Barney Dreyfuss Pioneer

Bernhard “Barney” Dreyfuss immigrated to a nation not particularly hospitable to Jews and succeeded magnificently in a sport not any more inviting.  Dreyfuss was  a German Jewish immigrant to this country who was born in 1865 and arrived in America in 1882 at the age of 16 so as to avoid conscription in the German army.   He settled in Paducah, Kentucky where he found employment as a bookkeeper in a bourbon distillery.  He worked long hours and a six day week as well as attending night classes so as to learn English.   This schedule overtaxed his frail constitution and a doctor advised he get some outdoor activity.   He then proceeded to form a sem-pro baseball team on which he played second base.  In 1889 the distillery expanded to Louisville, Barney came along and over time he invested his savings in the Louisville Colonels baseball team which entered the Natonal League in 1892.   After the 1899 season the league contracted by four teams, one of which was Louisville.  Barney with borrowed funds acquired a half ownership in the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900, and brought with him from the Louisville team three future Hall of Famers, Fred Clarke, Honus Wagner and Rube Waddell.

During his years of ownership the Pirates were very successful.  They won pennants in 1901, 1902, 1903, 1909, 1925 and 1927.   In 1909 they beat the Tigers of Ty Cobb and in 1925 they bested the Senators of Walter Johnson for world championships.  In 1902 the Pirates won the pennant by a record margin of 27 1/2 games which has still not been surpassed.   In 1903 Dreyfuss brokered a peace between the rival National and American Leagues, arranging for the first World Series.  One of the rules he negotiated was that rosters could not be changed after September 1, a rule still in effect.  The Pirates lost to the Boston Pilgrims, but Dreyfuss donated his entire share of the receipts to his players and the Pirates became the only losing team in history whose players received more money than the winning side did.  He also offered to invest his players salaries over the years guaranteeing to make up any losses. 

The Pirates probably should have won that initial series in 1903, but Dreyfuss encountered some incredible bad luck shortly before play began.  Two of his three top pitchers suffered great misfortune.   Sam Leever who had won 25 games and led the league in ERA was injured in a shooting accident and was largely ineffective during the series.  Ed Doheny, in the terminology of the day, went berserk in late September, was committed to an insane asylum and never pitched in the major leagues again.  This left Deacon Phillippe who started 5 of the 8 games played.  He won games 1, 3 and 4, but wore down losing games 7 and 8. 

In 1904 Barney was so angered by John McGraw’s refusal to allow his pennant winning Giants to play the American League champs, in effect killing the World Series,  that he arranged for the so called Fourth Place Series to be played.  Though not official post season games, Dreyfuss had his fourth place Pirates to play the club finishing fourth in the American League, and fans were treated to a group of games in which they could see the two batting champs, Honus Wagner and Cleveland’s Napoleon Lajoie.  In 1909 Dreyfuss built the first concrete and steel triple tier stadium (Forbes Field) with the then unheard of attendance capacity of 25,000.  His critics labeled it Dreyfuss’ Folly claiming no park that size could be filled, but on opening day over 30,000 showed up.  Dreyfuss refused to allow ads to be placed inside the ball park for he did not want to spoil the beauty of the field of play and the fan experience, thus foregoing over one million dollars in revenue.   He also led the fight to rid the sport of gamblers and to institute the position of commissioner and indeed Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ appointment is considered one of his legacies.   

Dreyfuss turned over the running of the team to his son Samuel in 1930, but unfortunately the 34 year old died of pneumonia in 1931.  Barney took over the team again that year but died in 1932, ironically of the same malady.   In the 33 years Barney Dreyfuss owned the team the Pirates and excellence were synonyms, something that obviously cannot be said today.  He also probably deserves enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as co-owner of the nation’s first professional football franchise, the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, which captured the league championship in 1898.   

