first day of Brooklyn’s nascent professional baseball team in 1883, Ebbets rose from office clerk to team president; when Charley Byrne died in 1898, a shareholder named George Chauncey advocated for Ebbets to fill the team’s highest-level executive role.  With a curriculum vitae of a decade and a half in Brooklyn, Ebbets could easily have found an executive position in either the major leagues or the minor leagues, perhaps garnering an ownership stake with another team.

Ebbets consolidated ownership in the team, became the sole owner, and realized his vision of a modern stadium.  In an article for Leslie’s Weekly, Ebbets said, “We must give our patrons what they express an evident desire for, and in progressive baseball to-day this means comfort, safety and faster play than ever before.”

Buying parcels of land in a section called Pigtown—so named because it was filled with garbage, which pigs fed on—Ebbets made good on his promise to the Brooklyn fans.

Ebbets’s contributions to baseball, intangible and tangible, deserve to be recognized with a plaque in the building located at 25 Main Street in Cooperstown, about a five-minute walk from Lake Otsego.  When Ebbets died in 1925, the New York Times eulogized, “Virtually the whole of Mr. Ebbets’ life was devoted to baseball.  His sole interest was baseball and all his money was in it.  He served the game wholeheartedly, with a fixed purpose which finally brought fulfillment.”

Credit the Brooklyn ball club owner with the following:

  • Rain check
  • Draft system
  • Weakest teams getting first chance to hire minor league players
  • Advocating for permanent World Series schedule
  • Extending the National League season to include the Columbus Day holiday

Another eulogy summarized the feeling pervading baseball upon Ebbets’s death; it went further than the usual missives encapsulating a famous person’s achievements.  Reach Baseball Guide stated, “He never played baseball ‘politics,’ was without guide, and so universally popular that he may be truly said to have been the best loved man, not only in his league, but throughout the entire realm of baseball.  Ebbets was one of the comparatively few old time magnates whose interest in the affairs of the game never faltered.”

Ebbets Field is long since demolished, its presence existing in the memories of those who saw Brooklyn’s teams—good and bad—traverse the hallowed ground in what was the second home for the citizenry of Coney Island, Flatbush, Greenpoint, and every other neighborhood in the borough, a metropolis until 1898, when New York City annexed it.

Perhaps the legendary loyalty cultivated by Dodgers fans in Brooklyn—and then Los Angeles—traces back to Ebbets, who exemplified this trait in another example of dire financial straits.  To raise money needed to settle a lawsuit, Ebbets could have sold two players to the New York Giants—Tim Jordan and Harry Lumley.  Instead, Ebbets said no to Brooklyn’s rival squad, tempting though the offer was.  “I felt that if I had sold those two star players at that time the fans would run me out of Brooklyn,” said Ebbets in an article for the Times.  “To my way of thinking, it was my duty to Brooklyn fans to keep those players in spite of the fact that we needed money worse than we did players at that time.  It wouldn’t have been fair to our patrons to sell those players.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 27, 2017.

The Most Important Person in Dodgers History?

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

George Chauncey may not immediately come to mind when discussing Dodgers history, assuming, of course, that he comes to mind at all.  Perhaps he should.  It was, after all, Chauncey who made  front office decision that, in retrospect, drastically improved, enhanced, and secured the team’s iconic status, especially in its locus of Brooklyn.

A co-owner of the Brooklyn Wonders in the Players’ League, George Chauncey merged his operations with the National League’s Brooklyn squad when the league folded after its sole season of 1890.  It was a financial necessity born from the carnage created by the chaos of the Brotherhood War, a nickname bestowed on the Players’ League invading the rosters of the National League and the American Association for players; the NL and AA were the two major leagues at the time.  Unable to sustain itself, the Players’ League folded.

In 1898, original Brooklyn co-owner and team president Charley Byrne died, leaving a leadership vacancy.  Chauncey wanted Charles Ebbets to fill the position.  Ebbets had been with the Brooklyn organization since its first game in 1883, starting as an office clerk.  He knew every piece of the team’s operations, so he could provide a smooth transition, especially with first-hand knowledge of Byrne’s approach to management.  Chauncey enhanced the job offer to Ebbets with an ownership stake in the team.

Whether by divine inspiration, instinct, or business savvy, George Chauncey filled a vital position with a man who proved to a visionary, a hero, and a civic leader for Brooklyn’s fans.  Had Chauncey selected another person for the job, then the team’s history could have been altered.  Terribly.  What if Ebbets, feeling passed over or maybe restless for a new challenge, took an executive position with another team?  What if he became an executive in the National League, the American Association, or a minor league?  Then, he would never have been on a path to become the team’s sole owner, build Ebbets Field, and further a legacy of affection between the borough and its beloved Dodgers.

Ebbets saw his team as more than an investment.  Loyalty, indeed formed his philosophy.  A 1912 article about Ebbets in the New York Times highlighted this loyalty in the light of plans to build a new ballpark, which became his namesake.  Despite the financial burden, Ebbets manifested an unbreakable nexus to Brooklyn.  “I’ve made more money than I ever expected to, but I am putting all of it, and more too, into the new plant for the Brooklyn fans,” Ebbets said.  “Of course, it’s one thing to have a fine ball club and win a pennant, but to my mind there is something more important than that about a ball club.  I believe the fan should be taken care of.  A club should proved a suitable home for its patrons.  This home should be in a location that is healthy, it should be safe, and it should be convenient.”

