Harry Pulliam

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Harry Clay Pulliam
Harry Pulliam.jpg
Harry Clay Pulliam, January 1909.
Born February 9, 1869
Scottsville, Kentucky
Died July 29, 1909(1909-07-29) (aged 40)
New York, New York
Cause of death
Resting place
Cave Hill Cemetery
Citizenship American
Education Juris Doctor
Alma mater University of Virginia
Occupation MLB Executive
Political party

Harry Clay Pulliam (February 9, 1869 – July 29, 1909) was an American baseball executive who served as the sixth President of the National League, from 1903 until his death (see New York Times obit [1]), in the period in which the NL and the fledgling American League settled their hostilities and formed a National Agreement which led to the creation of the World Series. He was born in Scottsville, Kentucky. Baseball was halted in both the American and National Leagues for the first time in baseball history on the day he was buried. He received his law degree from the University of Virginia. A special baseball card was created in his honor and distributed at the World Series. He was the first person honored by baseball with all players wearing arm bands for 30 days.[1]

His most controversial decision came late in the 1908 season, following a game between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs in which Giants first baseman Fred Merkle (at 19 the youngest player in the Major Leagues), standing on first base, saw his team score a run to win the game and became so excited that he failed to step on second base, thus nullifying the run and leaving the game tied. The excited spectators ran onto the field in joy, thinking the Giants had won. Home plate umpire Hank O'Day deemed it impossible to restore order on the field to resume the game, and ruled that the run did not count. Due to darkness, the game was declared a tie. His decision was submitted to the league president, Pulliam, who agreed with the umpire. The game was later replayed (due to the Giants and Cubs finishing the season with identical records atop the National League), with the Cubs winning to capture the pennant. They went on to win the World Series that year, and Merkle has been blamed for the loss ever since.

It has been written that the pressure of the 1908 decision resulted in Pulliam taking several months off, and his discussion of retirement. One evening after returning to his old job, he sat in his office in the New York Athletic Club (where he lived) and shot himself once in the head. He died a day later at 40 years of age.

Regarding players, Pulliam selected Honus Wagner to play for the Louisville Colonels.[2] When the National League contracted in 1899, Pulliam moved to Pittsburgh and convinced Wagner to come with him. In his book, Wagner credited Pulliam with arranging for him to stay with Pittsburgh and not leave for another franchise. Wagner stayed with Pittsburgh until retirement.

Originally a newspaper writer covering the Cubs for the Louisville Commercial, Pulliam quickly advanced through the ranks and was considered one of the leading authorities on the game and history of baseball. Soon after receiving a promotion to city editor of the Commercial, Pulliam met the owner of the Louisville Colonels, Barney Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss liked Pulliam and hired him away from the newspaper, appointing him first to the position of club secretary, then quickly moving him to club president of the Colonels. Pulliam negotiated an ownership position of the Colonels. He followed Dreyfuss when he purchased the Pittsburgh Pirates, and accepted the position of team president.

When clubs contracted in late 1901, Pulliam was unanimously elected president of the National League in 1902. He acted as president, secretary and treasurer of the league from 1902 until 1907, when the stress of all three positions caught up with him. He remained president until his suicide, when he shot himself in the head in his New York City apartment.

He is buried at Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Kentucky.[3] His level of admiration and importance to baseball can best be described by those in attendance at his funeral. The honorary pallbearers included Ban Johnson, president of the American League; John Heydler, secretary and treasurer of the National League; the secretary of the National Baseball Commission, and the presidents of the Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.[4] Pulliam's axiom "Take Nothing For Granted In Baseball"[5] is still used this day. In fact, this quote of Pulliam's was printed in a New York Times article in 1922, thirteen years after his death.[6]

Upon his death, organized baseball passed an amendment that each year on the first day of the World Series, a special honorary baseball card with Pulliam's likeness be distributed to everyone involved with the baseball organization and that flowers be delivered to his grave on that same day. This tribute continued until the late 1920s. In its amendment, the baseball commission wrote, "Organized baseball never had a more zealous and devoted sponsor."[7]


While President of the Louisville Colonels, Harry was nominated as a Democratic legislator for his ward in Louisville. He was nominated while on the road for the Colonels and did not campaign for the position.[8] He was elected, and served the sixth and seventh ward of Louisville. Later, he received the title of "Red Bird Statesman" for the introduction of a bill to protect the species.


  1. ^ "Big Leagues Cancel Baseball Games", The New York Times, August 2, 1909
  2. ^ Harry Pulliam at the SABR Bio Project, by Bill Lamberty, retrieved November 15, 2013
  3. ^ "Harry C Pulliam Attempts Suicide", The New York Times, July 29, 1909
  4. ^ "Harry Pulliam Buried", The New York Times, August 3, 1909
  5. ^ "Comment on Current Events in Sports", The New York Times, October 6, 1919
  6. ^ "Rookies Save Day For The Championship", The New York Times, September 28, 1922
  7. ^ "A Tribute to Pulliam", The New York Times, October 15, 1911
  8. ^ "Baseball Man in Politics", The New York Times, June 23, 1897

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Nicholas Young
National League president
1903 – 1909
Succeeded by
John Heydler