If the New York Yankees fail to win their sixth straight American League pennant this fall, which at this moment looms as a distinct possibility, the man in the Yankee organization who will show the least outward concern is George Martin Weiss, the Bombers' portly, moon-faced general manager. Win or lose, already clicking in Weiss's mechanical baseball brain, where 41 years of fine diamond dust help grind the gears with awesome precision, is a whole revolving series of plots and schemes affecting not only next year's Yankees but Yankee teams for the next decade. Ancient pitchers, over-the-hill outfielders and end-of-the-road shortstops will, in Weiss's calculation, be removed from the works like so many tired and rusty bolts and screws. Their places will be taken by shiny new contrivances, many of them still on minor-league drafting boards.
The overhaul process actually began in Weiss's mind last spring. Perhaps only Weiss himself was aware of the true significance of his decision to sell Pitcher Vic Raschi, a 34-year-old holdout with one of the best winning percentages in baseball, to the St. Louis Cardinals for $80,000. Weiss announced that Vic was traded because of a general condition of "complacency," the team's as well as Vic's. Not complacency on the ball field, but complacency vis-√†-vis the front office, which means Weiss.
AN OBJECT LESSON
Weiss had already made up his mind that either Raschi or Allie Reynolds, another top pitcher who was holding out, would go. Not only was he looking ahead to building a younger team, but an object lesson was needed, he felt, to bring eleven other Yankee holdouts around. As he now puts it, "We've made at least eight of our players independently wealthy and they were acting as if we had to get down on our hands and knees and beg them to play for us."
September 19, 1954
What Weiss may have forgotten was that these plush players helped make the Yankees independently wealthy too. No doubt, after five straight pennants, a few New York stars were taking life easier. Raschi was on ungentlemanly grounds himself when he refused to answer mail or get in touch with the Yankee office to discuss a 25% salary cut, but this did not excuse the fact that he was apprised of his sale by a photographer. The only word he ever had from the Yankee organization was a routine telegram telling him he was to report to St. Louis. For his years of brilliant pitching he received the kind regards of exactly no one. The cold, impersonal method in his treatment, or some unsentimental variation of it, is patently part of Weiss's success. It has also been reflected, many fans think, in Weiss's handling of the ticket problem, with what they consider an attitude of contempt shown them in contrast to the solicitude extended big executives and celebrities, who always seem to get the best seats in the house.
Possibly because he knows that the Yanks' almost unbelievable record of 14 pennants and 13 World Series victories in the 22 years of his regime never has been matched, Weiss remains unperturbed. Even more proudly, he can point to the consistent profits of the team, although in the last six years attendance has dropped off one million at the Stadium. For this Weiss is inclined to blame the newspapers, which give the Yankees the worst press of the three metropolitan teams. But he must also wonder why more baseball fans throughout the country are rooting for the Indians this fall than for any other team in years—possibly excepting the 1947 or 1949 Dodgers.
SUPREMACY IS BORING
The simple explanation is that Americans like underdogs, and supremacy bores them. But there's more to the "I hate the Yanks" campaign than resentment over a constant, if sometimes dull, winner. A man who knows Weiss well and has respect for his keen knowledge of baseball sums it up this way, "George is the most impersonal man I have ever known. Maybe he doesn't mean to be, maybe he just doesn't know how to be any different, but he simply has never realized that ballplayers are also personalities."
The late Grantland Rice, on the other hand, once described Weiss as a man who is "quiet, rather shy and happens to be able." The fact remains that Weiss, while he lets his hair down on occasion and is a most gracious host, is not an especially outgiving or vibrant person. He is stolid and efficient, all business during the waking hours. He operates on the perfectly sound principle that baseball teams go broke when they are so bad the fans won't come out to see them.
Weiss has often been compared to Branch Rickey, his only competitor as a baseball brain, who operates out of a vast and colorful mystique of his own and approaches baseball as if he were guided by a kind of private Bhagavad-Gita. Weiss, on the other hand, gives the impression that he's carrying an IBM machine around with him. Which may be why Rickey is imaginatively capable of introducing a Jackie Robinson to baseball and nursing him tenderly through the toughest dugouts, whereas last spring Weiss traded Vic Power, a top Negro outfield prospect, before Power even had a chance to wear his Yankee uniform. Many fans felt that Power should have been kept in view of the Yanks' tardiness (by contrast with the Dodgers and Giants) in bringing up Negro players. Weiss denies any bias, says he has tried in the past to obtain Negroes, and defends the trade by saying the Yanks needed pitching more than P(p)ower.
PRODIGIES FOR PENNIES
Weiss has always had plenty of cash behind him, but it is to his credit that he has gathered his greatest players for very little. Phil Rizzuto cost pennies, Yogi Berra came off the sand lots for $500 and Gil McDougald was signed for $1,500. What Weiss considers his greatest outfield represented an investment of $31,000. He got Joe DiMaggio for $25,000 when no one would take a chance on Joe's trick leg; he signed Charley Keller at the University of Maryland for $5,000; Mickey Mantle got an initial bonus of $1,000. A fourth great Yankee outfielder, Tommy Henrich, cost $20,000.
