The New York Yankees 'First Inning'An excerpt from "A Legend in the Making: The New York Yankees in 1939"
by Richard J. Tofel
The year began with a funeral.
St. Patrick's Cathedral, on New York's Fifth Avenue, held more than four thousand mourners. Another ten thousand people, most of whom had never met the deceased, crowded the sidewalks across the avenue, in front of Rockefeller Center, throughout the hour-long service. One hundred twenty-five policemen stood watch. The body arrived at the cathedral by hearse, in a bronze coffin. The procession had begun from the apartment at Ninety-third Street where the man had died, just three blocks directly west of the place where he had been born seventy-one and a half years before. That, in turn, was just one block south of the enormous manufacturing plant that had been the original source of his wealth.
While the hearse moved off, another twenty-five New York City police officers kept order among hundreds of mourners who had surrounded the apartment building, where the body had rested over the weekend; yet more citizens stood silently or removed their hats as the cortege drove slowly past.
Even as the hearse moved down Fifth Avenue, three large brewery trucks removed most of the seven hundred floral arrangements that had been received since Friday morning directly to the cemetery in Westchester, to which a fifty-car procession would repair after the service at St. Patrick's. Only flowers enough to fill two more hearses accompanied the coffin.
The family -- one surviving brother and two sisters, two nephews, and four nieces -- sat in the cathedral's front left pew. In the front right pew sat Fiorello H. LaGuardia, mayor of the city of New York; U.S. Senator Robert E Wagner; and former New York governor and Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith.
More than five hundred of the dead man's employees were among the congregants, most of them workers at the same brewery that had supplied the trucks bearing the flowers to Westchester. One of the brewery employees in the cathedral had worked for the man, and his father before him, for forty-nine years.
The solemn High Mass of requiem was scheduled for 11:30 A.M. The family entered through a side door at 11:20. Five minutes later the police concluded that the cathedral was becoming overcrowded, closed all the doors, and began turning away late-comers.
The ceremony was simple and elegant. The coffin was placed in the center aisle, covered with a black shroud adorned with a large white cross. The celebrant was the dead man's parish priest; he was officiating in St. Patrick's because his own Upper East Side church could not have held the crowd. The priest sprinkled the coffin with holy water as the procession moved down the aisle, an American flag hanging overhead at half-staff. The Mass followed; there was no eulogy. As the coffin was carried out of the cathedral it was re-covered with the blanket of ferns, lilies, and orchids under which it had arrived. They were the only flowers in the vast space.
A greater degree of pomp might have been expected. At various times the deceased had been a collector of trotting horses, St. Bernard show dogs, yachts, Chinese porcelains, Indian relics, monkeys (he had acquired twenty-four different kinds), doves (of a dozen varieties), jades, rare books, and dress shoes.
He had, it was said, left an estate totaling $60 million, including real estate valued at $30 million -- incredible sums in this, the tenth year of the Great Depression. (The equivalent figures today would be roughly $720 million and $360 million.) Indeed, the man had been one of the very few to prosper as the economy collapsed. He had had the good sense to buy New York City property at depression prices: the former Bank of United States Building, at Fifth and Forty-fourth, in 1931; the Commerce Building, at Third and Forty-fourth, in 1932; a competing brewery occupying the entire area bounded by Second and Third Avenues, and Ninety-second and Ninety-fourth Streets, just east of his own, in 1935. In all, his property holdings had doubled in the ten years before his death.
Although born in New York, the man had never lost the German accent he inherited from his paternal grandfather, an accent that was particularly thick when he became emotional. Nevertheless he had been elected to and served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Tammany Democrat from a normally Republican district. Among the day's mourners were not only LaGuardia, Wagner, and Smith but two of LaGuardia's predecessors, including the notorious Jimmy Walker; former Boston mayor and congressman "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald; and the reigning bosses of the Tammany and Bronx Democratic machines.
But it was not politics, the brewery, or real estate that drew the thousands to Fifth Avenue on this Monday, January 16, 1939. Most of them were there because of one of the man's much smaller business holdings, one employing perhaps only forty people fulltime, and valued in 1939 at a more modest $7 million to $10 million: the New York Yankees.
