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The Colonel and Hug
The Partnership that Transformed the New York Yankees
By Steve Steinberg, Lyle Spatz
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESSCopyright © 2015 Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz
All rights reserved.
Everything He Touched Won First Prize
That Miller Huggins was on time for his first formal meeting with Jacob Ruppert did not go unnoticed by his future employer. "He is amazingly punctual in everything he does," said sportswriter Damon Runyon in a 1924 column about Ruppert. "He expects everybody else to be equally exact." Runyon described Ruppert as a "solidly built man of medium height, with iron-gray hair, which he wears slicked back in the Broadway mode, and a short iron-gray moustache. He commonly carries a serious expression. He wears clothes of the latest cut, is very particular about his apparel, but never deviates from snowy white linen shirts and collars. He never displays any jewelry, not even gold cuff links."
With the exception of the color of his hair and moustache being iron-gray, this 1924 description of Ruppert could have been made at any time in his adult life. His passport application, dated March 15, 1892, when he was twenty-four years old, listed him as five feet eight, with brown eyes, a broad forehead, dark hair, and a dark complexion. Yankees historian Leo Trachtenberg called him "a dignified, portly man with a pleasant smile, an astute mind, and a ready bankroll."
In a June 1918 interview held at Ruppert's brewery, the reporter portrayed him as sitting in his office at a desk littered with papers in "a spacious room decorated very simply with massive bronze statuary." He described Ruppert as "in every sense a man of big business, quick of speech, decisive in his statements, yet courteous and discriminating in his treatment of the men who approach him in a continual stream on a thousand varied errands."
Waite Hoyt, who pitched for Ruppert's Yankees from 1921 to 1930, also talked about Ruppert's fourth-floor office at the brewery. "Of course, when you went into the place you entered a long hall, a long marble hallway.... All the woodwork was rosewood and paneled, and the brewery was immaculate. You could eat off the floor. You could not imagine it was a brewery." Hoyt called Ruppert one of the best-dressed men of his time. "His Rolls Royce always looked brand new when it was 10 years old. He was that way about everything."
At the time of the Huggins signing, fifty-year-old Jacob Ruppert had been a success in everything he had ever put his hand to—except baseball. His Ruppert Brewery was among the most productive and profitable in the nation, his kennels of St. Bernards were consistent prizewinners, and his stable of racehorses was highly successful. It was only the Yankees, the American League club he co-owned with Captain Til Huston, that had been a consistent failure. Bringing Huggins to New York would be the first step in rectifying that failure, and by the time Ruppert died in January 1939, it could be accurately stated that his beer won gold medals, his dogs won blue ribbons, and his baseball team won world championships. "Everything he touched won first prize," was a quote New York Daily News sports editor Jimmy Powers used to sum up Ruppert's life.
Born into a wealthy family that owned a successful brewery, Ruppert had amassed a personal fortune by steadily increasing output and making the Jacob Ruppert Brewery one of the largest and best-equipped breweries in the world. The Ruppert family had been brewers since before the American Civil War. Jacob's grandfather, Franz Maximillian Ruppert, was born in Bavaria in 1811. Like many of his fellow citizens, Franz eventually immigrated to America, in his case to New York City, where he opened a grocery in 1837. The business prospered, allowing him to buy a malt house in 1845, becoming the first German malt dealer in New York. He added to his holdings in 1850 when he bought the Aitken Braueri. The braueri (or brewery) was at 322 East 45th Street, just off First Avenue in a section of New York City then known as Turtle Bay. Franz Ruppert renamed his new brewery the Turtle Bay Brewery.
Franz and his wife, the former Wilhelmina Zindel, born in 1813, also in Germany, had one son, Jacob (our subject's father), born in New York City on March 4, 1842. Wilhelmina died in 1865, whereupon Franz, who by now had anglicized his name to Francis, married New York City native Sophia Gick. They had four children: John, Frederick, Charles, and Annie.
