September 16, 2021

Buying A Manager

“I came here with $100,000 to get a new manager and two new players for the Chicago club.” said Chicago Cubs President Charles H. Weeghman as he arrived in New York City for the annual National League baseball meetings of 1916. “I have in mind for a leader two men who have attained national prominence in baseball, and I hope to land one or the other.”

Weeghman was a man with deep pockets. Having been one of the major funders in the short-lived Federal League as the owner of the Chicago Whales, Weeghman built Wrigley Field (then called Weeghman Park) for his Federal League franchise in 1914. When the Federal League was bought out after the 1915 season, Weeghman in turn bought the Chicago Cubs of the National League. With him, he brought former Cub Joe Tinker aboard to manage, a position he held with the Whales for their two seasons of play.

In 1916 though, the team struggled under Tinker, winning only 67 games and finishing fifth place in the National League. Now he set out to find a leader for his team that would help build them into World Champions. Two of his associates in Chicago, William Wrigley Jr. And Bill Armour, wanted Frank Chance to manage the Cubs. Chance, both a former Cubs player and manager, was fired by the New York Yankees as their manager towards the end of the 1914 season. However, Weeghman told the press that Chance was not one of the managers he was courting at the time.

A few days later, the New York Times reported that the Cubs came to New York wanting to hire one of two managers: the New York Giants’ John McGraw or Boston Braves’ skipper George Stallings. The Times stated that Weeghman went straight to the Giants and was ready to offer the highest price ever offered for a manager in the history of the game. However, Giants owner Harry Hempstead turned down the notion of letting McGraw go without even hearing the money amount. As the Times stated, “…the New York Club would be just about as willing to part with the Polo Grounds as with McGraw.”

Next, the Cubbies turned their attention to Stallings, who had to this point managed in nine major league seasons, also winning a World Series in 1914 with the Braves. Like McGraw though, negotiations went absolutely nowhere. Stallings had just signed a four-year contract with Boston and Braves principle owner Percy Haughton had no intentions of letting Stallings go.

Despite having been turned down for Stallings, Weeghman stayed at the bargaining table with the Braves, instead turning his attention to Stallings’ right-hand man in the Braves’ dugout, Fred Mitchell. While Mitchell was very eager to get his managing opportunity in Chicago, Stallings balked at the idea of acquiring cash, no matter how much, for his bench coach. Instead, Stallings wanted some players who could make an immediate impact and it was speculated that the Braves asked Chicago for star slugger Cy Williams in return for Mitchell. However, Weeghman said he could not afford to part with any of his regulars.

Along with Mitchell, three other names were linked to the Cubs job. Frank Chance remained a possibility and former Pirates player and manager Fred Clarke was also mentioned. As well, former major league outfielder Jack Hendricks, recently the manager of the Indianapolis club of the American Association, was brought up. It was reported that if negotiations with Mitchell fell through, the Cubs would offer the job to Hendricks, who had not yet managed in the major leagues.

On the morning of December 14th, four days after he arrived in New York with a fat wad of cash in his pocket, Weeghman sat down in a conference room with both Stallings and Haughton. The Cubs owner made one last try at Stallings, but both men told him that it wasn’t going to happen. It was either Mitchell or nothing, Haughton told Weeghman, and the Cubs owner agreed to begin negotiating for Mitchell. Eventually, the two sides agreed on a price.

The Cubs would send minor league outfielder Joe Kelly and an undisclosed amount of cash to Boston. In return, the Cubbies would get their new skipper along with a player to be named later. Mitchell was brought back to Chicago, where he signed a two-year contract to begin his reign as the manager of the Cubs.

In 1917, Mitchell improved Chicago’s record to 74-80. One year later in 1918, the Cubs captured the National League pennant by winning 84 games. Mitchell and the Cubs ended up losing the World Series that year to the Boston Red Sox in six games. In 1919, the team fell back into 3rd place in the National League and Mitchell, also the team’s president, was stripped of that title. Then, after the 1920 season saw the team fall back below .500, Mitchell was relieved of his managerial duties. He was replaced by Johnny Evers.

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