What he did: In Summer of ’49, David Halberstam posited the major reason for the Yankees’ success in the years following World War II: their general manager, George Weiss. In his time on the job from 1947 to 1960, New York won 10 American League pennants and seven World Series titles, and not long after he was shown the door, the Yankees began an epic decline. Weiss might be the most underrated key to Yankee success in their history, even if I doubt many modern fans know his name.
Halberstam wrote of the stockpiling of talent and the carefully-built Yankee farm system that began to manifest in 1949. “Already the trademark of the Weiss era was emerging,” Halberstam wrote. “The team was never to be allowed to grow old; sentiment was never to interfere with judgment. Each year there were to be three or four new players spliced into the team’s fabric.” Halberstam also wrote of Weiss as a tough negotiator who “treated his athletes as potential adversaries who would take advantage of any kindness bestowed upon them, and who performed best only when they were hungry.”
Reading all this, I was struck how times have changed, with the Yankees now sporting a $200 million payroll and a long-held reputation as one of sports’ most bloated franchises. The days of George Weiss and Yankee austerity are but a distant memory, though I wonder what it’d be like in New York if Weiss were running the team today.
Era he might have thrived in: As good as Weiss was in his time, he might do greater now. The former Yankee farm system director would still have his keen eye for talent and his famously ruthless ability to profit, but in the current era, he’d have more going for him. There’s the obvious greater budget he’d have, even as I’m sure he’d still drive a hard bargain. He’d also have a larger talent pool. Weiss was something of a bigot and one of the reasons the Yankees didn’t field a black player until 1955. Today’s Yankees are black, white, and Latin, and I’m guessing Weiss could come around.
Why: Prejudice in any form, at any time is, of course, never okay. That being said, people sometimes go along with terrible things if these things are institutional, seemingly the norm. In the 1920s, millions of Americans were Ku Klux Klan members (including Hall of Famers Gabby Street, Tris Speaker, and Rogers Hornsby.) A decade later, millions more listened to radio demagogues like Huey Long and Father Coughlin. And for years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, the Yankees shunned black players.
Halberstam described how the Yankees considered themselves baseball’s elite team, not needing blacks like their poorer neighboring team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Halberstam wrote:
The whites-only policy reflected the attitudes of men, born around or before the turn of the century, who felt the use of black players tainted their operation… They would, management believed, draw black fans, who would in turn scare away the good middle-class white fans. When the question of blacks, or Negroes, as they were then called, arose, the Yankee answer was that they would sign one when they found one worthy of being a Yankee.
It wouldn’t take Elston Howard these days for Weiss to craft a racially-diverse roster. Working in more tolerant times, Weiss would have to put aside any personal biases he harbored (assuming they’d be as pronounced) and be the bigger man. I’m guessing he could do it. Heck, plenty of people with less-than-stellar views continue to make a living in baseball. One need only look at Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell’s recent suspension for using anti-gay slurs toward San Francisco fans to know there’s an undercurrent of bigotry still in baseball. It’s more closeted, but it’s there. Weiss could follow suit.
Weiss definitely welcomed new challenges. After the Yankees fired him and Stengel in 1960, he spent 1961 at home in Connecticut before joining the front office for the expansion New York Mets in 1962. He was 67 and would spend five mostly-hapless seasons as the Mets general manager. In a classic August 1962 Sports Illustrated story on those Mets, Jimmy Breslin quoted Weiss’s wife, Hazel saying, “I married George for better or for worse, but not for lunch.”As Breslin noted, Hazel Weiss was pleased her husband’s 12-hour workdays had resumed.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Charles Victory Faust, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays