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Interview with: Mr Fred Ankenman
Date: July 22, 1976
I: Mr Ankenman, I’d like to begin by asking you the obvious question: How did you get involved in baseball?
FA: In 1919 I retired from Southern Pacific Railroad after 15 years and went into business with 2 other friends, a business called Drilling Specialty Company. We manufactured small oil well tubes. I was secretary/business manager. Beg you pardon, I was secretary of the company. Milton Lignoski was president and organizer, and Jack Herndon of the Texas Company was treasurer. Mr John H Cooper, a prominent attorney in Houston, was one of our directors. After approximately 2 years, we got stocked up with a lot of merchandise, small oil well tubes. We had a nice machine shop, and we had a forge plant. In fact, we brought the first air hammer to Houston, which was operating in our forge plant, but after 2 years, we were caught with a lot of merchandise on hand. We couldn’t move it, and we finally went broke And at the same time, or approximately the same time, Johnny Crooker, along with 6 other Houston men, purchased the Houston Baseball Club from Otto Sens and Doak Roberts. This was in December 1920. They called me in because I been playing a great deal of amateur and semipro ball ever since I was around 15 years old starting in Austin, when I played my first professional game, and only professional game, with the Austin club in 1908.
I: What was the name of that club?
FA: (2:24) The Austin Club in the South Texas League at that time. They called me in,
Mr Crooker and Mr Robertson, who was quite largely interested in the purchase of the Houston club. They called me in and asked me to be secretary and business manager of the Buffs. And I was employed so I went broke in one business. Every dime I had went into this other business. I didn’t have much, but I went broke, but it did put me into baseball, where I remained for 22 years.
I: What sort of problems did you have when you first took over as business manager? Were there any areas that you had to deal with immediately that were vital to the club?
FA: Only regular duties that general manager would take over. In fact, I had the entire operation of the ball club in my hands because none of these men knew anything whatsoever about baseball. That is the signing of the players and having advertising, fence advertising, and things of that nature. A little later on, we sold the old site at West End Ball Park and bought what was later called Buffalo Stadium, and all of that, of course, when through my hands. And incidentally, one very interesting incident or two, you might say, when I took over the Houston Ball Club. Doak Roberts, who was a executive man with the Buffs at that time before they sold, turned over all the records to me, and among those records, he turned over quite a number of player contracts. And among those contracts was Tris Speaker’s first contract. He signed with the Houston Ball Club for $100 per month. And another prominent ball player was Ross Young, who was an outstanding player with the New York Giants, I think it was. I found his original contract where he signed with the Houston Ball Club for $50 a month. I sent—Tris Speaker was still playing at that time. I sent Chris Speaker his contract. Ross Young, as I recall, had passed away, and I sent it to his family in San Antonio. Of course, another job in my hands was concessions, which is a pretty big thing. I had to employ a concession manager and so forth. That was one of the duties. Primarily signing the ballplayers and then meeting with other members of the Texas League.
I: Were most of the players you signed on local talent?
FA: (5:48) Most all of them were because I signed quite a large number of players who later went to the Major Leagues. For instance, Gus Mancuso, Watty Watkins, John Burling (6:07), George Munger, a little fellow named Hudson that came out of the University of Texas, Joel Hunt, the great quarterback—formerly the great quarterback at A&M College. I think Joel was the only player that we ever signed and gave a bonus to. I think we paid him a $1000 bonus. Of course, as you’ve not doubt read a lot about Dizzy Dean. Don Curtis, who was scouting for me—the Houston Ball Club—I take no credit for the signing of Dizzy Dean. Don Curtis is the man that’s entitle to this because the conductor on the Katy Railroad running between Waco and Houston called Don. He knew that Don Curtis was what we call a bird dog. He was doing a little scouting for the Houston Ball Club, and he told Don, “You should go to San Antonio and look in this fellow that’s in the Army over there named Dizzy Dean.” And he said, “I saw him pitch a few games. He pitches for the Power and Light team over there. He looks like he’s got a tremendous fast ball. You ought to look at him.” So as Don tells it, he went to San Antonio one Sunday. He saw him pitch just 6 balls, he said, and he knew that he was a prospect. He called his manager, Reilly Harris (7:37), to the screen. He knew Reilly Harris, and he asked Harris if he wouldn’t bring Dizzy Dean up to his room at the Hamilton Hotel—that’s Reilly Harris’ room at the Hamilton Hotel. He’d like to talk to him. So he did. That evening Don met Dizzy and Reilly Harris, and he signed their contract for $300 a month. No bonus. Don sent the contract to me, and there was a little something wrong with it. Don was very careless and crude in his handling of business matters, and I had to send it back to Dizzy and have him to sign it again. And that was the signing of Dizzy Dean. We had to buy him out of the Army. We paid $300 to get him out of the Army. In those days, you could buy a fellow out of the Army, which we did, although I know that in one article I saw where Dizzy said his father bought him out of the Army. Well that’s just one of Dizzy’s jokes, you know. That his father—But we really bought him out of the Army. Of course, signing the ballplayers, and that was quite a—That was your big job every year, signing your ballplayers.