Not everyone who will figure in this story was in St. Patrick's that day, but many were. Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, the latter grim-faced, unusually sober really, in an uncharacteristic solid dark tie and dark suit. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy, general manager Ed Barrow, and farm system director George Weiss. Current Yankees Tommy Henrich and Johnny Murphy. At least five former Yankees, most of them from the fabled 1927 team. Yankee scout Paul Krichell. Boston Red Sox manager Joe Cronin and Chicago White Sox manager Jimmie Dykes. Of the eleven men who would be featured at the opening of the new National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame five months later, not only Ruth but also Honus Wagner and Eddie Collins. Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, American League president Will Harridge, and former National League president John Tener were also there.
All of them had come to honor Jacob Ruppert.
Ruppert had been born in 1867 to wealth and privilege on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He attended the exclusive Columbia Grammar School and took the entrance examination for Columbia University's School of Mines. But, with his father aging, young Jacob then decided that mining was not in fact his destiny, and he headed instead for the family brewery business. (By 1936 the Ruppert brewery had become the nation's largest, with its leading brands "Knickerbocker" and "Ruppert.") Jacob worked his way up from the lowest levels of the business, learning it thoroughly and quickly.
It was an easy, pampered life, the life of a dilettante. "He was a fastidious dresser," Barrow remembered, "who had his shoes made to order, changed his clothes several times a day, and had a valet." When he built a mansion in Garrison, New York, well north of the city, he reconstructed the Manhattan room of his late mother, transporting all the furnishings and arranging them just as she had left them. On top of his varied habits of collecting, Ruppert loved to compete. He raced horses and yachts, showed horses and dogs, and joined the Jockey Club. He dabbled in politics, first as a young aide to a New York governor who gave him the honorary title of colonel in the so-called Silk Stocking Regiment. Ruppert insisted on using the title ever after. He ran unsuccessfully for the soon-abolished office of vice mayor, but later, with better results, for Congress.
As the Great War approached, Jacob Ruppert's sporting interests waned. Governor Charles Evans Hughes closed the race tracks. Ruppert, in his forties now, was probably growing too old for yachting, and the war made the importation of show dogs impossible. So he turned much of his attention to a project with which he had flirted for years: buying a major league baseball team.
Originally, in cahoots with John McGraw, he had tried twice to buy the New York Giants. Later he had a chance to scoop up the Chicago Cubs. But as the war swept across Europe and then settled into an apparent stalemate, Ruppert and his prospective baseball partner, Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston, finally got their chance.
The New York Yankees -- until just recently known as the Highlanders -- were a failing franchise, grossly mismanaged for some years by co-owners Frank Farrell, a professional gambler, and Bill Devery, a former police commissioner turned to real estate. Farrell and Devery had owned the club since the American League team had moved from Baltimore in 1903. Once they parted company with manager Clark Griffith in 1908, it had all been pretty much downhill, with the team wracked by squabbling among the owners and between them, the managers, and the players. With the exception of a second-place finish in 1910, the Yankees had not finished out of the second division since 1906. The Highlanders had come close to the pennant only once, in 1904, when they lost out to the Boston Pilgrims. Their winning percentage, from 1903 through the 1914 season, was .479.
Now Farrell and Devery were both under financial pressure, and they quickly agreed to sell what even the buyer, Ruppert, called "a poor team." The contract was signed in December 1914; the deal was closed on January 11, 1915. The price was about $460,000. Ruppert later said, "For $450,000 we got an orphan ball club, without a home of its own, without players of outstanding ability, without prestige." He initially hoped to gain promotional advantage by renaming the team the Knickerbockers, after his beer, but was dissuaded by local newspaper editors.
1913 Fatiwa Tobacco team card published by Liggett & Myers Company,
Benjamin K. Edwards Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Under any name, Ruppert and Huston were better owners than Farrell and Devery -- for one thing, they had more money. They bought four sets of uniforms for each player, so that the team would always look crisp, though in 1939 the Yankees were still charging each player thirty dollars a year as a deposit on the uniforms. But Ruppert and Huston were not well matched as partners. Ruppert "was not one to pal around with the boys," Rud Rennie wrote in the New York Herald-Tribune. "For the most part, he was aloof and brusque.... He never used profanity. 'By gad' was his only expletive." Huston, on the other hand, was a "man's man" -- informal, familiar, rumpled, self-made. He was also a colonel but had earned his rank as an army engineer and preferred to be known as Captain, or "Cap." Huston's million had been made in engineering work in Cuba following the Spanish-American War.