Getting back to baseball, Branch Rickey called Barney Dreyfuss, “the best judge of players he had ever seen.”   The President of the National League in Dreyfuss’ time, John Heydler, said that, ” Barney Drefuss discovered more great players than any man in the game.”   In addition to the players mentioned earlier, Dreyfuss brought to the Pirates Hall of Fame players Max Carey, Pie Traynor, Paul and Lloyd Waner and Hazen “Kiki” Culyer.   When columnist Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe heard of Dreyfuss’ election to the Hall in December 2007, he wrote that, “his exclusion from the Hall of Fame all these years was the single most baffling and inexplicable oversight among all non-playing personnel in the 20th century.  That’s a big statement, and I’m prepared to back it up.” 

There is one more thing to be said of Dreyfuss that concerns his incredible desire to win, but his even steelier determination to be true to his sense of honor and dignity.  During the 1927 series against the Yankees  a great mystery enveloped the baseball world.   The Pirates lost the series in four games but the series was closer than one might suppose,  with two games being decided by a single run, with the deciding game four going to the Yanks on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth.  The mystery was why the Pirates star outfielder, Kiki Cuyler,  was not seen for even one play.   During the series Wilbert Robinson, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers (or Robins), was writing a special column for the New York Times and proclaimed his puzzlement at Cuyler’s absence, saying it certainly handicapped the Pirates on defense.   The Times talked of the “Cuyler Case” stating ” discussion of which weighted all conversation and writing on the world series.”  The Times also said.  “Cuyler warmed the bench much of the season and the whole of the world series, despite the strident yells of Pittsburgh and New York spectators demanding that the man who won two of the 1925 world series games be given a chance to show his stuff.” 

The Times also noted that the “Cuyler Case”  “had shaken Pittsburgh fandom to its foundations.”  In game 2 the Times went on that, “the fans staged one of the most remarkable demonstrations seen in any world series.”  And continued saying the following.  “The patience of Pirate fans was exhausted today at the continued absence of Kiki Cuyler from the line-up and the star outfielder was made the the hero of one of the greatest popular demonstrations ever witnessed on a ball field.  In the eighth inning with the home team trailing, the Pirate fans rose en masse and demanded that manager Donie Bush send Culyler in to bat for the pitcher.  The cries lasted for several minutes but fell on deaf ears.” 

After the series was over Cuyler said that as Manager Bush and Barney and Sam Dreyfuss had given some reasons during the course of the season for his not playing, so he would explain his understanding of the matter.  He said that Bush had requested he move to left field and change from batting third to second.   Cuyler said he complied, but added that he felt he was not suited to bat se
cond and said that playing left was the worst thing he did.  Cuyler also noted that he had been fined $50 for not sliding into second base to break up a double play.  He said that he went in standing up, as he felt that, that was the correct play at the time.  He also noted that the first year manager Bush had in one game instructed him to take a big lead off third.  Cuyler said he had protested at the time that he thought this was dangerous and after being caught off the base had been, he felt, unfairly berated by Bush.   Cuyler said that he hoped to remain with the Pirates, but felt that he had probably played his last game in Pittsburgh.

Most in the baseball world thought that Cuyler’s limited playing time was an over reaction to his alleged indiscretions, but Cuyler had left out an important part of the story.   Some months after the series a Pittsburgh newspaper revealed that Cuyler’s frustrations with his decreased playing time due to his disagreements with manager Bush had resulted in a violent reaction.  It was discovered that one day Cuyler had let loose with a stream of anti-Semitic invective directed at Dreyfuss’ son Sam.   Though this may have cost the Pirates a championship,  Barney directed that Cuyler not be used during the series.   In November Cuyler, the team’s best player and a future Hall of Famer, was traded to the Cubs.

Two notes.  While researching about that 1927 series I found two items that show a clear difference from the modern era.   On October 11, the New York Times noted that just three days after winning the series Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played an exhibition game in Trenton, N. J. against the Brooklyn Royal Giants.  In this opening game of the barnstorming season Ruth crashed 3 homers.   And shortly after winning the series team owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert received the following telegram from American League president Ban Johnson.  “Hearty congratulations to you, manager Huggins and the players.  We like to destroy the enemy in that manner.   Four straight victories will have a wholesome effect on he public mind.”

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