I: Did most of the players you signed on have experience in sandlot clubs, you now, local?
FA: Yes. And I didn’t mention one very prominent ballplayer that I signed here in Houston. He’s living in Baytown. Heinie Schuble. And Heinie Schuble—That was a very unusual situation. Charlie Graham, who a few years later engaged in a battle with the sheriff of Harris County, shot one another to death—Charlie Graham was a uncle of Heinie Schuble. He brought him to my office at the State National Bank Building at that time early when I was in baseball and wanted to know if I wouldn’t give Heine an opportunity to try out with the Houston Ball Club, and I told him that Heinie’s so young. I said, “Wait another year or two. Let him get his education, at least high school, and promise that you’ll bring him back.” I knew Schuble had quite a record as an amateur here in Houston, and he said, “Yes. We’ll do that.” About a year later, he was playing down in south Texas somewhere in one of these semipro leagues, and the next thing I knew, I saw where he was playing with Temple in what I think at that time was the Central Texas League. And it was being operated by the Waco Club with Derrill Pratt manager. He was an old major leaguer, Derrill Pratt. And I said, “Well, we’ve just lost him.”
(10:58) But in about—We were still operating, still playing our regular schedule, and in about 2 weeks, Heine Schuble came to my office. He said, “Mr Ankenman, I’d like to sign a contract with you and have a tryout with you.” I said, “I can’t talk to you, Heinie, because you belong to the Temple Ball Club.” He said, “I don’t any such thing. I never signed a contract.” I said, “You haven’t signed a contract?” He said, “No.” He said, “They told me that when the league was over, they’d bring me in to Waco and play me. Well the Temple season has been over a couple of weeks. I go to Waco, and all I’ve been doing is sitting around there. I haven’t done anything. They haven’t signed me. They haven’t played me or done anything.” I said, “Okay. I can talk to you.” I said, “Well, you may can sign an affidavit that you’ve never signed a contract with either Temple or Waco.” He said, “Well, sure.” So we went into Johnny Crooker’s office. I was in the same office with Johnny Crooker’s law office, and we went in there, and he signed an affidavit that he’d never signed a contract. So I signed him. And the next day, we played Waco. Waco was playing in Houston out at West End Ball Park. That was about 1926, 1925, 1927. Along there somewhere. And we had Heinie working out in the infield. And Derrill Pratt came up to me and said, “What are you doing with my ballplayer out there?” I said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “You’re ballplayer?” I said, “You never did sign him to a contract.” I said, “You promised to play him in Waco, and you never did play him.” “Oh,” he said. “That’s right. I know.” He said, “We just fooled around.”