Mantle is still playing, but none of the other three outfield stars is any longer with the Yankee organization. On this score again, Weiss has been criticized for harsh dealing. But, except for Henrich's case, the criticism would appear to be unjustified. Both Keller and DiMaggio parted with the Yankees voluntarily. Henrich, on the other hand, after having done poorly in a coaching job, wanted to change over to TV to replace DiMaggio after the latter allowed his contract to go by default. Weiss indicated that Henrich's private brewery business might interfere with his getting the contract, since regular game broadcasts are sponsored by a big beer company, but Henrich still insists this could have been adjusted.
It's as a buyer and trader that Weiss has been most unfairly maligned. He has, in fact, that very rare ability to look far ahead and at the same time regard a sagging situation at hand. Weiss's patching has been brilliant, but never more so than in his purchase of Johnny Mize and Johnny Sain, both of whom were waived out of the National League. Mize became a World Series hitting hero in 1949 and was a key man in the 1950 pennant drive. Sain has been a great relief pitcher for several seasons.
Weiss's shrewdest trade, for which he was initially pilloried, has saved Casey Stengel some aspirins this year. Outfielder Jackie Jensen and Pitcher Spec Shea went to Washington two years ago for Outfielder Irv Noren, a left-handed hitter. Jensen did pretty well for the Senators and Shea regained, briefly, his early Yankee form, while Noren was hitting a miserable .237 his first season in New York. But today he's among the leading hitters in the league and one reason why the Yankees managed to stay in the race at all.
MISTAKES AND SLIP-UPS
Weiss has made mistakes, bad ones. His purchase of Pitcher Fred Sanford from the Browns for $100,000 and three players in 1948 was among the worst. Sanford had won 21 games in three years for the lowly Browns, but won only 12 in three years for the Yanks. Weiss himself regrets giving up on young Bob Porterfield, who won 22 for the second-division Senators last year. Bob Keegan, currently boasting a 15-8 record with the third-place Chicago White Sox, is another pitcher who slipped out of the Yanks' hands.
Weiss was born in New Haven in 1895, the son of a grocery-store owner. He got interested in baseball at Hill-house High School, where he wasn't much of a player but showed an early ability as an administrator. It was a good team—Joe Dugan, later a great Yankee third baseman, was on it—and Weiss banded them together as the semipro Colonials, quickly establishing himself as something of a promotional genius. A local ordinance forbade Sunday baseball in New Haven, but Weiss booked the Colonials to play at Lighthouse Point, an amusement park in East Haven, outside the city limits. No Sunday ball was allowed in New York or Boston then either, so Weiss brought in top major leaguers for exhibition. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Herb Pennock, Duffy Lewis, among others, came down.
The Eastern League, which had a team at New Haven, had no love for Weiss as a superior competitor at the gate but after fighting him for four years decided it was more sensible to offer him the New Haven franchise for $5,000. As head of the renamed New Haven Profs, Weiss became the youngest club owner in professional baseball. In eight years his teams won three pennants and never finished out of the first division. More importantly, over a six-year period he sold the majors 26 men for $200,000, more than the rest of the league combined.
SUCCESSES AND SALES
Weiss had the same kind of success with the Baltimore Orioles, which he took over in 1929. Baltimore had sold all its old stars to the majors and the team was in the doldrums. Using players he had imported from the Eastern League, Weiss brought the revamped Orioles in third and in three years he sold $242,000 worth of ballplayers.
The success of the young general manager caught the eye of Colonel Jacob Ruppert, who in February, 1932 placed Weiss in charge of the Yankee farm system. His record was extraordinary. Newark, the chief farm team, won seven pennants, including their first in 19 years, in the next 12 seasons. When Kansas City became part of the new Yankee chain, the Blues won three in four years. Weiss's great talent for developing and selling players meanwhile brought New York a fortune in player sales. Over a 14-year period, Weiss sold 86 players for $1.4 million and received, in addition, players worth $400,000. In the meantime he spent only a fraction of that on new Yankee players.
ALL THIS AND HASSETT TOO
Some of Weiss's early deals are still talked about. Once he parlayed $500 into $92,500. It started with a $500 bonus paid to Willard Hershberger, a fair catcher. Weiss sold Hershberger to Cincinnati for $20,000 and talked the Reds into throwing in kid Shortstop Eddie Miller. Miller blossomed and went to the Boston Braves for $12,500 and five players—Vince DiMaggio, Johnny Riddle, Gil English, Tommy Reis and Johnny Babich. For them Weiss got a total of $60,000. A similar parlay involving an initial outlay of $3,000 for First Baseman Buddy Hassett eventually netted Weiss $105,000 and Hassett back to play first for the Yanks!
Weiss became general manager of the Yankees after the 1947 World Series against Brooklyn, when the tempestuous Larry MacPhail, who bought a part interest in the Yankees when Ruppert died, appointed and fired him in the same evening. Showing more emotion than he has before or since, Weiss cried. Hardly had the tears dried, however, than he was general manager again, this time appointed by Dan Topping and Del Webb, who had bought out MacPhail's one-third share the next morning. The job now pays him at least $60,000 a year.