For a few years the partnership thrived. Ruppert was president of the club, Huston vice president and treasurer. What they did have in common was money, and they made smart business decisions from the first. With Huston in service in Europe, Ruppert hired five-foot four-inch Miller Huggins, former skipper of the St. Louis Cardinals, as manager for the war-shortened 1918 season. In the 1919–1920 off-season, Ruppert took advantage of financial pressures on Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to acquire Babe Ruth. Ruth had just completed his first season as an everyday player and in 1919 had set a single-season home run record with twenty-nine. Nor was Ruth Ruppert's only pickup from Boston. By 1923, eleven of the twenty-four Yankees, including all of the team's leading pitchers, were former Red Sox. From 1920 through 1933, as the Yankees were rising, the Red Sox collapsed, never finishing out of the second division, and placing last eight times. Ruth alone hit more home runs than the entire Red Sox team in ten of the next twelve seasons.
But even as the pieces of the on-field puzzle came together for New York, the owners grew apart. At the end of 1920, perhaps attempting to paper over their differences, they hired as their business manager the Red Sox executive who had been forced to deal Ruth, Edward Barrow.
With Ruth's arrival, and under the stewardship of Huggins and Barrow, the Yankees began to improve. In 1919 they won eighty games and finished third. In 1920, with Ruth hitting fifty-four home runs, they won ninety-five games but still had to settle for third place as Tris Speaker's Indians won ninety-eight. But in 1921 New York won the American League pennant for the first time. In 1922 they won again.
During these seasons, as they had been since 1913, the Yankees were tenants of John McGraw's Giants in the Polo Grounds. The Giants too were faring well -- they also won pennants in 1921 and 1922, and beat the Yankees both years in the World Series, with all the games being played in a single stadium. But the Giants' status as the dominant baseball franchise in New York was now being challenged, and McGraw was not at all pleased. Ruth's Yankees drew more than a million fans each year from 1920 to 1922, including nearly 1.3 million in 1920, a record that still stood in 1939. The Giants had never drawn a million fans. Irritated, McGraw moved to evict his erstwhile partners, Ruppert and Huston, and their upstart ball club, from the Polo Grounds.
The Yankees countered by building their own park just across the Harlem River in the Bronx at a cost of $2.5 million. Huston oversaw the construction. Opening in 1923, the new Yankee Stadium could seat twenty thousand more fans than any other major league park and was the first to sport three levels of stands.
But the strains of growth were too great for the Yankee owners. Huston, cut out of the decision to hire Huggins in 1918 (he had wanted his friend, Brooklyn Dodger manager Wilbert Robinson, "Uncle Robbie," for the job), had grown increasingly impatient with the manager, even as the team enjoyed its first sustained success. And the feeling was mutual: Huggins considered Huston "more of a two-fisted soldier than a business man."
Ruppert briefly considered selling the Yankees but finally resolved to buy out his partner. He did so early in the 1923 season, for perhaps $1.5 million -- a substantial profit for Huston.
The new proprietor moved quickly to consolidate his control, sending a telegram to the team on the road, where a possible mutiny against Huggins had been in the offing: "I am now the sole owner of the Yankees. Miller Huggins is my manager. Jacob Ruppert."
But baseball was never simply a sentimental pursuit for Ruppert. Immediately he turned around and sold 10 percent of the club to Barrow, his business manager, for $350,000. Barrow had to borrow the money from concession king Harry M. Stevens. Ruppert made at least $50,000 in instant profit on the transaction. (In early 1939, despite his millions and the loosening of his hand on the tiller, he was still drawing an annual salary of $25,000 from the Yankees, as club president.)
