July 06, 2011
The history of sports in Philadelphia is littered with characters that seem more fit for fiction than for reality. Right up there in the Bizarre Hall of Fame is Horace S. Fogel, a former Phillies owner whose career began in sportswriting and ended with a lifetime ban from baseball. This is his story.
Fogel was a Pennsylvania native, born in Macungie, Lehigh County in 1861. He started out as a telegrapher and then began a career in journalism at the Baltimore Day. He returned to Philadelphia in 1883 and was offered a job at the Philadelphia Press, where he was in charge of the telegraph service but covered baseball for extra money. At the time, newspapers weren’t covering the sport and Fogel found a niche by publishing several columns a day. The next year he took a job as official scorekeeper for the Athletics, getting his foot in the door of professional baseball.
In 1887, he was hired as manager of the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the National League and led them to a last place finish. His managerial stint lasted less than a year and ended with a 20-49 record. After his unsuccessful bid to manage a pro ball club, he went back to journalism and became associate editor of the Sporting Life as well as head of the baseball department at the Philadelphia Public Ledger.
After 15 more years in sportswriting, Fogel was again given a job as skipper, this time for the New York Giants in 1902. His second attempt at managing was literally laughable. The press was highly critical of Fogel, who was deemed “hardly fitted” to manage the team. He openly criticized players which “stirred up discord, and the team which left Polo Grounds early in May harmonious to a man returned on Decoration Day nearly split in twain by dissension.” Most notable from his time with the Giants was his managing of Christy Mathewson, the second year pitcher who won 20 games in his rookie year. Fogel didn’t think much of Mathewson’s skills on the mound, so Fogel converted him to a first baseman, then an outfielder, then a shortstop. Fogel was hammered for this decision, which was referred to as “the baseball crime of the century.” Luckily, Fogel was fired just three months into his tenure. Mathewson was put back where he belonged and went on to a Hall of Fame career of 373 wins and a lifetime 2.31 ERA.
From 1902 through 1909, Fogel again went back to the sports page. He was the sporting editor for the Philadelphia Telegraph. By this time in his career, he was a known commodity: a loudmouthed front-runner with little-to-no credibility. When the local teams weren’t doing well, he crushed them. When they strung a few wins together, he announced they were unbeatable. He had no problem overstating his opinions and often feuded with players in print.
So in November of 1909, when it was announced that Fogel had purchased the Philadelphia Phillies, the public was more than surprised. First, with Fogel’s unsuccessful managerial track record, people were concerned about the state of the team. And second, everyone knew Fogel couldn’t have come up with the $350,000.00 to $500,000.00 that bought the team. The not so unspoken rumor was that the Taft family of Cincinnati and Charles Murphy, President of the Chicago Cubs, were the real financial owners of the Phillies and were simply using Fogel as a figurehead. One would think that one man with a stake in two National League teams would be an issue, but other than some reporters questioning the deal, no real investigation was conducted.
Fogel brought immediate and drastic change to the Phillies. He fired manager William Murray with a letter that read, in its entirety: “The Philadelphia Baseball Club no longer requires your services.” Murray was replaced Charles “Red” Dooin, the Phillies’ catcher since 1902. Fogel completely revamped the uniforms, going from the classic black trim on white or grey with black socks seen here to green on white with a large Old-English “P” and green striped socks. Fogel also didn’t like the name of the team, so he changed it. He was quoted as saying:
The name Phillies is too trite. It has come to mean a comfortable lackadaisicalness, the fourth-place groove. And Quakers stands for peaceful people who will dodge a fight. We’re not going to be that way. We’re going to get into fights.
And with that explanation he urged everyone to adopt his new name for the National League club: The Philadelphia Live Wires. To promote the name, Fogel even came up with a new “logo,” which featured an eagle grasping sparkling wires. Thankfully, other than a few references in newspaper articles in 1910, the new name didn’t stick and fans continued referring to the team as the Phillies.
Fogel’s antics continued through his ownership years and his pregame festivities were memorable. In addition to a concert before every home game, he often held three-ring-circuses on the field before the games. He once had a couple married in a lion cage on the pitcher’s mound with a lion serving as the witness to the nuptials. Another time he released 100 pigeons in the city with free tickets to the next game attached to their legs.
