Monday, July 20, 2015

Ed Barrow: Innovative Autocrat


Name: Edward Grant Barrow
Date of Birth: May 10, 1868
Place of Birth: Springfield, Illinois
Grew Up In: Des Moines, Iowa
Nationality: English
Position: General Manager (usually called "Business Manager," "Secretary" or "President" in his time)
Batted: Not applicable
Threw: Not applicable
Nickname(s): Uncle Egbert (but only his friends dared call him that)

Family: Married twice. The first marriage was brief, and he never discussed it. The second was to Fannie Taylor Briggs. She was previously married, with a daughter named Audrey, whom he raised as his own.

Before He Was a Yankee: His main background was in journalism, working for the Des Moines News and the Des Moines Leader. While living in the Iowa capital, he started a baseball team, which featured future Hall-of-Famer Fred Clarke. He later worked with concessions pioneer Harry M. Stevens, and ran some minor-league teams, apparently "discovering" the legendary Honus Wagner. Having done some low-level boxing, he occasionally hired boxers as "ringers" for his teams, including 1890s Heavyweight Champion James J. Corbett. 

He managed the Detroit Tigers in 1903 and '04, and then in Canada with the minor-league Toronto Maple Leafs (for whom the NHL team would be named) and Montreal Royals. In 1918, he was hired to manage the Boston Red Sox, and led them to a World Championship despite losing some players due to World War I. The players he could keep included Babe Ruth, and Barrow is alleged to have said, "I would be the laughingstock of the league if I took the best lefthanded pitcher in the league and put him in the outfield." With the player shortage, he had little choice, so, along with Matthias Boutilier, Jack Dunn and former Sox manager Bill Carrigan, he had a role in making Ruth the greatest player who ever lived.   

Acquired By Yankees: Tired of team owner Harry Frazee, acting as his own general manager, selling of the Sox' best players, Barrow resigned as manager after the 1920 season. Harry Sparrow, the Yankees' "business manager," died, and team owner Jacob Ruppert hired Barrow.

Barrow then decided to use Frazee's penchant for selling the Sox' high-priced talent to his advantage, and especially pulled away pitchers, like Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Bullet Joe Bush and Sad Sam Jones. That's the real reason the Yankees blossomed and the Sox collapsed in the early 1920s: It wasn't so much Ruth as it was the pitchers.

Uniform Number(s) as a Yankee: None. However, it appears to have been Barrow's idea to add them in 1929.

Yankee Achievements Include: Building the Yankees' 1st 14 Pennant-winners (1921, '22, '23, '26, '27, '28, '32, '36, '37, '38, '39, '41, '42 and '43) and 1st 10 World Series winners (1923, '27, '28, '32, '36, '37, '38, '39, '41 and '43). To put that in perspective: Aside from the Yankees, only the St. Louis Cardinals have won at least 10 World Series to this day, and, if you count moved teams, only they, the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York/San Francisco Giants have won 14 Pennants since 1921.

Barrow's first acquisition from the Red Sox was Paul Krichell, a scout who would discover several big players, most notably Lou Gehrig.

As I said, Barrow may have been the man who decided to put numbers on the backs of uniforms, possibly in connection with his days selling scorecards with Harry M. Stevens. He was also the first baseball team executive to retire a number, Gehrig's 4. He also made Stevens' company the Yankee Stadium concessionaire, which -- having long since been bought out by Aramark -- it remains to this day.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was played, impromptu, by a band during the World War I-affected 1918 World Series, which included the Barrow-managed Red Sox. It did not become the official National Anthem until 1931, and was then played before games on special occasions such as Opening Day and holidays. During World War II, Barrow decided to have it played before every game, and the rest of baseball followed suit.

He also hired George Weiss (who is in the Hall of Fame, but not in Monument Park) as Yankee farm director, to build the farm system that, through the 1940s, included great minor-league franchises such as the Newark Bears and the Kansas City Blues. It was Weiss who talked Barrow into signing Pacific Coast League star Joe DiMaggio. When Weiss became GM in 1949, he built the Mantle-era dynasty.

Barrow essentially had free rein as business manager. From 1921 to 1938, Colonel Ruppert never overruled him. After Ruppert's death, from 1939 to 1945, his brother George gave Barrow total control: Although Barrow's share of Yankee stock was just 10 percent, he was, essentially, the owner.

Barrow took advantage of all this power to rule as an autocrat. When Phil Rizzuto hit his first major league home run in 1941, a fan ran onto the field to congratulate him, and swiped his cap. After the game, Barrow called Rizzuto into his office -- not to congratulate him on the feat, but to tell him the cost of the cap would be deducted from his next paycheck.

Barrow also originated the idea of holding Yankee salaries down by telling players who felt he was lowballing them in negotiations, "Don't forget, you get a World Series share." In those days, a Series share could be as much as half a player's annual salary.


Something you should know about him, if you don’t already: Barrow had been a boxer in his youth, and fought Heavyweight Champion John L. Sullivan in a four-round exhibition. No word on how well he did, but, since it was an exhibition and not an official fight, there was no recorded winner or loser. Sullivan was, however, known in the 1880s to offer $10,000 -- about $300,000 in today's money -- to "any son of a bitch" who could knock him out.

Left Yankees: Sold out to the new owners, Del Webb, Dan Topping and Larry MacPhail, in 1945. MacPhail became the new GM. Barrow remained as a "special advisor" through the 1946 season, then retired due to age. When MacPhail left under specious circumstances, Barrow's protege, Weiss, became the new GM.

After He Was a Yankee: Was in ill health for the rest of his life, although he managed a team of retired stars in a 1950 game.

Died: December 15, 1953, at United Hospital in Port Chester, Westchester County, New York. He was buried elsewhere in Westchester, at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, also the final resting places of Ruppert and Gehrig, and next-door to the cemetery where Ruth was buried.

Plaque Dedicated: April 15, 1954, Opening Day of the season after he died.

Baseball Hall of Fame: Elected by the Committee on Veterans in 1953. It was known that he was ill, and probably dying, but this was not a special election: Others were elected at the same time: Pitcher Albert "Chief" Bender, shortstop Bobby Wallace, pioneer Harry Wright, and the first two umpires elected to the Hall, Bill Klem and Tommy Connolly.

Other Honors: None that I know of.

Depictions: Played by Winn Irwin in A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story. He was not, however, shown as a character in The Pride of the Yankees or any of the films about Babe Ruth.

Quote of Note: "Only over my dead body will MacPhail buy the Yankees." Barrow was wrong about that: MacPhail did buy the Yankees, including Barrow's 10 percent share, and Barrow lived another 8 years.

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