Well, to make a long story short, at the end of that year, we went to the Cardinals and finally at 1 of our 4 meetings in St Louis, we decided that—the Cardinals decided that they would make a deal, that they were supplied with outfielders and infielders and that they wouldn’t dispose of Watkins and Carey Selph, players that had been with us one time earlier. And he said, “Fred, you go ahead and see if you can sell these 2 ballplayers.” Well, the first player signed was to Chicago and talked to Harry Grabner, who was a business manager with the Chicago White Sox and told him we had these 2 ballplayers for sale, and they said, “Well, we’re not interested.” So from there, I went to Cleveland and met with Billy Evans with the same results. They were not interested. From there I went to Detroit, and I went into Mr Navin Sr’s office. He was president of Detroit Tigers, and I went in to talk to him about these 2 ballplayers. And he called into from a side office Jack Zoeller, who was a chief scout and had scouted the Texas League and knew ballplayers in that area. He called Zoeller in, and they discussed it, Watkins and Self. Mr Navin said, “Well, we’re not interested in those 2 ballplayers particularly, but you do have 2 ballplayers in which we are interested.” He said, “We’d be interested in a player you have named Schuble, a shortstop, and a left-hand pitcher named Frank Barnes.” And I said, “Well, we have just made a deal with St Louis and have sold Barnes to the Cardinals on a tentative deal.” They had taken Barnes so they practically owned Barnes. I said Schuble was on option with us because they offered him back to us for that season. He said, “If Mr Rickey and the Cardinals are interested, we’d be interested in those 2 ballplayers.” I went back through St Louis and told Mr Rickey. I came back to Houston, and then the day or two, Mr Rickey called me. He said, “Fred, if you get an offer from the Detroit Ball Club for Barnes and Schuble, you just go ahead and use your own judgment on whether you accept it or not.” He said, “We’re going to call off the Barnes tentative deal we made with you.” He said, “We’re going to withdraw our option on Schuble. So you own those 2 ballplayers. I’ll leave it up to you whether you accept any proposition that comes form the Detroit Ball Club.”
(16:41) It wasn’t very long I get a wire from Mr Navin saying, “The Detroit Ball Club will pay you $35,000 for Schuble and $15,000 for Barnes, for a total of $50,000.” And I liked to fell out of my chair. Never heard of such a deal like that in those days. I couldn’t get to the phone fast enough to wire back an acceptance. And we finally made the deal, and we got $50,000 for those 2 ballplayers. And they went to the major leagues, and both of them played some time in the major leagues. That was a very unusual deal, and I never did know what Derrill Pratt thought about that when he found out what we got for Schuble.
Oh, yes. Another ballplayer I mentioned, a very prominent ballplayer that I had signed, was Lonnie Warneke, who passed away here—I just saw in the paper the other day where he passed away in Hot Springs. Lonnie was a big, lanky boy, about 16 years old in Mt Ida. His brother-in-law was a city fireman here in Houston, and he called me and wanted to know if we’d give Lonnie a tryout. And I said, “Well, we won’t put any money in him, because we know nothing about him.” He said, “Well, he’s going to come here and live with me and his sister.” So he came and went to work as a Western Union messenger boy. And we got to be about 17, I think that was the age, we signed him. He came in, and Frank Cy (18:23) was managing our ballclub. He immediately put a stamp of approval on him to be a major league ballplayer. We sent him to one of our Class D clubs, which we did to younger players. We sent him to Laurel, MS, and during that year, Charlie Barrett, who was the chief scout for the St Louis Cardinals, had looked at Lonnie, but something had occurred over there—I don’t know just the details—where Barrett made report on Lonnie and recommended that we not bring him up any higher but we leave him open for the draft. As a result, the Shreveport Ball Club drafted him from our Laurel, MS, club, and at the end of the next season, I think it was, they sold him to Chicago for $10,000. As the records will show, Lonnie pitched in the Major League for many, many years, and when he finished as a pitcher, he umpired. He was a National League umpire for many, many years, and a strange thing happened many years later, about 3 years ago, when I was up at—maybe it was 4—I was up at Ozark Boys Camp with Pat, my son, and my wife was with us and his wife. Pat said, “By the way, you know Lonnie Warneke is county judge of the county in which Hot Springs is located. I said, “Yes, I had heard that he was county judge.” He said, “You know, I know about where he lives.” I said, “Oh, I’d like to see. I haven’t seen him in 25 years, maybe 30.” He said, “Well, we ride over.” This was Sunday afternoon, and so we drove around over to Hot Springs. We went over to Hot Springs and Mt Ida; it’s about 40 miles. And we were driving around and finally get in a subdivision Pat thought he lived in. We saw a man and asked him if he knew were Judge Warneke lived, and he said, “Oh, yes. Right over here in that house.” So we drove. I said, “Now, Pat. You stop about a block away” because he had on his car—He had a station wagon Ozark Boys Camp, Mt Ida, AR. I said, “You stay away.” I said, “I want to have some fun with Lonnie.” So they parked, and I go down there. I knock on the door, and as soon as he comes to the door, I recognized Lonnie. I said, “Oh, Judge. Oh, Judge. I’m in terrible trouble. I’m in terrible trouble. I got to—I got to have some help.” The Judge said, “Well, what do you mean? What can I do for you? Tell me. Tell me about it.” I said, “Oh, Judge. I can’t stand it. It’s a terrible thing I’ve done. I’ve got to have you.” He said, “Let me hear from you. Let me hear from you.” I said, “Judge, I know you’ll help me because a fellow down in Houston told me.” He said, “Oh, Fred Ankenman, I could kill you!” As soon as I said something about Houston, he recognized me. He said, “Fred Ankenman, I could kill you!” But he died just the other day. I think you may have seen a piece in the paper on it when he passed away.