Ebbets endured a cost requiring him to sell half the team to Steve and Ed McKeever, the stadium’s contractors.  Would another owner have submerged his financial interest for the team’s fans or moved to another city in pursuit of more lucrative pastures?  In a more severe scenario, an owner facing a financial quagmire may have dissolved the team and broken it into pieces for sale, following the adage that the parts are worth more separately than together.

Speculation, certainly, demands imagination to answer a constant stream of “What if…” questions.  In conversations about baseball, the stream is endless rather than constant.  What if George Steinbrenner  had bought the Indians instead of the Yankees—would an open checkbook have restored Cleveland’s baseball glory in the early years of free agency?  What if Nolan Ryan had stayed in New York—would the Mets have been a perennial World Series contender in the 1970s?  What if the Red Sox had never traded Babe Ruth—would the Yankees have been as dominant in the 1920s?

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on August 26, 1951.

The Death of Charles Ebbets

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

When Charles Ebbets died on April 18, 1925, Brooklynites lost their remaining link to the genesis of professional baseball in their beloved borough.  Ebbets began his baseball career in 1883, when Brooklyn inaugurated professional baseball for its denizens from Coney Island to Canarsie.  Starting as a clerk in the Brooklyn team’s front office, Ebbets mastered the art of the tedious.  In his 1945 book The Brooklyn Dodgers, Frank Graham wrote, “He sold tickets, hawked scorecards through the stands, attended to all the little drudgeries in the business office that the other employees were glad to shirk, and made friends for the club by his good humor and his patience.”

Ebbets took to baseball like a woodpecker to a tree.  Rising through the front office hierarchy, Ebbets achieved sole ownership status after several years of gradually accumulating the team’s stock.  He presided over a team that had many monikers before it cemented the Dodgers label in 1932; Dodgers, Trolley Dodgers, Superbas, Robins, and Flock were entries used in newspaper reports.  Sometimes, a headline used one name while the story used another.  Whatever the label, Ebbets fought for his team.  Loyalty personified, Ebbets jettisoned half his ownership to contractors Steve and Ed McKeever for the necessary funds to complete his vision of a stadium suitable for Brooklyn’s baseball fans.  Ebbets Field débuted in 1913, atop a site known as Pigtown.  Its name derived from pigs feeding on the wretched garbage.

To reach his goal, Ebbets needed to consolidate disparate parcels.  No small task, this.  He kept the process secret, buying the parcels through a dummy corporation.  And he had every piece necessary, save one.  It was 20 feet by 50 feet.  Tracking the parcel’s owner was a worldwide affair—California, Berlin, Paris.  Finally, Ebbets located him in Montclair, New Jersey and bought the land for $500.  When Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley revealed plans to build a successor to Ebbets Field in the 1950s, Arthur Daley recounted the Ebbets story in his “Sports of the Times” column in the New York Times.  “No one ever received five hundred bucks faster,” said Daley.

When former manager and minority owner Ned Hanlon attempted to overtake the team through litigation, Ebbets could have resolved the dispute by selling Brooklyn players Tim Jordon and Harry Linley to the New York Giants for the funds needed to settle with Hanlon.

Even if Ebbets decided to fight Hanlon rather than settle, the money generated from a sale could serve as a financial cushion if Hanlon won his case.  Despite the practical appeal of selling Jordon and Linley, Ebbets declined the offer from the rival ball club.  In a 1912 article in the New York Times, Ebbets said, “I felt that if I had sold those two star players at that time the fans would run me out of Brooklyn.  To my way of thinking, it was my duty to Brooklyn fans to keep those players in spite of the fact that we needed money worse than we did players at that time.  it wouldn’t have been fair our patrons to sell those players.”

Brooklyn adored Ebbets, as did the baseball industry.  Reach Baseball Guide eulogized, “He never played baseball ‘politics,’ was without guide, and so universally popular that he may be truly said to have been the best, loved man, not only in his own league, but throughout the entire realm of baseball.  Ebbets was one of the comparatively few old time magnates whose interest in the affairs of the game never faltered.”

The New York Times obituary for Ebbets quoted Joseph A. Guilder, President of the Borough of Brooklyn:  “I am deeply moved to learn of the death of Mr. Ebbets.  It was my pleasure to know him many years.  His death is a distinct loss to the borough and to the national game with which he was so prominently associated.  At all times he exhibited a keen interest in Brooklyn affairs, and his advocacy of clean sport caused him to be held in high admiration by a host of friends.”  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle also highlighted the Brooklyn-Ebbets connection:  “Nothing could shake his conviction that Brooklyn was the best baseball community in the country and that it was deserving of the best he could give it in the way of a better playing field and good players.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 29, 2014.

The Glory Years of Baseball

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

RemingtonToday marks the anniversary of a turning point in baseball.  On May 9, 1883, Brooklyn hosted its first home game in professional baseball, playing to a 7-1 victory against Harrisburg in the Interstate Baseball Association.

(more…)

What’s In A Team Name? Bridegrooms…Superbas…Dodgers! Oh My! The Birth of Brooklyn Baseball in the 19th Century (Part 1 of 3)

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

As baseball crawled toward its first wobbly steps of formal organization in the mid-19th century, Brooklyn embraced the game through several amateur teams, including Atlantics, Excelsiors, Putnams, Eckfords. The Atlantics played in the National Association of Baseball Players (NABBP), an amateur society that began in 1857. They won championships in 1864 and 1866.

(more…)