The General Managers: Harry Hempstead/John McGraw, 1913-18

In the previous installment in this series, I used a refinement of a Bill James method to evaluate the success of John McGraw as a general manager of the Giants during the period 1902-1912. 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 on November 11, 1912, Giant owner John T. Brush died and McGraw lost the owner who had supported him in any decision or circumstance, who granted McGraw ultimate authority over the team’s roster, with the power to sign or trade players without interference or second-guessing, and with the further assurance that ready cash was available for any transaction McGraw thought necessary to bring a National League pennant to New York.

In Brush’s stead, ownership of the team passed to his widow and their young daughter, Brush’s daughter by his deceased first wife, and his son-in-law Harry Hempstead, who had been managing Brush’s department store in Indianapolis (the original source of Brush’s wealth). As the new president of the Giants, the forty-three-year-old Hempstead moved quickly to cement relations with his renowned manager, in February 1913 tearing up McGraw’s contract, and signing him to another, for five years at $30,000 a year.

Though he’d gotten a new contract, McGraw was soon to learn that his power over the team was not quite the same. After the 1913 World Series, the third in a row the Giants would lose, Charles Comiskey, owner of the Chicago White Sox, and McGraw would lead a group of ballplayers, mostly Giants and White Sox, on a world tour, playing baseball games and showcasing the sport to those who had never seen it. In December, with McGraw somewhere in the Pacific, Harry Hempstead and club secretary John Foster traded third baseman Buck Herzog and Grover Hartley, a young catcher, to Cincinnati for outfielder Bob Bescher. Reds owner Garry Hermann then named Herzog to manage the Reds.

McGraw, upon finding out about the transaction, thought it a slipshod deal. He was glad to get Bescher, a base-stealer and good defender, but he thought Herzog worth more, despite the antagonistic relationship he had with the third baseman. More important to McGraw, though, was that he had himself always handled player transactions for the Giants. Yet now it appeared that Hempstead intended to take an active hand, and that instead of relying on McGraw for baseball advice, Hempstead would instead turn to John Foster, former newspaperman, editor of Spalding’s Guide, and an authority on the game in his own right. McGraw came to believe, in time, that Hempstead and Foster were in league against him, seeking to strip him of his power beyond the playing field, determined to lessen his voice in the club’s affairs. (In his 1923 memoir, My Thirty Years in Baseball, McGraw is fulsome in his praise of John T. Brush. Harry Hempstead’s name is not mentioned.)

We also know that Hempstead, as anxious to avoid quarrels as McGraw was eager to seek them out, was not as willing to back McGraw in his periodic disputes with umpires and the league office if such backing meant ruffling the feathers of his fellow owners. One example stands out. On June 8, 1917, McGraw got in a dispute with umpire Bill Byron, with whom he had tangled many times. Byron had a quick fuse, led the National League year after year in player ejections, and on this day his argument with McGraw became personal, and McGraw punched him. Fined and suspended by the league the next morning, McGraw then said some things about the competence and fairness of Byron, the umpires generally, and National League President John Tener that got him in further hot water when they were published in the New York Globe.

Hempstead, unlike Brush, preferred to get along with his fellow owners, and did not share McGraw’s combativeness nor sense of grievance. Rather than back his manager come what may, he arranged for McGraw to sign a statement that he had not said what he had indeed said about Tener and the umpires, and then assured the other club owners that McGraw had signed the statement under no coercion whatsoever. The owners accepted McGraw’s statement, and he was back in uniform on June 25.

So let’s look at the Hempstead-McGraw partnership of 1913-18, and see what the results were for this dual general managership where the club president took the lead roll. Who were the best players, at each position, during this term, and how many were Hempstead-McGraw responsible for acquiring for the Giants?

Pos Player






C Bill Rariden






1B George Kelly






2B Larry Doyle






3B Buck Herzog






SS Art Fletcher






LF George Burns






CF Benny Kauff






RF Ross Youngs






Larry Doyle (2B), Art Fletcher (SS) and George Burns (LF) are listed simply because they started at their positions throughout 1913-18. We cannot credit the Hempstead-McGraw regime with finding them and/or developing them. In fact, only three of the players on this list were signed as youngsters and developed by the Giants during the 1913-18 period. The rest were acquired in trades.

Bill Rariden was purchased from the Newark franchise of the defunct Federal League in December 1915, and served as as part of a bridge of interim catchers between Chief Meyers and Frank Syder. First baseman George Kelly started playing professional ball at age 18 for Victoria of the Northwest League. In 1915, his power had caused the Giants to buy his contract. Like a lot of McGraw’s young phenoms, he then spent most of his time on the bench. Kelly, in limited action, failed to hit .200 in 1915 or 1916, and McGraw grew impatient, waiving the youngster. Pittsburgh claimed him, but Kelly failed to hit again and was placed back on waivers. McGraw decided to give Kelly another chance, claimed the first baseman and optioned him to Rochester, where, with an interruption for military service, Kelly hit well over .300 in 1917 and 1919. He was promoted to the Giants after first baseman Hal Chase was suspended for his myriad misdeeds and gambling connections.

Buck Herzog was one of the most versatile infielders in the history of the majors, his 1,493 games divided almost equally between second base, third base and shortstop. John McGraw orginally signed Herzog for the Giants in 1908, beginning a love-hate relationship like no other in baseball history. No player better exemplified McGraw’s ferocious fighting spirit than Herzog, yet the two generally couldn’t stand each other. Over the course of a decade the Giants traded away the aggressive Herzog three times and brought him back twice, both times experiencing immediate success when he re-entered the fold. “I hate his guts,” McGraw once said about Herzog, “but I want him on my club.”

