MLB player to owner: There’s a history to A-Rod’s idea

MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 02: Former baseball player Alex Rodriguez looks on before Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 02: Former baseball player Alex Rodriguez looks on before Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images) /

Other part-owners

Although not as fully invested as Spalding, Comiskey, Mack or Griffith, several other former MLB players have from time to time held slices of an ownership group.

Back in 1911, a Tammany Hall power named James Gaffney purchased controlling interest of the National League’s Boston Braves. Gaffney, who knew a lot about rigging elections but nothing at all about baseball, decided he needed a minority partner, so he enlisted John Montgomery Ward, a prominent former MLB player who had become an even more prominent attorney.

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Ward had been a combination pitcher-infielder for the Providence, New York and Brooklyn teams of the 1880s and 90s, and a good one. He was a central figure on championship teams in 1879, 1884, 1888 and 1889, combining a lifetime .275 batting average with a 164-103 record as a pitcher. Leading Providence to the 1879 National League pennant, Ward went 47-19.

His ownership role was brief. In July of 1912, barely six months after Gaffney and Ward purchased the team that became known as the Braves Gaffney bought out Ward.

Gaffney sold the Braves in 1916, but the club’s flirtation with former players as owners was renewed when Judge Emil Fuchs purchased controlling interest in 1923. Like Gaffney, Fuchs felt he needed a player’s advice, so he turned to Christy Mathewson, legendary star of the New York Giants who already by then was suffering from tuberculosis that would soon kill him.

Mathewson’s ownership stake ended with his death in October of 1925.

During their tenure in Brooklyn, the Dodgers twice incorporated former players into their ownership structure. In 1899, team owner Charles Ebbets enticed former outfielder Ned Hanlon to be his field manager by offering a slice of the team. Hanlon accepted, drove the Dodgers to the 1899 and 1900 pennants, and remained as a part-owner until 1906.

As a player for Detroit and other teams, Hanlon had been part of the Wolverines 1887 championship run. As manager, he gained Hall of Fame status leading the Baltimore Orioles to 1894-95-96 pennants  then taking the Dodgers to those 1899 and 1900 titles.

Then in 1945, a group led by banker Walter O’Malley and including general manager Branch Rickey purchased the Dodgers from the Ebbets estate. A light-hitting catcher during parts of four undistinguished major league seasons, Rickey is far better known for his front office skills, which included his primary role in the game’s integration of Jackie Robinson in 1947.

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Rickey held his ownership stake until selling out to O’Malley in 1950.

Finally, there’s the case of Ryan, a minority partner when Ray Davis and Bob Simpson purchased the Rangers in 2010. Ryan held that minority position until selling out in 2013.