Chapter 10 Baseball & The World Series Page II of III
Del Webb was a highly organized man and ran his business that way. His construction company built large office buildings, factories, hotel, veterans' hospitals all over the nation. These jobs ran into millions, and it was essential that there be tight controls over every phase of his company's operations.
When he became involved with major league baseball, he was amazed at the unbusinesslike methods and lack of controls that existed among the big league teams, and the entire structure of baseball. He changed that very soon, as far as the Yankees were concerned.
As the owners of the other teams became acquainted with Webb, many of them were impressed with his suggestions about baseball business. He soon became a man of considerable influence among the owners, and he generally used that influence for things he thought important to the league. But on one occasion he used it to punish a man who did something that was costly to the Yankees.
I was with Del and some of his company officials in the Beverly-Hilton in Beverly Hills when he received a phone call advising him the Yankees' sale of Dick Wakefield was being voided by the office of the commissioner of baseball, Happy Chandler. Del was livid over the decision and said to us, "That does it. That guy's gotta go. We're going to have a new baseball commissioner." Within ten days it was announced that Happy Chandler was being replaced. Del Webb had influence but seldom used it, and generally only when he thought it was for the good of baseball.
The Yankees played several Series with the Brooklyn Dodgers during the Webb-Topping years before the Dodgers won. The last game of that Series was played at the stadium and was a sad one for all of us Yankee rooters. We attended the wake in the Arizona Room after the last game. We waited until the crowd cleared out before getting into our limousines to head for our hotels. As we drove through Harlem, the Black Dodger fans were laying for us. I guess they could tell we were Yankee fans because we were in the black limos. At any rate, they were standing on the street corners with strips of black cloth in their hands offering us "black crepe for our sleeves" so we could mourn the death of the Yankees in the Series. Boy, were they having fun!
Del Webb was the man who brought Casey Stengel into the Yankee organization. Casey had been managing the Oakland team in the Coast League, which Del came close to buying before purchasing the Yankees. Del and Case were old friends, and Del was sure he would do a good job as the field boss of the Yankees.
During the winter before Casey took over the reins of the New York Club, he came through Tucson late one night on the train on his way to report to the Yankee office. Del was in Tucson on business, and he told me we were going to meet the train as he wanted to talk to Casey. We had a visit, and when Casey said goodbye to get on the train I said, "Casey, I go to the World Series every year, and I'd like to see you in New York this fall."
He quipped, "If you want to see the Series this year you'll have to come to New York because that's where it's going to be played." And he was right as rain!
Del Webb in his youth was a pretty fair pitcher, but illness caused him to forget a career in professional baseball and move to Phoenix. He had worked as a carpenter for his father and followed that line of work in his newly adopted hometown. His "break" came when he worked on the Westward Ho Hotel as a carpenter. When the hotel was finished and the grand opening scheduled, the general contractor sought a carpenter to be present the night of the opening to make any emergency repairs which might be necessary that evening. The qualification that Webb met (and that none of the others could) was possession of a dark suit. He was assigned to be present during the opening ceremonies.
During the evening, a man by the name of A. J. Bayless, owner of a small chain of grocery stores, approached Del Webb to ask him if he would be available and willing to take over a construction job on a new store which had been abandoned by a small contractor who had disappeared with the payroll. Webb became the foreman, and completed the construction of the store building.
Bayless then had Webb build another store for him. Soon Webb formed a small construction company and built service stations and other small buildings. His company had grown considerably prior to World War II, but, during the war, the Webb Company grew dramatically, doing millions and millions of dollars of work building defense facilities, hospitals and other structures.
Del Webb told me not too long before his death, on July 4, 1974, that he had invested $20,000 in the A. J. Bayless Company by the purchase of stock. The value of that stock then exceeded $1,000,000. Perhaps the only better investment he ever made was the purchase of the New York Yankees with his two partners, for about $3,000,000. An interesting thing about that purchase was that, after it was completed by acquiring stock of the corporation formerly owned by the Ruppert Estate, it was discovered that the corporation had over a million dollars in cash in the bank, that went with the other assets to the new owners.
How much Webb and Dan Topping made on the Yankees is difficult, if not impossible, to calculate. For many years the ball club netted over a half-million dollars annually. The sale of the ball clubs owned by the farm system brought sizeable amounts. The sale of the property owned by the farm teams in Newark and in Kansas City also brought substantial amounts. I became involved in the sale of the property in Newark when I was employed as a consultant by the Yankees to help determine the highest and best use of the ball park.
