All littleAmerican boys are supposed to want to grow up to be President but this, aseveryone knows, is only a popular fallacy. They really want to grow up to bemajor league batting champions. However, most American males philosophicallyabandon this early ambition sometime before reaching maturity.
Yet the dreamlingers on, and its inevitable progression is familiar to thousands ofmiddle-aged citizens of a sports-loving nation: since it is no longer possibleto play on a major league baseball team, wouldn't it be wonderful to own one?This is basically what happened to a 43-year-old ex-sandlot ballplayer,ex-piano player and ex-disc jockey named Frederick August Knorr. The 11-mansyndicate which he headed bought the Detroit Tigers for $5½ million, thebiggest price in all baseball.
Fred Knorr laughsat any suggestion that the new owners bought the ball club as a $5½ milliontoy, but admits: "I guess everyone who ever played the game, or ever lovedit as a fan, must sometimes think he would like to own a ball club. I know Ialways did—although never too seriously." But although Fred Knorr has atremendous amount of pride in ownership and confidently believes that owningthe Tigers really will be fun, he is quite emphatic that neither of these isthe primary reason behind the deal. "Our aim," he says, "is toreturn a profit on our investment. The Detroit baseball club, to each of us, isa business venture."
Knorr, who put upone-third of the purchase price along with his two Detroit associates, HarveyR. Hansen and William H. McCoy, owns and operates four radio stations inDearborn, Flint, Saginaw and Jackson. He has an application for a televisionfacility in or near Jackson. He is president of the Fred A. Knorr InsuranceAgency. He is also vice-president of Michigan Spot Sales, a radio andtelevision station representative.
February 18, 1957
John E. Fetzer ofKalamazoo, who heads the second group of new owners, is the operating head ofsix corporations and was one of radio's real pioneers. He also owned one of thefirst 100 television stations in the country, served as an adviser to the OWIduring World War II and later, at General Eisenhower's request, engaged inpostwar rehabilitation studies to help clean up the communications problems ofa war-ravaged Europe. His partners and fellow one-third contributors are CarlE. Lee, vice-president of the Fetzer Broadcasting Company, and Paul A. O'Bryan,a Washington attorney.
The third groupis composed of a Texan named Kenyon Brown, a radio-TV-theater-advertising manfrom Wichita Falls; George L. Coleman, president of a bank—and a lot of otherthings involving automobiles and radio stations—from Miami, Okla.; Joseph A.Thomas, senior partner in the New York investment firm of Lehman Brothers; R.F. Woolworth of the dime store family; and a man named Harry Lillis Crosby Jr.,who sings.
"None of themen in this group," says Knorr, "has ever been associated with failure.We have money to spend and the desire to work. That will be a tough combinationto beat."
Fetzer probablyhas more of his own money in the venture (an estimated $1 million) than anyoneelse, and he has been called the strong man of the syndicate—a brilliantexecutive and planner with a personal philosophy that there is more than oneway to do things right. In the table of organization of the new Tiger BaseballCompany (see page 12) John Fetzer is chairman of the board—and, aware of thefinancial hazards involved in recouping $5½ million, an unusually active one atthat. But he is the first to point out that Knorr, because of his temperamentand personality and boundless energy, "is the Grover Whelan of thisorganization." There is one other reason why Fred Knorr is the president ofthe Detroit Tigers: the whole thing was his idea in the first place.
The new presidentof the Tigers is a big man (6 feet 1 inch, 185 pounds) with wavy brown hairwhich he parts just to the left of center and combs straight back. At thetemples there are a few faint locks of gray. Knorr has light green eyes, adeep, resonant radio voice, a ready smile and a rock-hard handshake; in manner,he is affable almost to the point of ebullience.
