Yankees Century: 100 Years of New York Yankees Baseball

Yankees Century: 100 Years of New York Yankees Baseball

by Richard A. Johnson, Glenn Stout

Hardcover(Illustrated)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618085279
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/28/2002
Edition description: Illustrated
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 10.50(h) x 0.94(d)

About the Author

GLENN STOUT is the author of Young Woman and the Sea and Fenway 1912 .

Read an Excerpt

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

1902–1903

Invasion of the Immigrant

As he sat in his office in the Flatiron Building in January 1903, Ban Johnson,
the founder of the American League and its first president, may well have
pondered these words. From his perch in what was then the world's tallest
building, the island of Manhattan, a place of unbounded promise, splayed out
before him.
At the time Manhattan comprised 22.6 square miles, 12 major
avenues, 220 consecutively numbered streets, some 2,200 city blocks, and
nearly 2.2 million inhabitants. It was easily the most valuable and densely
populated piece of real estate in the United States. Yet Manhattan supported
only one professional baseball team — the New York Giants of the National
League — and one ballpark — the Polo Grounds. And thus far, despite
Johnson's best efforts, it appeared as if it were going to stay that way. The
crack of bat against ball was a long way off, for the American League could
find no place to play in Manhattan. Like a new boy in the neighborhood,
Johnson sat on the other side of the fence, bat and ball in hand, hoping he'd
one day be allowed into the game.
Two years earlier his American League had mounted a challenge
to the long-established National League, becoming a second "major" league
and going to war against the senior circuit. Since then Johnson had counted
many successes. The AL had raided the NL of many ofits best players and
placed teams in direct competition with the NL
in Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Boston, supplemented by new
teams in cities that the National League had ignored — Detroit, Washington,
Cleveland, and Baltimore.
The new league was profitable from the beginning as fans flocked
to its ballparks, where general admission cost only 25 cents, half the going
rate in the NL, and players avoided the rough play that marred the NL. The
NL took notice and tried — too late — to stop Johnson. In 1901 Giants owner
Andrew Freedman even tried to create a trust in which all NL teams would be
owned collectively. The plan failed, but that didn't stop Freedman. He had to
protect his investment.
In July of the 1902 season, Freedman made a last-ditch attempt
to thwart Johnson by trying to enact an unfriendly takeover by the American
League's Baltimore Orioles franchise. His partner in the scheme was the
pugnacious player-manager and part-owner of the Orioles, John McGraw.
Once Johnson's ally, McGraw had had a falling-out with the
league founder over his own belligerent on-field behavior and a string of
broken promises. Most notably, Johnson had promised McGraw a piece of a
proposed New York franchise and was now backing off. McGraw
contemptuously referred to him as "Czar Johnson." He demanded his release
from the Orioles in exchange for forgoing a debt, and then sought revenge. He
signed a contract to manage and play with the NL New York Giants, and in a
complicated transaction, he facilitated a surreptitious sale of Baltimore to NL
interests backed by Freedman.
With the Orioles now in their hostile possession, McGraw and
Freedman pillaged the franchise. They released its best players and
immediately signed them to National League contracts, sending stars like
outfielder Joe Kelley to Cincinnati and pitcher "Iron Man" Joe McGinnity to the
Giants. The Orioles became a major league franchise in name only.
Freedman and McGraw hoped their unfriendly takeover would
weaken Johnson's league and cause its demise. For if the Orioles couldn't
complete the schedule, each team in the league would be left with a spate of
open dates, and league standings would be so artificial as to be
meaningless. They hoped that fans would rapidly lose interest and turn their
affections back to the National League.
But Johnson was nothing if not resilient. The American League
was an extension of his own personality — brash, bold, and tenacious. And it
was his. The NL was governed by an unruly mob of owners who spent most
of their time bickering and stabbing each other in the back. Johnson was the
American League, and his rule was law.
The National League always underestimated Johnson's
commitment and creativity. When the Orioles were left with too few players to
field a team, Johnson invoked a clause in the team's charter that allowed him
to take back a 51 percent stake in the franchise. He then forced the other AL
owners to restock the franchise with their spare parts. The Orioles survived
and managed to finish the 1902 season as a bad yet still competitive team.
The American League remained intact.
But Johnson wasn't through. One crony once described him as "a
man who always remembers a friend but never forgets an enemy." He
planned to turn the Baltimore situation to his advantage and take action on
his long-standing desire to move the Orioles to New York. As he later told the
New York Times, in early August 1902 "we took our first official action toward
invading New York City." That was precisely what Johnson had in mind —
an "invasion." The National League, which had already repelled several earlier
sorties, prepared to do so again.
For two years Johnson had led an unsuccessful assault against
the National League's New York fortress, banging at the gates, alternately
pleading and scheming to be allowed in. He knew that a franchise in the
lucrative New York market was the greatest prize of all and the final proof he
needed to convince both fans and players that the American League was
indeed the equal of the National League. He had even moved the American
League offices from Chicago to New York, making his intentions clear by
acquiring office space in the brand-new Flatiron Building, New York's most
prestigious business address. But thus far the political machinery of
Manhattan had conspired to keep him offshore like an unwelcome immigrant.
At the turn of the century New York was a city of extremes. Even
as the first skyscrapers broke through the horizon and the subway system
took shape underground, working farms still dotted the upper reaches of
Manhattan and horses that died in the street were left to rot in the gutter.
