The General Managers: John McGraw, 1919-32

In our first two installments, we used a refinement of a Bill James method to evaluate the success of John McGraw as a general manager of the Giants during the periods 1902-1912 and 1913-18. Back in those days, and in subsequent decades, more often than not a major league team’s field manager also served in the capacity we today recognize as that of the general manager. McGraw certainly filled both rolls in his first decade as manager of the New York Giants, but during the following six years he shared the general manager’s duties with club President Harry Hempstead and club Secretary John Foster.


John McGraw and Charles Stoneham, ca. 1926 (courtesy

In 1918, with the country in its second year fighting World War I, the War Department had issued a “work-or-fight” order. All able-bodied men between the ages of 21 and 30 had to enter essential civilian employment by July 1, or face induction into the armed forces. With some quick lobbying, organized baseball managed to get this order extended to September 2 for its own industry. (The owners also voted to keep any associated profits resulting from that extension and not donate any of those moneys toward the war effort.) The order triggered a massive exodus of players from major and minor league rosters in 1918, including 103 from the National League.

Mrs. John Brush, her daughters, and her son-in-law, Harry Hempstead, president of the New York Giants, were shocked by the government shutdown of baseball, took a dim view of the future of the sport, and became restive. Even after the Armistice on November 11, Hempstead saw a long and costly uphill fight to restore baseball to the popularity it had enjoyed before the war.

With the Brush estate talking about selling the team, John McGraw made a swift decision. He would find a buyer for the Brush interest in the team, and buy a little stock himself so that he would share in what he was sure would be the future profits of the team. With the help of New York Magistrate Francis McQuade, who also wanted a part of the team, he would eventually find Charles A. Stoneham, Wall Street “bucket shop” owner, business partner of gambler Arnold Rothstein, and well-connected donor to the prominent politicians of Tammany Hall. In January 1919, Stoneham paid $1 million for 1,300 shares of Giant stock. McQuade paid $50,000 for 70 shares and became club treasurer. McGraw also got 70 shares, much of the $50,000 purchase price loaned to him by Stoneham.

Stoneham had little in common with the late John Brush. Stoneham was a sharp witted and ruthless trader in the curb market and a man-about town at night. Where Brush was a conservative businessman, ill through most of his adult life, and a semi-invalid in his last years, and understandably dour, Stoneham was a free-spender and gambler. What they shared in common was taking pleasure from seeing the Giants win. Both believed in and admired John McGraw. Stoneham, like Brush before him, would make any deals McGraw suggested, regardless of the amount of money involved, and he would support McGraw whenever the manager was under fire. There would come a time when there would be a breach in their relationship, but that would come well in the future.

Today we’ll look at the third and final period of McGraw’s active role with the Giants, the period from January 1919 until his retirement as manager in 1932, when he once again was the sole authority on roster construction and player acquisition. Who were the best players, at each position, acquired by “general manager” John McGraw?

Pos Player






C Shanty Hogan






1B Bill Terry






2B Frank Frisch






3B Fred Lindstrom






SS Travis Jackson






LF Jo-Jo Moore






CF Casey Stengel






RF Mel Ott






The list above is impressive. Five are in the Hall of Fame, although there is debate over whether they all deserve to be there. (Stengel, a sixth, was elected for his managerial career.)

John McGraw had coveted Rogers Hornsby for years, had made Branch Rickey, general manager at St. Louis, many offers for him, and ultimately got him before the 1927 season by giving St. Louis Frankie Frisch in return. But the Rajah only lasted one season in New York, having in a short time alienated teammates and, most importantly, Giant owner Charles Stoneham. Shanty Hogan, only 21 when the Giants acquired him from the Boston Braves, was one of the players the Giants got for Hornsby. He would hold down the catcher’s position, if not his weight, for five seasons.

