Posts Tagged ‘Larry MacPhail’

New Owners in the Bronx

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

During the waning days of World War II, ownership of the New York Yankees transitioned—Dan Topping, Del Webb, and Larry MacPhail grouped to purchase the Yankees on January 26, 1945 from the heirs of Colonel Jacob Ruppert.  $2.75 million changed hands for 86.88 per cent, according to the New York Herald Tribune‘s Rud Rennie, who also reported that team president Ed Barrow sold his 10 per cent interest to the Topping-Webb-MacPhail trio for “an estimated $250,000.”  Ruppert’s brother George, nephew Ruppert Schalk, and niece Anna Dunn owned the remaining 3.12 per cent.

Financial realities for Ruppert’s estate generated the sale.  Rennie wrote, “Ever since Colonel Ruppert died, the sale of the club has been necessary to realize funds for the administration of the estate.  The government’s appraisal of the estate was prohibitive to the sale of the club.  Eventually, the government agreed to use the sale price as the real valuation.”

Topping’s life seems like fodder for a B-movie during the studio system era.  In the Topping biography for the Society for American Baseball Research Baseball Biography Project, Daniel R. Levitt and Mark Armour wrote, “Dan Topping enjoyed a ‘sportsman’ lifestyle we seldom see anymore in America, one founded on inherited wealth, some athletic ability, and active involvement in professional or other sports.  The life also often entailed a playboy youth and multiple attractive socialite wives.  Topping fit the mold perfectly.

Further, Topping added a celebrity factor to his persona when he married ice skating icon Sonja Henie.

Funded by his success in construction, Del Webb diversified his portfolio with his ownership stake in the Yankees, which, in turn, aided his construction projects.  In his 1999 obituary of Webb, A. D. Hopkins of the Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote, “Yankees tickets clinched deals for corporate construction contracts and made Webb a friend to senators with porkbarrel [sic] projects to build.”

MacPhail was a baseball legend by the time he invested in the Yankees.  As General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds, MacPhail introduced night baseball to the major leagues.  During his tenure in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ front office, MacPhail forged an unbreakable link with the fans.

In a 1941 profile for The New Yorker, Robert Lewis Taylor wrote, “Bellicose, red-faced, and clownish, he is the idol of a community which demands such qualities of its heroes.  The people there are comfortable in the knowledge that MacPhail will take care of all disparagers of their baseball team.  He never disappoints them.  His command of vituperation and eagerness to battle for the Brooklyn team have made him, by extension, a kind of borough defender.”

After the 1942 season, MacPhail departed from baseball to join the war effort as a Lieutenant Colonel with the Service of Supply.

Upon the purchase of the Yankee ball club, MacPhail asserted his leadership.  In the 1987 book The Roaring Redhead:  Larry MacPhailBaseball’s Great Innovator, Don Warfield wrote, “As the season started it became more and more evident that there was really only one person running the show.  The quiet and talented Barrow, newly elected to the title of Chairman of the Board, became extraneous and pretty much a figurehead.  In reality, it was no one’s fault.  When MacPhail was involved in an enterprise, especially when he was an owner of a third of that enterprise and its president, there was really not much authority left to go around.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 25, 2016.

Harold Parrott: The Lord of Public Relations

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

In the 2013 movie 42, T.R. Knight plays Harold Parrott, the publicity chief for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Parrott, a former sports writer, was well suited for the task of handling his former brethren from the press box.  He knew their pressures, their deadlines, and their editors, in addition to a readership starving for information, analysis, and scoops on a daily basis.

Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager, selected Parrott to head publicity for the team.  And it was no small task.  Besides the usual responsibilities, Parrott handled the press during Rickey’s breakthrough hiring of Jackie Robinson to be the first black player in Major League Baseball during the 20th century; Moses Fleetwood Walker played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884—the AA, long since defunct, is considered a major league by baseball historians.

Robinson’s emergence shook baseball to its core.  And Parrott, Rickey’s conduit to the sports press, needed to deflect questions, shape answers, and protect the team.  Robinson, especially.

In his 1976 autobiography The Lords of Baseball, Parrott recalled the Brooklyn squad’s first trip to Cincinnati, largely cited as a pivotal event sourced in Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around Robinson before the game to show hostile fans at Crosley Field that he, a Kentuckian with southern values, good and bad, embraced #42 as a teammate, a friend, and an equal.  Parrott may have been the trigger for Reese’s gesture.

“There had been a sack of mail for Robinson at our hotel, and I went through it the morning we hit town,” wrote Parrott.  “Three of the letters contained threats that Jack would be shot in his tracks if he dared to take the field.  I handed these over to the FBI, which got pretty excited about it and searched every building that overlooked the ballpark and would afford a sniper a shot at Number 42.”

Parrott continued, “Usually I didn’t show Robbie the hate mail, most of which was scrawled and scribbled like the smut you see on toilet walls.  But this time I had to warn him, and I could see he was frightened.  I passed the word to Pee Wee, who was the captain, and to a couple of the other solid players on the club.  I wasn’t sure what was going to happen in the Queen City, right across the river from Kentucky.  But all the folk from the hill and still country were flocking into town for the big event.”

When Rickey succeeded Larry MacPhail as Brooklyn’s General Manager in 1942, Parrott was a sports writer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  In a five-part series, he introduced Rickey to Brooklyn.  Parrott’s October 30, 1942 article “Meet Mr. Rickey: ‘The Brain’ Is Perfect Frame for Brooklyn Baseball Scene,” Parrott described the incoming legend from St. Louis, where he spearheaded front office management of four World Series titles for the Cardinals:

“Characters?  Say, buddy, we’ve had ’em!

“But we haven’t had ’em all.  Not yet—not until we’ve had Mr. Rickey.  Branch Rickey Sr., Mr. Baseball himself.

“He follows MacPhail, and ordinarily they’d call that bad theater.  Coming after the Dodger Dynamo onto the Brooklyn stage is like following Toscanini with a tin horn.  Or would be for almost anybody I can think of.

“But Rickey—well, he’s a card!  He may not make Brooklyn fans forget MacPhail—but I guarantee he’ll make ’em remember Rickey.”

Parrott was right.  Rickey’s selection of Robinson ushered in a wave of talent from the Negro Leagues.  And Parrott, the wordsmith, was at the center of it.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 1, 2014.