Great mansions lined Fifth Avenue, home to the scions of families named
Astor and Vanderbilt, while the nameless and homeless and faceless had
already found their way into the rat traps and backrooms of the Bowery. Men
who made fortunes on Wall Street by day lost them in the gambling dens and
bordellos of the Tenderloin by night, then were rolled and left bleeding in the
alleys. Common criminals with the right political connections could become
the most powerful men in the city. Anything in New York was available
anytime at any price, from the finest silk, the best champagne, and the
biggest steak to the youngest boys, cheapest girls, and biggest hangover.
The Big Apple was at once rotten to the core and gilded in gold leaf.
Ban Johnson wanted to be a part of it. But he found Manhattan far
more difficult to colonize than Boston, Chicago, or Philadelphia. Andrew
Freedman stood guard at the gates.
The tactics of the Giants owner were pure New York — inspired,
ingenious, underhanded, and incredibly effective. Legally, there was little he
could do to keep Johnson from placing a team in Manhattan. Practically,
however, there was little he could not do.
Freedman, a man of considerable political influence, was a
member of Tammany Hall. After its inception as a colonial-era anti-British
secret society, Tammany had evolved into the most powerful political
organization in New York State and one of the most powerful such
organizations in the country. In the 1850s, under William M. "Boss" Tweed,
Tammany became a political machine whose power was matched only by its
corruption; one observer later likened it to "the municipal equivalent of a
floating crap game." Tweed himself helped fleece the public for almost $200
million before finally being brought down.
After Tweed's downfall, a wiser and more efficient Tammany
machine emerged. The current boss, Richard Croker, had dodged a murder
charge and developed a more sophisticated strategy for growing rich at the
expense of the public. His genius was the application of so-called honest
graft: shaking down all varieties of vice and making use of political power to
take advantage of inside information and secure business connections
unavailable to any but those who were in the know. The concept made Croker
and dozens of his cronies fabulously wealthy. The line between the criminal
and the civic was so blurred as to be nearly invisible.
Tammany ran New York City regardless of who actually held
political office. The machine's power came from the streets. Tammany helped
out the little guy, distributing jobs, coal, cash, and other favors to New York's
underclass and teeming pool of immigrants. In return, it extracted votes and
kickbacks. Public policy was forged in the smoke-filled backrooms of
Tammany Hall, where the public good created private fortunes for its
members. But the good was always a secondary consideration, for Tammany
also controlled the city's teeming vice trade — primarily prostitution and
gambling — and the lucrative liquor business and licensing of taverns and
hotels.
Tammany followed the money and tabbed baseball as another
source of income. And there was indeed money to be made off the game, not
only through ticket sales and concessions but also from gambling, ballpark
leases, and other ancillary activities. The New York Mutuals, an "amateur"
club that operated from 1871 to 1875 and was the forerunner of New York's
original entry in the National League, had itself been a product of Tammany
Hall — all its players were on the city payroll.
Freedman had been a member of Tammany since leaving City
College, where he studied law before going into real estate. He made the
acquaintance of Croker in the early 1880s, and the two became fast friends.
True to Tammany form, the relationship soon made Freedman rich. Armed
with the knowledge that a certain parcel had been selected for development,
he became adept at picking it up on the cheap, reselling it for top dollar, then
winning the construction contract for one of the companies that wisely paid
him to serve on its board.
Although he never held elective office, Freedman was soon one of
the wealthiest and most powerful men in New York City. He served on both
Tammany's powerful policy board and its finance committee and in 1897
parlayed that experience into the lucrative position of treasurer of the national
Democratic Party. He was also a member of the board of the Interborough
Rapid Transit Company, the construction firm that was building the New York
subway system. He was thereby able to influence the placement of subway
lines and stations, a power he used to his advantage time and time again to
enhance the value of both his own properties and those of his friends.
In 1894 Freedman bought a small stake in the National League
Giants. A year later he'd parlayed his small block into a majority interest and
bullied other investors out of the picture. He then ran the club and, by
association, all National League interests in New York as if they were just
another offshoot of Tammany. Freedman was a strong supporter of baseball's
own version of honest graft, the syndicate system, which allowed NL owners
to retain a financial stake in several different clubs at the same time. It was
bad for the game because it allowed one club to serve the interests of
another and undercut the public's confidence in the league. But it was good
for business, helping the league maintain a monopoly and keep player
salaries down.
The Giants lost more games than they won, but Freedman didn't
really give a damn whether they fielded a winning team. Profit was all that
mattered. He fought and bickered and bullied other owners constantly,
encouraged rowdy play, browbeat umpires, changed managers as often as
he did shirts, berated players, and interfered with his team at every level. He
was easily the most disliked owner in the National League, a perception not
helped by the fact that he was Jewish and the object of anti-Semitism
outside of New York. The Sporting News described him as a man of "arbitrary
disposition, a violent temper, and an ungovernable tongue."
Freedman knew how best to stop Johnson. As a real estate man,
he realized that the first requirement of any new team in New York would be
a place to play. The Giants had no interest in sharing their park, the Polo
Grounds on 155th Street, with anyone. Neither was adjacent Manhattan Field
available. The National League leased the property for $15,000 a year just to
prevent any other team from using it.
In theory, that still left some 22 square miles of Manhattan real
estate available for a new park. At least, that's what Johnson thought. But he
soon learned that in New York appearances were not always what they
seemed. A different set of rules applied. What had worked in St. Louis or
Boston held no meaning here.
From the moment Johnson first announced that the American
League would go major in 1901, Freedman had set up his defense of
Manhattan. From the Battery northward to 155th Street, he and his cronies
surveyed every property in Manhattan of sufficient size to hold a ballpark.
They then leased the parcel outright, took an option on it, or used their
political influence either to turn the site into a city park or to split it in half
with a public thoroughfare.