Bill Terry had impressed as both a hitter and pitcher while with Shreveport in the Texas League and Little Rock in the Southern Association. But then Terry, who had gotten a good job with Standard Oil, stayed out of organized baseball for almost three years. McGraw’s network, ever ready to tip him off about a great prospect, included Little Rock manager Kid Elberfeld and Memphis Chicks owner Tom Watkins. Elberfeld saw Terry playing on a company team, and tipped off Watkins, who told McGraw about this “big, swell-looking fellow.” The Giants were passing through Memphis on April 1 on their way north to open the 1922 season, and so Watkins arranged for Terry to meet McGraw. The meeting did not go well. Terry was only interested in being a Giant if the pay were right, otherwise he was content to work for Standard Oil, living at home with his wife and new child. A month later, though, McGraw met Terry’s demand of $800 a month, farmed the rookie out to Toledo, where Terry hit well in 1922 and 1923, and even got in a cup of coffee — three games — with the Giants. In 1924, he was up with the Giants for good.

Frank Frisch was an accomplished athlete at Fordham University, captaining the football, basketball and baseball teams. As a track star, he earned the nickname “Fordham Flash.” In 1918 Frisch was named as a halfback on an All-American football team. The following year he was signed by the New York Giants, never having played in the minor leagues. Frisch worked out with the Giants in the spring of 1919, and joined the club after his college graduation in June.

At age 16 in 1922, Fred Lindstrom was a star at Loyola Prep in Chicago, was signed by a Giant scout, and then playing at Toledo in the highest minor league classification. He was a Giant at 18.

Arkansas native Travis Jackson was playing for the Little Rock Travelers in the Southern Association by the time he was 17, and his manager, Elberfeld, recommended the young shortstop to John McGraw. Jackson was signed to a Giant contract in 1922, and, like Lindstrom, was a Giant at 18.

The 21-year-old Jo-Jo Moore was recommended to McGraw by friends who had seen him play with San Antonio of the Texas League. McGraw signed him in 1930, but thought at 150 pounds, Moore was to fragile and would lack the stamina for a major-league season. Hoping to allow him to grow into his body, McGraw farmed him out to Bridgeport in the Eastern League and then Newark in the International League. All Moore did in the minors was knock the cover off the ball and play left field well. McGraw was not yet a believer, though, and Moore would not come up to stay with the Giants until Bill Terry took over as manager in 1932.

Center field would be a problem for the Giants throughout the period 1919-1932. Twelve different players were the primary starter at the position during those fourteen seasons. None were exceptional players, but for the 177 games in which he was a Giant, veteran Casey Stengel put up the best numbers of his career. McGraw acquired Stengel and second baseman Johnny Rawlings in July 1921 from the Philadelphia Phillies. The irrepressible Stengel was so happy to be traded to McGraw’s team that, when told of the deal after a game in Philadelphia, he left for New York immediately. “I wasn’t taking no chances,’ he would later explain. “I didn’t want anybody to change their mind.” Stengel would become a frequent guest in the McGraw home, where  he and his manager would stay up late into the night, talking baseball. Stengel soaked in all the old man had to say and would use the knowledge well.

In the spring of 1926, McGraw was excited about Melvin Ott, a left-hand-hitting catcher from Gretna, Louisiana, who turned 17 during spring training. Sent to New York at the end of the previous season by Harry Williams, a friend of McGraw who’d had Ott on his New Orleans lumber company’s team, the youngster stood 5’9″ and weighed about 160 pounds. His good shoulders and thick legs reminded McGraw of Ross Youngs, so McGraw determined to make Ott an outfielder. When he saw the kid hit, cocking his right leg at least six inches off the ground, dropping his hands, and then snapping his whole body into a beautifully fluid swing, McGraw knew he had a prize. Rather than farm Ott out and have a minor-league manager mess with that swing, McGraw kept the youngster with the Giants, where he mostly sat on the bench in the early years of his career.