With Barrow now in charge of the baseball operation from his three-person office overlooking Bryant Park, at Forty-second Street in Manhattan, with Huggins secure in the dugout, and with the new stadium open for business and christened with a Ruth homer, the first glory days of the New York Yankees were at hand. The team won its third consecutive pennant and first World Series in 1923, and won three more league titles in a row from 1926 to 1928, winning the Series as well the last two of those years. As of early 1939, the 1927 Yankees were widely considered the best baseball team of all time.
The 1926 New York Yankees. Babe Ruth is in the back row center. This photo
was taken shortly after they lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals.
George Grantham Bain Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
After Huggins died in 1929 at the age of fifty following a brief illness, the team slumped again, but they recovered in the early thirties with the appointment of Joe McCarthy as manager in 1931 and Barrow's reluctant hiring of George Weiss in 1932 to build a Yankee farm system.
Ruppert reveled in the team's success, drafting a will in 1934 that instructed his executors to pay all estate taxes out of non-Yankee assets and to fund the baseball business as necessary. A life long bachelor, he declared that his team would be held in trust for three young women, two nieces and a "ward," described less decorously by The Sporting News as "a former showgirl friend." Ruppert named four male trustees, including his brother George, Barrow, the nieces' father, and Ruppert's lawyer. Jacob Ruppert was sixty-seven when this will was drafted; its terms would matter soon enough.
In April 1938, Ruppert became gravely ill, initially as a result of phlebitis, later a liver infection. He attended only two games during the entire 1938 season -- opening day and eight innings of a game in mid-July. The gravity of his illness became obvious when he could not attend the 1938 World Series between the Yankees and the Chicago Cubs, and was forced instead to listen to the Series games on the radio. (When, just three weeks before his death, he announced that for the first time most Yankee 1939 regular season home games would be broadcast on radio, Ruppert called the move "a gift for shut-ins." Even then, however, the gift was limited to weekday and Saturday games -- 59 games out of 151 played.)
As death approached, Ruppert's competitive fire and his love of the Yankees remained undiminished. He suffered a heart attack on January 4, 1939, and friends and family began to gather.
Ruppert is described on the first page of Ed Barrow's memoirs as an "imperious" man "who, in all the years I knew him, never addressed any one by his first name, always calling me Barrows, adding an 's' where none belonged." Yet now he received Babe Ruth, only just out of the hospital himself. Thought to have slipped into a coma, Ruppert roused himself enough to murmur, "I want to see the Babe." And when, according to several accounts, Ruth came into his room, held his hand, and spoke of ball games they would see together soon, Ruppert, for the first time in their twenty years together, called him "Babe." The next morning, Friday the 13th, as eight inches of new snow silenced the city, Jacob Ruppert died peacefully.
Many of his final recorded thoughts were of the Yankees. Even after winning an unprecedented three consecutive championships, he wanted more. In their last conversation, Ruppert asked Barrow, "Are we going to win this year?" "That's one thing you don't have to worry about," Barrow replied. "The Yankees will win."
But Ruppert wanted more. The last time he spoke with Joe McCarthy was just after the 1938 World Series. McCarthy recalled:
On that note, the 1939 campaign began.
While control of the New York Yankees after the death of Jacob Ruppert nominally lay with the executors of his will, in fact it resided, as it had for some time, with Edward G. Barrow. On January 17, 1939, Barrow was named by the executors as president of the Yankees. Barrow later wrote, "This was a great day for me, and I must say that I was proud. Mrs. Barrow and I had an extra cocktail that night before dinner." Jacob Ruppert had been dead for four days.
I can't say that things were very much different at the Yankee office. As business manager, I had always run things pretty much myself. I had good men who were responsible for their jobs. Paul Krichell headed up the scouts, Charlie McManus was the superintendent in charge of the Yankee Stadium, and Mark Roth was the traveling secretary who took care of the ball club on the road. But I had never delegated much authority. I kept on top of everything myself, and knew what was going on at all times. Things weren't any different after I became president. Only the title.
But Barrow was not above pretending to a deference he did not feel. Just a couple of weeks later, he rejected a request from outfielder Tommy Henrich to negotiate Henrich's pay:
Henrich signed the contract, which was for $10,000. Barrow paid himself $30,000 for 1939, more than any of his players received save Gehrig; his contract also called for a $5,000 bonus if the Yankees won the World Series.