When Webb and Topping sold the Yankees to the Columbia Broadcasting Company for something like $14,000,000, they probably topped all previous big league club owners for total profits reaped from such an investment. That, plus the approximate $6,000,000 derived when they sold the stadium to investors and leased it back on a long-term lease, set an all-time record that will be hard to beat.
In 1956, the year of the "perfect game," Burton Jones, a longtime friend, and I decided to go to New York a week before the Series to see the Marciano-Moore heavyweight championship fight in the stadium. We had a suite at the Waldorf, but after the fight he had to go to Florida on some business and I had to go to a meeting in Detroit. Before I left the hotel I saw Miss O'Brien, who used to take care of Waldorf reservations for the Yankee bunch, to tell her we were leaving and wanted to be sure we'd have a suite when we returned in about four days.
She warned us not to check out as we'd have one heck of a time getting back in the day before the Series started. She said, "Leave some clothes on the chairs and beds so the maids will know you're still registered." We took her advice.
I went to Detroit for a meeting of the Urban Land Institute and registered at the Statler. As I began thinking about it, I realized that for those few days I was registered in four hotels at the same time. I was living in the Flamingo in Tucson, had a permanent room at the Flamingo in Phoenix because I was there as much as I was in Tucson, and, of course, was registered at the Waldorf and the Statler in Detroit.
In addition to being close to Del Webb, the ultraconservative, I have had for many years a close relationship with Bill Veeck, the ultraflamboyant man. Bill was always outspoken in his dislike of the Yankees and of his disapproval of many of the things their owners stood for. While he didn't criticize Webb or Topping personally, he walked a narrow line between being critical of their operation of the Yankees and their influence with other owners in the American League, and in baseball generally. Webb, on the other hand, never talked much about Veeck, at least not in my presence. He commented several times about not knowing what Bill Veeck would do next, but a lot of people felt that way about him.
I first met Bill Veeck during the 1945 Series between the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago Cubs. Bill was just getting out of the service and was suffering from the injury that later cost him his leg. He told me he was moving to Tucson, where the doctors thought the weather might help his limb.
After the Series we got together in Tucson and became close friends. I remember meeting his father at the old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles many, many years ago when he was president of the Los Angeles Angels. Bill had been involved in baseball most of his life. He was great company and a real joy to be around. We spent a lot of time together in Tucson before he bought the Cleveland Indians prior to the 1947 season.
Several times when visiting with Bill, I told him that I couldn't understand why some of the big league teams didn't train in Arizona during the spring. Bill agreed that the weather in Tucson and Phoenix was the equal of that in Florida and Catalina Island where the Cubs trained for many years. He wanted to see some weather charts, which I obtained for him, and we began talking seriously about trying to convince a couple of the teams to move into Arizona for their spring training.
He pointed out that no team would come alone as they must have another big league team against whom to play. He knew Horace Stoneham, who had moved to Phoenix for the winters. By this time Bill was completing his negotiations for the purchase of the Indians.
Bill and I drove to Phoenix to meet with Horace Stoneham to discuss the idea of having the New York Giants and the Indians move their Spring training basis to Arizona. At this time Phoenix and Tucson had reached population levels to support the spring games, and, since both Bill and Horace knew that the weather was dependable and acceptable, it didn't take much of a selling job to get agreement that in 1947 the Indians and Giants would launch big league baseball spring training in Arizona.
Of course, there was much more to be done in both towns in order to accommodate the players, team officials, sportswriters and others who follow the teams. As a member of the city baseball commission, I had no trouble convincing other members of the commission (of which Hi Corbett was chairman) and city parks department officials that we should go all out to meet the requirements of the Indians. The improvements to the ball park were made in time for the team's arrival in February.
Arrangements also had to be made with a hotel to accommodate the party of sixty to seventy people. While I thought this would be easy to do, I found that the hotels were reluctant to commit so many rooms during the peak of the tourist season. However, Nick Hall of the Santa Rita took good care of them that first year and for many seasons thereafter. The Indians still train in Tucson, and, while the Giants spend much of the spring training period at their baseball plant in Casa Grande, they still consider their headquarters to be Phoenix, and play most of their games there. Of course, other big league teams have and are training in Arizona, and many prefer our climate to that of Florida.
When Bill Veeck owned the St. Louis Browns I sold him the idea of bringing them to Yuma for their spring training. They spent one year there before Bill sold the team and it became the Baltimore club. The new owners preferred Florida for spring training and moved their club from Yuma. Since then, however, the San Diego Padres have moved into Yuma for their spring training grind.
