This news is about a week delayed in reporting on the Pinstriped Bible, but it is unquestionably deserving of mention. For 74 years now, Major League Baseball has been electing executives to its most hallowed ground--Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The executives' plaques are not typically the ones that most fans flock to, aside from perhaps integration hero Branch Rickey, but they are an important category of the Hall of Fame regardless.
32 executives have been elected in the history of the Hall of Fame, yet until last week, only two of these men were elected primarily for their accomplishments with the New York Yankees--general managers Ed Barrow (1920-45) and farm director/general manager George Weiss (1932-60). No Yankees owner had ever been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame despite their enormous place in the history of the game, a fact that is simply mind-boggling. Finally though, the Veterans Committee corrected this wrong last Monday when they elected Colonel Jacob Ruppert to the Hall on 15 of the 16 ballots cast along with umpire Hank O'Day and catcher Deacon White. Since Ruppert made the Yankees into the powerhouse they are today, it is puzzling that it took this long for him to make it.
Ruppert's long journey to Cooperstown began with, of course, alcohol. Jacob Ruppert Sr., his immigrant father from Bavaria, moved to the United States in 1851, and grandfather Franz founded the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company that would one day be owned by his son. Junior was born on August 5, 1867 in New York City, when not even the National League's predecessor was yet organized. The younger Ruppert served in the New York National Guard from 1886-1890, rising to the rank of colonel, a title that would forever be associated with him. He also rose in the family company until he became the general manager in 1890. Although only 25, he was so well-respected that he was selected as the keynote speaker for the dedication of the famous Christopher Columbus Monument on the 400th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in North America.
The brewing company rose in wealth to a $30 million money-making machine, and Ruppert was elected to the House of Representatives. While in office, he made a bid to purchase the NL's New York Giants, an alluring team to him since he was a season ticket holder at the Polo Grounds. They were not sold to him though, and it would be another decade before he purchased a New York sports team. That team was not the Giants; instead, it was the American League upstart New York Yankees. Original owners Frank Farrell and Bill Devery needed to sell their downtrodden franchise, which contended for the AL pennant during their ownership in only three years out of twelve. Through Giants manager John McGraw, Ruppert met and enlisted the financial help of a fellow Polo Grounds season ticket holder, Captain Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston. (Why oh why don't they make names like that anymore?) The two men bought the Yankees from Farrell and Devery for $460,000 on New Year's Eve of 1914.
It took a few years for Ruppert and Huston to propel their new team to title contention, but they showed a propensity for winning players over with money that won some new fans. Prior to 1916, they missed a chance to land future Hall of Fame center fielder Tris Speaker from the Boston Red Sox when AL president Ban Johnson failed to came though on a promise to help the Yankees get new players, but they did sign former Philadelphia Athletics third baseman Frank "Home Run" Baker. He was the first well-known player the Yankees acquired since their early days of poaching Willie Keeler and Jack Chesbro from the NL in 1903. Gradually, they added better players while youngsters Bob Shawkey (also acquired from the A's), Roger Peckinpaugh, and Wally Pipp flourished. Ruppert also went against Huston's wishes in 1918 and hired small but respected Cincinnati Reds manager Miller Huggins, an educated man with a law degree. The two most important moves were yet to come.
The formerly great Boston franchise that captured five of the the first 15 World Series titles was now hemorrhaging money as owner Harry Frazee fell into debt. Ruppert helped him out by trading cash and lesser players for key additions like starter Carl Mays. After the 1919 campaign, Frazee needed more money, and he was also locked in a salary dispute with star outfielder/pitcher Babe Ruth. The Baltimore native was an ace on the mound, but he was a hitter like no one had seen before. In just his second season as primarily an outfielder, he broke the 35-year-old single-season home run record with 29. Nonetheless, Frazee viewed Ruth as a nuisance despite his popularity in Beantown, and he figured that if the fans got over the sale of Speaker, they would similarly get over Ruth. Thus, he sold Ruth to Ruppert and the Yankees for $125,000. It was the best deal ever made in baseball history, and it was made possible by the Colonel.
In his first season, Ruth massacred all offensive records with an amazing 54 homers as the Yankees won a franchise-best 95 games, narrowly losing the pennant to Speaker's Indians. At the end of the season, Ruth's former manager in Boston, Ed Barrow also bolted for the Yankees in the second-smartest decision of Ruppert's career. Barrow viewed the decision to trade Ruth as a horrible mistake, and he sought vengeance on his former team by plucking valuable Boston players like Waite Hoyt and Wally Schang from them in exchange for more cash and lesser players to Frazee. Barrow also brought over superscout Paul Krichell, who would help the Yankees sign tremendous amateurs like Lou Gehrig. The foundations were there for greatness, and the Yanks won their first three consecutive AL pennants from 1921-23. Ruppert's investments paid off when they moved into their luxurious new home, Yankee Stadium, after years of being the Giants' tenants at the Polo Grounds. Ruppert of course played a vital role in the construction of this baseball palace, as he split the $2.5 million bill for the stadium with Huston, who Ruppert bought out of the front office after '22. In their first season at "the Stadium," the Yanks and Ruppert won their very first World Series title. At last, Ruppert was a champion.
This success was a portend of what was to come for Ruppert in his remaining 17 years as sole owner of the Yankees. He continued his potent financial support as the Yankees added more future Hall of Famers to their team and won eight more pennants and seven more World Series titles. He oversaw the eventual transition from Huggins after the tragic death of "Mighty Mite'" in late 1929 to fellow no-nonsense skipper Joe McCarthy in 1931, another brilliant hire, as was the addition of farm director and future GM George Weiss. Ruppert's deep pockets also allowed the Yankees to purchase a San Francisco hitting phenom in the mid-1930s who became yet another deity of the game. When Ruppert passed away at the age of 71 on January 13, 1939, he was a three-time defending World Series champion, just the way he would have wanted to go. A year later, the Yankees dedicated a plaque to Ruppert in his honor behind Huggins's monument in centerfield. Now in Monument Park at the new Yankee Stadium, it reads, "Gentleman. American. Sportsman. Through whose vision and courage this imposing edifice, destined to become the home of champions, was erected and dedicated to the American game of baseball."
Ruppert's family sold the team a few years after his death, but while ownership has changed hands a few times, the tradition of strong ownership lives on. Following Ruppert's lead, the Yankees won 29 more pennants and 19 more championships. As previously mentioned, it is quite strange that it took baseball so long to induct Col. Ruppert into the Hall of Fame while welcoming his own hires like Huggins, Barrow, McCarthy, and Weiss, and other owners who never had as much success as he did like Tom Yawkey and Walter O'Malley. It is about time that the Yankees' first great owner gets his rightful praise, and he will be enshrined on a plaque in Cooperstown next July.
Congrats, Colonel. You deserve it.
Biographical source: Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.