Ed Barrow was the quintessential baseball man. By 1939 he had spent forty-one of the preceding forty-four years earning his living from baseball. Never a ballplayer, Barrow had become an owner/manager in the Inter-State and Iron and Oil Leagues in 1895, at the age of twenty-seven. His partner was "Score Card Harry" M. Stevens, later baseball's leading concessionaire and the man who coined the phrase "You can't tell the players without a scorecard." At twenty-nine Barrow was president of the Atlantic League. He managed teams in the Eastern League during the first decade of the twentieth century, with one-plus season as the skipper of the Detroit Tigers (1903–1904).
Even though he was only a few years older than his players, Barrow ruled as an autocrat in the dugout. In Detroit, he later recalled, a young outfielder named Jimmy Barrett told him, "'Mr. Barrow, your methods take all the individuality away from a ballplayer.' 'Young man,' I said, 'if you ever speak that way again I will take more than your individuality away from you. I will knock your block off!"' Later, Colonel Huston took to calling Barrow "Simon," short for Simon Legree.
From 1910 to 1917, Barrow served as president of the Eastern (soon renamed the International) League, before returning to the majors as manager of the Boston Red Sox, whom he led to a World Series title -- their last -- in 1918.
Like all great entrepreneurs, Barrow was an innovator. He was the first baseball executive to have the distances from home plate marked on the outfield walls, the first to let fans keep foul balls hit into the stands, and the first to stick with numbers on players' uniforms. (The 1888 Cincinnati Reds and the 1916 Cleveland Indians had experimented with numbers on sleeves. Branch Rickey then placed numbers on the sleeves of the 1924–1925 St. Louis Cardinals but removed them when few people noticed and no other teams followed suit. The Yankees added numbers in 1929; the first assignments followed the batting order, including Babe Ruth at 3 and Lou Gehrig at 4. This time other teams quickly adopted the practice, though in 1939 Yankee manager McCarthy still wore no number.)
And Barrow was not just an innovator but a promoter. He staged a night game on July 4, 1896, nearly forty years before the first major league night contest. He used a female pitcher in a game just before the turn of the century, and he installed boxing champions, including John K. Sullivan, Jim Corbett, and James J. Jeffries, as umpires at baseball games.
Nor were his talents confined to showmanship. Barrow discovered Fred Clarke, Pie Traynor, and Honus Wagner, the last of whom he considered "the greatest ballplayer of all time." But he was not infallible as a judge of talent: he passed up Ty Cobb and Ted Williams. And he was not encumbered by modesty. He wrote, for instance, "Many people have said that when I changed Babe Ruth from a left-handed pitcher into a full-time outfielder, I changed the whole course of baseball.
"In a measure, of course, this is true."
Finding a manager to match the ambitions and discipline of such a general manager was no mean feat, but in Joseph Vincent McCarthy, almost twenty years his junior, Barrow had his man.
Joe McCarthy was born in Philadelphia and raised in nearby Germantown. His teenage hero was Connie Mack: Mack, who was born during the Civil War, had become the player-manager of the Pittsburgh National League club by the time young McCarthy was seven, and became manager of the Philadelphia Athletics of the new American League when Joe was fourteen.
Joe's own beginnings -- and endings -- as a ballplayer were less auspicious. He was a second baseman and played in 1906 for Wilmington in the Tri-State League, for Franklin, Pennsylvania, in the Inter-State League the next year (for $80 per month), and for Toledo and then Indianapolis in the American Association for five years after that. In 1912, however, he took a step backward, to Wilkes-Barre in the New York State League. In 1913, at age twenty-six, he was player-manager of the Wilkes-Barre club, which brought him a not insubstantial extra $100 per month.
But McCarthy was not ready to give up on advancing to the major leagues as a player, and so in 1914 he quit managing to join the Buffalo Bisons in the International League. At Buffalo on April 22, 1914, he was the second batter to face a nineteen-year-old pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles playing his first game in organized baseball. The pitcher's name was Babe Ruth, and he shut out Buffalo on six hits.
