James Dunn

From BR Bullpen

James Christopher Dunn
(Sunny Jim)

Biographical Information[edit]

James Dunn was the owner of the Cleveland Indians from 1916 to 1922. A self-made millionaire, he was the team's owner for its first World Series win in 1920.

Born in Iowa, he left school at fourteen to work as a messenger for the First National Bank in Marshalltown, IA (best known as Cap Anson's hometown). He then became a bookkeeper for the Hawkeye Linseed Oil Company and eventually met Cap's father, Henry Anson, when he went to work for the A. E. Shorthill Company where the elder Anson was also employed. He convinced Henry to lend him some money to start his own business, first in the coal industry, then in railroad contracting. He was on his way to making a fortune in business and never forgot the favor Anson senior did to give him his start. By the 1890s, he was a prosperous businessman based in Chicago, IL.

In the first years of the 20th century, Dunn was the main contractor in building the Cleveland Belt Line Railroad, which allowed freight trains to supply the steel mills around the city of Cleveland, OH while bypassing downtown. His partner in the venture, Ben Hopkins, was a baseball fan and took him to League Park to watch the Cleveland Naps play. Dunn was much impressed by the large crowds which the team attracted and the revenues that could be garnered, and in the winter of 1916 bid for the team when owner Charles Somers put it up for sale because of an accumulation of debt. There are stories circulating that Dunn was pushed by other Cleveland businessmen into buying the team against his will in order to bail out their fellow Somers, but this does not jive with Dunn's character as a prudent and thoughtful entrepreneur. He consulted American League founder Ban Johnson prior to the sale, who encouraged him to make the investment of $500,000 required to acquire the ballclub, which was by now known as the Indians.

Dunn was not a passive owner. His aim was to make the team competitive in time for the 1916 season, and he proceeded immediately to purchase three players, infielder Ivan Howard, catcher Tom Daly and first baseman Chick Gandil, the latter for the large sum of $5,000 (the character issues that would place Gandil at the center of the Black Sox Scandal in 1919 had not yet emerged). Then in April, he made an even bolder move, purchasing center fielder Tris Speaker from the Boston Red Sox for the enormous sum of $55,000. The fans in Cleveland were very excited by the prospect of having a competitive team to root for. In addition, the purchase of Speaker opened the door for more deals with the Red Sox, in which Dunn took advantage of the East Coast team's wish to turn its players into cash. Pitcher Joe Wood and third baseman Larry Gardner would join Speaker with the Indians over the following seasons.

The Indians improved over the next few years, going from 6th in 1916 to 3rd in 1917 and 2nd in the war-shortened 1918 season. Still, this was not a pennant, and on June 18, 1919, manager Lee Fohl resigned after losing a game 8-7 to the Red Sox on a dramatic 9th inning grand slam by Babe Ruth. Dunn chose Speaker to replace Fohl as a player-manager and he proved an inspired choice. He introduced a platoon system among outfielders and got good production out of a number of retread pitchers, including Ray Caldwell. Everything finally clicked in 1920, when the team overcame the tragic death of shortstop Ray Chapman in August to claim its first pennant, outlasting the Chicago White Sox, who came undone when the Black Sox Scandal broke out in full force in September. The Indians then defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1920 World Series to become World Champions.

However, this glorious era in Cleveland baseball would not last. In the winter of 1922, Dunn contracted influenza and was ill for a number of months before dying at his home in Chicago on June 9th. His obituary states that he was universally liked and respected in Cleveland, and both Ban Johnson and Tris Speaker paid effusive tribute to Dunn. He was buried in Marshalltown, where he got his start. His wife inherited his fortune, and let Ernest Barnard operate the club for the next five years until its sale to Alva Bradley in 1927. Whatever momentum Dunn had built over his tenure as Indians' owner was lost and the team would not return to the World Series until 1948.

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