Posts Tagged ‘John Heydler’

1908: Henry Clay Pulliam

September 20, 2018

Henry C. Pullliam

One of the more important, but most overlooked, results of the 1908 “Merkle Boner” was what happened off the field in its aftermath. It forever changed, and some argued shortened, the life of National League President Henry Clay Pulliam.

The future National League President was born in Kentucky in 1869, son of a tobacco farmer and named for one of the state’s most famous statesmen. He graduated from law school at the University of Virginia, became a journalist at the Louisville, Kentucky Commercial. Interested in politics, he ran successfully for the Kentucky state assembly and served a term. He came to the attention of Hall of Fame owner Barney Dreyfuss, who owned the Louisville Colonels of the American Association (a Major League at the time). Dreyfuss named him, first, team secretary (a position that would evolve into today’s General Manager), and later club President. While at Louisville, Pulliam signed future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner to his first major league contract.

When the National League contracted for the 1900 season, Dreyfuss and Pulliam moved their headquarters to Pittsburgh (Dreyfuss owned both Louisville and Pittsburgh under the “syndicate” rules of the day), taking with them Louisville’s primary players, including Wagner. It began the turn of the 20th Century Pirates dynasty that managed to get to the first World Series.

But by the first World Series, Pulliam was no longer with the team. He was well liked, considered knowledgeable about the sport, easy to get along with, and quite frankly a number of owners thought he could be easily manipulated. That got him elected to the presidency of the NL in 1902.

His first job was to end the “war” with the fledgling American League. Although Cincinnati owner Gerry Herrmann was primarily responsible for proposing the terms of the “National Agreement” that ended the war, and Dreyfuss was the first proponent of the World Series, Pulliam was instrumental in seeing both implemented. He got along with AL President Ban Johnson (almost no one else did) and was able to ease Johnson’s acceptance of the National Agreement. As NL President he, along with Johnson and Herrmann, was part of the trinity that ran Major League Baseball for the next several years.

But all this led him into conflict with two men of great importance to baseball: Andrew Freedman, owner of the Giants, and the Giants manager John McGraw. Both men argued that Pulliam’s decisions on disputed issues always favored the Pittsburgh position. After an initial unanimous election as NL President, Pulliam’s annual reelection was by a 7-1 margin with New York casting the no vote (later Cincinnati joined New York to make it 6-2). This continued even after Freedman left the Giants and John T. Brush took over as New York team owner.

Always considered “high-strung” Pulliam began suffering health problems by 1906. Some sources indicate he was on the verge of a “nervous breakdown” from the strain of his job. Then came the Merkle Boner (see the post just below this one) and he was thrust into the center of a raging fight between the Giants and almost everyone else. By 1908 John T. Brush had taken control of the Giants and he was furious with both umpire Hank O’Day, who’d ruled the Merkle game a tie, and Pulliam for upholding the decision. For the next year Brush relentlessly hounded Pulliam calling him a cheat in the pay of the Cubs and other things that are not acceptable for a family oriented site like this.

John T. Brush

All of that got to Pulliam and he suffered something like a breakdown in late 1908. He took a leave of absence and didn’t return to NL headquarters until after the 1909 season began. Apparently unable to withstand the pressures of his job, he went to his apartment and shot himself on 28 July 1909. He died the next day still in his apartment. He is buried in Kentucky. John Heydler, his assistant took over the job as NL President.

Pulliam is in many ways a tragic figure. He was good at his job, apparently honest and well liked. But he was unable to withstand the constant strain of the position. It’s much too much to say that Brush and the Giants killed him, but their constant abuse certainly helped lead to the depression that ultimately led to his demise.

Pulliam’s final resting place (from Find a Grave)

 

The Ad Man

April 19, 2016
Albert D. Lasker

Albert D. Lasker

I’m going to interrupt my set on the 1991 World Series to stick this post in. Found this information and wanted to share it now. Back to the ’91 Series in a short while.

