HONEST WARREN GILES: HE ALWAYS STRIVES TO PLEASE

A man of continual controversy is the cherubic, charming, deceptively relaxed president of the National League. Challenge the right of his 10 bosses to run baseball as they choose and Giles is a bulldog off a leash
June 09, 1963

When he is not flying around the circuit spreading goodwill, or attending high-level baseball conferences, Warren Crandall Giles, the president of the National League, sits at a massive oaken desk in Suite 2601 of the Carew Tower in Cincinnati next to a window that commands a broad view of the Ohio River and the Kentucky shore beyond. The desk and the view were once the property of Kentuckian A. B. (Happy) Chandler, who—before his ouster as baseball's high commissioner—was accustomed to lead visitors to the window and declaim: "Friends, look yonder. There, across the beautiful Ohio, lies the Promised Land."

Warren Giles does not indulge in such histrionics. When he looks out old Happy's window it is safe to assume that he is less conscious of the Promised Land than he is of a tall building in the foreground that happens to house the offices of William O. DeWitt, the proprietor of the Cincinnati Reds. As a club owner in the National League, Bill DeWitt is one of Mr. Giles's 10 bosses and, like every other red-blooded organization man, Mr. Giles is ever mindful of the best ways and means to keep his bosses pleased with his work.

Seated at Chandler's great desk (to which he has some claim, since his insistence on a nonbaseball man as commissioner clinched Happy's election in 1945), Mr. Giles is a credit to his bosses just by being there. He looks, at 67, every inch a top baseball executive: well-tailored, well-barbered, well-fed, white-haired, pink-cheeked, portly in a solidly packed executive sort of way. He has other assets. He had a fine combat record as a first lieutenant in World War I. He learned the art of making quick decisions as a football and basketball official in the Missouri Valley Conference; he once worked a game between New York University and Missouri in Yankee Stadium. He designed the first emblem for the National League, a device of ball, eagle, bat, gloves, stars and stripes that he is presently revising. He must squeeze in two more stars to represent the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s.

He knows the major league rules by heart. Although he never played the game professionally, he has been in it as a front-office man since he was 23, starting with the Moline, Ill. club in the old Three-I League and moving steadily upward to St. Joseph, Mo. in the Western League, to Syracuse, N.Y. and Rochester in the International (where he also served a term as league president) and finally to the Cincinnati club as general manager under Owner Powel Crosley Jr.

Mr. Giles, if he is in a mood to look back on his career as he looks out the window, can recall the fall of 1951, when he might have risen to greater heights. It was then that he ran a dead heat with Ford Frick in the voting to select a commissioner to succeed Happy Chandler. As he had with Chandler, Giles cleared the way for Frick by announcing dramatically after 17 ballots: "My first interest in baseball is the welfare of baseball itself. My second is the Cincinnati Reds, and my third is Warren Giles. In the best interests of baseball, I wish to withdraw my name." Thereupon Giles's supporters agreed to go along with Frick on condition that Giles be offered the presidency of the National League. It was done: Frick became commissioner, Giles became league president.

Since then, in striving to please his bosses (Mr. Giles would prefer to say, "In striving to serve the best interests of baseball and the National League"), he has frequently found himself a target for the most violent kind of criticism. When the sale of the St. Louis Cardinals to Gussie Busch's Anheuser-Busch brewery was decried on the floor of the U.S. Senate, it was Giles who answered, thereby relieving the owners (as on so many other occasions) of saying anything at all. "Plain poppycock!" Giles declared. When he deplored the fact that the players had hired a lawyer to represent them, he was rewarded with the following comment from Red Smith in his syndicated column: "Warren Giles and his fellows...have always regarded ball players as mere chattels...they actually believe it is a privilege for these bondservants to appear cap in hand before their masters and petition for reforms which they do not get."