Jacob started working in the brewery at age ten. By 1863, when he was just twenty-one, he was the manager. In 1867, he bought eleven lots of forested land on Third Avenue between 91st and 92nd Streets in Manhattan's Yorkville section and started his own brewery. Doing much of the physical labor required on his own, he cleared the land and built the Jacob Ruppert Brewery. A New York Journal-American article, written in 1957, described the Yorkville area as mostly farmland in 1867. "The population of New York was about 1,300,000 and the more populated parts of the city ended at 42nd Street. Only about 30,000 people lived in the Yorkville area. It was the old 12th Ward, bounded by 86th Street to the south and the Harlem River to the north, and stretched from the Hudson River to the East River. The whole area was filled with "squatters, goat farms, and wooden shanties perched on the rocks in the woods and marshes."
On February 4, 1868, the first beer was brewed at the Jacob Ruppert Brewery, with Jacob serving as brewmaster, salesman, and distributor. Francis Ruppert retired from brewing in 1869, but Jacob's brewery grew and prospered. In 1874, he bought a larger piece of land one block north on Third Avenue and 92nd Street. The brewery continued to flourish, and in 1883 Jacob bought a country home near Rhinebeck-on-the-Hudson in Dutchess County, New York. He used the profits from his real estate investments to buy a silk factory, a lumberyard, a livestock farm, and an ice plant.
The elder Jacob Ruppert had started with a handful of employees and sold 5,000 barrels of beer in his first year. When he died in 1915 after a lengthy illness, the brewery, now run by Jacob Jr., had 1,500 employees and production had grown to 1,200,000 barrels a year. Jacob Sr. had invested most of his profits in real estate, operated by the Jacob Ruppert Realty Corporation, which increased greatly in value during his lifetime. His principal hobby had been the breeding of trotting horses at his farm in Poughkeepsie, New York, the site of his Hudson River Driving Park, a scenic trotting track that later became the site of the Poughkeepsie Speedway.
The Rupperts lived amid all the trappings of great wealth. Their mansion and country estate were elegantly furnished. They threw lavish weddings for their children, which the society pages of the New York newspapers covered in detail. Their Manhattan neighbors included steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie and famed banker Felix Warburg. Nevertheless, the Rupperts never were considered "blue-blooded" members of the New York City social elite. Their overall net worth, great as it was, did not compare to that of the Carnegies, Vanderbilts, and Astors. As a nouveau riche family who had made their fortune brewing beer and were Catholic rather than Protestant, they were never part of "the Four Hundred." Yet they did attend many of the same social events, such as the 1902 christening of Kaiser Wilhelm II's yacht.
Ruppert Sr. was also fond of music and owned the Central Opera House in New York City. A Mason and a longtime member of Tammany Hall, New York City's Democratic Party machine, he had served as an elector from the state of New York for Grover Cleveland's second election as president in 1892.13 He was a forceful, single-purposed man with a great capacity for work. His charities were numerous but not ostentatious, a tradition Jacob Jr. would continue.
Because of British influence dating back to the thirteen American colonies, most beers brewed in the United States had been ales. In the colonial period, brewers such as Murray, Beekman, Van Cortlandt, and Rutgers were among the most distinguished New York families. Vassar College's founder, Matthew Vassar, directed his family's brewery in Poughkeepsie, which in 1836 was one of the nation's largest. Ales are made with yeast that ferments on the top of a vessel; the process uses warm water, and the brew is often served warm. But the arrival of German immigrants, beginning in the mid-1830s, mostly from Bavaria, transformed the brewing craft, weaning Americans away from ale and onto lager beers, which were bottom-fermented and stored cold. On the website Smart Planet, technology expert David Worthington wrote: "A major difference between brewing ale and brewing lager beer is the amount of refrigeration that's involved; lagers ferment at relatively cooler temperatures. German immigrants began to arrive in earnest during the mid-1800s and needed a way to cool their drafts." In New York, brewers used the ice that floated down the Hudson River to aid in the production of their lagers.
