Friday, July 23, 2010

The Original Boss: Jacob Ruppert

From Richard Sandomir:

Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC anchor and baseball historian, said at Old-Timers’ Day last Saturday that Steinbrenner is so deserving that veterans committee voters should convene this winter rather than wait until the next scheduled election in late 2011.

But if Steinbrenner is deserving, what about Jacob Ruppert, his most important predecessor?

First with his co-owner Tillinghast L. Huston, and then as the sole owner, Ruppert established the Yankees as a dominant franchise and the sort of business that, when it thrived, was compared for its power to U.S. Steel.

If he were alive, Ruppert would be talking about the power of branding and would have understood the value of a owning a cable channel, as Steinbrenner did when he launched the YES Network.

In the Ruppert era that started with his purchasing the team in 1915 for less than $500,000 and lasted until his death in 1939, the Yankees truly became the Yankees: Babe Ruth was bought from the Boston Red Sox, Yankee Stadium was built, Lou Gehrig created his own legend, and the Yankees won seven World Series — a better postseason winning percentage over a shorter period time than Steinbrenner’s.

“Ruppert laid the foundation for this remarkable franchise,” said Marty Appel, who is writing a book about the Yankees’ history. “He had an eye for the superstars who would put fannies in the seats, as George did.”

Glenn Stout, author of “Yankees Century,” said by e-mail: “I’ve always, always thought Ruppert should have been a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.” But he said that Ruppert’s battles with the American League president Ban Johnson and anti-German sentiment after World War II might have hurt his chances of induction.

Still, he said: “How else should an owner be measured, rather than by his record and impact on the game? Ruppert qualifies on both counts.”

Ruppert was a fan who loved to see his teams roll up early leads but was savvy enough to have the right people run the franchise. From Boston, he hired Ed Barrow as his business manager (the equivalent of the general manager). Running the farm system was George Weiss, a future general manager. Weiss and Barrow were long ago elected to the Hall, as were Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy, two of the managers during Ruppert’s reign.

“Back in the day, nobody gave owners credit for making ball clubs successful,” said John Thorn, a baseball historian. “With the Yankees, Ed Barrow got the credit.”


Memories of Ruppert have faded since his death. He had no children and never married. His heirs sold the Yankees in 1945 to Del Webb and Dan Topping, who had great October successes with Weiss as their general manager; Webb and Topping sold the team to CBS, which sold it to Steinbrenner.

Ruppert never made it to the veterans committee ballot until 2009, when he fell two votes short of the nine needed to be elected.

“When I was in high school and college, I thought it was remarkable that he wasn’t in the hall,” said K. Jacob Ruppert, Ruppert’s great-grandnephew. “Surely, I felt he would’ve been elected in the 1950s.”

Personally, I feel that both Steinbrenner and Ruppert should be in the Hall. It's a shame that neither man will be alive if and when that day comes.

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