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.