Ford Christopher Frick was born December 19, 1894, in Wawaka, Indiana. When he was 13 he saw the Chicago Cubs play an exhibition game in nearby Kendallville, and he was hooked. After graduating high school, he attended business college and took a job as police reporter for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Upon getting his associate's degree, he attended DePauw University, getting a degree in journalism. He moved to Colorado, where in addition to teaching and working for the local paper, he played semi-pro baseball. Unfortunately, according to him, he couldn't hit left-handed hitting, and he retired without any real success. In 1918 he met and married Eleanor Cowing (they had one son, Frederick). He continued to work around Colorado and Wyoming at various newspapers and advertising agencies. In 1921, after a major flood struck, Frick was the only reporter in the area, and his story became a big hit nationwide, attracting the attention of a Hearst newspaperman who hired him to be a sports journalist for the New York Journal American.
Me And the Babe
In 1930, he got another job working for WOR in New York City as a radio broadcaster, turning out box scores and providing a strong voice for RKO in the Big Apple. He held a close relationship both with Major League Baseball and in particular the New York Giants. He followed the team closely, and made friends with many important baseball men throughout the league. He was also close friends with the Great Bambino Babe Ruth - so much so that he helped the Babe by ghostwriting his autobiography.
You step up to the platter
And you gaze with flaming hate
At the poor benighted pitcher
As you dig in at the plate.
You watch him cut his fast ball loose,
Then swing your trusty bat
And you park one in the bleachers-
Nothing's simpler than that!
"Along Came Ruth", Ford Frick
The Big Break
Early in 1934, Ford received the call that would forever change his life. He was asked to work for the National League as their publicity director. He took the job, little knowing that then-NL president William Heydler was grooming him to take over his own position. In November of that same year, he was asked to step in as president. Frick felt had he no other choice but to say yes, although he was reluctant to take on the responsibility.
Frick immediately made himself known, striking down hard on players and umpires who were out of line (he later churned out his Ten Commandments of Umpiring, including "keep your eye on the ball" and "no one pays you for your opinion"). He was re-elected to the presidency five times. In 1936, he, Alexander Cartwright, and several members of the Major League Baseball front office lobbied for and received money from the owners to form the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Frick was present at the breaking of the ground in Cooperstown, New York at the new Hall's site in July of 1939. In addition to his help with the Hall, he made several innovations to the sport during his time as NL president. After a disputed foul ball in a night game, Frick ordered screens to be placed alongside the foul poles for easy spotting of home runs. In May of 1943, Frick helped bring along and introduce his nuttiest innovation, the "balata ball", a ball with over 50% more bounce than the baseballs being used at the time. In the first game played with the ball, three home runs were hit - compared to nine home runs in the previous 35 games.
Perhaps Frick's most famous endeavor while President of the National League occurred in 1947, when he oversaw Jackie Robinson's entrance into the major leagues. He told the players that if any of them refused to play against Robinson, they would be suspended without pay for ten games. He also created the first players' pension fund in 1950, with proceeds from the World Series radio rights.
The Top Of The World
In 1951, Frick moved to the highest position in Major League Baseball, replacing commissioner Happy Chandler. Here, he had even more influence in shaping baseball in its transition from the early 20th century to the modern era. He spoke highly of the farm system and helped organize it better so that certain teams were under specific clubs; he toured Japan and generated some of baseball's earliest contacts with the Japanese baseball leagues; he oversaw the transition of baseball exposure from radio to television; and he initiated the Cy Young Award for best pitcher in each league.
Frick also made some controversial decisions as commissioner, mostly concerning the antitrust laws surrounding Major League Baseball. He refused to let the Player's Association have a lawyer sit in at contract negotiations, and he placed a gag order on owners from commenting on antritust proceedings going on against the National Football League. Frick also created headlines in 1957 when he overrode All Star ballot stuffing by Cincinnati Reds fans, replacing several Reds players with statistically more deserving players. The following year, Frick ruled that All Star voting would be done by players and coaches, instead of the fans. It took another 6 years before the fans would again have a chance to vote.
Cuban Missile Crisis?
Frick also had the chance to play United States diplomat, shortly after the takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro and his Communist underlings in 1959. At the time, the International League Havana Sugar Kings felt no need to leave their hometown. However, that all changed on July 26 when, in the middle of a free game played to Castro and his supporters, random gunshots were fired onto the field. Both the shortstop and third base coach were wounded, and the players ran for the dugout. Frick stepped in and forced the team to relocate to Newark, New Jersey.
In 1961, Frick made another decision that would prove controversial in later years. As Roger Maris approached Babe Ruth's single season home run mark of 60, the common myth is Frick decreed that because Maris would play in 7 more games than Ruth did in 1927 when he set the record, that Maris's mark would have an asterisk next to it. In fact this is untrue - Frick merely suggested that the record books be kept separate between Ruth's 154-game era and the new 161-game era, and his suggestion was never actually implemented. Still, Frick's politicking made some fans feel he was being unfair to Maris, and others claimed that Frick was showing favoritism to his poker buddy the Sultan of Swat. Maris only replied, "A season is a season," but Frick's intervention is still debated to this day (most recently in the Billy Crystal HBO movie 61*.) In 1962, Frick tried to initiate interleague play between the American and National Leagues, but the owners overruled him.
Finally, on November 17, 1965, after 30 years in Major League Baseball, Frick retired, replaced by William Eckert. In 1970, he was elected by the Veterans Committee to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame as a non-player.
Ford Frick, baseball commissioner and innovator, passed away April 8, 1978, in Bronxville, New York. That same year, the first of the Ford C. Frick Awards were handed out to Mel Allen and Red Barber for their contributions as broadcasters to the sport of baseball.
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