Thus, for two years Freedman successfully thwarted Johnson,
rendering the island of Manhattan absolutely uninhabitable by another
baseball team. "Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink" indeed.
Johnson had run out of patience. The attempted kidnapping of the
Baltimore franchise was the final insult. Near the end of the 1902 season he
decided to make New York his battleground for a final assault on the National
League. He first coerced the other AL clubs temporarily to foot the bill for a
new New York franchise created from the ashes of the Orioles. Then, at the
season's end, he turned the tables on the NL, stepping up his raids of NL
stars, targeting the champion Pittsburgh Pirates, a team he'd left alone in
1901 and 1902 in the hope that he might entice the entire franchise to switch
leagues. When it became clear that it would not, he attacked.
Johnson traveled to Pittsburgh, put cash on the table, and left
town with the signatures of nearly every man on the team on an American
League contract, save for that of star shortstop Honus Wagner, who
remained loyal to the Pirates. He then assigned the best of those players —
pitchers Jack Chesbro and Jess Tannehill, infielder Wid Conroy, and
outfielder Lefty Davis — to the team he planned to transfer to New York.
Johnson expanded his raids to the rest of the NL. Every day the
newspapers carried word of yet another defection. The strategy surprised the
senior circuit. After the takeover of Baltimore, the NL had thought it had
Johnson by the short hairs.
But Johnson knew that most NL teams were already in deep
financial trouble. In the previous decade they'd had to fight similar challenges
from the American Association and the Players' League. But their victories
had extracted a heavy price. Most franchises were losing money and had
become weary of the similar challenge posed by the American League.
Another round of escalating salaries and increasing competition from the AL
promised another season of red ink.
Johnson brought the National League to its knees. Reluctantly,
NL teams sued for peace. The Giants were the final holdout in the peace plan.
In December 1902, the two leagues agreed to coexist. After some
shuffling back and forth of the players whom each had recently raided from
the other, they came to a formal agreement. They would respect each other's
rights to players and operate under the same rules, for both wanted to hold
down costs and start making some real money. The success of the
American League was made almost certain.
Yet Johnson, emboldened by victory and drunk with power,
wanted more. At his insistence, the price of peace between the two leagues
included the ultimate prize — his right to place an American League team in
New York. Placing a team in the outer boroughs was not an option, for they
lacked both the cachet and the potential financial bonanza of a team in
Manhattan. It was Manhattan or nothing.
The National League grudgingly agreed, and Johnson giddily
signed still more high-priced talent for his new club, including former
Baltimore star Wee Willie Keeler. For the good of the league, he convinced
Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey to give up star pitcher and
manager Clark Griffith to lead the new franchise. For the time being, the
press simply called the team the generic "New York Americans," to
differentiate it from the National League Giants.
From the start, this new team was preordained to be the most
dominant club in the game. New York was different. The city — and the
situation — demanded it. As Johnson said, "It took a great deal of money to
land this team, which I have every reason to believe will rank high among the
leaders in the American League race." In Boston he had already employed a
similar strategy, creating a powerhouse American League franchise that had
quickly crushed the long-established National League team and turned the
city into an American League stronghold.
Yet Johnson was still an immigrant in New York and naive in the
ways of the big city. He thought that the recent accord with the NL had
solved his problem of finding a home in Manhattan and expected the process
to proceed smoothly. He had even paid a tithe, a donation of $5,000 —
chump change — to the Tammany political machine, believing this would
grease the skids. After all, Andrew Freedman was apparently out of the
picture. A businessman at heart, Freedman had cut his losses in the face of
competition, selling the Giants to John Brush for more than $150,000 — not
a bad return on his investment.
In mid-December Johnson made official his plan to move the
Orioles into New York and resumed his search for a ballpark site. He quickly
identified two neighboring plots of land on 142nd and 143rd Streets at Lenox
Avenue. The plot was perfect — large enough, accessible to public
transportation, including the planned subway, and closer to downtown than
the Polo Grounds. The acquisition seemed simple. The owners were
agreeable to a lease. But at the last minute the owner of the 143rd Street
parcel demanded that his property be bought outright.
Things got strange fast. Johnson was directed to the Interborough
Rapid Transit Company, which had won the right to both build and operate
the New York City subway system, the first line of which was now inching
toward completion below the streets of Manhattan. He was led to believe that
the IRTC would gladly buy the land and lease it back to the AL with the
expectation of turning a handsome profit once the turnstiles started spinning
with fans. Transit companies in both Boston and Philadelphia even attested
to the profitability of their similar arrangements with Johnson.
But Johnson had been set up. Andrew Freedman served on the
board of directors of the IRTC, and Johnson might as well have asked the
IRTC to buy him the entire island. According to the New York World, when
the directors
met, "the proposition was unanimously rejected on the grounds that the
company was not ready to go into real
estate investments for the purpose of fostering the baseball business."
Water, water, everywhere.
Freedman, of course, pled ignorance of any wrongdoing,
commenting innocently, "Somebody has been stringing these Western men
[along,] and it is time it was stopped. It is simply brutal." One could almost
see him twirling his mustache as he peeked around the corner and leered at
his enemy.
His intention was obvious. He would still block Johnson — any
way and any how — unless he and his cronies from Tammany were cut in. If
they could own the club, well then, "Welcome to New York City." If not,
Johnson would find Manhattan inhospitable. The AL "czar" had already
unwisely rejected a bid for the team from state senator Big Tim Sullivan, a
saloon king, Tammany's number-two man, and a "master of the shakedown."
