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 MacPhail—Baseball’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.
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