James Gaffney

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James gaffney.jpg

James Edward Gaffney

Biographical Information[edit]

James Gaffney was the owner of the Boston Braves from December 1911 to January 1916. In partnership with John Ward, he purchased the team from the estate of the late William Hepburn Russell, under whose brief ownership the team was known as the "Rustlers". He put up $187,000 for the transaction.

Born to Irish immigrants in New York City, Gaffney was by many accounts a policeman early in life (although NYPD records of his service have not surfaced). He was a truck driver who became involved in the carting business, then made his fortune in construction. He had strong connections to Tammany Hall, the political machine that dominated New York City politics and patronage appointments throughout the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, and which was named after a Delaware Indian chief. He was a New York alderman thanks to those connections and served as a close associate of Charles F. "Boss" Murphy, New York City's main power broker at the time. Gaffney's wife, Essie, was a dear friend of Murphy's wife.

The Tammany link brought about the change in the team's nickname from "Rustlers" (in effect only for the 1911 season) to "Braves", which name had served as an occasional alternate for "Beaneaters" in the past, as seen in 1904 and 1905. At least one account in December 1911 said that Ward suggested the Braves concept, associated with Tammany and its followers since the society’s beginnings. Gaffney liked it and had an Indian head motif added to the sleeves of the team's uniform, making the name official. Another key reason was to change the team’s luck and sell more tickets.

Before buying the Braves, Gaffney had some other involvement in baseball. He allegedly lent money to Clark Griffith, who was a friend from New York days, to buy the Washington Senators in 1911. He also looked at acquiring a couple of other franchises by himself, before setting his sights on Boston's National League team.

The Boston team had fallen on hard times over the previous decade and had become perennial doormats in the National League. Ward was first installed as team President, but left disenchanted in mid-1912, selling his shares to Gaffney and leaving the team under his sole control. Gaffney turned the team's fortunes around by hiring George Stallings to manage the club in 1913­ and giving him free rein. He also bought disenchanted Chicago Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers the following year, and he would prove a tremendous on-field leader for the club. Through his innovative use of platooning and a lot of luck, Stallings engineered the so-called "Miracle Braves" team that won a completely unexpected World Series title in 1914, after being in last place until early July. Gaffney also had Braves Field built during his tenure and inaugurated on August 18, 1915.

Before the "Miracle Braves" season began, Gaffney was the target of an investigation into political graft. In 1913, Tammany Hall boss Charlie Murphy sought to have Gaffney named New York State's Commissioner of Highways, but Governor William Sulzer refused to do so. The resulting fallout was that Murphy used his power to have Sulzer impeached by the State Assembly, triggering in turn John A. Hennessy and Charles S. Whitman's investigation into corruption in New York City. However, the inquiry was blunted after state contractor James C. Stewart, who had alleged that Gaffney sought kickbacks from him, testified that he could not identify Gaffney positively.

On January 8, 1916, Gaffney sold the Braves to Percy Haughton, apparently for a significant profit, but retained ownership of Braves Field, collecting rent for years. He never re-entered baseball in any other capacity, but he retained a deep interest in the game and was still a power behind the scenes.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Rory Costello: "Jim Gaffney", in Bill Nowlin, ed.: The Miracle Braves of 1914: Boston's Original Worst-to-First World Series Champions, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2014, pp. 201-214. ISBN 978-1-933599-69-4
  • Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella: "James Gaffney", in The New Biographical History of Baseball, Triumph Books, Chicago, IL, 2002, pp. 145-146.
  • Bob Ruzzo: "Braves Field: An Imperfect History of the Perfect Ballpark", The Baseball Record Journal, SABR, Volume 41, Number 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 50-60.

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