Posts Tagged ‘Helene Robison Britton’

“The Outlaw League”: a Review

October 3, 2019

Cover of “The Outlaw League”

Haven’t put up a book review in a while (actually haven’t put up much of anything for a while) so I thought it was time to change that. Here’s a look at The Outlaw League and the Battle that Forged Modern Baseball by Daniel R. Levitt.

Levitt, a SABR stalwart, takes a look at the 1914-1915 Federal League in his book. It’s a book more about the back story of the league and the workings of the other established leagues than it is about the actual playing of games. He gives us a quick, but incisive view of the men (and they were all men) who planned and created the Federal League. They were all rich and all interested in making money through baseball. He also tells us about the people, and here there is one woman (Helene Robison Britton of the Cardinals), who ran the established leagues and how they went about attacking the new league. Ballplayers take second place to the owners in the book, but there are sections on significant players like Joe Tinker and a quick look at Dave Fultz and the Players Fraternity, something like a modern union, that came out of the dust up between the Feds and Organized Baseball.

Levitt shows us the money disparity between the existing leagues and the new Federal League (the other team owners had a lot more money), and points out that many Organized Baseball teams (both the National and American Leagues) were in towns that were larger than the Federal League teams and thus had access to more fans. He concludes that the existing leagues eventually won the war with the Feds for these reasons and because the NL and AL owners, led primarily by Ban Johnson, Gerry Herrmann, and Barney Dreyfuss, were more adept at the use of the courts and contracts, had an already established structure that worked, and the already mentioned advantages of both more money and a larger fan base.

The book is certainly worth the read if you are interested in either the baseball of the era, or the workings of big business in the period just prior to World War I. It was published in 2012 and is available in paperback for $18.95. I got my copy at Barnes & Noble, but it is also available on line.

“Damn, the Boss is a Girl”

August 24, 2011

Helene Robison Britton

As something of a follow-up to the Roger Bresnahan post, let me take you way back in the 19th Century when the Robison brothers, Stanley and Frank, a couple of  street car company magnates (not a “magnate” type job these days) and owners of the Cleveland baseball club, also bought ownership in the St. Louis club. They managed to destroy the Cleveland team, but St. Louis survived. In 1908, Frank died leaving the team to Stanley. Stanley hung on through the 1910 season. The team wasn’t very good, but he liked the game, he made money, and he thought he could make it a winner. In March 1911 he died. As sad as it might be, for our purposes it is important to note he was unmarried and had no children. In his will he left majority owenership of the team to his brother’s only child, his niece Helene Robison Britton. She thus became the first female owner of a Major League Baseball team. One of the players is supposed to have uttered the deathless line “Damn, the boss is a girl.”

Helene Robison was born in Cleveland in 1879, the child of wealth and privilege. With both her father and uncle baseball men she grew up liking the sport and learned to score the game early. When the Cleveland team folded and her father and uncle began running only the St. Louis team, she maintained an interest and accompanied them to St. Louis to watch her team play. One source says she first proposed changing the team uniforms from Brown to Cardinal Red thus giving the team its current nickname. I can find absolutely no confirmation of that and it probably isn’t true, but it makes a good story.

In 1901 she married Schuyler Britton, a n attorney and printer (strange combination, isn’t it?). They had two children (one of each). In 1911, as mentioned above, she and her mother gained ownership of the Cardinals (with Helene Britton getting the bigger share of the stock). She moved to St. Louis and began running the team. As you might guess there was a lot of opposition to a woman running a  baseball team in 1911. Helene Britton seems to have decided to run the team anyway and after a brief honeymoon had problems with manager Roger Bresnahan and some of the players who didn’t like taking orders from a woman. Fellow owners also didn’t want her in their meetings. It was, after all, a man’s world and a man’s sport. She solved that part of the problem by having her husband elected club president in 1913. That allowed him to attend league meetings while she still ran the team on a daily basis.

Frankly the Cardinals weren’t very good in her years as owner. They finished as high as third in 1914 (a Federal League year), but did not consistently win. She did manage to increase attendance by instituting “Lady’s Day” at the ball park. She also was smart enough to agree to the manager’s suggestion she sign an up and coming slugger named Rogers Hornsby in 1915.

She was having trouble at home, however. In 1916 she separated from her husband and began divorce proceedings in 1917. Claiming he was an alcoholic and abusive, she was successful in her petition. That left her, again, the sole driving force in the Cardinals front office. In fairness to her, Schuyler Britton was always more figurehead than president while she ran the team. Years later Effa and Abe Manley would do much the same thing in the Negro Leagues (although they never divorced).

In 1918 she sold the Cardinals for $350,000, a large sum in 1918 and a great profit on her father’s original $40,000 investment. She remarried, moved to Philadelphia, and died in 1950 mostly forgotten by baseball. Feminism hadn’t yet found her. A biographer finally did this year. Haven’t read it yet but it’s called “Baseball’s First Lady” and is written by Joan Thomas.

