“Like a bolt of lightning form a clear sky, came the news on June 3 that John Joseph McGraw had resigned the management of the [New York] Giants,” wrote veteran New York City baseball scribe Joe Vila in the June 8, 1932 edition of The Sporting News. It was indeed. The Giants were John McGraw. It was difficult to separate the team from its manager. Most stories about New York’s largely successful NL team since the summer of 1902 referred to the club as “McGraw’s Giants” or the “McGraw men” —and rightly so.
John McGraw was one of the major sports figures of the first three decades of the twentieth century. He represented the brash confidence and swagger of New Yorkers that the city’s populace loved—and that outsiders loathed. McGraw’s favorite player from the 1932 squad, Bill Terry, was handpicked by “Little Napoleon” himself to be his successor. Giants’ ownership approved. Terry would continue to play first base and thus serve the club as a player/manager, a concept that was becoming increasingly rare on the MLB landscape.
Describing John McGraw is a difficult task. He had a multi-layered personality. The company he kept and the circumstances in which he met people frequently determined which version of the McGraw persona one would encounter. Declared one biographer,
McGraw was a paradox, a true puzzle. He could be gracious and generous when he wanted to be. He was known to give out gifts of money to his players for a job well done. He would be generous and sympathetic to ballplayers when they made mistakes! He raised the salaries of both Fred Snodgrass and Fred Merkle after their famous blunders. He prided himself in taking on reclamation projects and hard-to-handle ballplayers like Turkey Mike Donlin, Bugs Raymond, and Hal Chase. He was unfailingly gracious with women, and his best friend was the saintly Christy Mathewson.
But he had a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality. He was a vicious umpire baiter, a man who resorted in the Old Oriole tradition to winning at all costs. He was foul-mouthed and mean-spirited to anyone or any team whom he considered to be a threat to the Giants. He made fun of people and their weaknesses, pushing their hot buttons. Barney Dreyfuss was a frequent target of McGraw due to the Pirate owner’s thick German accent.
Vila continued his tribute to MLB’s most feisty manager upon his surprise retirement. “The passing of McGraw [as team manager] is regretted by thousands of New York fans,” Vila commented, “who realize what he has done for the National League in this city. As a matter of fact, he came to the rescue of the league when, after leaving the Baltimore American League team, he signed to manage the Giants on July 10, 1902, at the urgent request of the late Andrew Freedman, then owner of the club.” In his 29 full seasons with the Giants, McGraw’s teams finished first or second 21 times—a remarkable testament to sustained excellence. He won 2,784 games, second only to Connie Mack’s total of 3,731 victories. By way of comparison, Mack managed for more than half a century in MLB.
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