Beer and baseball, with a dash of politics, summed up Jacob Ruppert’s life. The strong-willed owner of the New York Yankees, and the overseer of their ascent to greatness, will be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame at baseball winter meetings scheduled for early December.
One of 10 baseball figures on the ballot for the Pre-Integration Era Committee to consider, Ruppert was not a pure baseball man, but a rich businessman who bought a major share of the Yankees in 1915 and ruled them till his death in 1939. On Ruppert’s watch, the once hopeless club known as the Highlanders matured into one of the best in the history of the game.
Ruppert was the team’s owner when the Yankees stole Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox in a one-sided deal, when Yankee Stadium was built, when the 1927 Murderers Row gained acclaim, when Lou Gehrig thrived, and Joe DiMaggio broke in.
Born in 1867 in New York City, Ruppert was of German heritage and he spoke English with a German accent. He called Ruth “Root.” The family money that he inherited from the business of selling booze made him a rich man and enabled him to invest in the Yankees with a co-owner, the remarkably named Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston.
The partners shared the $480,000 cost of purchasing the Yankees and agreed that they would also share decision-making about team personnel. Huston was an officer in the service, in Europe, and unreachable when the Yankees found themselves in need of a new manager in 1917.
American League founder and president Ban Johnson suggested to Ruppert that he look into retaining Miller Huggins. Ruppert did so, but he did so without consulting Huston. Even though Huggins turned out to be a brilliant hire and became a Hall of Fame leader, Huston very much resented the move because he preferred hiring Wilbert Robinson. The partners never resolved their feud and in 1922 Huston sold out to Ruppert.
Even discounting his involvement in baseball, Ruppert led an extraordinarily interesting life. He was elected to four, two-year terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from New York and served in the National Guard, eventually obtaining the rank of Colonel. For the rest of his life some referred to him as “Colonel Ruppert.”
The Jacob Ruppert Brewery was one of the kingpins of the beer business throughout the Roaring Twenties and the profits fueled Ruppert’s wealth. His father left him the brewery in 1915 upon his death.
Ruppert presided over construction of the foundation of the Yankees as an elite franchise, a status which continues today. He demonstrated excellent judgment in his hires, bringing in Ed Barrow from Boston as business manager and then promoting him to general manager. Ruppert hired Huggins. He played a role in hiring Huggins’ successor, Joe McCarthy, and he was not an absentee owner. He exercised veto power on trades and was active in making them in consultation with Barrow.
While acknowledging that Ruth was a superstar attraction and paying him a fantastic sum of $80,000 a year in the 1920s, Ruppert could be hard-nosed with his leading man. When managers wanted to fine or suspend Ruth for unruly behavior, or violating team rules, Ruppert sided with the field bosses.
Later, when Ruth was moving towards retirement and wanted to manage the Yankees, Ruppert snubbed him. In a testy meeting as Ruth pleaded his case, Ruppert reportedly harshly told Ruth that he could not even manage himself so how could he manage a team. There was a rapprochement between the men, however, when Ruppert received Ruth at the hospital on his death bed.
Ruppert ran the Yankees for 24 years. One of his lasting achievements was the construction of the original Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923. The Yankees won 10 American League pennants and seven World Series during Ruppert’s ownership reign.
Although it is more difficult to judge executives than players when determining spots in the Hall of Fame, it seems that Ruppert is as deserving as almost any other executive.