He was born inDetroit on July 9, 1913 and has been a Tiger fan as long as he can remember("My father used to take me to see games when I was 6 years old"). Heplayed baseball himself at Central High and as a sandlotter at NorthwesternField, a catcher who by his own admission "couldn't hit much" but likedthe activity behind the plate. He still proudly displays a stumpy right thumbwhich is a memento of a foul tip in his 14th year, and he can be pardoned if hefeels there is a certain symbolism attached to the fact that the new Tigermanager, Jack Tighe, and Fetzer (who has a broken nose as evidence of hisschoolboy days behind the bat) were catchers, too, and that the fate of thisball club is somehow bound up with men who wear masks. The only four Detroitteams to win pennants in the last 47 years were managed by catchers (MickeyCochrane in 1934-35, Del Baker in 1940 and Steve O'Neill in 1945).
But early in hiscollege days, tight on the heels of the Depression, Knorr, under the name ofFred Kaye, went to work as a pianist in a 16-piece dance band. The Knorrs hadbeen insurance men for two generations, but by the time he graduated, theentertainment world had too much of a hold on young Fred; in 1937, at the ageof 23, he won an audition sponsored by Detroit Radio Station WJBK and went towork at $27.50 a week as the regular announcer from midnight to 8 in themorning. "They didn't call us disc jockeys in those days," says Knorr,"but I guess that's what I was."
After a year anda half he went to WHLS in Port Huron as sports announcer and in another 18months he returned to Detroit as program director (where he occasionallyrelieved Harry Heilmann during broadcasts of Tiger games) and eventually becameassistant to the president of WMBC.
Before he hadbeen out of college quite 10 years—and with less than $10,000 in personalcapital—Knorr opened his own station with financial backing from Hansen andMcCoy.
A FAMILY OFFANS
Today, Fred Knorrlives in a large and lovely two-story white stucco house—with swimming poolattached—on five acres of land in suburban Bloomfield Hills, a wealthyresidential section only 30 minutes by Cadillac from Briggs Stadium anddowntown Detroit. He has a charming wife named Nell (who played shortstop inhigh school) and an equally charming 13-year-old daughter named Nancy Lou (whopitches for Kingswood School). Another daughter, 5-year-old Mary Katherine(Katy), and a 3-year-old son, Frederick August III (Butch), are too young topay much attention to baseball now—but someday almost certainly will.
"I don'tbelieve there are two bigger Tiger fans in the country," says Knorr,"than Nell and Nancy Lou. When we bought the Tigers they were thrilled todeath—which is more than I can say the last time we bought a radiostation."
It is well thatthe two ladies approve. Now that Fred's baseball duties are added to an alreadytop-heavy schedule of business (about 12 hours a day at his Dearborn offices atWKMH) and civic interests, his family scarcely sees him any more.
"I used tothink," Knorr will tell you, "that owning a radio station was likeliving in a glass house. I didn't know anything until we bought this ballclub."
People stop himnow on the street to complain about the way the Tigers are playing ball. Awaiter in Detroit told him, "Mr. Knorr, you better get that ball club up inthe first division quick." "Why?" asked Knorr. "Because if youdon't," the waiter said, "I'm gonna lose 50 bucks." He alsoreceives free advice by the bushel and letters by the hundreds. One mancomplained that he had been telling Spike Briggs for years what was wrong withthe Tigers and had never received any satisfaction. "Now I'm going to tryyou," the letter said and ran on with six pages of explicit instructions asto pitching rotation, player deals and possible changes in the farm system. AndKnorr's appointment pad is covered with commitments to speak at dinners,banquets and social functions from one end of the state to the other.
"Severalyears ago," he says, "when people in the radio business were beingbothered by Communist propagandists, I had an unlisted phone installed at thehouse. I'm not so sure it was absolutely necessary then—but it sure isnow."
"Baseball," confirmed Fetzer, "has changed our householdcompletely. I think I'll get an unlisted number myself."
Knorr and Fetzerhave unlimited confidence in the ability of Spike Briggs—the man they retainedin the dual role of general manager and vice-president in charge of operationsafter they bought his ball club—as a baseball man. They like their new role andexpect to have fun. Before, when each was a fan, they used to talk aboutpossible trades in the same way as other fans. "You know," says Knorr:" 'Why don't they trade so-and-so for so-and-so?' That sort of thing. Nowwe say, 'Why don't we trade so-and-so for so-and-so?' It's amazing how muchdifference one little pronoun can make.