By 1880, Yorkville, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and the Williamsburg and Bushwick sections of Brooklyn, which had all become home to large populations of German immigrants, were also home to more than a hundred breweries. In 1866, George Ehret opened Hell Gate Brewery in Yorkville, stretching from 91st to 94th Streets between Second and Third Avenues. Three years later Jacob Ruppert Sr. opened his brewery almost next door. As one of the earliest brewers to use the new technology of refrigeration, which allowed for year-round brewing, Ruppert expanded his brewery to become one of the leading beer producers in the United States, though almost all of his sales were in the New York City area.
In 1865 Ruppert married Anna Gillig, the twenty-three-year-old daughter of New York brewer George Gillig, another native Bavarian and one of the country's first brewers of lager. The couple had six children: Cornelia, Jacob Jr., Frank, Anna, George, and Amanda.
Jacob Jr. was born on August 5, 1867, at his family's mansion on Fifth Avenue and 93rd Street and reared under a stern Germanic influence. Although he, like his father, was native-born, both spoke with a German accent throughout their lives. Trachtenberg, however, wrote that Ruppert Jr. would lapse into a German accent only when he was excited or agitated.
An 1897 article in the New York World, when Jacob Jr. was the Tammany candidate for president of the Municipal Council, described his childhood as a period of firm discipline. There were no private tutors or coddling. He attended school just as if his father's income were in the hundreds of dollars instead of the thousands.
Jacob was an average student at New York's Columbia Grammar School, where his formal education began and ended. He was a member of the school's baseball team, though there are no records of any prizes or awards to his credit. He did apply to the School of Mines at Columbia College and passed the entrance examination, but his parents had different ideas for their son. Ruppert's mother in this staunchly Bavarian Catholic family wanted him to enter the priesthood, while his father wanted him to enter his business, in much the same way he had entered his own father's business.
His father won out, although another version of how Jake got into the family business appeared in the Sporting News after his death. He had received an appointment to West Point, he told sportswriter Dan Daniel, but never got to go. "My mother called me into her room one day and said: 'Jake, father is 72. He can no longer attend to business. You must sacrifice college and become a practical brewer, so you can run this business. You must make the sacrifice for the family.' So I forgot about college and about West Point and proceeded to become a brewer." While it is true that Jacob had an interest in West Point, his recollection of the timing of this story does not ring true. The year "father was 72" was 1914, the younger Jacob was 47 and well established in his career, not a recent graduate of the Columbia Grammar School.
Ruppert, like many successful men who lived full and eventful lives, often gave varying accounts of even his most important decisions. In a poignant 1937 interview with Taylor Spink, he gave yet another version of his entry into the family business. "It seems to me I never have got around to doing the things I wanted to do most. For example, when I was a youngster, I wanted to be a ball player. My ambition was to be a member of the team at West Point. I wanted to be a soldier. I belonged to the Knickerbocker Greys, an organization of military-minded lads. I played second base with their team. I really could play ball too. I envied the Giants. There were no Yankees then. My mother was very sympathetic. But my dad, who was a brewer, said, 'This West Point stuff, this ball playing business, is all nonsense. You go into the brewery.'"
When he did go to work in the brewery as an eighteen-year-old common laborer, his father told the foreman, "Do no favors for this new worker. If he does good work, give him a better job. If he shirks, fire him." The foreman put Jake to work washing kegs and carrying hundred-pound sacks for $10 a week. The most pleasant of Ruppert's memories of working in the brewery as a young man were those of driving brewery-wagon horses. "Brewery teams were as pretty to see operate as a nicely stepping ball-team."
"There are many departments in Ruppert's mammoth establishment," noted the World, and in each of these, the young man served an apprenticeship. It was not until he was twenty years of age that young Ruppert was graduated from the real drudgery of brewing and entered the business department." In 1891 Ruppert Sr. named his twenty-three-year-old son the general manager of the company. Under his leadership, the brewery became one of the biggest in the country, and by 1911 he had become president and chairman of the board of trustees for the United States Brewers Association.