(22:05) I’ve had a lot of experiences signing ballplayers.
I: Let me ask you about your relationship with the Major Leagues. Where there regular agreements, regular contacts, concerning the purchase of players? Did a major source of the income for the Buffs come from selling players to the Major Leagues?
FA: Naturally, in as much, the St Louis Cardinals had a working agreement with us, the Houston Ball Club, up until 1925. During the period, the first 2 to 3 years, the Cardinals just had a working agreement, but in about 1924, 1923 or 1924, Johnny Crooker, who was president and chief owner in the stock, sold most of his interest to Robertson, and Robertson was made president for 2 years. But in the meantime, the Cardinals came in and bought stock, a big part. Crooker sold his stock to the Cardinals. It was a secret stock deal because the Major Leagues, the Texas League, would not permit Major League ownership. So that the Cardinals came in and did buy Crooker’s stock, and Crooker retired, and Robertson was made president. Robby was president until 1925. In the meantime, we had purchase Chick Hafey, who came to be a great Major League ballplayer. We had purched Chick Hafey from the Fort Smith Ball Club for $4000 outright. He was our property. Well in the year of 1924 or 1925, Hafey had a great year with us. We had several Major League ball clubs that were interested. We saw that the Cardinals had just the control, and Robby had 40-some-odd percent. He had pretty good interest in it. The Cardinals, of course, couldn’t afford to let Hafey go. So they had to buy. If they left any ballplayer—Any ballplayer left on any of the Minor League ball clubs that were not chosen and taken over by the Major League clubs, would be left subject to draft at a price. The Major Leagues could draft from a AA club so much, from an A club so much, B club so much, C, and D. They weren’t going to let Hafey get away so they called—Mr Rickey called Robby and said, “We want to make a deal on Hafey.” And he said, “What kind of a deal can we make?” Now remember, the Cardinals were not in the picture except secretly. They owned the controlling interest. So Robby said, “Well, we’ll let you know.” So Robby knew nothing about trading. He comes to me and says, “Mr Ankenman, what kind of a deal do you think we should make on Hafey?” He said, “You know, I’ve got 40% interest in this ball club.” He said, “I’m entitled to any profit that’s made.” And we had to depend a whole lot of sale of the ballplayers to make ends meet in those days. I said, “Well, I’d say this. Make them a proposition. What I think is fair, just forgetting the ownership and all, $20,000 and a ballplayer.” He said, “Okay.” So he puts it up to Mr Rickey and Sam Breadon, president, and they just had a fit. They said, “My golly! Here we are, owning a ball club, sold him to you for $4000 and now you want $20,000 and a satisfactory ballplayer.” And Robby wanted it because he had 40% in the ball club, and that’s right. They had a knockdown drag out. As a result of which, we forced the deal. Robby forced the deal, and they had to make it. So they paid the Houston Ball Club $20,000, and we got catcher, Harry McCurdy, who later himself went to the Major Leagues. But he came to us in the deal.
(27:13) Well, that broke Mr Rickey and Mr Robertson, and Robby sold out to the Cardinals after they took it up the Texas League and the Cardinals were willing to build a new stadium. We were then in West End Ball Park, a little old crackerbox, and the Cardinals agreed to build a new stadium in Houston if they would sanction this ownership, with the League finally did. They couldn’t sell the franchise to somebody else so they agreed, and that’s the time that Robby goes out as president, and Mr Rickey and Mr Breadon talked it over. They wanted a local man as president, and they finally named me as president of the ball club. I remained president then from 1925 until 1943, when I resigned. Of course, I had many, many experiences.
I: Did you change the direction of the ball club at all during president?
FA: No. I wouldn’t say in any definite way. No. You had certain guidelines you had to follow according to your rules and all. There wasn’t any particular change made in the method of operation.