"Ofcourse," he adds modestly, "we don't really do any trading. That'sSpike's job. But it's fun to talk, just the same."
Both men expectto devote quite a bit of time to the Tigers. Knorr will go to spring trainingon a full-time basis, moving his family to a home in Mountain Lake, and commutefrom there daily to the Tiger camp at Lakeland, some 35 miles away. And whenthe team swings into the regular season, Knorr expects to watch it in actionevery day at home.
"I may travelwith them some, too," he says, "and when I can't get around I'll be inconstant touch with Spike or John McHale or Muddy Ruel."
And when he can'tget to the ball game, Knorr will do as he has done in the past: listen to it onthe radio or, if the game is televised, switch on his set, turn down the volumeand listen to the play-by-play by Van Patrick on the radio. "I get moreinformation that way," he explains, "and it also helps me monitor ourannouncers."
Fetzer hasalready discovered that owning a ball club sometimes qualifies one for certainprivileges other than those of getting into the games free of charge or talkingtrades in the first person. On a recent mission to Europe as State Departmentconsultant on the effect of Russian propaganda transmitters in East Germanyagainst the besieged Hungarians, Fetzer was questioning a Hungarian refugee whohad just escaped to the Austrian border. A security officer walked up behindhim, listened for a moment and interrupted the conversation.
"I don't knowthis man," he said. "He might be a Communist agent."
"Oh, no,"said another member of the American mission. "That's John Fetzer. He's oneof the new owners of the Detroit Tigers."
"Oh,"said the officer. "Well, he must be all right then."
A MATTER OF MORALOBLIGATION
As Knorr andFetzer and the rest know, however, it is not all fun and privileges. There arevast responsibilities, too. One of these is to a man who has been dead now forfive years, Walter O. Briggs Sr. Spike's father, a fabulously wealthy Detroitindustrialist, bought into the ball club back in 1920, and by 1935 he owned itcompletely. Upon the Tigers he lavished his love and affection, and for Detroitand its baseball fans he felt a great sense of civic pride.
"Weappreciate the way Mr. Briggs felt," says Knorr, "because that is theway we feel, too."
Anotherresponsibility, of course, is to themselves, to recoup the tremendous financialoutlay they made to get the club in the first place. (Some other recent majorleague selling prices: Brooklyn Dodgers, $2,115,000 over a six-year period in1943-49; New York Yankees, $2,800,000, including valuable real estate in Newarkand Kansas City, in 1945; Pittsburgh Pirates, $2,300,000 in 1946; ClevelandIndians, $1,539,000 in 1946 and $2,200,000 in 1949; St. Louis Cardinals,$4,060,000 in 1947—but because of debts only $1,860,000 net—and $4,550,000 in1953; St. Louis Browns, $2,443,000 in 1949 and $2,475,000 in 1953; PhiladelphiaAthletics, $3,500,000 in 1954.) In the beginning, in Fetzer's words, they"sat quietly by, at the feet of people who did know baseball and tried tolearn fast."
It is anarrangement that has worked out well. The new owners sat at the feet of Briggsand McHale and Harry Sisson, the Tiger business manager who for years wasconsidered the financial wizard of Mr. Briggs's empire, and learned theintricacies and inner workings of the game. Even sitting, they have managed toconvey the impression of men in motion. Some of the winter'saccomplishments:
1) Selection ofJack Tighe as manager to succeed Bucky Harris from among three major candidatessubmitted and recommended highly by Briggs and McHale. Tighe, a bald-headedvegetarian who once took a lie-detector test to prove that he did not spit onan umpire while managing Buffalo in the International League, never made it tothe majors as a player but had a background of 20 years in baseball and 16 ofthose in the Tiger system. "We had the greatest personal admiration andeven fondness for Bucky," says Fetzer. "but we realized, just as hedid, that the ball club wasn't showing enough spirit. We felt it needed ayounger, more forceful man in charge. We felt that Tighe was that man."