He had also rejected Frank Farrell, known as the "Pool Room King of New
York." Johnson didn't like being told whom he was going to sell the club to —
that was a prerogative he retained for himself and had enforced elsewhere.
But Tammany didn't like being told no. Turning down Tammany cost Johnson
the Lenox Avenue site.
Johnson was appalled. He had won the war and the right to play in
New York — it said so in section five of the peace agreement. Being held up
by Freedman and Tammany hadn't been part of the deal.
But that was the price of doing business in New York. In early
February Johnson was forced to admit that "Freedman and Brush have been
and are working tooth and nail against us in New York. . . . If it were not for
the necessity of dealing with them we would have announced our plans [for a
ballpark] weeks ago."
Johnson kept trying. Over the next six weeks barely a day passed
without another rumored site for a ballpark appearing in the papers. These
included less attractive sites in the Bronx and Queens, locations that the NL
announced it would block in the courts because the agreement between the
two leagues allowed for a team in Manhattan and nowhere else. Meanwhile,
Johnson continued to sign players for the team, and a tentative league
schedule was produced with the club scheduled to play its first home games
in early May — somewhere.
Johnson's search for a place to play turned into an elaborate
game of cat and mouse. He would find a location, then secretly try to secure
a purchase or lease. But there were few secrets from Tammany. Each time
Johnson found a site, interests referred to by The Sporting News as "Brush's
detectives" stayed a step ahead and were able to block the deal. The press
even began calling Manhattan "Freedman's Island." An ever more confident
John Brush announced that he had bet a suit of clothes with every other NL
magnate that Johnson would be unable to find a place to play. "When
Johnson shows me he has obtained land in the borough of Manhattan for his
grounds, then and not until then will I believe the American League will play
ball on this island," he said confidently.
By early March, as players for the new team prepared to travel to
Atlanta, Georgia, for the beginning of spring training, time was beginning to
run out. The new franchise was like some foreign visitor refused entry and left
on Ellis Island. Even the players were running out of patience. Pitcher Jess
Tannehill complained that if there wasn't going to be a team in New
York, "then the American League should turn us adrift to make a deal with
another team."
Johnson grew ever more desperate. Meanwhile, Freedman waited
with open arms, ready to bail out the fair damsel at the right price.
But for once Freedman had overplayed his hand. Tammany wasn't
operating at quite its usual strength. In the last election a reform movement
had temporarily taken possession of City Hall. Croker had been ousted, and
Tammany was weakened by internal battles for power. Even Freedman had
lost his place at the table as chairman of the powerful Tammany finance
committee, which had been abolished the previous spring. When he had
concluded that there was no site above 155th Street suitable for a ballpark,
he had made a critical error, one that others in Tammany were now quick to
take advantage of.
Johnson was the beneficiary of Freedman's rare miscalculation,
albeit most reluctantly. In January sportswriter Joe Vila arranged a personal
meeting between Johnson and a competing faction of Tammany eager to do
business and to stick it to Freedman in the process. They told Johnson they
had a site for a ballpark. As February turned into March and the beginning of
the season approached, Johnson had no choice but to deal with Tammany.
A shadowy syndicate of buyers emerged, fronted by Joseph
Gordon. He operated a coal business and, until the recent election, had been
New York's deputy superintendent of buildings. He'd also once owned a
small piece of the Giants before losing control to Freedman. The syndicate
dangled a ballpark site before Johnson's eyes.
They proposed to build a ballpark in Washington Heights, far
uptown, on a plot of land between 165th and 168th Streets, bounded by Fort
Washington Avenue on the west and 11th Avenue and Broadway on the east.
The site was owned by the New York Institute for the Blind, but the syndicate
had a lease agreement in hand.
They could not have chosen a more unlikely location, and that
was precisely why the property was available and why they chose it. The
locale was described as the highest point on Manhattan (although in fact it
was not), leading The Sporting News to wax rhapsodically that it was "the
most picturesque and romantic spot the white man has ever selected for a
battlefield between the baseball warriors." To the east, one could see the
Bronx, Long Island Sound, and Queens. To the south lay Manhattan and
New York Harbor, while the northern view took in farms and meadows. The
site was backed to the west by the Hudson River and the Palisades. Yet the
journey from downtown still took nearly an hour by surface-bound public
transportation. Although a subway station was scheduled to be built on 168th
Street, the relatively remote location of the site explained why Freedman and
his cronies had felt comfortable stopping their land search at 155th Street.
The location was also considered virtually unbuildable. Sporting
Life stated that there was not "a level spot ten feet square on the whole
property." The site measured nearly 800 feet by 600 feet, and the barren,
rocky outcrop was dotted with massive boulders and dead trees and cleaved
by deep gullies. A fetid pond ran the length of the eastern side.
But what seemed unbuildable to Freedman was precisely what
made the site attractive to Gordon's men. The site offered them a
consummate opportunity to indulge in honest graft in its purest form. Site
preparation alone would require the rearrangement of hundreds of tons of rock
and soil before a single nail could be driven to erect the stands. And Gordon
had already used his political connections to acquire all the necessary
permits. The project would have to be rushed to completion in less than two
months, and Tammany looked forward to tapping into the huge construction
contract. To make it happen, all Johnson had to do was say yes — and hand
the franchise over to Tammany.
Gordon's Tammany backers treated the new team like any other
immigrant. In exchange for help in finding lodging and gainful employment,
Tammany would sponsor the new arrival. All Tammany wanted in return was
the equivalent of the immigrant's vote — undying loyalty and a percentage of
the paycheck.
