When the Pre-Integration Era Committee meets in early December at the Winter Meetings to consider Hall of Fame nominees, it will have a tough task trying to determine who may be worthy of induction. Many of the 10 nominees are long dead and in the case of executives they did not leave a statistical record behind. Such is the situation with former St. Louis Cardinals owner Samuel Breadon.
Good old Sam Breadon was in the forefront of one of the greatest eras in the history of that team. He owned the franchise from 1920 through 1947, and on his watch the Cardinals won nine pennants and six World Series championships. Some of the greatest players of all time, from Rogers Hornsby and Dizzy Dean, to Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and Red Schoendienst, wore redbirds uniform during his ownership. He presided over the colorful Gas House Gang teams of the 1930s and he supervised Branch Rickey‘s assembling of the first complete farm system.
Also while Breadon owned the club the Cardinals developed a widespread radio network that made St. Louis the team of choice for a huge geographical area of the Midwest and the South. At that time before national television and nationwide expansion there were no Major League clubs in the South and the Cardinals were the farthest-West located team.
Breadon, who was born in 1876, became a millionaire as a car salesman and advanced from minority owner of the Cardinals in 1917 (his investment was $2,000) to full ownership at a time when the team was awful. Breadon approved Rickey’s inovative moves, although there was one area where Breadon drew the line of authority–it was up to him to choose the field manager. Between 1919 and 1925, Rickey was the man. Hornsby took a turn after that. In the 1940s, near the end of Breadon’s tenure, Billy Southworth, eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame for his field generalship, ran the club.
Breadon was associated with greatness, his players, his teams, his general manager, and his manager, during his long run as the head of the Cardinals. Clearly, his management policies fostered creativity and success. But it’s very difficult to truly understand where his personal contributions touched the Cardinals’ success. It’s pretty tricky to try to determine whether a baseball team owner deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Owners don’t bat .300 or hit 40 home runs. Breadon seemed to hit a home run with every policy on his ballclub, so that has to be catalogued as a positive indicator.
In 1947, less than two years before Breadon died of cancer at age 72, he sold the Cardinals.
As difficult as it is to gain election to the Hall of Fame as a player, it is far more challenging to be accepted as a team owner. Owners are lumped into a category called executives and that umbrella group includes former commissioners, league presidents, and general managers, as well as owners. Rickey was elected with the executive designation. Not many owners are enshrined. To name most of them: Bill Veeck, Charles Comiskey, Tom Yawkey, Walter O’Malley, and Barney Dreyfuss, plus J.L. Wilkinson and Effa Manley from the Negro Leagues.
Most owners’ contributions are challenging to pinpoint, but longevity is one plus. So is success on the field. Breadon fits the bill on those fronts, and he definitely has a case for considerati0n by the committee. Interestingly, another owner, Jacob Ruppert, who concurrent with Breadon, only in the American League, transformed the previously woebegone New York Highlanders into the world champion New York Yankees, is also on this year’s ballot.
Breadon’s background will get an airing, but there’s no certainty that he will survive the process.
Backgrounds of the other nine nominees will be reviewed over the next few weeks prior to the election.