2) Increase inincome from radio and television rights from $375,000 to $450,000. Tiger gamesthis year will be carried on 32 radio and seven TV stations. "We are radioand television men," says Fetzer, "and in owning a baseball team we arealso endowing ourselves with an important part of our own showbusiness."
3) Increase inticket prices at the two upper levels, with box seats up from $2.50 to $3 andreserved seats from $1.75 to $2. "I was against increasing prices the firstyear the new owners had the club," says Briggs. "I thought it might notlook right. However, I'll admit $5½ million is a lot of scratch to recover andthis is the logical place to start. The increase actually just brings us intoline with the rest of the league. I guess they are right; it's something Ishould have done two years ago."
4) Increase innight games from 14 to 21. "Detroit is a highly industrialized area,"points out Knorr, "and factory workers just can't slip off in the middle ofthe afternoon to see a ball game." Last year the Tigers' attendance atnight averaged 29,146; for day games it was 11,088.
5) Location, forthe first time, of ticket offices in out-state towns, with the eventual hope ofmatching the rather startling crowds the Milwaukee Braves have been sosuccessful in attracting from all over Wisconsin. "Our mail-order businessthis year," says Spike Briggs, "is up 100% already."
The new ownersare convinced they have made a wise investment. An eighth-place team as late as1952, the Tigers paid dividends to stockholders after the 1955 season for thefirst time in 20 years (on an estimated net income of $250,000 to $300,000, notcounting another $150,000 from the Detroit Lions for rental of Briggs Stadiumduring the football season). Ball clubs are notoriously closemouthed abouttheir finances but Briggs will say that 1956 was "even better."
Harry Sissoncalls $3,100,000 in gross income the "break-even point" and says theTigers can hit this by drawing one million customers at home and two-thirds ofthat number on the road. Only once in the past 12 years have they failed tomeet these figures but, of course, in the past the payoff was reduced sharplyby payments on the new stadium and Mr. Briggs's predilection for plowingeverything back into improvements. Last year the Tigers drew 1,051,182 at homeand 1,079,842 on the road.
Knorr and Fetzerare well aware of the tremendous costs involved in the operation of a majorleague team. They knew the Tigers spend something like $500,000 a year on theminor league system alone, a figure which does not include the salaries andexpenses of a vast scouting staff or the cost of signing young ballplayers—andthe Tigers have been known to dish out some pretty fat bonuses. This, ofcourse, is before one even gets into the big league team itself. There theyspend an approximate $400,000 on player salaries, and with such young stars asKaline and Kuenn and Hoeft and Lary zooming toward greater stardom, the priceis rising every year. Stadium upkeep averages $100,000 a year, there is anexpense of almost the same amount from spring training, club travel during aseason costs almost $200,000, and there is always the possibility of theneed—or chance—for sudden major league player purchases. There are also leagueexpenses and one of the biggest items of all: administrative costs whichinclude not only salaries of all the front-office workers but of the majorexecutives as well.
All this the newowners realize, but they are quite confident of their ability to keep theTigers moving upward, to spend money as, and when, it needs spending and tomeet any crisis that may arise-"We are not really worried," saysFetzer, "about meeting next week's payroll."
They borrowed tomake the deal, of course, using the stadium as collateral for about $1 millionbut, as Knorr points out, this is in no way an indication of a shoestringoperation; it is simply good business in an inflationary period and follows anup-to-date financial pattern.
The newcorporation is built on a sound financial structure and to assure success—tobring in the fans and their dollars—they have to look no farther than thesingle biggest asset of all: a good young ball club that is on the way up.
