Academic journal article Base Ball

The Making of Ed Barrow

Academic journal article Base Ball

The Making of Ed Barrow

Article excerpt

In the late teens of the previous century, a number of wealthy industrialists bought into major league baseball, dramatically changing the fraternity of owners. Historically, the wealthiest of American society generally shunned sports ownership. Teams were owned by upper middle class professionals and businessmen; many ownership syndicates included local politicians or those well connected to them. But the challenge of the upstart Federal League for major league status in the mid-teens generated widespread financial losses for both the major leagues and the upstart Federals. To bolster their financial wherewithal, both sides searched for well capitalized owners to purchase struggling franchises. This new class of owner transformed the way successful teams were operated.

Under the traditional structure, the manager and team president (typically the principal owner) ran the team and shared the team-building role: finding, signing, and trading players. The precise division of labor depended on the president's belief in his own expertise. As owners who ran large industrial concerns came into baseball, they recognized that the industry was growing too large and complex to be overseen by just two people, one of whom (the team president) generally had interests outside of baseball. Several of these owners hired what we would now call a general manager, although the title was not common at the time. In Chicago, gum magnate William Wrigley brought in Bill Veeck, Sr.; St. Louis Browns owner Phil Ball, an ice-plant manufacturer, hired Bob Quinn. When car dealer Sam Breadon acquired the St. Louis Cardinals, he kept team president Branch Rickey but transferred him to a general manager role. And most importantly for this story, on October 28, 1920, New York brewery owner Jacob Ruppert and his partner with the Yankees, Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston, engaged Ed Barrow.

Barrow's experience and personality made him the perfect hire. With Ruppert's encouragement and support, Barrow created one of the great dynasties in sports history. Prior to his joining the team, the Yankees had never won a pennant; in his 24 seasons at the helm, the club captured 14 flags and 9 World Series victories. Already 52 years old when he joined the Yankees, Barrow had spent a lifetime in baseball in just about every conceivable executive capacity: minor league manager, minor league owner, minor league president, and major league manager.

After the Civil War, veteran John Barrow, his wife Effe Ann, and other extended family members left Ohio to farm the Great Plains in Nebraska. Edward Grant Barrow, the first of four sons, was born in Springfield, Illinois, during the tortuous journey, on May 10, 1868. Eventually the Barrow clan reached their homestead and labored to build a new life. For the early pioneers, however, life on the plains in general and farming in particular proved much more taxing than anticipated. After struggling for several years, John Barrow gave up and moved his family to Des Moines, Iowa.

As a teenager in Des Moines, Barrow first gained executive experience (loosely defined) when he went to work at a newspaper managing the newsboys, a rough and unruly lot. Big and strapping, Barrow was the toughest of the bunch, and employed a physical, unrefined management style. In his later years he recalled fondly his time overseeing the youngsters. As a teenager Barrow also played baseball on several teams, but hurt his arm pitching in a cold rain. He later unsuccessfully tried to become a first baseman.

At about this time, the late 1880s, baseball was exploding in popularity throughout the towns of the Midwest. Barrow first experienced big league baseball firsthand in late April 1887 when Cap Anson brought his Chicago National League club to Des Moines for two exhibition games. As baseball fever swept his hometown, Barrow helped organize an amateur league and secured a team for himself. A hustler and hard worker, he found a sponsor, Ed L. …

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