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If You Build It (They Will Win)

Posted By Alex Belth On April 29, 2008 @ 9:56 am In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

Over at The Baseball Analysts [1], Rich Lederer has an insightful interview with Dan Levitt, author of Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty [2]. Here’s a peak:

Rich: Your subtitle “The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty” suggests that the Bronx Bombers have had multiple dynasties. How would you define these dynasties and what was Barrow’s role in each of them?

Dan: There is no official definition, of course, but I identify the first Yankees’ dynasty as the period from 1921 through the end of WWII in which they won 14 pennants and 10 World Series. Not surprisingly, this era corresponded to Barrow’s tenure with the club. In early 1945 the Yankees were sold to a new ownership entity ending Barrow’s term at the helm and a long period of stability. The mercurial Larry MacPhail’s approach to running a front office was materially different from Barrow’s. By the time MacPhail left and George Weiss took over, the post-war bonus-baby era of talent acquisition was in place. In sum, the huge disruption caused to American life by WWII, the dramatic change in Yankee ownership, a change of managers, and the post-war change in talent acquisition and wide-spread expansion of the farm system throughout baseball makes the period around the end of WWII a natural demarcation point.

Within Barrow’s “first dynasty” I would suggest there were really three different phases: 1921 – 1923, 1926 – 1928, and 1936 – 1943. Much of Barrow’s genius lay is reading the environment correctly so that he could build and then rebuild on the fly. After joining the Yankees, Barrow spent roughly $450,000 to buy up the rest of Boston owner Harry Frazee’s best players. This avenue dried up in 1923 when Frazee sold the team – he was out of good players by this time anyway – and other major league teams were not sellers during the roaring twenties. To restock his team in the mid-1920s Barrow assembled a terrific team of scouts and bought top talent from the independent minors. In the 1930s the onset of the Depression led to new rules regarding the ownership of minor league franchises. With these revised, more favorable rules in place, owner Jacob Ruppert demanded Barrow start a farm system. Barrow quickly developed the best minor league organization in the league while his scouts redirected their efforts to nation’s best amateurs to stock it.

Rich: Ed Barrow managed Ruth in 1918 and 1919 when the latter was playing for the Red Sox. It was during this time when Ruth was spending less time as a pitcher and more time as an outfielder. How much influence did Barrow have in converting the Babe from one of the best pitchers in the league to the premier slugger in the game?

Dan: Barrow was the key actor in moving the Babe from pitcher to the field. To appreciate the boldness of this move one needs to first realize that Ruth was an exceptional pitcher: in 1916 he completed the season 23-12 while leading the league with a 1.75 ERA; the next year he finished second in the league in wins with a 24-13 record and seventh in ERA at 2.01. Outfielder Harry Hooper (who also acted as something of a bench coach for Barrow – remember, Barrow was seven years removed from managing and thirteen from managing in the majors) argued that Ruth’s prodigious hitting would make him more valuable as a regular in the field. On May 6, 1918 with first baseman Dick Hoblitzel nursing an injured finger, Barrow started Ruth at first base, his first non-pitching appearance in the field after more than three years in the Majors. Ruth made Barrow and Hooper look like geniuses, going two-for-four with a home run. Over the next several weeks Barrow often used Ruth in the field when he was not pitching, mostly in left field after Hoblitzel returned.

Barrow has rightfully received widespread credit for converting Ruth to the field. Hooper certainly deserves recognition for realizing Ruth’s potential as a regular and pushing for it, but Barrow warrants the bulk of the acclaim. When a decision has a clearly identifiable decision maker who has both the authority and the responsibility to make it, that person deserves most of the credit for a successful outcome and the blame for an unsuccessful one. Had the second-best pitcher in baseball (to Walter Johnson) underperformed in his new role and then returned to the mound at anything less than his previous ability, it would have been Barrow who suffered the condemnation and abuse from the fans, the press, and, perhaps most importantly, his players.

Excellent stuff from Levitt and Lederer. I’m really looking forward to reading this book.


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URLs in this post:

[1] The Baseball Analysts: http://baseballanalysts.com/

[2] Rich Lederer has an insightful interview with Dan Levitt, author of Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty: http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2008/04/qa_with_dan_lev.php

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