True, the DetroitTigers share with the Indians, White Sox and Red Sox the perennial problem ofthe American League—that of finding a way to catch up with the Yankees. ButDetroit seems to be improving faster than anyone else. Down around .447 at theAll-Star Game break last summer and 17 games behind New York, the Tigers camealong with a rush in the last half of the season, playing .615 ball and winning48 of their last 78 games. This still left them in fifth place, 15 games behindthe Yankees but only six behind the second-place Indians and just two games outof the first division. With this in mind, even before the teams report forspring training, it has become quite fashionable throughout the league to pointout that the Tigers are the real dark-horse team of '57. While no one believestoo seriously that they can catch the Yankees, there seems little doubt thatTighe's ball club is perfectly ready to give it a whale of a try.
Last year threeregulars, Maxwell, Kaline and Kuenn, hit over .300 (there were only 14 .300hitters in the entire league) and an 18-year-old bonus rookie named Jim Smallwhacked major league pitching for a .319 average in 58 games. Two pitchers,Hoeft and Lary, made up one-third of the league's 20-game winners and a third,Paul Foytack, won 15. "With that bunch," a disgruntled fan said lastfall, "it took some real managing to finish in the seconddivision."
How much betterthe managing will be under Tighe remains to be seen, but it is almost certainthat the Tigers will look more like tigers in '57. "He's a realfighter," points out Knorr, "and that's why we got him."
Tighe will alsohave more to work with. Some of his younger ballplayers have matured a little,and the shift of Ray Boone, the big but not-so-agile slugger, from third baseto first was made possible by a trade which brought Jim Finigan to Detroit fromKansas City. With Kuenn, now over a 1956 foot injury, ready to go again fullspeed at short and Frank Boiling considered one of the most promising youngsecond basemen in the business, the infield appears well set, a good-hittinglineup and an adequate if not exactly brilliant one defensively. Thoughts ofKaline, Maxwell and either Jim Tuttle (who might just as well stay at home ifhe reports to Tighe as overweight as last year) or Small in the outfield causethe new manager no sleepless nights at all, and Red Wilson and Jim House areadequate catchers. Two veteran first basemen, Earl Torgeson and Eddie Robinson,furnish dependable pinch-hitting, and smooth-fielding, young Reno Bertoia givesa certain amount of depth to the infield.
Tighe knows threegood starting pitchers, even three as good as his, are not enough, but at leastthey provide a healthy nucleus. He hopes to find another from among a crewwhich includes Jim Bunning, Duke Maas, Hal Woodeshick and half a dozen more,and he also hopes Relief Pitchers Al Aber and Steve Gromek are ready for atleast one more good year. If pitching is Detroit's biggest question mark,however, the development of pitchers has long been Jack Tighe's most impressivefunction. The Tigers, from almost any angle, look good.
"Do you thinkthey'll win the pennant?" Knorr and Fetzer were asked last week.
"Well,"said Fetzer, grinning, "we'll be aiming at it."
Informed thatthis wasn't exactly original, he added: "Tighe says flatly that we'llfinish second. For a manager, that is pretty original."
WHO SAID 'NINE MEN, A BAT AND A BALL'?
CHAIRMAN OF BOARD
JOHN E. FETZER
FRED A. KNORR
EXEC. V.P. & GENERAL MGR.
WALTER O. BRIGGS, JR.
PAUL A. O'BRYAN
HARVEY R. HANSEN
ASST. TO PRESIDENT
HEROLD D. RUEL
HARRY M. SISSON
HARRY M. SISSON
WILLIAM H. McCOY
DIR. OF PLAYER PERSONNEL
JOHN J. McHALE
WILLIAM E. LOLL
NEAL K. FENKELL
MINOR LEAGUE DIRECTOR
J. A. CAMPBELL
JOHN T. TIGHE
ADVANCE SEASON BOXES
BOX OFFICE TREAS.
ASSISTANT THOMAS RYAN
PUB. ADD. ANN'C'R
CLUB H'SE ATTEND.
ORGANIZATIONAL CHART of Tiger Baseball Companygraphically portrays complex structure of modern major league team and almostdefies reader to locate what is normally considered its raison d'√™tre: the teammanager and his players. Knorr and Fetzer point out that key jobs belong toBriggs and his two top assistants—Harry M. Sisson (business) and John J. McHale(players).