by Marty Appel
If you were a Yankee player, it was highly unlikely. Player visits to Yankee executive offices were quite rare, especially prior to 1968, when the offices were finally centralized in Yankee Stadium. But it took 65 years for that to happen! For the better part of seven decades, the Yankee offices were in Manhattan, removed from the field of play.
While the ticket office was always at the ballpark, the other facets of the executive office, including finance, legal, public relations, the general manager and player development people, and of course, the owners, were “downtown.” The procedure was that after a day’s work in “the city,” cars, cabs and the number 4 subway would head to the Bronx for the game. For day games, there were just quick stops in the downtown office, and on weekends, it was ballpark only.
“The downtown office didn’t mean much to us,” says Whitey Ford. “I think I went there maybe half-a-dozen times in my whole career, mostly to discuss salary. But that was because I lived in New York and would sometimes be in the city anyway. I doubt if Mickey ever visited the offices, even once.”
The offices Whitey refers to were in the Squibb Building at 745 Fifth Avenue, across the street from the Plaza Hotel at 58th Street. ( For many years, F.A.O. Schwarz toystore was on the ground floor). The team leased space there after World War II when the Topping-Webb-MacPhail team bought the club. Dan Topping also had an office at Yankee Stadium to entertain visitors on game days, and Del Webb, who didn’t visit the Stadium very often, could use it when he was in town.
Yogi Berra remembers visits to the Squibb Building to sign his contracts, but made a famous visit in 1945 after the Giants’ Mel Ott offered Larry MacPhail $50,000 for him after seeing him play at the New London, CT submarine base.
According to the story, MacPhail called scout Paul Krichell in an adjoining office and said, “get him in here, I want to see him.” Yogi, on weekend liberty, arrived in his Naval uniform, and said to MacPhail, “you want to see me?” And MacPhail allegedly shook his head in disbelief and said, “My Lord, I blew a chance to grab the fifty grand.”
When the ragtag Highlanders were formed in 1903, there wasn’t much need for an office. “Big Bill” Devery, the former New York police chief who owned the team with Frank Farrell, did his business from his favorite watering hole, “The Pump” at Eighth Avenue and 28th Street. He’d entertain his political cronies and talk about his baseball team from atop a bootblack chair, his girth and his derby hat overpowering all who approached.
When Col. Jacob Ruppert and his partner, Til Huston, bought the team in 1915, the legal office for the club was established at the law office of James, Schell & Elkus, 170 Broadway, Suite 1409, at the southeast corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane. “Those were where the original incorporation papers showed the team’s legal address,” notes Jacob Ruppert IV, keeper of the family history. The building is still there, and the 14th floor is now an enlistment office for the US Armed Services.
“Interestingly,” says the current Ruppert, “a young associate at that firm was Joseph Meyer Proskauer, later a judge, who would go on to become a partner in Proskauer Rose, where I practiced in the mid-90s. Six degrees of separation!”
By the summer of 1916, the team established it’s first “real” office of its own at 30 E. 42nd Street, near Madison Ave. Forty-second street was where big office growth was beginning to happen in Manhattan, and the Yankees were located in the heart of this thriving development. It was an important statement for them as they began to more seriously compete with the Giants for attention.
By 1923, when Yankee Stadium opened, the location shifted to 226 W. 42nd Street, the Chandler Building. By 1928, we find the offices at 55 W. 42nd Street, the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street, where the club remained until it’s 1945 sale.
Of course, the “real office” for the Yankees during those 42nd Street years was wherever Col. Ruppert happened to be, and that was generally at the Ruppert Brewery on Third Avenue and E. 90th Street. The brewery actually occupied all the land between 90th and 94nd. It was there that the annual photos of Babe Ruth signing his contract in Ruppert’s office would be staged for the newspaper photographers.
When CBS purchased the team in 1964, it began a refurbishment of the old Stadium, had it painted white, and designed office space on multiple levels which allowed the team to phase out the downtown location by the time of the expiration of its lease in ’68. Mike Burke, the CBS executive who was the team’s president, oversaw that transition as the team’s front office began to grow to include multiple departments, in tune with the coming of a modern and sophisticated sports operation.
With the rebuilding of Yankee Stadium in 1974-75, the team moved temporarily to offices at the Parks Administration Building across the street from Shea Stadium (the one-story building still exists along the westbound Grand Central Parkway), and again, as in the old days, the staff would drive to the ballpark after a day’s work for the games. The Parks Administration had been the World’s Fair headquarters a decade earlier; Team president Gabe Paul occupied what had been Robert Moses’ office.
When “new” Yankee Stadium opened in 1976, modern offices, many overlooking the field (think George Costanza’s office in “Seinfeld”), offered perhaps the most envious work environment in all of America. Who wouldn’t want to do business out of the most celebrated sporting arena in the world!
It was a long way from Big Bill’s “Pump.” Nine miles and 103 seasons.