I: What was the most profitable period for the club?
FA: Well, I’d say 1928 and 1930. I’d say 1931 because that’s the year that Dizzy Dean had such a great year with us. But 1928 was a good. But the 1931 season was the best year financially that we ever had. That’s when we had Dizzy, and of course, you know Dizzy was a great drawing card. There was Ladies Night that Dizzy would pitch that ballpark that was practically jammed. In those days, 12,000 or 14,000 was your maximum. Of course, Dizzy was always pulling tricks on me or something. One day, we had him advertised to pitch on Ladies Night, and I get a call from downtown. Some doctor said he was a chiropractor. He said, “Your man Dean is in my office here. He’s got a terrible bad shoulder.” He said, “He said he slid into a base last night playing around out there.” He said, “I’ve examined him, and I think that by working on him I think can have him ready to pitch again 30 days.” “But,” he said, “I’d have to have your okay.” I said, “Who is this talking?” Because we had a doctor who was our bone and ligament specialist. And I said, “Where is Dean?” He said, “He’s here in my office.” I said, “Tell him to come to the phone.” Dizz came to the phone, halfway crying, and I said, “What’s the matter with you?” He said, “Oh, my arm.” He said, “Last night I was fooling around out there, and I can’t raise my arm.” I said, “By golly, get out of the chiropractor’s office and go down to Dr Baust (30:56). You know you’ve got no business going to that chiropractor.” “Okay, Mr Ankenman. Okay. But I’m sure suffering.” And that evening, here I was advertising Ladies Night and all. You always—Players got out to the ball park about 6 o’clock and complained about heat. They got out around 6 o’clock, and no Dizzy showed up. But about 30 minutes before game time, I heard somebody in my outer office saying to my secretary, “Is Mr Ankenman back there?” I recognized Dizzy. She said, “Yes. He’s back there.” He said, “I want to talk to him.” And I looked around, and I could see the door. And he comes walking into my office and says, “Hi, Mr Ankenman! How are you?” I said, “I’m all right, but what in the world’s wrong with you anyhow?” He said, “Nothing at all.” He raised his arm up and showed his muscle and said, “Oh, Nothing at all, Mr Ankenman. Nothing at all.” He said, “Watch me go out there and shut them out tonight.” And he did. I said, “What in the world—? Who in the world was that doctor that called me?” He said, “That wasn’t any doctor. That was a friend of mind. We just wanted to have some fun out of you.”
I: (32:06) Sounds like you had your hands full with him.
FA: Oh, well. Of course. Joe Schultz was managing. One game, for instance, we were playing in North Texas, and we were moving from Wichita Falls or Fort Worth to Galveston to play a game. In those days the interurbans run every hour. In coming through with the players living with their wives, a lot of them, Joe Schultz said, “Now, you fellows, we’ll get into Houston about 6 o’clock and travel on the train.” About 6 o’clock in the morning. He said, “I’ll let you all visit your wives and go home and visit your families, but I want you to catch that 11 o’clock interurban.” So we were playing in the daytime down in Galveston. When they met in Mr Schultz’s room before they could go out the ballpark to discuss their opponents, batting weaknesses and all that, especially the pitchers, no Dizzy shows up. Schultz liked to have a fit because he’s not due to pitch because he pitched the day before. See, Dizzy had pitched the day before in Fort Worth or Wichita Falls, and he knew he wasn’t due to pitch. So he doesn’t show up. But the next day, when they have the meeting, here Dizzy shows up, and Schultz just jumped all over him. He said,
“Mr Schultz, now don’t fine me. Please don’t fine me. Now I did the best I could.” He said, “You know, I tried my best to catch that 11 o’clock yesterday and missed it, but I caught the 11 o’clock today.” And they were running every hour. He knew he wasn’t due to pitch; he just wanted to have some fun with Schultz.
I: About how many players were sold to the Major Leagues a year? Or how often?