Born in Freiburg, Germany in 1880 (his parents were visiting Germany), Albert Davis Lasker grew up in Galveston, Texas, the son of a banker. After trying his hand at journalism and in politics, he moved to Chicago to work in advertising. He became in many ways the father of modern advertising.

Working for Lord and Thomas he began to create ad campaigns that were both revolutionary and modern. His first campaign was for a hearing aid company and featured the following newspaper ad:

Lasker's Wilson's Ear Drums ad

Lasker’s Wilson’s Ear Drums ad

It’s nothing special today, but in 1899 it was revolutionary.

He continued with successful ad campaigns until 1903 when he became a partner. By 1912 (aged 32) he owned the firm. And he continued making successful ad campaign after ad campaign. He made Lucky Strike America’s number one cigarette. He made Palmolive soap a household necessity, He made feminine hygiene products something that could be discretely advertised. And of course he made a lot of money. In 1908 he took over the Sunkist Growers account and made a small fruit company into a national institution. And for good or ill he conceived the idea of making a short (15 minute) continuing radio drama that aired daily and sponsored by a soap company. It became a staple of radio and then moved to television. We call them “soap operas.”

In 1920 he became, along with Will Hays (later of the Hollywood Hays Commission), an advisor to Republican Presidential candidate Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding (there seems to be no truth to the idea he invented the saying “A return to normalcy”), When Harding won, he appointed Lasker to the United States Shipping Board, a position he held for two years (resigning on his own and not being involved in any of the Harding Administration scandals). He went back to advertising, remained President of Lord and Thomas, and retired in 1942. He became a major philanthropist, giving money especially to the National Institutes of Health. He also founded the Lasker Awards, which recognize individuals who make significant contributions to science.

“OK, he sounds like a gem of a guy, but what,” you ask, “does he have to do with our favorite sport?” Glad you asked.

Lasker made a lot of money and he was a baseball fan. In 1916 (one hundred years ago this season), he bought an interest in the Chicago Cubs. He held that interest to 1925 when he sold his part of the Cubs (he was the owner with the second most stock) to William Wrigley, Jr. thus beginning the Wrigley family association with the Cubs. But he’s most important for an idea he had that, although subsequently changed, revolutionized baseball.

In 1920 baseball was in trouble. The Black Sox scandal was exploding and baseball seemed unable to figure out how to handle it. The National Commission, the body that ran baseball, was short a member, August Herrmann having just resigned. Traditionally, the Commission consisted of the National League President (John Heydler in 1920), the American League President (Ban Johnson in 1920) and the owner of one of the teams (Herrmann owned the Reds). With or without Herrmann, the Commission was unable to deal with the scandal because of the personal and financial interest of all the members and replacing Herrmann with another owner merely kept the problem going. Lasker came up with a plan (cleverly called “The Lasker Plan”) for a new National Commission. This Commission would retain the two league Presidents, but the third member would be an outsider with no ties to Major League Baseball. In this circumstance it became obvious that this Commission member (a “Commissioner”) would, in many cases, be the deciding vote in running baseball and the Commission would have “unreviewable authority” to run baseball, meaning the owners couldn’t stage a vote and overrule the Commission. They didn’t adopt the entire plan, but Major League Baseball, for the first time, seems to have recognized the advantage of having a non-owner and non-league man run the show. Ultimately, they dumped the two league Presidents (and a later change that would have created a board of three independent commissioners) and decided on a single commissioner. Lasker’s first choice for that job was General John J. Pershing, who didn’t want it. His second choice was a Chicago federal judge named Kennesaw Mountain Landis (In fairness, a number of owners also wanted Landis).

So the modern baseball Commissioner system comes from an idea by a non-traditional baseball man. Lasker is, in a sort of sidelong way, responsible for the Commissioner. Lasker died in 1952, more famous for his advertising genius than for his role in creating the Commissioner of Baseball. He is buried in the family mausoleum in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Lasker mausoleum from Find a Grave

Lasker mausoleum from Find a Grave