The Yankees roll on, top of the
heap, more stars, more world championships, more hype and hoopla. They
are New York. They are big time baseball.
Lest we forget, the roots go all
the way back to the son and grandson of Bavarian beer tycoons who
founded the Ruppert Breweries. Heir to the family millions, young Jacob
Ruppert was born on August 5, 1867. He lived with his family in a
commodious and luxurious Manhattan Fifth Avenue apartment. He attended
the prestigious Columbia Grammar School. Although he was accepted to the
School of Mines of Columbia University, his father insisted he become
part of the brewery business.
By the turn of the century, the
Rupperts in a time before income tax, were reaping huge profits and had
become fabulously wealthy. The Ruppert Brewery, one of the most modern
beer producing plants in the world, was a complex of thirty-five
fortress-like red brick buildings located from East 90th to East 94th
Street between Second and Third Avenues in the Yorkville section of
Manhattan's upper East side.
The brewery chimneys spewed
smoke carrying the sulfurous smell of malt from the boiling vats into
the air. On windy days the smell was especially foul and noxious. Maids
in the area even in the summertime, closed windows, pulled down drapes,
did what they could to keep the stench out of their employer’s
At 19, Jacob Ruppert began work
at the brewery - - washing barrels. Four years later he was general
manager. At 29, he was president of the Jacob Ruppert Brewing Company
succeeding his father who had retired. Under the young Ruppert’s
direction, the brewery increased its 1893 output of 350,000 barrels to
1,300,000 barrels just prior to prohibition. In his tenure Ruppert would
create and head a gigantic and modern plant for 62 years - home to the
finest brewery in the world. At one point, valued at over $30 million,
the Ruppert brand (“Make Mine Ruppert”) employed more than a thousand
workers and was an integral component of the entire New York economy.
A vast fortune and Tammany Hall
connections eased Ruppert into a congressional seat. He was elected as a
Democrat in a normally Republican district. The ambitious Ruppert served
as a four-time member of the House of Representatives from 1899 to 1907
representing the "Silk Stocking" district of Manhattan.
After the death of his father
in 1915, Ruppert continued to live with his mother in the family's red
brick Victorian house at 1115 Fifth Avenue on "Millionaire's Row" along
Central Park. When his mother died in 1924, Ruppert stayed on in the
family mansion for another year. He then sold to a developer and moved
across the street into a 12-room apartment in a 15-story luxury building
at 1120 Fifth Avenue. His apartment faced Fifth Avenue and looked out
onto the Central Park Reservoir directly across the street. Five
full-time servants catered to every whim of the Teutonic, punctilious
millionaire. Throughout his life, Ruppert lived within easy walking
distance of his brewery.
He was appointed an honorary
Colonel in the New York State 7th National Guard Regiment, and it
pleased him very much when people used "Colonel" in addressing him.
A heavily invested real estate
toomler as well as the head of the most powerful brewery in the world,
“Colonel” Ruppert’s wealth kept increasing making him one of the world’s
richest men with an estimated fortune of nearly $50-million.
Called “Congressman” by some,
“Colonel” by most, "Jake," by his closest friends, Ruppert had the world
on a string. A confirmed bachelor, he always had one beautiful woman,
sometimes two, on his arm. But his true love had always been baseball.
He was always a rabid fan.
Back in 1880 when he was just
13, Jacob Ruppert owned, managed, captained and played second base for
a local Manhattan baseball club. The snobbish, some would say cruel,
rich boy, insisted that his players clean the cages of his private
menagerie before he would bring his bat and ball down to the vacant lot
where the team played. Making it perfectly clear to all that he could
not abide losing, Ruppert also made it very uncomfortable for any of his
players who struck out – he fired them. The highly privileged youngster
was a passionate rooter for the New York Giants. As a teenager he tried
out but could not make the club. No matter, he would accomplish much
more in baseball than that.
North of the city at his large
estate in Garrison, New York, Ruppert kept St. Bernards and Boston
terriers. He owned a dozen varieties of doves, two dozen varieties of
monkey. He had a collection of Percherons, the large horses that had
pulled the big beer trucks. He was a collector of trotting horses and
thoroughbred race horses, yachts, Chinese porcelains, jades. His country
place was a repository of one of the largest personal art galleries and
libraries in the United States.
His office was devoid of
curtains. Close by his desk were marble pedestals, a goldfish aquarium,
two bronzes of American Indian collectibles.
Ruppert’s shoes were made to
order. Changing his clothes several times a day, he dressed in the
latest and most expensive fashions and was attended to by a valet.
He traveled in style with his
secretary Al Brennan in his own private railroad car. It was known that
the “Colonel” enjoyed the comforts of his own drawing room and sleeping
in a silk brocade nightshirt.
Always interested in baseball,
always acquiring, Ruppert was very much interested in purchasing the New
York Giants but was told by manager John J. McGraw that they were not
for sale but that the sad sack New York Yankees might be.
"It was an orphan club,"
Ruppert said, "without a home of its own, without players of outstanding
ability, without prestige." It was a team whose average annual
attendance was 345,000, and dozen year record was a mediocre 861 wins
and 937 defeats. But Jake Ruppert, the man they would later call "Master
Builder in Baseball," would change all that.
On January 11, 1915, Jake
Ruppert teamed with a real Colonel, Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston, and
purchased the Yankees of New York for $460,000 from the original owners
- -professional gambler Frank Farrell and ex-police commissioner William
S. Devery. Huston impressed everyone by peeling off 230 thousand dollar
bills – his share of the purchase price.
