I’m a big fan of questioning assumptions. What I mean by that is pretty simple. We all have lots of opinions, but none of us is perfect. Thus, some of the things we believe to be true must be wrong. If we don’t question what we believe today, we’re going to continue to be wrong about a bunch of things tomorrow.
That brings me to the guy we’re electing to the Pioneer/Executive wing of the Hall of Miller and Eric today, Sam Breadon. Breadon was a Cardinal owner and president who won nine pennants and six World Series from 1920-1947. So what’s the assumption I’m talking about? It’s about dynasties.
I’d actually been making a couple of assumptions that helped me to hold back on electing Breadon. The first is that it may be the wrong thing to do to elect too many representatives from the same dynastic franchises. The second is that we had already elected too many Cardinals.
The second one is easier to deal with than the first. As you’ll see below, the only Cardinal who we had previously elected based only on his time as an executive is Branch Rickey. And to be fair, Rickey is a lot more a Dodger than a Cardinal. This wasn’t so much an assumption I was holding, but an error. We make those, you know. And if you don’t recheck your work, they’re subject to hold you back.
The first assumption is that we should be wary of electing too many dynastic executives. My concern is that we weren’t looking deeply enough at credentials, that we were just electing the guys who ran the teams that won the most games and titles. But I got over that for two reasons. First, Eric has never done a single thing in this process with sub-standard depth, and he liked Breadon. Second, I think I know whether the chicken or egg came first in this case. What I mean is that while it’s true that dynasties become dynasties because of the great players, those dynasties couldn’t ever come to pass if the executives in charge didn’t put all of those players on the same team.
The things that make Breadon so attractive include an unprecedented .570 winning percentage and much of his working relationship with Branch Rickey. Breadon promoted Rickey to General Manager in 1919, the year before he took over as majority owner. And he let Rickey do his thing as both GM and manager. By 1925, Breadon replaced Rickey with Rogers Hornsby, allowing him to focus on GM duties. Part of that focus led to the first strong farm system in all the game. Rickey deserves a ton of credit for this innovation. But Breadon shouldn’t be ignored. He had to lobby Commissioner Landis to allow Rickey’s brainchild to flourish. He also had to fund the farm system, doing so in part by leasing Sportsman’s Park in 1920 so he could sell Robison Field for $275,000. For an idea of how strong this farm system was, the Cardinals never bought a player from another team from 1926 until after Breadon’s last year with the club. Smart businessman.
While Rickey basically ran the team, Breadon was responsible for hiring incredibly successful field managers. There was the aforementioned Hornsby. Bill McKechnie didn’t gain fame in St. Louis, but he was a great hire. Add in Gabby Street who won a World Series, Frankie Frisch who won one, Billy Southworth who won two, and Eddie Dyer who won one. That’s a pretty exceptional group.
One area where Breadon stuck his nose in was to prevent the sale of Marty Marion to the Cubs. Marion played for the Cards for eleven years, making seven All-Star teams, winning the 1944 MVP, and posting 31.6 WAR. That was about it. Otherwise, he generally let Rickey do his thing.
And that, among his other outstanding accomplishments, make Sam Breadon the 26th member of the HoME’s Pioneer/Executive wing. Our next member will be announced in two short weeks.