EXIT HAMS, ENTER STENGEL
His first year was no overwhelming success. The team finished a close third, but there was friction between him and Manager Bucky Harris, whom Weiss describes as an old-style, "book" manager who couldn't fit in with the many experiments the Yankees wanted to make with new young players. He fired Harris and brought in Casey Stengel, an earlier managerial flop at Brooklyn and Boston. No one can deny the wizardry of Stengel, and Weiss has basked in its magic glow. But when Casey waved his wand over the 25 players who won the pennant and the World Series in four straight in 1950, 17 of them were Weiss farm grads.
Each morning, looking like a corporation executive whose company has not missed paying a dividend in 50 years and has no intention of missing one in the next 50, Weiss climbs into his car at his fine old house in Greenwich, Conn. and drives to his office at 745 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Here he answers his mail, talks steadily on the phone, studies countless detailed reports on the farm system and meticulously goes over every phase of Yankee finances, down to the amount taken in for each type of souvenir. About noon, if the Yanks are home, Weiss will drive up to the Stadium. After a bit of lunch he'll retire to a smaller office on the ground floor and work some more, meanwhile watching the start of the game on TV. About the third or fourth inning he will go up to his spacious box to the right of home plate in the mezzanine, from where he regards the diamond with an almost troglodytic stare. The field seems to encompass the man and he it; one has the feeling that Weiss sees everything, from the way a pitcher's curve breaks or hangs to the number of buttons on his shirt.
If the Yanks are ahead at the top of the ninth, Weiss will follow an old superstition and leave. Back downstairs, he will watch the rest of the game on TV, take in Red Barber's post-game show and then walk across to the players' dressing room and through it to Stengel's private room, where he and Casey and sometimes the coaches will talk over the day's contest and anything else that may come up.
On a busy day Weiss may not leave the Stadium until eight o'clock, and a night game may keep him in town at a hotel. His wife, Hazel, whom he married in 1937, relies on last-minute calls for her cooking schedules. When he does go home, Weiss always carries a sheaf of papers, including minor-league box scores. In his large study in Greenwich, where he has a remarkable collection of trophies and awards, he may study the averages of Yankee potentials far into the night. If the team is on the road, he is apt to have a nocturnal telephone talk with Stengel. When he finally rolls into bed his head is filled with statistics, and if he has any trouble sleeping, which is rare, he probably counts, instead of sheep, the number of .300 hitters in the farm system or the week's attendance figures. A dedicated champion is often a lonely man. Weiss often is one—but the compensatory factor is great: he remains respected and admired, if not always revered. And it's as Dan Topping, George Weiss's tough boss, says, "How can you argue with success? It's like trying to tell off an umpire."
NEW YORK YANKEE ORGANIZATION
DANIEL R. TOPPING and DEL E. WEBB, Co-owners
GEORGE M. WEISS, General Manager
WILLIAM O. DeWITT, Assistant General Manager
CASEY STENGEL, Manager
LEE MacPHAIL, Farm System Chief
Farm Clubs Owned
Kansas City, Am. Assoc. (AAA)
Mgr. Harry Craft, 1954—7th
Binghamton, Eastern (A)
Mgr. Philip Page, 1954—5th
Birmingham, Southern Assoc. (AA)
Mgr. Mayo Smith, 1954—3rd
Norfolk, Piedmont (B)
Mgr. Frank Scalzi, 1954—1st
Quincy, Three-I (B)
Mgr. Vernard Hoscheit, 1954—3rd
Modesto, Calif. (C)
Mgr. Jerry Crosby, 1954—1st
St. Joseph, West. Assoc. (C)
Mgr. Bill Cope, 1954—3rd
Bristol, Appalachian (D)
Mgr. Walter Lance, 1954—2nd
McAlester, Sooner State (D)
Mgr. Malcolm Mick, 1954—3rd
Owensboro, Kitty (D)
Mgr. Marvin Crater, 1954—2nd
PAUL KRICHELL, Head of Scouts
Scouts and Territory Covered
John Cottrell, San Francisco area
H. P. Dawson, Virginia
William Dismukes, Negro Leagues
Atley Donald, Miss., La., Ark., Tex., western Tenn.
Jake Flowers, Ga., Ala., Fla., central Tenn.
Pete Gebrian, assists O'Rourke in N.J.
Tom Greenwade, Kan., Okla., Colo., Mo. (except St. Louis)
William Harris, N.C., S.C., eastern Tenn.
Fred Hasselman, Chicago
Floyd (Babe) Herman, Arizona, N.M., southern Calif.
Harry Hesse, assists Krichell in New England
Gordon Jones, Oreg., Idaho, Wyo., Mont., Wash., Nev., Utah, northern Calif.
Paul Krichell, New England, Hudson Valley, N.Y.C.
Louis Maguolo, Wise., St. Louis, Ill. (except Chicago)
Joseph McDermott, Minn., N.D., S.D., Iowa, Neb.
John Neun, special assignments
Frank O'Rourke, N.J., Md., Pa., Del., N.Y. (except metropolitan area)
Pat Patterson, Mich., Ohio, W. Va., Ky., Ind.
William Skiff, special assignments