McCarthy tried to jump to Brooklyn of the outlaw Federal League for the 1916 season, only to see the new league fail before the season began. He moved on to Louisville and back to the American Association in 1917, and in 1919 again became a player-manager. The 1920 season was McCarthy's fourteenth or fifteenth as a minor league player, and he was finally ready to surrender his dream of becoming a big-league ballplayer.
The turning point came one day in Louisville after McCarthy had words with teammate Jay Kirke, the Louisville first baseman who had played in 320 games for 4 major league teams between 1910 and 1918, never as a regular and never for a winner, and was now on the downhill side of his career. McCarthy told slightly different versions of the story on different occasions, but the gist was always the same. Kirke and McCarthy, the story went, had an enemy runner hung up between first and second, and as the runner made a break for second, Joe yelled: "Give me the ball! Give me the ball!"
Jay hesitated. Before he let the ball go the runner was right in on McCarthy. The runner hit Joe in the chest and the ball hit him on the chin. The runner, of course, was safe and Joe was blazing. He called Kirke everything he could think of, and in a spot like that he was never at a loss for thoughts or words. Jay looked at him, wide-eyed, half-smiling, and then blandly said:
That was it. McCarthy's playing days were over.
But his focus on managing was just beginning. McCarthy stayed in Louisville as manager alone for five seasons, and won the American Association pennant in 1921 and 1925. In 1921 McCarthy's Louisville Colonels defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the Little World Series, taking three games from a young Oriole pitcher named Lefty Groves, who would go on to greater fame after he dropped the "s." People started to notice McCarthy's talents as a leader.
One of those people was William Wrigley, Jr., and after the 1925 season he named McCarthy manager of the Chicago Cubs, a team that had just gone through three skippers in one season on the way to finishing last. It was a huge leap for McCarthy, then thirty-eight, as he later recalled:
McCarthy did not begin gently, however. In Louisville he had developed his "Ten Commandments of Baseball." Now he brought them to the major leagues:
Ten rules for players, but McCarthy once told announcer Red Barber that managing could be summed up in just three words: "memory and patience."
And McCarthy's rules for off-field conduct were along the same lines: strict, no nonsense, fundamental, meticulous, unforgiving. He insisted on hustle and refused to brook any challenge to his own authority. Asked many years later in a letter from a local newspaper reporter, "Did you ever have any trouble with a player? How did you handle it?" McCarthy scribbled his reply, "Got rid of player."
In his first season in the majors, with the Cubs, McCarthy put this principle into practice when he released Grover Cleveland Alexander, a hopeless malingerer and alcoholic, but also in 1925 the team's number one starter. Alexander went on to be the hero of the 1926 World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals as they defeated the Yankees, and to win twenty-one games for them in 1927, but McCarthy had made his point.
And he had restored order to the Cubs. They finished fourth in 1926, improved a bit in 1927, and edged up to third in 1928. In 1929, Wrigley paid dearly to acquire Rogers Hornsby from the Boston Braves, and the Cubs won the National League pennant. Hornsby was spectacular. He had led the National League in hitting for six consecutive seasons, 1920–1925, and again in 1928, hitting over .400 three times in the process, and in 1924 setting the modern single-season record, .424. By the time he retired as a player in 1937, his .358 average was the highest in National League history. But he was headstrong, disruptive. He became the player-manager of the Cardinals in 1925–1926, of the New York Giants (on an interim basis) in 1927, and of the Boston Braves in 1928. In both 1925 and 1927 he had been named manager in mid-season, replacing Branch Rickey in St. Louis and John McGraw in New York. The Cubs were his fourth team in four years.
Predictably, Hornsby and McCarthy were less than a perfect fit, and when the 1929 league champion Cubs failed to repeat in 1930, Hornsby was put in, even before the season had concluded, as McCarthy's replacement.
Ed Barrow had been watching Joe McCarthy for a long time. Barrow had been president of the International League when McCarthy had played for Buffalo in 1914–1915; Barrow's chief Yankee scout, Paul Krichell, had been a teammate of McCarthy's on that Buffalo team. Now Barrow moved quickly. McCarthy had been fired by the Cubs just four games before the end of the season. About a week later, just before the opening of the World Series in Philadelphia, Barrow and Ruppert had Krichell summon McCarthy to New York and offered him the job as manager of the Yankees, replacing Bob Shawkey.