With the coming of the Indians came some important baseball names like Roger Hornsby, who was a special batting coach for a spell. Tris Speaker, one of the finest center fielders who ever lived and a Cleveland immortal, spent several spring seasons in Tucson. He was one of the finest men I ever knew, and enjoyed talking baseball with anyone at any time. "Spoke" also was a pretty good golfer and enjoyed playing with local golfers as well as some of the members of the Indian party. Bob Feller, Lou Beaudreau, Joe Gordon, Bob Lemon, and many of the other Indian regulars became fixtures on the Tucson scene and were like hometown boys as far as Tucson fans were concerned.
And that bunch of sportswriters who came out in the early days were real pros at their trade. Gordon Cobbledick was probably the dean of the group, having written many articles for national magazines. However, fellows like Ed McCauley, Whitey Lewis, Frank Gibbons, Jim Schlemmer, Harry Jones, and Ed Liebowitz were tops in their profession also, and did much to give Tucson status as a spring training center.
Later Hank Greenberg became an official of the Indian organization and spent much time in Tucson. Once when we were sitting in the grandstand watching batting practice, Hank said he was going to slip into a uniform and hit some over the fence, which he used to do regularly, one year hitting fifty-eight home runs for Detroit.
Soon he was in the batting cage, swinging away, and connecting on some good shots, but none cleared the fence. When he finished and joined us again in the stands, he said, "I can't figure it out. I hit the ball just as hard as I used to, but none of them went over the wall. " To which Bill McKechnie, former big league manager and then as coach for the Indians, replied, "Old age, Henry, old age will get them all in time." Hank was about 45 then and still couldn't believe he didn't have the timing to rip them as he used to.
After the Indians won the pennant and set an all-time attendance record, Bill Veeck sold his interests in the club and returned to Tucson and his little ranch with the big ranch house. He and his wife, Eleanor, were calling it quits about that time. Bill told me she was leaving the place on a certain day, and asked me to get someone to look after the place for a few days until he could wind up his affairs and return to Tucson.
I went out early the day Mrs. Veeck, the Veeck children and her entourage were leaving. I got there just as they were piling into the station wagons and pickup truck to depart. I asked about the key to the house, which I was told was hanging inside somewhere. I went into the main house and saw nothing but the dirty dishes in the sink. The departing party took everything that was not attached by nail, screw, putty, or cement. Even the lightbulbs were gone. And Bill's marine uniforms. All the windows and doors were open.
I called Bill and reported the situation. He just laughed like hell and said again that he wished I would get someone to move in and act as caretakers until he could get there in a few days. That day I hired a couple, Beth and Sam Smith, a cowboy all his life, and they worked for him for fifteen or twenty years in Arizona and New Mexico. Bill finally got there and began buying things he needed, like a bed to sleep on, a stove for cooking, and other things to replace those taken by his former wife.
Bill had decided that he wanted to marry Mary Frances Ackerman, a publicist for the Ice Follies. However, she was a Catholic and worked at it. Bill had to become a Catholic if he wanted her for his bride. He went to the proper authorities of the Catholic Church and was told that one of the things required of him was that he could not see Mary Frances for six months. That was a tough one for Bill. He spent the entire six months in Tucson at the ranch, fixing it up for his bride-to-be. I spent many, many afternoons and evenings with Bill. He was suffering but never complained once about the ordeal he was going through.
Many visitors came to see him. Traveling baseball scouts, such as Babe Herman, "Sloppy" Thurston, and many other sportswriters, other club owners, Abe Saperstein of the Globe Trotters -- kept him from going completely off his rocker. Since Bill was a prolific reader, he whizzed through dozens of books. He also loved music and installed a commercial-type record player that could play 100 records on each side without repeating. It was piped into every room, every building, even to the pool area.
When the six months period ended, Mary Frances met Bill somewhere in New Mexico where they were married, I believe on April 29, 1950.
While in New Mexico they bought a great amount of beautiful handmade furniture, Indian rugs and other southwestern things to give the place an authentic western ranch decor. I used to spend Sunday afternoon with Bill and Mary Frances, whom I found to be a real delight. They were great for each other from the very start and later, with a housefull of children, they moved to Maryland, on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay.
I flew east with Del Webb about that time to visit St. Louis where the Webb Company was starting the construction of a veterans' hospital, and where we had been dealing with the mayor of the city, Joe Darst, for an urban renewal project. One night while we were there, Del and I went to a ballgame with Fred Saigh, the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals. While sitting with him in his box, he told us that the St. Louis Browns were having some financial problems and that he expected that the owners, Bill and Charley DeWitt, would probably sell the team in the near future.
After the game, Del jokingly said to me, "If you and Hi Corbett want to own a ball team why don't you buy the Browns?" At that time Hi Corbett, Hank Lieber, former Giant outfielder, Oliver and I owned the Tucson Cowboys, a lowly class C league team.