Thursday, April 21, 2011

Random Thursday: The 1936 Bees and the 2011 Dodgers

Back in the bad old days before we joined ESPN, and The Common Man was blogging solo, he used to do a thing called Random Thursday, where he fired up the random button on BaseballReference.com, and let it take him wherever it wanted. TCM felt like dusting off the old feature today, and got some pretty surprising results. Jumping from his last stop, a random 2010 contest between the Phillies and D-Backs, TCM leapt backwards almost 75 years to the 1936 Boston Bees (Braves). And, appropriately enough, he found a MLB owner leveraged to the hilt, unable to cover his debts, and a league that had to step in and assume control of a financially troubled franchise.



Fuchs
The Braves were one of the more interesting teams in baseball history. In 1935, under owner Emil Fuchs’, the Braves signed Babe Ruth and became a 115 loss traveling freak show of terribleness. The team actually still has the second worst winning percentage of any club since the American and National Leagues merged. Fuchs’ Braves were actually profitable (by roughly $20,000 according to one report), thanks to the Babe and his fans, but Fuchs’ was heavily in debt to grocery store magnate Charles Adams, who also owned the mortgage on the Braves’ ballpark and was the team’s vice president, and could not meet his obligations by mid-summer.

So effective August 1, Emil Fuchs resigned as the owner and President of the Boston Braves and left Adams in control. The trouble was that Adams had no use for a baseball team; he didn’t want the club. So he looked around to find a new owner and found Boston NFL owner George Marshall. Adams and Marshall arranged to have the team run by a separate management corporation, pending the approval of Boston bankers. Unfortunately, that money never came through, and Adams continued to end up short of cash for the rest of the season, as none of the other investors in the club was moved to offer up an infusion of cash. News reports from September are rife with concerns that the Braves couldn’t pay their bills, including their payroll obligations.

Frick
The team limped to the finish line, and the National League fretted about how to deal with the imminent collapse of one of their own. Adams kept searching for ways to “restructure” and “reorganize” the club’s ownership (stop TCM if this sounds familiar), and pull in new investors. First it was Marshall, then a shoe manufacturer/Republican Gubernatorial candidate. Everything fell through. Finally, on November 26, NL President had had enough. According to the Associated Press:

"As the climax of protracted and involved financial difficulties, the Boston franchise was formally taken over tonight by the club owns of the National League. Ford C. Frick, the league president, announced unanimous approval of this drastic step after the latest conference on the Boston club’s tangled affairs.

Frick said the action was taken ‘because of the failure of the Boston National League Baseball company to fulfill its contractual obligations over an extended period of time.’"
Frick, however, was keen to put a happy face on the league takeover, saying,
"This was a friendly forfeiture…. Every effort will be made to protect the stockholders as far as possible. It is now possible to sell the club with a clean bill of health, defining all the obligations which the purchaser must assume. One of the big drawbacks heretofore was the unforeseen lawsuits and other complications that might beset a purchaser.”
Within two weeks, controlling interest in the team was sold to former Red Sox and Dodgers executive Bob Quinn (whose great-grandson is currently the CFO of the Brewers) and his group of investors for something like $325,000, all of which went to Adams. Quinn quickly went to work, selling Johnny Vander Meer (bad idea) and Flint Rhem to the Reds and picking up both Tony Cuccinello and Al Lopez for Ed Brandt (great move) less than 24 hours later. Later, in another good deal, he dealt Fred Frankhouse away for outfielder Gene Moore.  Also, he renamed the club the Boston Bees.

The effect was dramatic. Cuccinello and Lopez were huge improvements. Moore and Wally Berger formed two-thirds of a strong outfield. The defense and pitching also improved, and the club rose from 7th in the NL in runs allowed (in a pitchers’ park, no less) to 3rd. Correspondingly, the team jumped from 38 wins to 71 and a winning percentage of .248 to .461. This is the fourth biggest one-year improvement since 1900. Quinn could never get the Braves into the first division, as they finished no higher than 5th under his leadership. But they did finish above .500 twice, and after his son took over the club in 1945, the club would finish above .500 three straight times and win the NL Pennant in 1948.

There were a lot of winners in this deal. For one thing, Quinn became one of the most respected executives in the game and founded a family mini-dynasty of baseball executives. The National League stayed solvent and solved a major headache. Adams got his money back. And Ford Frick was rewarded with a contract extension, and eventually became Commissioner of Baseball. The players kept getting paychecks and the fans of Boston got to keep their team for another 20 years. Only Fuchs really didn’t make out well, as he had to forfeit his investment when he walked away. Perhaps this can help Dodgers fans feel like better days are still ahead, and that hopefully the McCourts can walk away similarly out of pocket.

10 comments:

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Fantastic read. Great history lesson. I really enjoyed this installment a lot. Thanks

Wesley Clark said...

This was a great read.

nick said...

Good history

williamnyy23 said...

Interesting piece, but Quinn didn’t actually gain control until five years later. Also, making the comparison to the current situation even more interesting, one of Quinn’s investors was Frank McCourt’s grandfather. http://t.co/syoNmfM

The Common Man said...

Interesting, William. The historical sources are very confusing. Here (http://tiny.cc/ze378) the National League awards the club to Quinn based on his bid for the team, and here (http://tiny.cc/25od3), for instance, Quinn was given control of the team.

We also know from here (http://tiny.cc/9mkpb) that Quinn was considered the owner by the mainstream press and was definitely credited with running the day to day operations of the club and charting its course.

But here (http://tiny.cc/cmfi2), it suggests that Adams was the controling partner all along. How very confusing this reorganization of the club's ownership must have been.

williamnyy23 said...

Thanks for the extra research. From what I can tell, it seems as there was a tacit agreement between baseball and Adams that although he would provide the financial backing to Quinn, he'd let him run the operations, at least until Adams divested of his horse racing assets or was made a fair offer for his shares.

It also seems as if Adams made good on that promise, leaving Quinn alone to run the team until he was finally able to buy him out.

In other words, there's another similarity to the current situation. Then, as now, baseball looked the other way with regard to enforcing its rules when it came time to approve the Braves' ownership structure.

Charley Thompson said...

My friend John Babich played on the 1936 Bees team although it was for a few games since he had a sore arm. I have his home movies of that team taking batting practice at Braves Field. The Boston hitters in the film don't look so hot. Either some of those guys were lousy bunters or they were goofing around for John's camera. I live in California, but I have visited the site of the old ball field twice in the last three years. The stands along the right field line are now used by Boston U. for soccer and for a while it was a football field. There is now a hockey rink where the stands used to be along the third base line. Babe Ruth was promised he would be the manager of the 1936 team but instead the Babe got the shaft.

Use2Play said...

Remember what Jack Nickleson was told Chinatown -- well they could have said Boston instead because nothing is ever what it seams when it comes to sports in Boston.

The Common Man said...

Charley, that is unbelievably cool. If you're so inclined, feel free to send The Common Man an email at the address in the right-hand column of this blog. We would love to talk more about if/how this film has been preserved thusfar, and what might be done to preserve it further for future generations.

CannonballTitcomb said...

this is a great article. and thanks, TCM for letting me in on another great feature of BaseballReference...the random button. now i have more reasons not to be productive.