FA: (34:03) About a year, but a lot of them would be taken and sent back to us on an option and all. I don’t know. I’d have to make a wild guess as to how many Houston players. Many. We sent many, many players to the Major Leagues. Some who had been sent to us by, say, the Cardinals on option—weren’t quite ready. Players like Jim Bottomley and Ray Blades (34:34) and quite a number of players like that. But some of the players that I named earlier in this discussion were players that I had personally signed myself. Now Frank Barnes, the one that was in that Schuble-Barnes deal where we got the $50,000—I had signed Barnes out of Dallas through a friend of mine in Dallas. And there were several other players that I signed out of town, for instance Homer Peel, who had quite an article similar to this one in the Shreveport paper just recently. It was sent to me, and Homer was a boy that was playing amateur ball. This is just a sample of some of the players I had signed out of town. For instance, I had heard that Homer was quite a good looking amateur centerfield ballplayer. I found out that he was going to play a game in Cameron one Sunday in 1923, I think it was, and I drove to Cameron. I saw him play, and I signed him to a Houston contract right there. He came to us the next year, I think it was 1923 or 1924. Now and then I’d sign a player, just like Joel Hunt, for instance. He was—His home was—I forget where his home was, but he was a great quarterback for the A&M college.
I: How far did your scouting activities extend?
FA: Anywhere in Texas or anywhere I’d hear about a ballplayer. For instance, New Orleans. I got through a friend of mine in New Orleans. I signed Howard Pollet, which was a little—There wasn’t a question about it, but Eddie Dyer, who later managed our ball club and was scouting for us back just the year before we signed Pollet—I had a cotton man in New Orleans who was what we call a bird dog, and we’d have training camps in different locations. We had one in Louisiana, maybe 2 or 3, but we’d have a camp, giving boys a chance to come into this camp. We’d send our experienced men in there, and that’s where we’d pick up some of our young ballplayers. We’d have several in Texas. We’ve had them in south Texas. We’ve had them in just anywhere. This Howard Pollet was a great prospect. He was playing for the American Legion team, and this fellow who was a bird dog for me in New Orleans—fellow by the name of Deitrich—sent quite a few young players into one of our training camps up there. But he wrote me about Howard Pollet. He said, “This boy, in my opinion, is going to be a Major League prospect, a Major Leaguer.” We couldn’t sign him. We couldn’t do anything because he was still playing American Legion ball. He said, “I’m sure it’s going to cost a bonus to sign him because there are several Major League clubs I know that are interested in looking in.” I wrote
Mr Rickey, and Eddie Dyer then was scouting in the southeastern part of the United States, including Texas and Louisiana. I suggested that he have Dyer scout Howard while he was playing American Legion ball because it’s going to probably cost us some money. In the meantime, a fellow who was an official of the Texas Company named McConaughey, who was a Houston boy, going to school here, and his mother was a dean out at Jeff Davis High School, wrote me. He said, “Mr Ankenman—“ By the way, Robby Robertson, who I mentioned earlier as president, had sent Howard McConaughey, I think his name was Howard, to A&M college. Had sent him. Howard’s mother was a dean at Jeff Davis, so when Howard heard about me being interested in Pollet, he wrote me and said, “If you’ll get Deitrich out of the picture, because he doesn’t stand very well with the American Legion players, Howard plays with one of our Texas Company teams.” He said, “I’ll get him for you, and it won’t cost you a dime.” He said, “But you get Deitrich out of the picture.” I took it up with Deitrich. He said, “That’s all right. I know that McConaughey can do this for you because he plays for this Texas Company team as an amateur.” And he said, “But if he makes good, I think you ought to give me a few hundred dollars.” I said, “Okay. If he makes good, I’ll give you $300.” Well, sir, we brought Howard in to train without paying his expenses. McConaughey handled the whole thing. He even brought him into Houston while he was still playing American Legion ball and just looked at him during spring training.