It’s really tough to assess Britton’s role in baseball. On the one hand she was way ahead of her time. She may have been a “feminist”, but was more in the Margaret Sanger mold than in the modern “feminist” role. She certainly did run the team despite great resistance from both players and other owners. She showed real intelligence by putting her husband in the president’s chair, thus cutting down on some of the opposition to her. On the other hand, the Cardinals didn’t do very well. Much of that can be laid at the feet of her dad and uncle who weren’t very good at running  a baseball team, but some of it has to rub off on her. The team got better briefly, but only marginally. Frankly, I think baseball is better off for having her, but her on the field impact is much less than her historical impact.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Roger Bresnahan

August 22, 2011

Roger Bresnahan in gear

1. He was born 11 June 1879 in Toledo, Ohio.

2. Graduating from High School in 1895, he joined the Ohio State League in 1896, both pitching and catching.

3. In 1897 he made it to the National League with the Washington Nationals (not the same club as today) as a pitcher. He threw a six hit shutout in his first game 27 August, went 4-0 in his pitching assignments, hit .375, asked for a raise, and was cut at the end of the season (which should help explain why Washington never won a NL pennant).

4.  He spent 1898 and 1899 in the Minors, resurfaced briefly in the National League in 1900, then jumped to the American  League’s Baltimore Orioles (now the Yankees, not the modern Orioles) where he met John J. McGraw. In 1902 he joined McGraw in jumping to the Giants in the NL.

5. Playing multiple positions, he became the Giants’ full-time catcher in 1905. As a catcher he experimented with a batting helmet, padded masks, and shin guards. The latter two became staples during his own career. There is a lot of question who invented each. Although he is sometimes given credit for inventing each, Bresnahan, as far as I can tell, never claimed to have done so.

6. In the 1905 World Series, catcher Bresnahan led off for the Giants (unusual for a catcher) and led the team with a .313 batting average. The Giants won in five games.

7. In 1906 he led the National League with an OBP of .419, again unusual for a  catcher of any era.

8. In 1908 he caught 139 games during the season. It was both his career high and an astonishing number for the era.

9. In 1909 he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals to be player-manager. During his tenure (1909-1912) he finished as high as fifth once. He got along well with Stanley Robison, Cardinals owner, but Robison died in 1911. He was replaced by his niece Helene Robinson Britton who became the first woman to own a Major League club (and who is certainly worth a post at some point). After an initial period of getting along (I resisted using “honeymoon” here for a reason), they quickly fell out. Part of the problem seems to be that Bresnahan didn’t like working for a girl (See what I mean about “honeymoon”?).

10. In 1913 he was sent to the Chicago Cubs where he was the backup catcher in both 1913 and 1914. In 1915 he was player-manager for the team. He didn’t do well as a manager, but made a lot of money.

11. He used the money to buy the Toledo Mud Hens Minor League team. He owned, managed, and occasionally played for the Mud Hens through the 1923 season.

12. He coached some for the Giants 1925-28, then for the Tigers in 1930 and 1931. Afterwards he held a series of  odd jobs that helped him get by but had nothing to do with baseball. In 1944 he ran for county commissioner. He lost the election and died of a heart attack on 4 December of the same year (I’m not about to speculate on cause/effect of politics and heart attacks at this point.). His death led to a spiking in interest about him and he was elected to the Hall of  Fame in 1945.

Worth Reading

January 21, 2010

I do a lot of reading. Sometimes it’s baseball related, sometimes it isn’t. Got a book that you should find worthwhile: Deadball Stars of the National League. The book is edited by Tom Simon and is a SABR production. The publisher is Brassey’s Inc. and the publication date is 2004. 

This book is a series of baseball biographies of various National League players in the period 1900-1920. Most bios are only a couple of pages long and concentrate on the baseball aspects of the individual’s career. The book is sorted by team in order of winning percentage for the era. That alone is a wonderful step. When you look at the quality of the players discussed you begin to see why the Giants are first and the Cardinals last.

That’s one of the great virtues of the book. A sceond is the depth of players rviewed. Despite the title, they’re not all “stars”, at least not to the contemporary mind. There’s Mathewson, McGraw, McGinnity, Chance, and Brown. There’s also Ivy Olson, Bill Sweeney, and Mike Mowrey. So you get a sense of the types of men who populated the deadball era of baseball. Additionally, most of the team owners are detailed and the first section of biographies is a set of National League executives and umpires, giving the reader even more feel for the men (and one woman in St. Louis owner Helene Robison Britton) of the age.

None of the bios is hard to read, so take some time and read this book. (A disclaimer–I get no funds from the book). Think you’ll enjoy it.