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Articles > Dreyfuss named to Baseball Hall of Fame

On July 27, the Baseball Hall of Fame (baseballhalloffame.org) inducted its Class of 2008. Honored alongside the late Bowie Kuhn and reliever (Rich) “Goose” Gossage was a man who has been gone from the scene for over 75 years, but whose legacy can still be felt in many aspects of the game, from his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Series.

The life of Bernhard (Barney) Dreyfuss (1865-1932) was largely typical of the many German Jews who came to America in the mid-1800s, finding first economic success and then integration into the fabric of American life. Dreyfuss hailed from Freiburg, in the Grand Duchy of Baden (in the so-called “Black Forest” region of Germany), and after an apprenticeship in a bank, left Germany at age 19 to escape military conscription. His journey took him to Paducah, Kentucky, where family members were already established, and he worked as a bookkeeper in the family-run distillery. When he became ill from overworking, his doctor recommended that he spend time outdoors and take up the American sport of baseball. Eventually he took to playing with a semi-pro team, but his management skills outweighed his athletic abilities.

When the family moved to Louisville in 1888, Dreyfuss became a part owner of the local minor league team, the Louisville Colonials. While there, he was persuaded to sign a young player by the name of Honus Wagner.

In 1899, he moved up to the “bigs” when he brought about a merger between his Louisville Colonials and the Pittsburgh Pirates, acquiring 50% ownership of the Pirates. While running the business end of the team, he also took on duties as a scout. His scouting acumen helped the team to the National League penance three years in a row, with his protégé Wagner having emerged as the NL’s biggest star. Within a year, Dreyfuss had assumed full ownership of the team. In 1901, at the age of 35, he became the sole owner and president of the Pirates.

In 1903, Dreyfuss proposed that his NL champions play the winners of the American League pennant in a play off series. When the first meeting ( a best-of-nine format) took place between Pirates and the Boston Americans (forerunners of today’s Red Sox), Americans owner Henry Killilea made Dreyfuss buy a ticket to get into the Americans ballpark!

Dreyfuss became pioneer in another aspect of the game when he teamed up with Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Carnegie to build Forbes Field in 1909. This was the first modern steel and concrete baseball park, with a seating capacity of 25,000. At the time, many people assumed that no game would attract that many people, but Dreyfuss proved them wrong.

During the years that Dreyfuss presided at the helm of the Pirates, the team won two World Series Championships (1909 and 1925), finished second or higher in league standing on 13 occasions and won six pennant races.

Like many immigrants who had succeeded in America, Dreyfuss bore a deep appreciation for the opportunities afforded him, and sought to give back. At the recent induction ceremony in Cooperstown, great-grandson Andrew Dreyfuss shared the following story:

“Only once in World Series history did the players from a losing team actually earn more than the players on the winning team. Our great-grandfather was so enamored with his 1903 team that he gave his share of the earnings to the players. As a result, each Pirate received $1,316 while the Boston American players received $1,182. There was a catch, however; he made the checks out to the players’ wives. He wanted to be sure that his players saved a portion of their earnings.”

Branch Rickey called Dreyfuss the best judge of talent he had ever seen. Twelve of Drefuss’ players were eventually inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In many respects, Dreyfuss functioned as the sport’s commissioner before the position was actually created in 1920, and his advice and counsel were often sought by his peers. When Barney Dreyfuss died in 1932, the New York Times wrote in his obituary that he had "the distinction of being the most thoroughly-schooled baseball man to be found among club owners."

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