(40:41) We had our National Association meeting in New Orleans that winter. In the meantime, Dyer’s home was in Houston, and I had put an okay on him, and Eddie and I then went to New Orleans to the meeting. We were meeting at the—I forget the big hotel—Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, and I hadn’t been there 30 minutes until McConaughey came to me and said, “Mr Ankenman, I’m in a jam. I told you I would get Howard Pollet for you, wouldn’t cost you anything.” He said, “I have just come out of a meeting with Slapnicka”—I forget his first name—who was the chief scout for the Cleveland ball club. “I’ve just come out of a meeting with Slapnicka and Howard, and he has offered Howard a $5000 bonus to sign with Cleveland. I had promised you I’d get him for you for nothing.” Howard’s father, by the way, was a former policeman that had passed away, and he was living with his mother. He said, “What in the world are we going to do?” I said, “Let’s got up and talk to Mr Rickey and Mr Breadon” because the Major Leagues met too when the National Association met. So we went up to Mr Rickey’s suite. Mr Breadon was up there and Howard and Eddie, and we talked it over, and we finally decided we’d bring Howard in. He was at the hotel. McConaughey got Howard and brought Howard up there. Mr Rickey was doing most of the talking. Howard said, “Now, I want to play with the St Louis Cardinals organization. I want to play with Houston.” So he finally agreed that he would sign a contract with us for $100 and a $1000 bonus, a $100 a month contract. We knew we’d have to send him to a Class D club or C first. And I say $1000. It was either $1000 or $3000. Mr Rickey asked me if I had any contracts, and I said yes. He said—In the meantime, we found out that Eddie’s aunt, Eddie Dyer’s aunt, was working for the Texas Company. That gave us a pretty good look in, too. So he said, “You take the contract, you and Eddie” because Eddie’s aunt is close to Howard’s mother, and they all tied in. So Eddie and I and Howard Pollet went out to his mother’s home because Howard had already signed the contract, but we had to get her signature. We went out there and got Mrs Pollet to sign the contract, and that’s the way that we got Howard Pollet, who later was a great pitcher for St Louis. We sent him to one our smaller clubs for a year. We sent him over to New Iberia, LA, for 1 year. Then we brought him back to Houston, and later he went to the Cardinals and had several great years with the St Louis Cardinals.
I: (44:20) You mentioned several times about the Class D, Class C clubs. Can you explain that a bit?
FA: Minor leagues organize on the basis of classification. Each classification had to show an overall population in order to quality for the different classifications, and in the days when I was in baseball, the higher classification next to the Major League was AA. At that time, there were just 3 AA leagues; one was Pacific Coast League, the American Association, and the International League. They qualified for AA. We weren’t large enough in total population, the Texas League, to qualify so we were Class A at that time. That included—I can’t name all of them because at one time there were some 40 or 50 leagues. I know it was the Southern League, the Texas League, and the Western League. I remember those being Class A. Then from there it was Class B. The Class B clubs had to show an overall population of so much in order to qualify for B. Then they’d go down to C and D. D was the lowest classification. In those days the St Louis Cardinals had working agreements with as many as 30 or 35 ball clubs, all classifications, all the way from AA. For instance, they had Rochester, and at one time they had Columbus, OH. Of course, they had Houston, and they had smaller classifications, Fort Smith, AR, for instance, and they all had working agreements and, in fact, ownership of most of them because we of the Houston ball club—When I was with the Houston club, the Houston club could have working agreements with lower ones, and we finally organized a club in Austin when I was with the Houston ball club. And this was quite an interesting situation because they organized a new league over there called it may have been the Central Texas League, and we wanted to put Austin in. And I went to Austin, and I got the man over there, a fellow named Mueller, who agreed to be president. He was head of the Austin Trunk factory. But we wanted each town to be able to finance its own. Well, each club in organizing that league was required to put up $1000 as earnest money. In one of my trips to Austin—It’s just a coincidence that that’s where I was born and lived for 20 years and knew a lot of people over there. When I went to the point of getting this $1000, I went to see Mr Wroe, who was with the American National Bank, the biggest bank there. I went in to see Mr Wroe and told him what we wanted to do and that Houston ball club wanted to sponsor the Austin club but we needed $1000 and wanted to know if the bank would loan us that $1000 to get underway. And in those days, that was known as a pretty tight bank. And he said, “You come back to see me this afternoon, 2 o’clock, and I’ll give you an answer.” And he knew that the St Louis club was interested in Houston. And he said, “Mr Ankenman, we’ve had a meeting of the board, and they’ve agreed to let you have this $1000 if, in addition to the Houston Ball Club’s endorsement, you get
Mr Rickey to endorse the note for $1000.” I said, “Thank you, Mr Wroe. I would feel embarrassed to go to Mr Rickey or the Cardinals to think that we couldn’t finance $1000.” I said, “I thank you so much.” I went down to the Austin National Bank where a Mr Hirshfeld—I don’t know whether it was J Hirshfeld; I think it was—was president. I went down to the First National Bank just down the street about a block, walked in there, told my story. They sat down and wrote me a check for $1000 for the Austin Club, and that put Austin in the league. That was quite an interesting experience to me when the big bank wouldn’t loan us $1000 without Mr Rickey’s signature, but we went right down the street, and the Austin National Bank let us have the money.