Johnson didn't like being held up — in essence, the offer was an
act of extortion — but he disliked losing even less, particularly to Freedman.
He had come too far to turn back now. If he failed to place a team in New
York, he would lose face with the AL's financial backers. Quite literally,
Johnson was between a rock and a hard place. Gordon's syndicate offered
him his only out.
On March 11, he reluctantly awarded the syndicate the franchise
and became a partner with Tammany. The price paid by the syndicate for the
franchise — $18,000 — was a joke and far less than the true value of the
club. But the "Invaders" had a beachhead in Manhattan. The immigrant had
arrived.
It was obvious to everyone who was paying any attention what had
taken place. As the New York Tribune commented, "Politicians were
standing in the way. . . . [They] not only demand that their pockets be lined,
but that they be given a portion of the stock of the club." Johnson still
claimed victory. He released a statement that read:
We could not fail in this undertaking, for we always had an anchor to
windward, and there was never a moment when we were not confident of
success. . . . In spite of the obstacles thrown in our way, of which we do not
care to go into particulars, we have no hard feelings against anybody. . . . [I]t
has been a long tedious affair from start to finish, but the American League
has made good.
But the price Johnson and his league had been forced to pay was
as steep as the island site on which the new ballpark would be built. On
March 13, the press toured the site and learned that Thomas McAvoy, the ex-
police commissioner and Tammany leader of the 23rd District, which
included Washington Heights, had been awarded the construction contract to
build the new grounds.
The cost of the sweetheart deal was mind-boggling at the time —
$200,000 to clear and level the land, and another $75,000 to build the
ballpark. Although Johnson claimed that no league funds would be used for
the construction, it appears likely that the league was at least partially
responsible for the costs, as it had been in Philadelphia and Boston. Before a
single pitch was thrown, the franchise was already a license for Tammany to
print money.
Five days later the front page of the New York World carried a
story detailing a civil suit filed by Rogers L. Barstow Jr. against one Frank J.
Farrell, the aforementioned "Pool Room King." In the suit, Barstow claimed
that he had been swindled out of $11,000 in one of Farrell's gambling dens.
With some measure of delight, the paper recounted Farrell's testimony. He
professed never to have seen a roulette wheel and to be ignorant of the
details of gambling in all its myriad forms. Right. That Farrell's lies were so
blatant made them all the more entertaining.
On the same page a much smaller story nonchalantly reported
that former NYC Police Chief William S. Devery had successfully petitioned
the Tax Commission to reduce his personal tax assessment of $30,000 and
noted that he generally made such payments in cash with $1,000 bills. Not
bad for a cop.
Such stories were neither shocking nor even surprising. New York
was corrupt to the core, and everyone knew it. Both Farrell and Devery were
familiar names to anyone who knew anything about Tammany Hall. And as
the public would soon learn, Farrell and Devery were actually the owners of
the new American League baseball team.
A more sordid pair can hardly be imagined. Each had made a
fortune fleecing the public with absolute impunity. Buying a ballclub carried
the promise of more of the same.
On March 18, with the first explosions rocking Washington
Heights as construction crews used dynamite to turn 12,000 cubic yards of
rock and stone into rubble, the team was officially incorporated. Farrell's
status as a principal shareholder in the club was revealed to the public for the
first time, although Johnson had known of his role for weeks. The
announcement passed with little comment, although the World noted that
Farrell's prominence in Tammany was thought to be enough to "overcome
any influence the New York National League club may have in Tammany
circles." In other words, it was business as usual in old New York.
Farrell had started out in the liquor business, pouring drinks while
making friends and connections in Tammany Hall from behind the bar. He
soon branched out, opening a poolroom and eventually becoming a partner in
a gambling syndicate controlled by Tim Sullivan, Devery, and Richard
Canfield. Together they operated hundreds of gambling enterprises ranging
from poolrooms and crap games to the infamous "House with the Bronze
Door." The opulent, elegantly decorated townhouse on West 33rd Street had
been remodeled by the famous architect Stanford White and catered to the
crème de la crème of New York gamblers. In 1900 the New York Times
estimated that the syndicate's annual take was in excess of $3 million.
That made Farrell both very rich and very powerful, even though
gambling, even then, was (technically anyway) very illegal. That's where
William "Big Bill" Devery got his cut.
Like Farrell, Devery also started out behind the bar. But in 1878
he paid Tammany $200 and changed professions — he became a member of
the police force. Devery wasn't drawn to law enforcement by any feelings of
civic responsibility. Rather, being a police officer offered a young man in a
hurry an inexhaustible opportunity to collect graft.
Devery wasn't shy. He was soon soliciting money from every
gambling den and whorehouse on his beat. As soon as he could afford to,
Devery bought promotions, first to sergeant, for $1,400, and then to captain
for $14,000. By 1887 he was working the Tenderloin, a red-light district that
ran between Fifth and Seventh Avenues from 24th Street to 42nd Street. The
many nightclubs, saloons, brothels, clip joints, and dance halls in the area
offered unmatched opportunities for financial advancement.
No one was better equipped to take advantage. Devery knew full
well what he was getting into, announcing to his men upon his
appointment: "They tell me there's been a lot of graftin' going on. . . . Now
that's going to stop. If there's to be any graftin' to be done, I'll do it. Leave it
to me!" He followed his motto —"Hear, see, and say nothin', eat, drink, and
pay nothin'"— to the letter.
Devery soon became friendly with Farrell, for whose poolroom he
provided protection, and a lifelong, mutually beneficial friendship was formed.
Over time Devery provided protection for the syndicate throughout the city.
