Baseball by George Vecsey

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Authors: George Vecsey
League, followed by a share of Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the Western Association. He loaded up the teams with the help of talent scouts, including Charlie Barrett, known as “the king of the weeds.”
    A national agreement of 1921 forbade major league clubs fromstockpiling players, but some teams got around it by calling it “lending.” In 1922, the United States Supreme Court heard a complaint by the Baltimore team from the upstart Federal League, alleging that the major leagues illegally wielded a reserve clause on players, in restraint of free trade and in violation of the Sherman Act of 1890.
    Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered an opinion for the unanimous majority that baseball did not constitute interstate commerce. “The business is giving exhibitions of baseball, which are purely state affairs,” wrote Justice Holmes, who added, “Owners produce baseball games as a source of profit, [they] cannot change the character of the games. They are still sport, not trade.''
    That opinion would strengthen club owners for more than half a century, handing them legal control of their players, whose only options were to accept the contract offered them or not play at all. By defining baseball as a sport, the Supreme Court had essentially turned it into a national asset. It was bad enough that the general public accepted this pro-business decision, but many players came to believe it, too. They smarted under arbitrary salary limits, but at the same time resisted calls to collective action, as if unionism were a treasonous act against their homeland. A good portion of the sporting press went along with it, too.
    Empowered by the Supreme Court's decision, Rickey continued to buy up portions of minor league teams, along with the contracts of hundreds of players. Unsuccessful at managing, Rickey was replaced in 1925 by Rogers Hornsby, the great second baseman. With Rickey concentrating on the front office, the Cardinals won their first pennant in 1926 and beat the Yankees in the World Series, with Grover Cleveland Alexander trekking out of the bullpen to save the seventh game, while he was allegedly hungover. By 1928, the Cardinals had five farm teams, and fifty of their former farmhands were in the major leagues.
    Rickey's stockpile soon caught the attention of Judge Landis, who liberated approximately 100 minor-leaguers from their contracts, unleashing the phrase “Rickey's chain gang.” Rickey was unabashed. “He would go to places like South Dakota, North Dakota,Iowa, and pay a certain figure to every club for the rights to the best player on the roster,” said his grandson, Branch B. Rickey, who in 2005 was the president of the Pacific Coast League.
    The Cardinals also won pennants in 1928, 1930, 1931, and 1934, as Rickey constantly reloaded his dynasty with players like the loquacious Jay Hanna (Dizzy) Dean, out of Lucas, Arkansas, who won 58 games in 1934–35. With the Depression gripping the land in the 1930s, Rickey's scouts recruited in areas suffering from poverty and desperation—coming up with Albert (Red) Schoendienst from Germantown, Illinois, who had suffered an eye injury while training in the Civilian Conservation Corps; Stanley Frank Musial, from smogbound Donora, Pennsylvania; Enos Slaughter from Roxboro, North Carolina.
    Long after his fabled dash home to win the 1946 World Series, Slaughter reminisced how he had been signed by Wanzer Rickey, the brother of Branch and apparently very much from the same frugal mold. Slaughter said Wanzer had given him a modest signing bonus of a shotgun and two hunting dogs, but the two dogs had run away almost immediately. The funny thing was, Slaughter added, that Dizzy Dean had an identical signing experience with the Cardinals many years earlier. “Me and Diz always wondered if they were the same two dogs,” Slaughter said.
    At first, Rickey's empire-building methods were scorned by John J. McGraw, who, for the record, had also scoffed at Babe Ruth's home

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