Archive for April 30th, 2010

On April 30, the Yankees celebrate the anniversary of their first home game in the city of New York. Since that debut in 1903, the Yankees have inarguably become the most dominant, powerful franchise in all of American sports. So, it’s hard to fathom that this mighty franchise was once an orphan ballclub, rendered homeless and nameless by the corrupt and cut throat politics of the city it hoped to win over.

From the onset, American League founder Ban Johnson had his eyes on New York.

For the first two years of its existence, the Yankees actually resided in Baltimore as the Orioles. The team was part of the newly created American League, established by lifelong baseball-man Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson as an alternative to the long-established National League. In its first two seasons, the new league enjoyed many successes. It was able to lure significant top talent from the National League, which had imposed a salary cap on individual players, and achieved instant profitability. However, there was one area in which the league was not successful: it could not place a team in New York.

Johnson knew that in order for the American League to truly stand on equal footing, it must have a team in New York. Easier said than done. At the time, New York was run by a Tammany Hall, a political organization that gave new meaning to corruption. Tammany controlled everything in New York: real estate, finance, labor, prostitution, gambling…and, yes, baseball. Unfortunately for Johnson, Andrew Freedman, the owner of the National League’s New York Giants and one of the city’s wealthiest men, was a long standing Tammany man.

New York City Police Chief "Big" Bill Devery assumed co-ownership of the new American League team.

Andrew Freedman had tried to stop Johnson from creating a new baseball league, but failed. He then tried to organize the National League owners in order to prevent the AL’s raid on its players. Freedman failed again. Finally, he conspired with former Baltimore Orioles player/manager/owner John McGraw to sabotage that franchise, but even this nefarious plan fell by the wayside. Then, in December 1902, Johnson was able to negotiate a peace settlement with the National League that granted him a concession to move the Orioles to New York.  What’s more, Freedman exited baseball by selling his share of the Giants to John T. Brush. Finally, it looked like Johnson had won out over Freedman. Or so it seemed.

Freedman may have been out of the picture, but he was still pulling strings behind the scenes. Even though he could not thwart Johnson’s ability to establish the American League, he could damn well keep him out of New York. With the help of his Tammany buddies, Freedman locked up every parcel of real estate from 155th Street down that was sufficient for a ballpark. The political wrangling left the Orioles without a place to play, rendering Johnson’s hard fought concession from the National League worthless.

For months, Johnson scrambled to find the Orioles a new home in New York. Every time he thought a location had been secured, Freedman blocked his path. The search went on for months, but in the meantime, Johnson stocked the New York Americans, as they were being called, with stars like Clark Griffith, Wee Willie Keeler, Jack Chesbro and Jess Tannehill.

Pool King Frank Farrell controlled a gambling syndicate before taking co-ownership of the Yankees.

By the time Johnson’s orphans assembled in Atlanta, Georgia for Spring Training, the team still did not have home. Grumblings from the players began to emerge, including requests for contractual release. Faced with this mounting pressure, Johnson was forced to cave into a rival Tammany syndicate that was pushing a rocky plot of land located way uptown in Washington Heights.

Around the clock construction was needed to clear the rocky land that would be the home of the new ballpark. While that was going on, two men would secretly emerge as the co-owners of the new franchise: Big Bill Devery, the former police chief of New York City before being removed from office by the legislature, and pool room king Frank Farrell. Both Devery and Farrell were heavily involved in Tammany’s activities and had garnered reputations that would make any hustler blush. Now, with American League baseball about to debut in New York, the pair had pulled off the ultimate coup. (more…)

Read Full Post »