The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers

By Lyle Spatz; Maurice Bouchard et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 68. John L. Smith

Andy McCue

The headline on John Lawrence Smith’s New York Times obituary called him a “noted chemist,” a label the unassuming executive would have appreciated. It wasn’t until later that the story mentioned he was a part-owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers. To the non-baseball world, Smith had made his name as an executive of Charles Pfizer & Company, and especially for his role in leading the Brooklyn company’s successful effort in pioneering the mass production of penicillin. His leadership was critical in moving Pfizer from a chemical supplier into an international pharmaceuticals giant. But to the baseball world of the late 1940s, he was the pivot on which the ownership of the Dodgers balanced.

Smith was born in Krefeld, Germany, on February 10, 1889, as Johann Schmitz, the son of Gottfried and Johanna (Dollbaum) Schmitz. Krefeld was the center of the German velvet industry, and Gottfried moved his family to Stonington, Connecticut, in 1892 to pursue opportunities in Stonington’s velvet mills. While they spoke German at home, the family formally changed its name to Smith in 1918, presumably as the result of antiGerman agitation during World War I. John, who was naturalized in 1908, used the Anglicized version from the time he entered the working world at age seventeen.

Gottfried and his four other children remained in Stonington, mostly working in the mills, but John had larger ambitions. In 1906 he moved to New York City, looking for work as a chemist. He found a job as a laboratory assistant with Pfizer in Brooklyn and began to take classes at Cooper Union. While working and studying, Smith found time for baseball (which he said he played poorly) and track (where he did better). It was the beginning of a lifelong interest in sports.

In 1914 Smith got his degree in chemistry, married Mary Louise Becker, and moved to E. R. Squibb, where he oversaw the development of a large-scale ether-making facility at their plant in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1919 he returned to Pfizer, becoming plant superintendent. He would remain at Pfizer the rest of his life.

The Pfizer company Smith rejoined specialized in producing chemicals used by food and beverage manufacturers as well as druggists, as it had since its founding in 1849. Smith would push Pfizer to a much stronger emphasis on research into both chemistry and production methods. In the 1920s, John McKeen, who would succeed Smith as Pfizer’s president, described the man who had recently hired him:

[Smith was] neat, orderly, and impeccably dressed.
Seated at his desk, his daily attire was an immac-
ulate high-starched collar and a four-in-hand
necktie in the fashion of the day. In his daily vis-
its through the plant, Mr. Smith appeared with
sleeves rolled up, no collar or tie, and delved into
the operations, moving into all areas, including
those that were hot and humid as well. He was
personally on hand for the start-up of any opera-
tion and kept an eye on any new construction in
progress. He worked long hours, nights and Satur-
days, was acquainted with all details of the oper-
ations, and was a thoroughly competent scientist.

By 1929 Smith was a vice president of the firm and living the upper-middle-class life. As his responsibilities grew, Smith showed an eye for peo

-284-

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The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents v
  • Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Chapter 1- How the 1947 Team Was Built 1
  • Chapter 2- Spring Training in Havana 3
  • Chapter 3- Jackie Robinson 6
  • Chapter 4- Branch Rickey 15
  • Chapter 5- Leo Durocher 22
  • Chapter 6- Kirby Higbe 28
  • Chapter 7- Bobby Bragan 32
  • Chapter 8- Dixie Walker 36
  • Chapter 9- Carl Furillo 44
  • Chapter 10- The Suspension of Leo Durocher 50
  • Chapter 11- Branch Rickey and the Mainstream Press 57
  • Chapter 12- Timeline, April 15-April 30 62
  • Chapter 13- Ebbets Field, 1947 64
  • Chapter 14- Jackie Robinson’s First Game 67
  • Chapter 15- Clyde Sukeforth 69
  • Chapter 16- Burt Shotton 73
  • Chapter 17- Ray Blades 80
  • Chapter 18- Spider Jorgensen 84
  • Chapter 19- Hal Gregg 87
  • Chapter 20- Timeline, May L-May 20 92
  • Chapter 21- Hank Behrman 95
  • Chapter 22- Rube Melton 99
  • Chapter 23- Jackie Robinson and the Jews 103
  • Chapter 24- Timeline, May 21-June 15 105
  • Chapter 25- Gene Hermanski 109
  • Chapter 26- Hugh Casey 113
  • Chapter 27- Rex Barney 119
  • Chapter 28- Tommy Brown 124
  • Chapter 29- Harry Taylor 129
  • Chapter 30- Timeline, June 16-June 29 132
  • Chapter 31- Ed Chandler 134
  • Chapter 32- Marv Rackley 137
  • Chapter 33- Gil Hodges 140
  • Chapter 34- George Dockins 146
  • Chapter 35- Eddie Stanky 150
  • Chapter 36- Timeline, June 30-July 14 157
  • Chapter 37- Arky Vaughan 159
  • Chapter 38- Duke Snider 164
  • Chapter 39- Ralph Branca 172
  • Chapter 40- Clyde King 176
  • Chapter 41- Jake Pitler 181
  • Chapter 42- Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1947 All-Star Game 185
  • Chapter 43- Timeline, July 15—July 31 186
  • Chapter 44- Pee Wee Reese 189
  • Chapter 45- Bruce Edwards 197
  • Chapter 46- The Protested Game of July 20, 1947 201
  • Chapter 47- Joe Hatten 203
  • Chapter 48- Timeline, August 1-August 17 207
  • Chapter 49- Howie Schultz 210
  • Chapter 50- Pete Reiser 215
  • Chapter 51- Tommy Tatum 223
  • Chapter 52- Timeline, August 18-August 31 226
  • Chapter 53- Eddie Miksis 228
  • Chapter 54- Stan Rojek 232
  • Chapter 55- Dan Bankhead 235
  • Chapter 56- Timeline, September L-September 19 239
  • Chapter 57- Phil Haugstad 242
  • Chapter 58- Don Lund 246
  • Chapter 59- Vic Lombardi 250
  • Chapter 60- Jack Banta 254
  • Chapter 61- Johnny Van Cuyk 257
  • Chapter 62- Timeline, September 20-September 28 261
  • Chapter 63- Willie Ramsdell 263
  • Chapter 64- Dick Whitman 267
  • Chapter 65- Ervpalica 271
  • Chapter 66- Ed Stevens 276
  • Chapter 67- Walter O’Malley 279
  • Chapter 68- John L. Smith 284
  • Chapter 69- Red Barber 287
  • Chapter 70- Connie Desmond 294
  • Chapter 71- Advertising and the Dodgers in 1947 298
  • Chapter 72- The 1947 World Series 305
  • Chapter 73- Al Gionfriddo 312
  • Chapter 74- Cookie Lavagetto 316
  • Chapter 75- Al Gionfriddo’s Memorable Game Six Catch 320
  • Chapter 76- Lavagetto Ends Bill Bevens’s No-Hit Attempt 323
  • Chapter 77- Most Valuable Player Award 326
  • Chapter 78- Rookie of the Year Award 327
  • Chapter 79- Cy Young Award 328
  • Chapter 80- Dodgers Attendance in 1947 329
  • Chapter 81 - Ownership Issues in Brooklyn 333
  • Epilogue 337
  • Notes and References 339
  • Contributors 373
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