Even among the thieves of Tammany, Big Bill Devery's audacity
stood out. But he always squirmed free — bribing juries bothered him not in
the least. Devery's career in law enforcement flourished. In 1898 he made
inspector and within six months found himself promoted once again, this time
to the position of chief of police. His predecessor had made the mistake of
interfering with one of Farrell's poolrooms. There'd be no similar trouble with
Devery at the helm. Of his reign, muckraker Lincoln Steffens pronounced, "He
was no more fit to be chief of police than the fish man was to be director of
the Aquarium, but as a character, as a work of art, he was a masterpiece."
By 1901, however, Devery's brazenness had finally cost him.
Although he enjoyed the full support of Mayor Robert Van Wyck — who
called him "the best chief of police New York ever had"— in mid-February the
legislature, desperate to be rid of his embarrassing presence, abolished his
position. He "retired" with real estate holdings of nearly $1 million, made
plans to run for mayor, and embarked on a long, eventually successful effort
to secure a city pension.
When Tammany lost in the 1901 election, Farrell had
also "retired," cashing in and moving his money into more socially acceptable
investments, like running a baseball team.
Meanwhile, far away from the mean streets of Manhattan, the New
York Americans gathered in Atlanta for spring training. Manager Clark Griffith
held the club's first practice at Piedmont Park on the afternoon of March
18. "I will give my men four hours of work every day," he announced. "While I
am not strong on prophecy, you can say for me that we expect to be in the
chase from the jump and can be counted on to finish in the first division."
He was being kind because, with the backing of Ban Johnson, the
new ballclub was expected not just to contend but to win right away. Indeed,
on paper, the club was a powerhouse. Nearly half the roster had played a key
role on a team that had won a pennant in the previous two seasons.
It all started at the top, with "the Old Fox," player-manager Clark
Griffith, who had already won 205 games in the major leagues, most of them
with National League Chicago. He'd spent the last two seasons as player-
manager of the American League White Sox, leading them to the first AL
pennant in 1901. From Pittsburgh came infielder Wid Conroy, star pitcher
Jess Tannehill, and spitball artist Jack Chesbro. Both pitchers had won 20
games while helping the Pirates capture the 1902 NL pennant by an
astonishing 271/2 games. They were joined by two of their former
teammates, outfielder Lefty Davis and catcher Jack O'Connor. Second
baseman Jimmy Williams, pitcher Harry Howell, and outfielder Herm
McFarland remained from the 1902 Baltimore team.
Around this nucleus Griffith added former National League
outfielder John Ganzel, aging former Boston star shortstop Herman Long, and
outfielder Dave Fultz, who'd hit .302 and led the league in runs for the 1902
AL champion, the Philadelphia A's. But the acknowledged star
of the team was diminutive outfielder Wee Willie Keeler. In nine full seasons,
first with Baltimore and then with Brooklyn, he had never hit below .333, with
a high of .424 in 1897.
Keeler, who stood barely five feet four inches tall, was the perfect
player for the Dead Ball Era, which rewarded hitters for their ability to make
contact and do the little things that move runners around the base paths.
Bunts, sacrifices, and hit-and-run plays epitomized the style of play of so-
called scientific or inside baseball. Keeler summed up his batting approach
when he once told a reporter the secret of his success: "Keep the eye clear,
and hit 'em where they ain't." A supreme place hitter, Keeler rarely struck
out, was an adept bunter and base stealer, a fleet outfielder, and recognized
as one of the most savvy players in the game. In New York he was expected
to be the new team's first big star, the drawing card it needed to win a box-
office battle with the Giants.
Griffith's job was to roll the ball out onto the field and get the
disparate parts of his new club to work together. That didn't seem to be much
of a challenge. The club shut out Southern League Atlanta in its first three
exhibition contests as Howell, Griffith, and Tannehill all pitched spotless ball
and Ganzel led the club on offense.
But while the players marched unimpeded through Georgia,
Farrell, Devery, and Ban Johnson still found the going rough in Manhattan.
Even as 500 men worked from dawn to dusk to turn Washington Heights into
a ballpark, the immigrant invaders found their neighbors less than welcoming.
Freedman and his corner of Tammany felt betrayed by Farrell and
made several last-ditch efforts to try to stop him and his associates. He
rallied neighbors to sign a petition asking for a new street and sparked a
strike among the workers clearing the ballpark site, but these efforts came
too late. American League baseball finally had its beachhead in New York.
As work on the site continued, President Gordon held a contest to
name the new park, offering a season pass for the winning entry. On April 5,
he unveiled the plans for the park itself. It would be nothing more than a
spare, wooden grandstand, 20 rows deep, built of spruce and pine on a stone
foundation, seating 4,186 at a dollar a head. Bleachers down each line would
accommodate another 8,000 fans at 50 cents apiece, and 2,500 25-cent
seats would be available in the outfield. The outfield dimensions would be an
imposing 365 feet in left field, 542 in center, and 400 feet in right. One
observer commented that, although it would take "a mighty batsman to knock
one over the fence, there is plenty of room inside the field for home runs."
(Indeed, at the time most home runs were still of the inside-the-park variety.)
The entrance would be on the corner of 165th and Broadway.
While hundreds of workers rushed to complete the park, which
included filling a gigantic hole in what was supposed to be right field, the club
broke camp in early April. They barnstormed through the South before
heading to Washington to open the regular season on April 22.
On the cold, gray afternoon, the two clubs paraded into the
Washington ballpark, according to tradition. They were greeted by a record
crowd of 11,500 who were anxious to see the new team for the first time.
