William Harridge saw his first big league baseball game after the age of 30. Despite his inexperience regarding baseball he rose to the position of American League president, a position he held for 27 years. His work for the Junior Circuit eventually earned him a Cooperstown plaque with the game’s greats.
Born into poverty, Harridge came of age with employment as the foremost of goals. After high school he found work as an office boy for the Wabash Railroad in 1899. Sticking with Wabash, the hard-working Harridge moved up the ranks. By the early 1900s his charge included transporting entertainers and sports figures, most fortuitously American League umpires.
Ban Johnson, the president of the fledgling AL worked closely with Wabash and Harridge. So impressed was Johnson that he hired Harridge as his personal secretary.
With Harridge as his right-hand man, Johnson helped grow the American League. The two dealt with many problems along the way and conquered all comers.
Baseball faced a crisis of integrity because of the 1919 World Series. They hired Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the game’s first commissioner. The move diminished Johnson’s power.
Landis and Johnson publicly feuded with the power struggle coming to a head by 1927. American League owners forced Johnson to resign and hired ES Barnard as the league’s number one man.
Harridge kept his job as secretary to the president until Barnard suddenly passed away in 1931. With institutional knowledge and the know-how that comes from two decades on the job, Harridge was the logical choice for the presidency. He held the office for the next 27 years.
Along the way he helped establish the All Star game and grew the game. Harridge held the position until 1958. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972, the year after his death.
Shown here is a letter dated August 16, 1928 written by Harridge to Yankees Hall of Fame executive Ed Barrow. He writes about nine optional players including Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey of the Little Rock club . Harridge was mistaken – Dickey had been promoted to the big club ten days earlier. In fact Dickey made his Yankee debut the day before the letter was written.
Take notice of the handwritten correction next to Dickey’s name. That came after Barrow alerted Harridge of the error. For more on this episode, go to Dickey’s page by clicking here.