When he took over the brewery from his father, it was producing 350,000 barrels a year. "Son, when I founded this business my big ambition was to sell 5,000 barrels of beer a year—and I did it," his father said on yielding control. "Dad, my ambition is to sell 5,000 barrels a day," Jake replied. Eventually he would realize and surpass that lofty goal. In 1919, the last year before Prohibition, that number had grown to 1.3 million barrels a year. When Repeal came in 1933, he hired hundreds of new workers, built a new plant, and was soon producing 2.5 million barrels of beer a year.
Yet when asked years later if there was anything in the world he had not been able to do, he answered, "I was never able to be a major league catcher. That was my boyhood ambition." Ruppert said as a youngster he had been the captain, manager, and catcher on his neighborhood baseball team, the Millrocks of Hellgate. But after a new boy moved in and won the catching job, Ruppert moved to second base and later to center field. "I always could hit, and could catch flies or handle grounders. But I always wanted to catch." Ruppert said his mother always considered catching too dangerous and preferred it when he played the outfield. "Catching is not easy," he admitted.
That Ruppert would want to play the most difficult and demanding position is not surprising. Catching had acquired a "special mystique" by the 1880s, wrote historian Peter Morris. Young men who came of age in post–Civil War America "saw the man behind the plate as an iconic hero who embodied unbounded courage, extraordinary skill, and unmatched value." "The 1880s saw a new emphasis on the catcher as the embodiment of such attributes as teamwork, leadership, and resourcefulness," Morris wrote. Ruppert would later employ all these attributes in building his brewery, baseball, and real estate empires.
Excerpted from The Colonel and Hug by Steve Steinberg, Lyle Spatz. Copyright © 2015 Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Photographs,
Foreword by Marty Appel,
Prologue: A Collaboration Is Born,
Part 1. The Early Years,
1. Everything He Touched Won First Prize,
2. The Colonel Makes a Name for Himself,
3. Nothing at All but Ambition and Pluck and Brains,
4. No Smarter Man in Baseball,
Part 2. Ruppert Buys the Yankees,
5. How about the Yankees?,
6. The Rocky Road to Ownership,
7. The New Owners Get to Work,
8. Fritz Maisel Follies,
9. Anti-German Hysteria and Two Disappointing Seasons,
Part 3. Huggins Arrives,
10. An Impatient City with an Unforgiving Press,
11. The Nation in Upheaval,
12. A Season of Transition,
13. A Battle Leads to a War,
14. A Home Is No Longer a Home,
Part 4. Ruth and Barrow Arrive,
15. Buying the Babe,
16. The Risks of Ruth,
17. Ruth Roars into the Twenties,
18. Squabbling Owners and Scandal Lead to Landis Coronation,
19. Huggins Stays,
Part 5. The Yankees Rise to the Top,
20. One of the Fiercest Pennant Battles Ever,
21. The Struggles and Troubles of Huggins,
22. Huggins Is My Manager,
23. This Is the Happiest Day of My Life,
Part 6. The Yankees and the Babe Stumble,
24. It's Tougher to Manage a Pennant Winner,
25. New Homes for Single Men and Their Team,
26. Huggins Waited One Year Too Long,
Part 7. The Yankees Rise Again,
27. Florida's Boom to Bust and the Yankees' Bust to Boom,
28. Huggins Silences His Critics, for Good,
29. Winning Pennants Is the Business of the Yankees,
30. Knowing How to Buy and Knowing How to Build,
Part 8. Huggins Exits,
31. The Law of Averages Catches Up with the Yankees,
32. No Man Ever Struggled Harder,
33. Succeeding an Immortal,
Part 9. The Thirties,
34. McCarthy Is My Manager,
35. Repeal, Real Estate, and the Third Reich,
36. The DiMaggio Years,
37. It Took Time for Success to Become a Tradition,
38. The Mystery Lady,
Epilogue: A Legacy of Champions,