John Galbreath's life was full of storybook success stories: owner of horses that won two Kentucky Derbies, a Preakness, and a Belmont; owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won three World Series for him; a poor farm boy from Ohio who made millions of dollars. The recent death of the famous sportsman brought forth all these stories again - and also reminded me of one of the hardest baseball games I ever had to announce. It was the last game of the 1950 season, Philadelphia at Brooklyn, with the National League pennant at stake.
The game was filled with drama - great pitching by Robin Roberts and Don Newcombe, the potential winning run thrown out at the plate by Richie Ashburn in the bottom of the ninth, a dramatic 10th-inning home run by Dick Sisler to win the game and the pennant for the Phillies. But none of that was the problem. What made things so difficult was another, equally tense confrontation taking place off the field not more than a few feet from my microphone.
Two strong men had gotten into a violent fight over ownership of the Dodgers; Walter O'Malley was fighting for control of the team and Branch Rickey was fighting for his fiscal life and his pride.
The radio booth at Ebbets Field was alongside the private box of the president of the Dodgers. Only a thin wall separated the two areas, and both were wide open toward the playing field.
The growing quarrel between Rickey and O'Malley exploded that afternoon. They yelled and screamed at each other, and as I broadcast the game, I had to turn the mike away from them in an effort to not pick up their verbal battle. Galbreath wasn't there, of course, but he appeared in a pivotal role shortly thereafter, and very dramatically.
Rickey had come to the Dodgers from St. Louis in 1943 with a contract that paid him, in addition to salary, a percentage of the proceeds from all player sales. He was to be in full charge. His contract expired in October 1950. Walter O'Malley in 1943 was the lawyer for the ball club. The ownership was divided 50-50 between the heirs of Charles Ebbets and Steve McKeever. Dearie Mulvey, a McKeever, owned 25 percent and meant to keep it. She did.
In a few years the 75 percent balance became available, and Rickey, O'Malley, and John L. Smith bought it, each having a quarter share. Smith was president of Charles Pfizer Chemicals. The three men signed a contract saying that should one of them wish to sell his share he must first offer it to the others, who could buy it by meeting the seller's offer.
Early in 1950 Smith died. O'Malley was the lawyer for Mrs. Smith, and thus was in control of 50 percent. By now O'Malley wanted complete control, and wanted to keep Rickey in the office for his baseball brains but didn't want Rickey to get money from player sales. Also, O'Malley wanted to be president. He refused to renew Rickey's contract. O'Malley was sure nobody would think of offering Rickey anything for his stock in such a messy situation. Rickey wanted out and demanded a million dollars. O'Malley refused. The heated battle was on.
Rickey had paid $350,000 for his share and had had to hock his life insurance. He was trapped, or so it seemed. O'Malley was sure he had him. Rickey's pride was deeply involved. He couldn't, after his successful years, now work for O'Malley and on O'Malley's terms. But how to get out?
As Rickey told me later, ``I turned to my fraternity brother John Galbreath.'' Galbreath then owned the Pirates, so he couldn't be directly invovled. But he was a very active and successful real estate operator in New York. William Zeckendorf then was at his peak as a wheeler-dealer in New York real estate. Galbreath introduced Rickey to Zeckendorf.
The turbulent situation in Brooklyn didn't bother Zeckendorf. In fact, he relished the idea of owning a quarter of the Dodgers. He gave Rickey a contract for $1 million and $50,000, Rickey to get his million dollars no matter what, and Zeckendorf to get $50,000 should O'Malley meet the offer, as he had the right to do.
O'Malley was enraged. Rickey escaped, and with his million from O'Malley, which also lifted the tax figure for the settlement of the Smith estate. And worse, O'Malley had to pay Zeckendorf $50,000.
I don't think O'Malley ever got over paying the Zeckendorf money plus his interference. And I'm sure O'Malley didn't send John Galbreath any more birthday cards.
Further, to put icing on the cake, Galbreath hired Rickey as general manager of the Pirates.
Yes, I remember trying to broadcast a game for a pennant, with two angry men shouting and bellowing a few feet from the microphone. I do remember.