The New York Times saw fit to print that Giles's publicly expressed unconcern with the move of the Giants and Dodgers to the West Coast was "pure hog-wash." When Giles sought to prod reluctant Los Angeles voters into approving Chavez Ravine as a site for the new ball park (he said the Dodgers might have to leave Los Angeles if the voters turned down the proposal), he was accused of playing Charley McCarthy to Walter O'Malley's Edgar Bergen. Oliver Kuechle of The Milwaukee Journal wrote: "The O'Malleys, the Gileses and all their intimidating stooges had better keep their mouths shut. They don't do well when they open them. It is inconceivable, regardless of what O'Malley and Giles have threatened, that the Dodgers ever really will be taken out of Los Angeles. Does a hungry dog ever walk away from a juicy bone?"

The man behind the big desk in Cincinnati's Carew Tower was not visibly disturbed. Sportswriters, however gifted, do not elect league presidents. The men who do, when Giles had completed his first seven-year term, took only a minute to re-elect him. He has continued to please. Along with National League owners, he disapproved of a third major league. He continues to issue his annual spring forecasts of a tight National League race. He is regarded by secretaries around the league as a very nice man. He is celebrated as a wonderful host at parties. Cookouts at his suburban Cincinnati home on Mount Lookout, where he lives all alone, are occasions that friends and associates look forward to when in town. He serves prime steaks and good whisky and radiates good humor and never overindulges in spirits to a point where he would hit a policeman, as his predecessor with the Cincinnati ball club, Larry MacPhail, did at least once.

It would seem that such a moderate, amiable, affable, good-humored master of social occasions would have frequent long periods of peaceful coexistence with his critics. But somehow Warren Giles is rarely out of the headlines and hot water. And this spring he stirred up a storm in which he was deluged with disrespectful remarks by managers, players, sportswriters and broadcasters, moving Sportscaster Howard Cosell to shout into the microphone of a New York radio station that "the Giles reign has been the stupidest leadership in the history of sports."

What Mr. Giles did to start it all was to call upon his umpires for strict enforcement of the balk rule as written in the book. (Mr. Giles runs his own staff of umpires, whereas President Joe Cronin of the American League leaves that chore to Supervisor of Umpires Cal Hubbard.) The balk rule, as then written, stated that a pitcher, if he pitches from a position rather than an uninterrupted windup, must bring his motion to a complete stop of at least one second whenever men are on base. By discouraging "quick pitches," strict enforcement of the rule would benefit the base-stealer and one ball club in particular: the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fleet base runners, Maury Wills, Willie Davis, John Roseboro and Jim Gilliam.

When Giles acted there was widespread talk that Walter O'Malley, perhaps the most influential and thus most persuasive of his 10 bosses, had pressured him. "Mr. O'Malley," said Giles to that, "has never said one word to me on the subject of the balk." Giles did admit that Walter Alston, the Dodger manager, had said quite a few words on the subject to Fred Fleig, the league secretary. It is safe to assume that Alston had confided in (or listened to) Walter O'Malley before doing so, because team managers do not presume to address league presidents on vital matters—even via league secretaries—without first consulting their club owners.

In any case, the big desk in Suite 2601 of the Carew Tower was soon bombarded with telegrams and newspaper clippings from all around the circuit. National League umpires, taking Mr. Giles at his word, were calling balks right and left, and before the end of April had exceeded the entire number ever called during any National League season. They soon reached a total of 96, while their opposite numbers in the American League had called just eight.

Paul Richards, general manager of the Houston Colts (for whom Giles's son, Bill, works as traveling secretary and publicity man), wired Giles that the balk call had better "return to some sensible basis before baseball and the National League becomes a complete joke." Richards wanted to know, "How long is this comic opera going to continue?" Fred Hutchinson, manager of Cincinnati, cried, "It's a mess!"

Meanwhile, the mess thickened. The team of umpires captained by Augie Donatelli led all the others in calling balks—five in one game. According to Columnist Mickey Herskowitz of The Houston Post, Giles confronted Donatelli and asked him, "Are you balk-happy or what?" Donatelli asked him if he wanted the rule enforced or not. "I want it enforced," said Giles. "Well," said Donatelli, "they were all balks and we called them."