The appointment was announced soon after the Series ended. McCarthy was awkward at his first Yankee press conference, beginning his remarks by referring to Ruppert as "Colonel Huston." But things improved after that, especially as McCarthy had now finally joined an organization that seemed to mirror his own approach. At a dinner before the 1931 season, for instance, Ruppert told McCarthy in front of reporters, "I will stand for you finishing second this year because you are new in this league. But I warn you, McCarthy, I don't like to finish second." McCarthy shot back, "Neither do I, Colonel. I like to win, too." As John Lardner later wrote in Newsweek, "Being serious, adult businessmen, the Yankees want a serious, adult businessman on the bench to weld their talents and organize their strategy."
Presumably emboldened by his 1929 victory in Chicago, McCarthy in 1931 took the Yankee helm with confidence. He ordered his players to wear coats in hotel dining rooms, even in balmy Florida, and to report for breakfast every day when on the road. He banned shaving in the clubhouse, preferring his employees to come to work well groomed. He also forbade cardplaying there as a distraction, and poker playing anywhere because it could cause players to run up debts that might weigh on their minds. He would not tolerate pipe smoking by players or even coaches because he considered pipe smokers self-satisfied. Something of a drinker himself, not infrequently to excess, he advised his players to drink whiskey rather than beer because beer drinkers tend to "get beer legs and ... sweat and be sloppy and all that. It throws you down." Barrow later recalled that McCarthy
McCarthy wasted no time in letting his players know how competitive he was -- and expected them to be. When the Yankees beat the minor league Milwaukee Brewers 19-1 in their first exhibition game and a player asked the new manager, "Well, Joe, how did you like that one?" McCarthy growled, "Against a bunch of bums like that you should have made fifty runs."
McCarthy left no doubt about who was in command. He held all the reins, and tightly. He did not want his players knowing the signs he gave from the dugout to his coaches, or his pitchers knowing the signs he gave his catchers. And he quickly and consistently "got rid of" players who gave him trouble or failed to meet his behavioral standards.
Johnny Allen was McCarthy's number three or four starter in his early years with the Yankees, but Allen was notoriously hot-tempered. His best years were clearly ahead of him, but after the 1935 season he was gone to Cleveland. Ben Chapman, who had a similar makeup, hit .305 for McCarthy over those five years, and led the league in stolen bases from 1931 to 1933 and in triples in 1934, but in mid-1936 he was banished to Washington.
One day in 1937, after the Yankees had lost two games in a row in Detroit and gotten a dressing-down from McCarthy, reserve outfielder Roy Johnson was overheard to say, "What does that guy expect to do -- win every game?" McCarthy called Barrow and had Johnson released.
It all worked.
In 1932, his second year with the Yankees, McCarthy took them back to the World Series and became the first manager ever to win pennants in both the National and American Leagues. More over, McCarthy must have felt some element of revenge, as the Yankees won the championship by defeating the same Cubs who had fired him just two years earlier. (The revenge wasn't perfect: Hornsby was already gone, having been fired himself in mid-season. In 1933 he would join another club, and oust another manager.)
The declining years of Babe Ruth would tax McCarthy and the Yankees, but by 1936, with Lou Gehrig still in his prime and a newcomer named Joe DiMaggio freshly arrived, McCarthy's team won again. And again and again. In 1939, Joe McCarthy was bidding for a fourth consecutive pennant, something previously accomplished by only one manager, the legendary John McGraw of the 1921–1924 Giants. And if McCarthy's team could win the Series again, he would conclusively better McGraw, whose Giants had only won the first two of their four consecutive Series appearances. Beyond this, a 1939 World Series championship would make five for McCarthy as a manager. Only one man had achieved that many -- McCarthy's idol, Connie Mack.
This is an excerpt from "A Legend in the Making: The New York Yankees in 1939," copyright © 2002 by Richard J. Tofel, by permission of Ivan R. Dee, Publisher. Click to Amazon.com to purchase a copy.