SP Art Nehf







SP Fred Fitzsimmons







SP Bill Walker







SP Carl Hubbell







SP Hal Schumacher







Art Nehf, an innings-eater and at the time the Boston Braves’ most consistent pitcher, was acquired by McGraw in August 1919 as part of his effort to catch the Reds in the standings. As was usual with the cash-strapped Braves, $55,000 and four role players were all McGraw had to give up. Nehf would go on to do just what he’d done for Boston — make every start and provide slightly better-than-average pitching. The Giants would not catch the Reds that season, but Nehf would be the winning pitcher in two World-Series-clinching games with the Giants during the 1920s.

Freddie Fitzsimmons was signed to a Giants contract while pitching for Indianapolis of the American Association, and was then left in Indianapolis to further his development. But Giant pitching faltered in 1925, and McGraw called up the 24-year-old pitcher. He would become a mainstay of the Giant staffs that would win three pennants in the 1930s.

Bill Walker was pitching for Denver in the Western League when he was signed by the Giants in 1927. He spent the next two seasons splitting time between New York and Toledo, mostly working in relief for the Giants. By 1929, though, he was in the starting rotation.

On a 1928 Giant club that was going nowhere, one bright spot was the arrival in mid-June of Carl Hubbell, a 25-year-old lefty from Missouri who’d been knocking around the minor leagues for nine years. Hubbell had been found earlier in the month by Dick Kinsella, a full-time scout for the Giants, who had happened to be an Illinois delegate to the Democratic Party’s national convention in Houston. Taking a break from the convention tedium one afternoon, Kinsella saw a Texas League game in which Hubbell, pitching for Beaumont, throttled the locals. He quickly telephoned McGraw, who took Kinsella at his word — he always had — and arranged Hubbell’s purchase from Beaumont. Throwing his reverse-breaking “screwball,” which was simply a left-handed version of Mathewson’s “fadeaway,” Hubbell won his first major-league game on August 11 when he shut out Philadelphia.

The Giants first scouted 15-year-old Harold Schumacher when he played for town teams in Dolgeville and Little Falls in upstate New York. Schumacher wanted to go to college, though, and in 1928 he enrolled at Saint Lawrence College in Canton, New York. He did well, scholastically and athletically, starring in baseball, football and basketball, but was struggling during the Depression to pay for college. In 1931, former Giant third baseman Art Devlin, now a scout for McGraw, offered Schumacher a contract. Schumacher signed, with the agreement that the Giants would let him finish college in the offseasons. Schumacher struggled in 1931, getting into eight games for the Giants and posting a painful 10.80 ERA. He struck out 11 in 18 1/3 innings, but walked 14. Then he returned to St. Lawrence to continue his education. Schumacher would be in the starting rotation in April 1932.

Here we see the Giants again, as they did in McGraw’s first period as general manager, finding good young talent they could sign and then develop, at the minor league level or on the big club. John McGraw loved to teach young men how to play baseball his way, what he considered the right (or only) way. Consider this, from Frankie Frisch: The Fordham Flash, by J. Ray Stockton:

McGraw gave me a lot of personal attention. . . . He saw to it that I was given a chance to hit during batting practice. He used to play the infield himself and he personally took charge of polishing up my fielding. He would hit grounders for hours. He’d hit them straight at you and he’d hit them to either side. . . . If you didn’t make a play the way McGraw wanted it, he’d hit you another, five more, ten more, until the play was made the way he wanted it.

Over the course of his career, John McGraw took many, many young men with no minor league experience or very little minor league experience, and worked with them until they became outstanding major leaguers. His list includes Mel Ott, Fred Snodgrass, Fred Merkle, Fred Lindstrom, Larry Doyle, Ross Youngs, George Kelly and Travis Jackson. Some of this young talent, chosen and trained by McGraw from 1919 to 1932, would help him win four straight pennants and more of it would form the nucleus of the great Giant teams of the 1930s, teams that would be winning pennants years after McGraw had retired as manager, and as de facto general manager.


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