Finally Mr. Giles had to do something. So he issued a "directive," which in baseball is regarded as something like a papal bull. He deleted the phrase "of one full second" and wrote that the pitcher must "hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and come to a stop before starting his delivery." Now other tops blew. Fresco Thompson, vice-president of the Dodgers, charged that Giles was not interpreting the rules but changing them. He said he was so mad that he had considered resigning from the rules committee. "What do they expect us to do?" growled Casey Stengel. "Run out on the field and yell 'Stop!' every time a pitcher starts to pitch?" Umpire Al Bar-lick was quoted as saying he would continue to call them as he saw them. Umpire Donatelli was quoted as saying he would not call another balk all season. (Since the Giles directive Donatelli has called none.)

At last, as in all baseball crises, there was a meeting of three of the best available brains in baseball: Frick, Cronin and Giles. Conferring in New York, they pondered only briefly and came up with a statement that supported Mr. Giles's own directive. The phrase "for one full second" would be eliminated. Pitchers in both leagues would be required to stop following their stretch with men on base, but not necessarily for a full second. Meanwhile, baseball's bible, The Sporting News, editorially applauded Mr. Giles for "acting wisely and decisively" in resolving a hassle he himself had set in motion. The rules committee (Fresco Thompson of the Dodgers going along) promptly approved the action of Frick, Cronin and Giles.

No doubt Mr. Giles was relieved. But it must be said that at no time during the uproar over enforcement of the balk rule did he betray the merest symptom of panic. At the height of the controversy he received an old friend and benefactor in his office at league headquarters. His caller was the baseball patriarch, Branch Rickey, now—at age 81—senior consultant of the St. Louis Cardinals. Rickey came stomping into Giles's office, a cigar clenched between his teeth, steering a steady course with the aid of a stout walking stick. Pleasantries were exchanged: each man said that he had never seen the other looking better. Neither said anything about balks.

"A social call, Warren," said Rickey, reaching out to borrow a match to light his stump of cigar.

"It's always a pleasure, Branch," said Giles.

"Yes, yes," said Rickey, peering out of the window before turning back to Giles and going on:

"By sheer coincidence," he said, "I happened to be discussing our long association this morning. I was being interrogated and I was asked to specify the qualities that account for your rise from the lowest classification in baseball to the presidency of our league."

Giles clasped his hands in front of him and smiled.

"Loyalty," rasped Rickey around his cigar, "Integrity. Honesty. Above all, honesty. Honesty to the point of persnicketiness."

"Very nice," murmured Giles.

"I went back to what I believe was our first direct association. You, Warren, were president of the Moline, Ill. club in the Three-I League."

"That's right," said Giles. "I got that job by accident, really. There had been a meeting of fans to discuss ways we could improve the club. I got up and talked so much that I was challenged to try running the club myself. So I got into baseball that way."

"Now," said Rickey, "my brother Frank had scouted a boy in your league, recommended him to me and I called you. We reached a verbal agreement by which you agreed to sell the boy to the Cardinals for $1,200 or so."

"An outfielder named Howard Jones," said Giles.

"Correct," said Rickey. "Now then, the Chicago White Sox later became interested in the boy. They made you a better offer. Your directors accepted the offer without clearing the matter with you. When you found out about this you said that your verbal agreement with me had to be honored or you would quit the club."

"That's exactly right," said Giles.

"Yes," said Rickey, "and then and there, Warren, I filed your name in my mental book. 'Here,' I said, 'is a young man of integrity and complete honesty. His word is his bond. This young man belongs in the St. Louis Cardinal organization.' "

"But not right away," said Giles. "I moved to St. Joe, Mo. in the Western League as club secretary."

