The greatest sports dynasty in American history began with a second-division team in the country’s premier city.
Jacob Ruppert changed all that when he bought the New York Yankees in 1915. Baseball has never been the same.
“For $450,000, we got an orphan ballclub,” said Ruppert, who purchased the team with Tillinghast Huston. “(The club was) without a home of its own, without players of outstanding ability, without prestige.”
Within a decade, Ruppert had built Yankee Stadium, acquired Babe Ruth and won the first of the franchise’s World Series titles.
Born Aug. 5, 1867, in New York City, Ruppert was the son of Jacob Ruppert Sr., who owned the Ruppert Brewery. At age 19, Ruppert began work at the brewery, and by age 31 he was elected to the first of four terms as a United States Congressman from New York’s 15th District. He chose not to run again in 1906, instead becoming a colonel in the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard.
Ruppert inherited the brewery upon his father’s death in 1915. That same year, Frank Farrell and William Devery, the original owners of the American League’s entry in New York City, decided to sell the club to Ruppert and Huston.
After the Yankees finished no better than fourth in Ruppert’s first three years as owner, Ruppert hired manager Miller Huggins on the advice of American League president Ban Johnson. Two years later, Ruppert bought Ruth from the Red Sox – the American League’s best team of the second decade of the 20th Century – for a record $125,000.
In Ruth’s first year with the Yankees – 1920 – the Sultan of Swat obliterated the big league home run record by smashing 54 long balls. The Yanks won a team-record 95 games that year and drew almost 1.3 million fans to the Polo Grounds, more than doubling their previous attendance mark.
During the next three seasons, the Bronx Bombers won three AL pennants and a World Series title – capping off 1923, the year Ruppert opened Yankee Stadium and bought the club outright from Huston, by winning the franchise’s first Fall Classic.
Ruppert would guide the Yankees to seven more AL flags and six more World Series titles before his death on Jan. 13, 1939. As the 71-year-old Ruppert lay dying in Lenox Hill Hospital, Ruth – at that point retired as a player and a soon-to-be enshrined Hall of Famer – visited him at his bedside.
“It was the only time in his life he ever called me ‘Babe’ to my face,” said George Herman Ruth, whose salary disputes with Ruppert over the years drew much press coverage. “I couldn’t help crying when I went out.”
Ruppert acquired more than a dozen future Hall of Famers during his tenure, including Frank Baker, Earle Combs, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Joe Gordon, Waite Hoyt, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, Red Ruffing and Ruth.
On April 16, 1940, the Yankees dedicated a plaque in Ruppert’s memory that now rests in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.
“Gentleman, American, sportsman, through whose vision and courage this imposing edifice, destined to become the home of champions, was erected and dedicated to the American game of baseball.”
Ruppert was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013.