Washington manager Tom Loftus opted to have his club bat first to take
advantage of the brand-new baseball, which wouldn't be replaced until
absolutely necessary. New York took the field as Opening Day pitcher Jack
Chesbro warmed up.
The contemporary fan wouldn't recognize the team as the
Yankees, for they had adopted neither that familiar nickname nor their
distinctive pinstriped attire. They wore black uniforms with a large, white "NY"
in block letters across the chest, black hats with white piping, white socks,
and white belts. And they were called, well, "New York." As yet, the club had
no other name.
This proved quite a quandary for the New York press, which
somehow had to distinguish the American League club from the New York
Giants. For a time they tried to get by with simply calling the team "the New
Yorks," but Giants fans were accustomed to referring to their club at times by
that name. Sportswriters created their own nicknames and soon started
referring to the club as either the "Hilltoppers," in reference to the site of their
ballpark, or the Highlanders, a name that also played on the Scottish
heritage of team president Joseph Gordon. The "Americans," "Greater New
Yorks," "Invaders," "Kilties," and a half-dozen other names were also
occasionally used. But none really took, and most proved troublesome for the
headline writers and typesetters. But within only a few months, the press
began occasionally referring to the team as "the Yankees," probably in
reference to the fact that they played north of the Giants. This name
delighted typesetters, who shortened it to the even more
manageable "Yanks." By 1904 "Yankees" was widely used, particularly by
the New York Evening Journal, and had become the name of choice among
fans.
Chesbro struggled with his control, walking the first three
Washington hitters before escaping the inning by fielding a sharp ground ball
himself and starting a home-to-first double play. In the bottom of the inning
Lefty Davis stepped to the plate and became the first Yankee batsman in
history.
He grounded one of pitcher Al Orth's serves to second for an out,
but then Willie Keeler worked his magic and walked. With Keeler taking off
on a hit-and-run play, Dave Fultz singled to left. Keeler slid around the tag at
third with a beautiful fadeaway. Jimmy Williams followed with a ground ball to
second, and Keeler dashed home to score the club's first run. It was inside
baseball at its best.
And it was also the highlight of the day for the New Yorkers. After
Washington scored a single run to tie the game in the fourth, an error by 37-
year-old Herman Long at short helped Washington score two runs. The
Senators held on to win 3–1.
The Yankees won for the first time the following day as Harry
Howell went the distance in an easy 7–2 win, but the big news of the day
was the public revelation that Big Bill Devery, along with Farrell, was the
team's major backer. He tried to deny it, rhetorically telling the New York
Herald Tribune, "Me, a backer? I only wished I did own stock in a baseball
club. I am a poor man and don't own stock in anything." No one was fooled,
and the Herald Tribune went on to detail Devery's recent real estate deals
that had netted him more than half a million dollars. Politically savvy
Washington fans taunted the team by calling them "New York's Finest."
By the time the club arrived in New York for the home opener on
April 30, it sported a disappointing 3–4 record. As Sam Crane wrote that
morning, "It was a perfect day for the sport. The sun was strong and a gentle
breeze blew across the stand just strong enough to make it comfortable."
The good weather and curiosity about the new team combined to bring out a
capacity crowd of around 16,243 fans to "American League Park," the
winning entry of the young boy who won President Gordon's contest.
This was no palace of baseball. Only the bare wooden
grandstand, filled with 5,000 folding chairs, and the bleachers were nearly
finished. The roof existed only on blueprints. But bunting hung from the front
of the stands, and every fan was given a miniature American flag, lending an
appropriately festive air to the proceedings. Fans who purchased 25-cent
seats were herded behind ropes down the line and in the outfield and forced
to stand.
The condition of the field was appalling. A slack rope sufficed for
an outfield fence. Only the infield had been sodded, and fans complained
about the glare from the baked earth of the outfield and foul territory, most of
which was still littered with stones and showed signs of recent settling. But
the park's most distinctive, albeit unintentional, feature was in right field.
The pond that once covered the area had proven a challenge to fill.
Tons of rock and dirt had only sunk in the mud. Crane described it as
covering "about a sixteenth of the field." On this day, and on many others in
the inaugural season, the gulch was roped off. Any ball hit into the void was a
ground-rule double. Sportswriters soon referred to it as "Keeler's Hollow," for
the number of balls that disappeared behind the New York right fielder.
Owing to the influence of Freedman and his cronies, the sale of
alcohol was banned, but as Crane noted, fans looked at the lemonade
vendors "with disgust." That response didn't stop the politicians, however,
from turning out in force. The most conspicuous were Devery and Farrell, in
the company of Ban Johnson. The acerbic Crane commented wryly, "There
were enough diamonds in the shirt fronts of the politicians to start a fair sized
jewelry store. There are three kinds of diamonds, it is said, which most
politicians know much about — the diamond that glitters, the ace of
diamonds, and the baseball diamond." This team was New York to the core.
A band escorted the uniformed members of both clubs from a
nearby hotel, for a clubhouse had yet to be built. Ban Johnson threw out the
first pitch, the home team chose to bat first, and just after 3:30 p.m. the
immigrants staked their claim to the city when Lefty Davis stepped in to face
Washington pitcher Jack Townsend.
He grounded out to short, but Keeler singled to left, then charged
into second when outfielder Ed Delahanty bobbled the ball, turning the crowd
apoplectic. He scored moments later on Jimmy Williams's double to put the
Yankees in the lead.
On the mound for New York, Chesbro was all he had been
advertised to be as he kept the Senators off balance. The Yankees emerged
with a nifty 6–2 win to even their record at 4–4.
At the end of the short six-game home stand, the team, in the
parlance of the day, looked to be a "world beater" as they took two of three
from both the dismal Senators and the defending champion Athletics.
Attendance was good, the team was in the race, and all looked right on the
island of Manhattan.
But the protracted struggle to find a home was still having an
effect. To accommodate the completion of the ballpark, the schedule makers
sent the Yanks on the longest road trip in club history, a grueling 24-day
sojourn that took them to every city in the league save Washington and even
included a game against Cleveland played in Columbus, Ohio. The Yankees
fell apart on the road and returned to New York a beaten team, an also-ran
with a record of 15–18, buried in seventh place. The rejuvenated Giants, who
were battling the Cubs for the National League lead, remained the
unchallenged kings of New York.
Herman Long, 37 going on 57, was injured, and ground balls rolled
through the left side unimpeded. Dave Fultz was also hurt. Clark Griffith
couldn't pitch as often as he once had, and Tannehill was maddeningly
inconsistent. The ballpark was looking somewhat better, for during the road
trip the grandstand roof and left-field scoreboard and outfield fence had gone
up and been painted green. Keeler's Hollow was more or less covered by
planks and dirt, and grass finally began to sprout in the outfield. But field
conditions remained poor, the park hard to get to, and the ballclub unfinished.
When Boston dumped the immigrants three straight by a combined score of
26–5, the season was all but over. If they could have, fans would have started
deportation hearings. After a loss to Cleveland on June 4, manager Griffith left
the club, reportedly "out to look for players."
There was some desperation to his quest. But Ban Johnson
wasn't about to allow the new club to fail. It was his league, and he ran it as
he saw fit. New York had to succeed—he had invested too much to allow the
team to fail.
During the previous off-season, Detroit shortstop Norman "Kid"
Elberfeld had signed two contracts: one with American League Detroit, then
another with the National League Giants. A fiery competitor known as "the
Tabasco Kid," Elberfeld was a fine player, another student of inside baseball,
and a particularly good glove man.
The Giants had wanted him badly—he was John McGraw's kind of
player—but as part of the peace agreement between the two leagues, they
had reluctantly relinquished their claim. Elberfeld then got off to a fine start
with the Tigers, hitting .341 for the first two months of the season.
But Elberfeld wasn't happy returning to Detroit and spent much of
the season feuding with Tiger manager Ed Barrow and owner Sam Angus.
Like the Yankees, the Tigers weren't playing very well, or drawing many fans
either. But unlike the Yankees, they didn't have the Giants playing down the
street. Johnson didn't give a damn about the Tigers. If they failed in Detroit,
other cities like Buffalo were waiting in the wings. So Johnson rang up Sam
Angus and worked out a deal.
The Yankees weren't just another team, and soon the whole
league knew it. Johnson arranged for New York to get something for nothing,
sending Long, two others, and some cash to the Tigers for Elberfeld and
outfielder John Deering. Elberfeld would be a star in New York for much of the
next decade.
Giants owner John Brush was livid. To see the Kid in a Yankee
uniform now was more than he could bear, and he sought a court injunction
to ban Elberfeld from playing with the Yankees. For several weeks the
dispute threatened to disrupt the peace between the two leagues, but Ban
Johnson got his way. Elberfeld stayed with the Yankees.
The Kid made the Yankees one of the best teams in the league
as they won 16 of their next 24. But Boston surged into first place at the end
of June and kept going, while New York ran out of steam and struggled to
stay above .500. A hot finish, which saw them go 19–10 in September, was
enough to secure the club fourth place with a 72–62 record, but that was 17
long games behind pennant-winning Boston.
Meanwhile, the Giants won the battle of Manhattan in a cakewalk.
Although they finished second to Pittsburgh in the National League, New
York fans found the NL team much more to their liking. The Yankees drew
barely 200,000 spectators, seventh best in the league, while the Giants
paced the NL with nearly three times that amount. Of all the vaunted Yankee
stars, only Keeler, who hit .318, Elberfeld, who hit .287, and Chesbro, who
went 21–15, performed to their expected standard. Victories had proven as
hard to come by as a site for the new ballpark.
Somewhere, Andrew Freedman was smiling.

Copyright © 2002 by Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson. Reprinted by
permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Table of Contents

Contents Acknowledgments xv Introduction xix 1902-1903 Invasion of the Immigrant 3 1904 The Pitch 23 1905-1914 A Fine Mess 39 1915-1919 Two Colonels and One Boss 65 1920-1925 Murderers' Row 85 1926-1928 The Greatest Team 115 Lardner Has Bright Idea to Help Pittsburgh Team by Ring Lardner 1929-1934 The Pride of the Yankees 137 Charles Devens, Yankee by Charles Davis 1935-1941 The Clipper 161 1942-1946 A War on All Fronts 187 1947-1950 The Boston Stranglers 207 George Weiss: Architect of an Era by David Halberstam 1951-1956 The Battle of the Boroughs 237 On Casey Stengel by Ira Berkow 1957-1961 57 . . . 58 . . . 59 . . . 60 . . . 61* 267 1962-1964 A Series of Swan Songs 291 1965-1974 After the Fall 309 1975-1978 Start Spreading the News 333 Rivals by Richard A. Johnson 1979-1995 Darkness at the Edge of Town 363 Dave Winfield's Empty Afternoon by Howard Bryant 1996-1997 Top of the Heap 393 It's Only a Game. It's More Than a Game by Molly O'Neill 1998-1999 Team of the Century 415 2000-2001 New York Stories 437 Appendix A: Yankees Century Teams 461 Appendix B: The Yankee Record 466 Index Illustration Credits

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