"Oh yes," said Rickey. "And that reminds me. My interrogator this morning had come into possession of some most inaccurate information. He said that I had optioned Taylor Douthit, destined to become a great outfielder for the Cardinals, to you at St. Joe and then had let the option date pass without claiming Douthit. I told the fellow the story was ridiculous. I would never have forgotten to exercise our option on a superb prospect like Douthit."

Giles smiled broadly and looked down at his hands.

"Not likely, eh, Warren?" asked Rickey, raising his cane aloft. "Not likely I would forget an option on a boy like Douthit?"

"I am afraid, Branch," said Giles, "that you did just that. You did forget about the option on Douthit. Douthit belonged to me, and I was already getting offers for him."

Branch Rickey's bushy white eybrows shot up.

"Yes," Giles went on, "but I didn't take the offers. I called you and explained the situation. I said I could understand how such an oversight could happen, and I told you the option on Douthit was still yours."

Rickey, leaning on his cane, got up from his chair. He squared his shoulders.

"Warren," he said, "I stand corrected. I remember now. It was just as you said. And I recall how, consulting my mental book on our experience with the boy in Moline, I decided that you must be brought into the Cardinal organization. I offered you the club at Syracuse, and when the franchise moved to Rochester you went with it. You did a splendid job. You made friends, the right friends. You were a painstaking general manager. You won four pennants for us in the International League."

Giles stood up, and they shook hands across the Happy Chandler desk.

"The Douthit episode," said Rickey, "again emphasizes your honesty, your integrity, Warren. It occurs to me that you might have indulged me in my version of it just now. But today, as always, you could not be anything but completely honest about it. I shall seek out my interrogator and confess my error."

Rickey clapped his broad-brimmed hat on his head, took a tighter grip on his cane and started for the door. When he got there he turned back and said: "A social call, Warren. We'll meet at the game tonight, perhaps."

"We will, I'm sure, Branch," said Giles.

With Branch Rickey gone, Warren Giles leaned back in his chair and mused aloud:

"I haven't thought of that Taylor Douthit incident or St. Joe, Mo. for a long time. But I remember it was a far cry from all this." He waved an arm around the room and indicated the other elegantly furnished offices of the suite he had inherited from Happy Chandler.

"When I arrived in St. Joe I found that the club was paying $30 a month for offices. My salary didn't permit me to spend much on my own living quarters. So I got an idea. I located a $34-a-month hotel room, a big room, but rather drably furnished. I bought new drapes and a new bedspread and moved in a desk. Now I had an office I could live in and the cost to me was the difference between the old office rent—just $4 a month."

He drummed his fingers on the desk.

"It's been a long road. There have been pitfalls, as I warned my son Bill when he decided on a career in baseball. There have been many, many good things—some of them seemed to happen almost by chance. Coming to Cincinnati, for instance. I met Powel Crosley at an All-Star Game in 1935. He was familiar, of course, with our winning record at Rochester. We seemed to hit it off immediately, and the following year, when he was looking for a successor to Larry MacPhail, he thought of me."

(In his history of the Cincinnati Reds, Lee Allen, currently historian of the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, tells of how Crosley and Tom Conroy, then treasurer of the club, each wrote the name of a candidate on separate pieces of paper. Then they compared notes. Both had written down the name of Warren Giles. It was a happy meeting of minds. In three years Giles—building on the nucleus of MacPhail's club, reaping the crop that MacPhail had planted in the farm clubs, trading skillfully, signing the astute Bill McKechnie as manager—brought Cincinnati its first pennant in 20 years in 1939. He came back in 1940 to win again and take the World Series as well.)