His gimmicks didn’t lead to much success on the field. In 1910, the Phillies finished three games above .500 and in 4th place in the NL; 1911 brought another 4th place finish (even with rookie Pete Alexander’s 28 win season); and in 1912, the Phillies finished in 5th place.
It was in the latter stages of the 1912 season that Fogel stepped over the line. At that point in the season, the New York Giants were pulling away from the Chicago Cubs for the pennant. Fogel was known to be a drinker and card-player and he maintained close relationships with his newspaper buddies. So in August and September of the 1912 season, with the Phillies well out of the race, Fogel was seen drinking more and more with his old pals. When the alcohol was flowing, so was Fogel’s mouth. He started a one-man campaign accusing the National League of a conspiracy theory to give the New York Giants the pennant over his Phillies (who finished 30.5 games back) and the Cubs (whose ownership Fogel was inextricably linked with).
The conspirators in his theory included not only league brass, but also other National League teams. He first accused St. Louis manager Roger Bresnahan of not fielding his regulars in games against the Giants and throwing the games in favor of the New York team. Then he wrote about the “fix” to everyone who would listen and published several articles about it in a few separate newspapers. He wrote a letter to Thomas Lynch, league president, stating his position that Lynch had instructed umpires to call games in favor of the Giants and against the Phillies in a plot to ensure the Giants would win the pennant. In September, he wired the owner of the Reds and stated that the pennant race was “crooked.” He published an article in a Chicago newspaper that alleged the Giants “won at least twenty-one games because of unfair umpiring.” He also wrote to seven other owners of teams in the National League calling the pennant race dishonest and insinuating he had proof of wrongdoing.
The league finally had enough of Fogel’s charges. Lynch, who didn’t even mask his feeling that Fogel wasn’t the real owner of the team, responded:
As far as President Fogel’s attacks on the President of the National League is concerned, I care nothing. My 25 years’ record in baseball speaks for itself. The cowardly attack on the honesty of the umpires and the game itself is a different matter, however, and cannot be overlooked. I shall take these charges of President Fogel before the board of directors of the National League, which has sole jurisdiction. Regardless of whether Mr. Fogel has a financial interest in the Philadelphia Club or not, he is the president of that organization, and the charges he makes can only be handled by the league itself.
A league investigation of Fogel’s baseless charges turned out to be the worst thing that could have happened for him. After a short investigation which turned up no evidence at all, Lynch charged Fogel with several counts of improper conduct and called a hearing to take place in New York on November 27, 1912. All of the National League owners were present and heard testimony from several witnesses over the course of two days. Fogel’s only defense was that the charges were moot and the National League had no jurisdiction over him. Fogel had resigned as the Phillies’ President 5 days before the hearing and named Alfred Wiler, the Phillies’ VP, his successor. Fogel’s weak attempt to avoid punishment didn’t work. In a vote of 7-0 with one abstention (Wilner), Fogel was found to have lodged unsubstantiated claims against the integrity of the game and was deemed guilty of Lynch’s charges. His punishment was severe: Fogel was forever banned from baseball.
After the decision, Fogel claimed “the jury was packed against [him]” and that he wouldn’t obey the decision. He stated, “I will sell or represent as I please, the Philadelphia club in the National League as long as I feel inclined to do so and no one can disturb me from doing so.” Fogel also threatened to bring this matter to the court system.
However loud Fogel’s bite after his censure, his bite was non-existent. There was defiant refusal to submit to the decision, no appeal to the court system, no nothing…Fogel was out of baseball.
His reporting career continued in true Fogel-fashion. In 1920, he published an article in the Inquirer charging that both the the 1905 World Series and 1908 World Series were fixed. He cited “sources” who alleged that Athletic’s pitcher Rube Waddell didn’t pitch in the 1905 series because New York gamblers bribed him with $17,000 and that during the pennant race in ’08, several Phillies were paid thousands of dollars by a member of the NY Giants to sit out games. Not surprisingly, these claims were unsubstantiated and flatly rejected as falsehoods.
Fogel lived out the rest of his life in Philadelphia and died in 1928 at the age of 66.
We are all lucky that the public saw Fogel for what he was: an eccentric sideshow. Otherwise, we might all be wearing green shirseys with “Live Wires” on the front.