A flashy dresser and trash-talker, Benny Kauff was the most heralded young player of his generation, dubbed by the press “the Ty Cobb of the Federal League.” (Kauff wholeheartedly agreed with such assessments of his skills, moreover, he thought he should be a New York Giant.) McGraw tried to sign Kauff before the 1915 season, but National League President Tener ruled Kauff ineligible for having signed a contract with an outlaw league, and Kauff played that season for the Brooklyn franchise in the Federal League. The Federal League disbanded after the 1915 season, and McGraw finally got his man, though Kauff, playing against a stiffer competition, would never be the star most had expected.

Seventeen-year-old Ross Youngs made his professional debut in 1914, playing for Austin in the Texas League. He hit .145 in only 17 games, and was relegated to the Class-D leagues. By 1916, he was a switch-hitting infielder for the Sherman Lions of the Class-D Western Association, hitting .362 and drawing the attention of the New York Giants, who purchased his contract for $2,000. McGraw took an immediate liking to Youngs, and considered the youngster one of the greatest players he’d seen. Short, thick-legged, fast, and smart, Youngs fit McGraw’s outfielder prototype, from Mike Donlin and Josh Devore to George Burns and Benny Kauff — and later Mel Ott. Farmed out to Rochester of the International League, Youngs hit .356, earning himself a late-season promotion to the big club.








SP Pol Perritt







SP Rube Benton







SP Slim Sallee







SP Fred Toney







SP Jesse Barnes







While it’s true that Christy Mathewson, Hooks Wiltse, Jeff Tesreau and Red Ames all pitched into the 1913-18 period, only Tesreau was a contributer throughout that time. The pitchers acquired by Hempstead-McGraw were not of the same quality as those who had come before, and it was not until 1918 that the Giants would acquire pitchers who would help them achieve sustained success.

Pol Perritt was a lanky right-hander who’d jumped from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Pittsburgh franchise in the Federal League, then decided he’d made a mistake. McGraw saw an opportunity, and made a deal with the Cardinals for Pollitt. He would pitch very well on the Giant club that won the 1917 pennant, but would only pitch a total of 58 innings after 1918 and be out of baseball before he was 30.

Rube Benton was a fast-living, hard-throwing lefty, who came up with the Reds in 1910 at age 20. He pitched well for losing Cincinnati teams, but he exhibited erratic behavior (once breaking his jaw by driving his motorcycle into a trolley car) and hard drinking that eventually got him waived by the Reds in 1915. Both the Giants and the Pirates claimed him, and eventually the Giants claim was recognized by the league. Benton did not pitch particularly well for the Giants in 1915. Despite his concern over his new pitcher’s “inability to take the game seriously” (a common euphemism for a player who was an alcoholic), John McGraw thought highly of Benton’s pitching ability. Benton would reward his manager’s faith in the coming seasons.

Slim Sallee for eight-plus seasons was a great pitcher on perhaps the worst team of the Deadball Era, the St. Louis Cardinals. But he was also an alcoholic who would disappear for days at a time during the season, and no fine or suspension could mend his ways. (You see a pattern here. John McGraw always thought he could reform an alcoholic pitcher.) On June 16, 1916, while in New York, Sallee tore up his $6,000 contract and announced to Cardinal manager Miller Huggins that he would no longer play for St. Louis, claiming to be “through with baseball.” No one took his retirement seriously (he’d “retired” several times before), figuring he was trying to force the Cardinals to trade him.

Seeing an opportunity, McGraw personally convinced Sallee to come out of retirement, and he was eventually sold to the New York Giants for $10,000. While Huggins claimed he knew of no wrongdoing, it was widely believed the Giants tampered with Sallee, and the National League established rules to prevent a player’s retirement being held over a team’s head in order to force a trade. Joining New York in late July 1916, Sallee contributed several wins to the Giants all-time major league best 26-game winning streak, finishing 9-4 with a microscopic 1.37 ERA.

Fred Toney had been an excellent pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds for several years when, after the 1917 season, he was arrested by a United States marshal for avoiding the draft. It was alleged Toney had falsely claimed his wife, child and parents as dependants even though he had not lived with his wife for the preceding three years. During his trial, which ended in a hung jury, it came out that Toney was traveling with a young woman who was not his wife. In April 1918, he was arrested again, this time for violating the Mann Act, which prevented the transportation of minors across state lines for sexual purposes.

The Cincinnati fans were merciless to Toney at the start of the 1918 season and his pitching suffered. Having worked to reform alcoholics, McGraw now set his sights on a potential felon who had abandoned his wife and child. He engineered a trade with the Reds for Toney, who rebounded and sported a 1.69 ERA for the Giants in 1918. Toney would plead guilty to the Mann Act charge, serve time in prison, and report to the Giants again in May 1919. He would pitch well for two more seasons in New York.

Jesse Barnes was an Oklahoman who had come up with the Braves in 1915 and became the workhorse and ace of a pitching staff that could always count on little run support. His pitching against the Giants in 1917 caught McGraw’s attention, and in January 1918, a three-way trade was engineered involving the Giants, Braves and Cubs. Perhaps unusually among recent Giant pitchers, Barnes was neither an alcoholic nor a felon and would marry his hometown sweetheart while a Giant.

The Hempstead-McGraw period was a fallow time for the Giants as an organization that scouted and signed young talent. Only George Kelly and Ross Youngs were scouted as minor-leaguers and then signed by the Giants. To keep the team competitive, the Giants had to engineer trades with other teams. This is particularly apparent when looking at the pitching staff of the time. None of the pitchers listed above, the best the team acquired in this period, was home grown.



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