"People frequently ask me if adverse criticism bothers me. I've had a lot of it, and I have been able to shrug most of it off. Sometimes the New York writers have gotten under my skin. I didn't make any friends in New York by insisting on moving the league headquarters to Cincinnati. The fact was that my son Bill was in school. His mother had passed away, and I didn't want to take the boy away from his school and to a strange city. As a matter of fact, I made the move to Cincinnati a condition of my acceptance of the league presidency. This did not please the New York writers, because both John Heydler and Ford Frick had made their headquarters in New York. Then I was told that I simply had to fill the job of director of public relations with a New York newspaperman. I had four separate applications. I decided to appoint Dave Grote, then the publicity director and public-address-system announcer for the Reds under Gabe Paul. Although he had no newspaper experience, Dave has done a fine job, as every newspaperman now concedes. Incidentally, it was Dave who set the record straight on a quotation widely attributed to me in the press. It came out of a press conference at the time the Dodgers and Giants moved to California. A newspaperman said, 'You have to have a team in New York.' I replied, 'Who says you have to have a team in New York?' What came out in the papers was a headline that said, GILES SAYS, 'WHO NEEDS NEW YORK?' I confess that quote bothered me, and there seemed to be no way to dispose of it. It was repeated again and again. What was given less publicity was my statement to the effect that I was confident the National League would have a team in New York eventually. The writers wanted to know exactly when. I remember telling several of them that this was a bit like asking an unattached young man if he intended to get married. He probably would answer, 'Yes, I certainly do intend to get married, but at the moment I can't say when or to whom.' "

In Cleveland, Gabe Paul, general manager of the Indians, spoke into a telephone. (Paul entered baseball as a clubhouse shoeshine boy at Rochester, rose to be correspondent for The Sporting News and was spotted as a comer by Warren Giles during his tenure at Rochester. Giles brought Gabe to Cincinnati as publicity director, made him his assistant, fingered him as general manager—a spot from which Gabe moved to Houston and then to Cleveland.) "Mr. Giles," said Gabe Paul, "is a very warm individual. He has a lot of courage. He is wholly dedicated to the National League. He feels the same way about the National League that Ban Johnson used to feel about the American. Johnson acted as if there was just one major league. Mr. Giles is equally devoted to the National. He is a great fan. He loves to root. He used to root his head off when he was running the Reds. Now he has to be careful not to show any partiality—except in the All-Star Game and the World Series. Then he lets go. As for the talk going around that National League umpires are trying to embarrass Giles by calling all those balks, that's nonsense. Mr. Giles is the best friend the umpires ever had."

That night at the ball game Warren Giles sat in a box with friends. His box is on the third-base line, a score of rows back from the front. He sat with folded arms, impassive throughout as Joe Nuxhall pitched a five-hit shutout for the Reds against the St. Louis Cardinals. It must have been particularly difficult for Mr. Giles to maintain his neutrality that evening, because he himself had signed Nuxhall as a boy of 15—the youngest pitcher ever to appear in a major league game to this day.

"Mr. Giles," said a neighbor, "what do you think of 12-team leagues?"

"Twelve-team leagues will come eventually," said Mr. Giles, "but not until we have the players to supply four new clubs. I think we will have to come to a complete subsidy of the minor leagues. We are working to encourage college baseball. We would like to see boys going to college on baseball scholarships endowed by the major leagues, and see the college teams play a summer schedule. One collegiate summer league has already been organized in Illinois. And, in order to attract boys to baseball, we will have to see that minor league salaries are raised. Many of the young men will be married and will have to earn enough to support a family. The 12-team leagues would make for better scheduling, with eastern and western divisions in both leagues."

"Mr. Giles," the neighbor went on, "people still talk of you as commissioner when Mr. Frick retires—in two years, I believe? Would you consider—"

"I am 67 years old," interrupted Mr. Giles, holding up his hands. "The commissionership is utterly out of the question. I wouldn't consider it even if my name were brought up—which I think is quite unlikely."

He folded his arms again and studied Joe Nuxhall out on the mound. He sat that way quietly for the rest of the game, looking just right for the role in which fate had cast him, looking like honest Warren Giles, who strives to please—and succeeds in pleasing—the baseball masters he serves.

PHOTOROBERT HUNTZINGER

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)