Barney Dreyfuss

Barney Dreyfuss

Barney Dreyfuss

  • Born February 23, 1865 in Freiburg, Baden Germany
  • Died February 5, 1932 in Pittsburgh, PA USA

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 2008

There were certainly a lot of complexities to the Pirates first owner of the 20th century Barney Dreyfuss.  In some moments he was a very generous man, an owner like none other in baseball and in others he was a tyrant who was very hard headed.  Whatever particular mood Barney happened to be in, he was nonetheless one of the most successful owners of not only the first half of the century, but in all of baseball history as his teams only finished in the second division on 6 occasions in the 32 years he led the team.

Dreyfuss was born in Germany and worked in a German bank until 1881.  He came to Kentucky afterwards reportedly to escape his military obligation.  Barney bought part interest in the Louisville franchise in the American association in 1889, winning the championship the following season.  The league folded after the season and Dreyfuss’ Louisville club was absorbed into the National League.

After nine years with the Colonels, the league was about to disband Louisville and he was given the right to sell players in order to buy into the Pittsburgh Pirates. Smartly Barney traded all his good players, Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke,  Tommy Leach and Deacon Phillippe, among others to Pittsburgh, while selling off his lesser players.  What that move did was not only give him enough money to secure part interest in the team, but ensure the Pirates would be one of the most dominant teams in the first decade of the 20th century.

Eventually he took over sole ownership of the club and would be one of the early shapers of the circuit.  He was pivotal in getting the rival American League together with the senior circuit to play the first World series in 1903.  In 1905, he had the foresight to see that hitting was the way to grow the league and pushed to abolish the spitball (which He brought up the argument again in 1918 and eventually won a year later, proving himself correct with an unparalleled hitting boom.

In his early years as owner of the team he would prove to be a generous owner, who demanded loyalty.  While the new American League was taking star after star from the National League, Dreyfuss made sure he paid his players well and the stood by him.  It proved to be the key reason in the Bucs taking their first two titles in 1901 and 1902.  When they won a third championship in 1903, and went to the first World Series, Dreyfuss turned over his profits from the fall classic to his players.

Barney had a life altering experience in 1909 when his friend Harry Pulliam shot himself in the head.  Afterwards, Dreyfuss became more hardened and unforgiving.  That year he also opened up baseball newest mausoleum, Forbes Field.  The make up of Forbes showed the difference in his philosophy than that of most other owners.  Barney built more grandstand reserve seats and fewer bleachers than the normal stadium thinking that the future of the game was to cater to a more upscale fan.

The German native was very hard headed and it cost him in a couple of situations.  He abhorred smoking, drinking and rowdiness, which was the reason he didn’t sign Walter Johnson, who was recommended to him by a cigar salesman, not to mention Tris Speaker, whom Dreyfuss turned down because he smoked.  There was also the case of Nixey Callahan, the man whom he chose to replace Fred Clarke as manager of the club in 1916.  Callahan was reported missing, feared to be suffering from a nervous breakdown.  Barney’s team secretary, Pete Kelly was trying to cover for Callahan and when Dreyfuss found it out, he fired him immediately, for supporting Nixey instead of him.

There was then the famous ABC incident in the 20’s when Babe Adams, Carson Bigbee and Max Carey supported a move by players to take Clarke off the bench after the Hall of Fame player and manager became a bench coach for Bill McKechnie. It was perceived that Clarke was trying to usurp McKechnie’s power and the players spoke up against him.  Loyal to Clarke, Dreyfuss let Adams and Bigbee go and traded Carey.  It was fierce loyalty he demanded and gave back.

After three decades of leading the club, Barney turned the reigns over to his son in 1930 and he passed away a year later to which Dreyfuss reluctantly took control again.  He was in a daze for a while after the death of his and eventually a year later succumbed himself after an operation for a glandular problem to which he developed pneumonia and passed away.

Gone was the man, whom so successfully led the franchise for 32-year successful years, with six national league titles and two world championships. When you also consider, for all intents and purposes, he ac5ted as his own GM though his reign and one gets a true appreciation for his contributions not only to the team, but the game in general.  He was truly a franchise treasure.

By Pirates Encyclopedia


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