Players and sportswriters
referred to Hutson as "Cap." There were others who called him "the Man
in the Iron Hat" because of the derby hat, generally crumpled, that he
wore. The hat matched his suits, always crumpled and rumpled.
The Farrell-Devery duo had
milked and mismanaged the franchise for years. So owning the Yankees,
who had a 12 year record of 861-937 and average attendance of 345,000 a
season, would be a challenge for the new owners.
Ruppert and Huston, however,
were up to the challenge. They had deep pockets and a great deal of
business acumen. Huston was a successful entrepreneur engineer, a rich
contractor. Ruppert always knew his way around a buck.
All kinds of intrigue
surrounded the purchase of the Yankees involving Tammany Hall wheeler
dealers, other owners, and the American League President. All of them
were very anxious to put in place new Yankee ownership and a successful
franchise in New York City. To close the deal, American League owners
and the League kicked in the rest of the half million dollars that
Farrell and Devery insisted on before they would sell out.
"I never saw such a mixed up
business in my life,” Ruppert complained right off the bat. “Contracts,
liabilities, notes, obligations of all sorts. There were times when it
looked so bad no man would want to put a penny into it. It is an orphan
ball club without a home of its own, without players of outstanding
ability, without prestige."
All of that would change. The
“Prince of Beer” wanted to re-name the Yankees to “Knickerbockers” after
his best-selling beer, but the marketing ploy failed. Besides, it was
said, the name was too long for newspaper headlines. Years later it
would be short enough for basketball’s New York Knickerbockers.
Ruppert pressed on. As a beer
baron, he was hands on for every aspect of his business. That same
behavior pattern existed for him with the Yankees. He knew them all and
was always up to date on their capabilities, shortcomings, foibles and
In his early ownership years
Ruppert lost almost as much money as was paid to purchase the Yankees.
But on the field there was some progress. The team finished fifth in
1915, fourth in 1916, their first time out of the second division since
The Yankee owner rarely hung
out with "with the boys," Rud Rennie wrote in the New York
Herald-Tribune. "For the most part, he was aloof and brusque.... He
never used profanity. 'By gad' was his only expletive."
A fixture at his Stadium, which
he insisted on keeping so fanatically clean that sometimes he even swept
it himself, Ruppert had a private box to which he invited the
celebrities of the day. He was not an owner, though, who came to the
park to be seen. His interest was in seeing his tea, excel.
The Colonel’s idea of a
wonderful day at the ball park was any time the Yankees scored 11 runs
in the first inning, and then slowly pulled away. The Colonel was fond
of saying, “There is no charity in baseball, I want to win every year.”
“Close games make me nervous.”
he said. “A great day is when the Yankees score a lot of runs early and
then just pull away.”
He created the “Ruppert
effect.” Those who worked for him at the brewer on the ball club knew he
was around and about and very interested in all that was going on.
Members of his team received
first class treatment. For the Yankees this showed itself in the
sleeping accommodations he arranged on trains. Most other teams had
players, dependent on seniority, given berths, upper or lower. The
players on the New York Yankees all slept in upper births
Yankees were high flying, Ruppert’s other business – his brewery
was hurting. Prohibition cut his brewery's annual production
of 1.25 million barrels of real beer to 350,000 barrels of
half-percent near-beer that nobody wanted to drink. In effect,
the brewery treaded water producing, bottling and selling "near
In a move
that would change the course of Yankee and Red Sox history,
indeed, baseball history, Jake Ruppert on January 3, 1920
purchased George Herman “Babe” Ruth, 25, from Boston. The deal
was a very smart business move – the young Ruth had talent and
would become one of the greatest drawing cards in baseball
history. In his first season as a Yankee , he blasted 54
Ruth bragged “They’re
coming out to see me in droves.” From 1920 to 1922, the Yankees
with G.H. Ruth on board drew more three million fans into the
Polo Grounds. Never had the New York Giants drawn a million fans
in a season.
The Colonel was the only one to
conduct salary negotiations with the “Sultan of Swat.”Ruth was a
valuable commodity and the Yankee owner treated him as such. The pair
disagreed at times privately and publicly about contracts; nevertheless,
Ruppert and Ruth were personal friends. Frugal to a fault,
Colonel gave orders that the Yankee front office should always keep an
eye out for any out of line Ruthian expenses. Thus, a $3.80 train ticket
for Mrs. Ruth and a $30 "uniform deposit" were not honored extracted for
the greatest single gate attraction of all time.
Angered and annoyed at the gate
success of Babe Ruth & Company, the Giants told the Yankees to look
around for other baseball lodgings. The Yankees had been playing in the
shadow of the Giants at the Polo Grounds since 1913, tenants of the
National League team. It was a very unsatisfactory arrangement; now
with the Yankees outdrawing the Giants in their in their own ballpark,
it was an embarrassment.
The forward looking Ruppert and
Hutson suggested the Polo Grounds be demolished and replaced by a
100,000 seat stadium to be used by both teams and for other sporting
events. The Giants were not interested. So the search was on to create a
new ballpark, not just a new ballpark but the greatest and grandest
edifice of its time, one shaped along the lines of the Roman Coliseum.
The Colonel dreamed big dreams and had the power and money to back them
Babe Ruth became a Yankee
through the dream and efforts of the Colonel. Yankee Stadium was
really “the house that Jake Ruppert built.” And all credit goes to
Ruppert as the man who truly built the Yankee empire.
# # #
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath,
The Sporting News, among other publications.
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