Joseph Gordon

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Joseph Gordon

Biographical Information[edit]

Joseph Gordon was the first President of the team that is now the New York Yankees, taking over the position when the franchise was created as a replacement for the dissolved Baltimore Orioles before the 1903 season. Reporters dubbed the team the "New York Highlanders" in part as a play on his name, since Gordon's Highlanders was a very famous British regiment. The team's ballpark, officially called American League Park was in turn dubbed Hilltop Park, a name which was appropriate since it was located at one of the highest points on the island of Manhattan. He stayed in his position until the end of the 1906 season, including for 1904, when they lost a pennant to the Boston Americans on a 9th-inning wild pitch by 41-game winner Jack Chesbro on the final day of the season.

He was succeeded by Frank Farrell, who along with Bill Devery had purchased the defunct Orioles and moved the franchise to New York. However, Farrell had ties to some unsavory gambling businesses, and Devery was an embodiment of New York corruption as police commissioner, so at the urging of American League President Ban Johnson, Gordon was chosen to be the team's public face.

Born and raised in New York, NY, Gordon had been a pitcher as a schoolboy before becoming a successful businessman with political connections to Tammany Hall, the political machine linked to the Democratic Party that controled all the goings-on in the Big Apple at the turn of the 20th Century. It was through Tammany Hall that he became a friend of John B. Day, the owner of the New York Metropolitans, at the time an independent team, and became an officer of the Metropolitan Exhibition Company, which controled the team. In 1883, Day decided to purchase a team in both major leagues, taking over as owner and President of the newly-created New York Gothams in the National League, while installing Gordon as President of the Metropolitans, who joined the rival American Association. The Mets were designed to play second fiddle in that arrangements, getting a second-rate ballpark next to the Polo Grounds and only the left-over players the Gothams had no immediate use for (but that still included future Hall of Famer Tim Keefe) and charging lower admission. However, on the field, the Gothams did not fulfill their lofty ambitions, but the Mets had a good season. In order to reduce the competition for his main property, Day then banished the Mets to Metropolitan Park, a definitely sub-par facility - but they still ended up as pennant-winners in 1884 and were allowed to use the Polo Grounds when they played the 1884 World Series against the Providence Grays. An unhappy Day stripped the Mets of their best players, and sold them after the 1885 season. Gordon then concentrated on politics for the next while.

Gordon was elected a representative for Manhattan's 18th District in the city assembly in 1888 but served only one year before returning to his coal business and various real estate ventures. He was still a member of the Board of Directors of the now New York Giants, however, and used his political connections to secure a new home for the team in 1888 when the city built a road through the site of the original Polo Grounds. While Day eventually lost control of the Giants as a result of losses incurred in the war against the Players League, Gordon remained prosperous, while also serving as New York City Deputy Superintendent of Buildings, a lucrative and powerful position for a real estate developer.

Gordon was thus well connected in the baseball world and in New York politics when the time came to find an appropriate figurehead for the new American League franchise. In addition, his contacts in the world of real estate helped to secure the land for the new team's ballpark in spite of attempts by former Giants owner Andrew Freedman to thwart the new franchise by denying access to any prime real estate. When the new team was officially announced on March 12, 1903, Gordon was its sole public face, the names of Farrell and Devery, the principal financial backers, being kept secret. The team turned a profit in its first year and then became a huge success thanks to its on-field performance in 1904. Farrell became jealous of the attention and publicity bestowed on Gordon, and in 1907 took over his position, making him a vice-president before simply dismissing him. Gordon sued to be recognized as part-owner and obtain half of the profits generated from 1903 to 1907, but the lack of written documents doomed him at trial, as all official papers failed to include his name. After the loss was confirmed on appeal, Gordon retired from public life. When he died in 1929, he had fallen so far out of the public eye that not a single obituary was published in the New York papers.

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