John Brush

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John Tomlinson Brush

Biographical Information[edit]

John T. Brush bought the New York Giants after the 1902 season and owned them until his death in 1912. He had previously owned the Indianapolis Hoosiers from 1887 to 1889 and the Cincinnati Reds.

Brush on the cover of the 1911 World Series Scorecard

An orphan at a young age, he served with the First New York Artillery Regiment during the Civil War and worked in the clothing trade in New York, NY, making enough money to open a department store in Indianapolis, IN at age 30. He bought a share of the Hoosiers baseball team in the American Association in 1884 as an advertising move, and even though that team failed, became smitten by the baseball bug. He bought the failing St. Louis Maroons of the National League after the 1886 season and moved them to Indianapolis. Ever the businessman, he quickly became interested in the way the financial side of business was run and served on various league committees. In 1888, according to contemporary writer Guy M. Smith, he attempted to sign African-American infielder Bud Fowler for his Indianapolis team, but was forced to back off when other players on the team objected. In 1889, he proposed to fellow owners a new classification scheme that would determine the pay of players, the "Brush Classification Plan", which was quickly adopted but immediately drew the ire of players who had recently formed the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players in order to prevent such arbitrariness. As a result, the players' revolt turned into the formation of the Players League in 1890 and open war between the three major leagues - the National League, the American Association and the Players League. The latter may have had the better on-field product, but the National league owners had the deeper pockets, and the other two circuits came out of the conflict mortally wounded; the Players League folded immediately after the 1890 season, while the American Association soldiered on for only one more year before four of its clubs joined the National League and it too disappeared.

The Indianapolis franchise was also a casualty of the Players League war, and as it went out of business, Brush decided to invest some money in the New York Giants. A year later, in 1891, he also bought the Cincinnati Reds. Because he could not be physically present in Cincinnati, he let his co-investor, Ashley Lloyd act as the team's chief executive, but still made the most important decisions regarding the club. Under the rules of the time, ownership of multiple teams - known as syndicate ownership - was not prohibited. Brush would soon become one of the prime exhibits in demonstrating why it was a terrible idea, as he decided to favor one of his teams over the other, making uneven trades and other back-hand deals to ensure one of the two clubs was in the front, at the detriment of the other, and competition be damned. Other owners soon followed course, with the infamous and dreadful Cleveland Spiders team of 1899 becoming the greatest example of a club ruined for the benefit of one of its rivals (in this case, the St. Louis Perfectos). In Cincinnati, he made a lifelong enemy of young sportswriter Ban Johnson; he tried to send him away by having him named President of the minor league Western League, but that too would come back to haunt Brush, as Johnson eventually turned his minor league circuit into the major league American League.

All of this may not have been great for the players or the fans, but it was good for Brush and a few of his fellow owners, who behaved like the corporate robber barons of the era. In 1901, Brush, Frank Robison (owner of the St. Louis Cardinals), Andrew Freedman (the Giants' principal owner) and Arthur Soden of the Boston Beaneaters met to put together the "National League Base Ball Trust" that would regulate all league matters, including assignment of players and managers to individual teams, doing away with team owners. The four would each own a percentage of shares in the trust, and would divide profits accordingly. However, they could not convince another owner to go along with the scheme, and could not find a majority of votes within the eight-team league to make it happen. The profit-at-all-cost mentality behind the plan, however, would prove costly, as the players again revolted, with a large number of stars, tired of being treated like movable property, bolted their contracts. These stars joined Ban Johnson's upstart American League, which proclaimed its major league status in 1901 and moved teams into some of the National League's traditional markets, including Philadelphia and Boston, with St. Louis and New York soon to follow.

With another war between rival leagues raging, Freedman stepped down as principal of the Giants in 1902, and Brush took over for him, returning to his native city. Brush purchased Freedman's shares in 1903, but not before he had made one more shady deal. Knowing what was on the way, prior to the 1901 season, his Reds traded a young Christy Mathewson, coming off a 21-2 season for Norfolk of the Virginia League, to the Giants in return for the once-great Amos Rusie, who had not pitched since 1898 and whose career was over. Mathewson would of course go on to be baseball's best pitcher for the next decade. Not only did Brush still own the Reds when he purchased the Giants, he also had an indirect interest in the American League's Baltimore Orioles, which were secretly funded by his friend Freedman. He divested himself of the Reds, but only after a rush of personnel moves, such as plundering the entire Orioles' roster to stack his Giants team, that left the Giants in a position to dominate the National League for years to come. The newly-strengthened Giants won the pennant in 1904, but when Brush realized that the new New York Highlanders would likely win the AL crown, he made sure there would be no repeat of the highly successful inaugural 1903 World Series, declaring that his Giants would not debase themselves by playing the champions from an upstart league. The Highlanders were in fact the re-located Orioles, who had moved from Baltimore after having been picked clean by Brush, but who had managed to immediately become competitive again through some clever signings of defectors from the senior circuit. In the end the Boston Americans edged the New York team for the pennant, but it was too late for Brush to turn around and agree to a World Series. The cancellation of the 1904 World Series proved to be extremely unpopular with players and fans alike and, facing a popular revolt, Brush had to turn around and support the burying of the hatchet with the junior circuit. A new National Agreement was signed at the end of 1904 which ended the war between the two leagues and guaranteed the playing of the World Series from then on.

Brush's teams won the World Series in 1905, 1911 and 1912. In the fall of 1912, he suffered a serious injury when thrown from an automobile. He was headed to a sanatorium in southern California to recuperate when he died passing through Missouri on a train. His wife, Elsie Lombard, 25 years his junior, succeeded him as principal owner, as she controlled both her shares and those of Brush's second daughter, Natalie, while eldest daughter Eleanor Brush received the third share. His son-in-law, Eleanor's husband Harry Hempstead, succeeded him as President of the Giants.

Preceded by
Cincinnati Reds President/General Manager
Succeeded by
Garry Herrmann

Further Reading[edit]

  • David Kathman: "Did Bud Fowler Almost Break the Major-League Color Line in 1888? A Midwestern Memoir of John T. Brush and Guy M. Smith", The National Pastime, SABR, 51, 2023, pp. 11-17.

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