Samuel Breadon (July 26, 1876 – May 8, 1949) was an American executive who served as the president and majority owner of the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1920 through 1947. During that time, the Cardinals rose from languishing as one of the National League's doormats to a premier power in baseball, winning nine NL pennants and six World Series championships. Breadon also had the highest regular season winning percentage of any owner in franchise history at .570. His teams totaled 2,470 wins and 1,830 losses.
Successful Pierce-Arrow dealer
Born in New York City, Breadon moved from Manhattan to St. Louis at the turn of the 20th century. He prospered as the owner of Pierce-Arrow auto dealerships and became a self-made millionaire. In 1917, he also became a minority investor – for $2,000 – in the Cardinals, then a struggling, second-division team chronically strapped for resources. But the club's enterprising young president, Branch Rickey, discovered that the team could compete successfully against richer opponents by developing its playing talent on an assembly line of minor league teams, from Class D to Class AA (then the highest-ranking minor league level), that it owned and controlled. This was the creation of the farm system, perfected by the Cardinals and — when the Redbirds came to dominate the NL — copied by the 15 other MLB teams.
President/owner of the Cardinals
Rickey also served as manager of the Cardinals from 1919–25, and Breadon, who had bought out most of his partners to become majority owner, succeeded him as club president in 1920. In 1925, on May 31, Breadon moved Rickey into the front office full-time as business manager — general manager in contemporary terms — and promoted star second baseman Rogers Hornsby to playing manager.
The move was highly successful. Rickey would forge a Baseball Hall of Fame career as a general manager, while, in 1926, Hornsby's Redbirds won their first pennant and world championship, a seven-game triumph over the New York Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. But during the offseason, Breadon traded Hornsby to the New York Giants, the result of a heated confrontation between owner and player-manager in September 1926 over the playing of exhibition games during the September pennant race.
Rickey worked for Breadon until the end of 1942 and enjoyed wide-ranging authority, but Breadon always reserved the right to choose the team's field manager. In addition to Hornsby, he would select men such as Bill McKechnie, Billy Southworth, Gabby Street, Frankie Frisch (obtained from the Giants in the Hornsby trade) and Eddie Dyer to run the Cardinals' bench. All, save McKechnie, won world championships for St. Louis, and McKechnie (like Southworth) was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager. (Hornsby and Frisch, also Hall of Famers, had brilliant playing careers.)
Built NL power
Under Breadon, the Cardinals ruled the baseball world in 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944 and 1946, with NL pennants also earned in 1928, 1930 and 1943. In addition to Hornsby and Frisch, they would feature such standout players as Jim Bottomley, Chick Hafey, Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, Joe Medwick, Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion, Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial. With their on-field success and the advent of radio, they would develop a fanatical regional following, their appeal extending beyond Missouri and throughout the lower Midwest, Arkansas, Louisiana, the Great Plains states and much of the Southwest. After Rickey's departure, Breadon played an active role in the Cardinals' baseball operations through the World War II and postwar eras.
But, apart from winning the 1946 championship, Breadon's final two years as the Redbirds' owner were fraught with difficulty. In 1946, the "outlaw" Mexican League, operating outside the "organized baseball" structure, signed away three important Cardinal players: pitchers Max Lanier and Fred Martin and second baseman Lou Klein. It might have done even greater damage to the Redbirds. Jorge Pasquel, the league's founder, offered Musial (then making $11,500 a year) a $50,000 bonus to jump the Cardinals; the young superstar was tempted, but rejected Pasquel's offer.
Then, in May 1947, Breadon learned that some of his players planned to strike rather than take the field against Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball since the 1880s. The idea of a strike had originated with Robinson's disaffected teammate, Dixie Walker, but it had sympathizers across the league and widespread support among the Cardinals. Breadon flew to New York, conferred with National League president Ford Frick, and then met with his team, where he read a strongly worded message from Frick vowing to suspend all the strikers from baseball. The threat then evaporated.
For his entire tenure as owner, the Cardinals played in Sportsman's Park as tenants of the American League's St. Louis Browns. By the 1940s, Breadon chafed at this arrangement, since the Cardinals had long since passed the Browns as St. Louis' favorite baseball team. He set aside $5 million to build a new park, but was unable to find any land. By November 1947, he was facing the prospect of having to pay taxes on his fund unless he started construction on a park. When tax attorney Fred Saigh learned of this, he persuaded Breadon—who by this time was terminally ill from prostate cancer—to sell the Cardinals to him, under the pretense of avoiding the potentially hefty tax bill. To ease Breadon's nerves, Saigh took on another prominent St. Louisan, former Postmaster General Robert Hannegan, as a minority partner.
Satisfied, Breadon sold the Cardinals to Saigh and Hannegan for $3 million. Breadon died in St. Louis 18 months later at the age of 72. As it turned out, the ballpark fund nearly forced the Cardinals out of town. When the tax dodge that made the purchase possible came to light, Saigh—who by this time was sole owner—was forced to put the Cardinals on the market. Just as it appeared they were moving to Houston, Texas, Anheuser-Busch and its president, Gussie Busch, stepped in to buy the team in 1953 and keep it in St. Louis.
- "St. Louis Cardinals Team History & Encyclopedia". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved February 13, 2013.
- "Breakout selected from 1920 to 1947". Baseball-Reference.com. Retrieved October 6, 2013.
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- Lowenfish, Lee, Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman. Lincoln, Neb.: The University of Nebraska Press, 2007.