(49:45) And that’s where we first sent some of our young ballplayers. Watty Watkins played his first special ball in Austin. We sent Watty Watkins over there. We had signed a boy named Danny Blochson (50:00), but Danny Blochson never did go to the Major Leagues. He went to AAs, but we also sent Danny Blochson there. He’s still living in Houston here. Danny is still living in Houston. There’s a number of boys signed that’s still around here. For instance, George Munger is still around here. He went to the Cardinals as a great pitcher. Heinie Schuble is in Baytown. John Burling (50:24) is still around. Of course, Gus Mancuso is still around and very active in business here. I enjoy running into these fellows from time to time. You can just imagine, up in my age. I’m just—Next October I’ll be 89. That’s not a kid, you know. But I’m feeling great. My father lived to be 98, so maybe I can still reach that age. I don’t know.
I: Did other Major League clubs have an interest or agreements with Houston?
FA: No. No. No other club had an interest in Houston, that is not when I was the boss of them. See, later on, the Houston Ball Club and the Texas League—I think they went into some—Houston, I think, went into one of the AA later, the AA classification. That was later on when Allen Russell was president. And Allen Russell became president of the ball club when I left. When I was president, he was the young fellow that I had checking cars for parking purposes on the parking lot. Allen was my parking man, a young fellow, but he’s had—Allen was a great promoter, and we I left, they made Allen president of the ball club. But at that time, he wasn’t still parking cars, but he was still interested pretty much in baseball. And he became president of the ball club for several years. I tell you one thing that I was very proud of. This was after I got out of, right after I got out of, baseball. Well, it wasn’t right afterwards either. Anyhow, when the Houston ball club was in the Major Leagues out in the old Colt Stadium—This is a thing I was very proud of because—I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Dickey Kerr, but Dickey Kerr was a young little left-hand pitcher that went straight in the Chicago White Sox scandal when Judge Landis put about 8 ballplayers out of baseball for life for throwing ballgames in the World Series, but little Dickey Kerr stayed straight. Out at the Colt Stadium, before one of the ballgames out there, Mars Frank (53:11) presented to Dickey Kerr and myself lifetime gold passes to all games of the Colts, which were later the Astros. So I have a gold pass, which I’ve got set up in mahogany case, a little mahogany case. Very proud of getting that. Later on, the only ones I know that they issued later on were to the astronauts. Those gold passes, lifetime gold passes.
I: (53:50) Now you served as the president of the Buffs until 1943.
FA: That’s right. I was 5 years as business secretary and business manager and 17 years president.
I: Did the war and the Depression have, well particularly the war years—Did it have a detrimental effect on the club financially?
FA: Well, of course. Most all leagues closed up for the years 1943, 1944, and 1945. There was no—Most all baseball closed up for those 3 years, you know.
I: What led to your resignation?
FA: Beg your pardon?
I: What led to your resignation from the club?
FA: Well, that is a sad story. Not only in Houston but in St Louis. Mr Branch Rickey, who in my opinion was one of the greatest baseball men in the business, would have made a great commissioner, and he was the general manager of the St Louis Cardinals for years and years. He’s the one that started this chain store baseball, what they call it. And Sam Breadon—Well, I wouldn’t say this. He was a Scotsman. Now whether that had anything to do with it or not, because in my case, I’d say maybe it didn’t, perhaps not, because he’s all right. Sam Breadon was all right. Well, Branch Rickey, he and Mr Breadon had a quarrel of some kind, and Mr Rickey left and went, disassociated himself with the St Louis Cardinals after some—oh, I don’t know—years and years. I don’t know how many years; 20 years or 30 years or something. I think he went from there to the Pittsburgh ball as president of the Pittsburgh Ball Club. Well, when he left, Mr Breadon seemed—Whether this is a fact or not, it appeared that he was going to—I was what they call a “Rickey man” in other words, and those men who were closer to Mr Rickey—I’ll say in my case and I had understood in some other cases—Mr Breadon wrote me because we had had a fairly bad year in 1942. And he writes me a letter and tells me that my salary was going to be cut almost half in two, that I was going to have to handle my own concessions instead of having a concession manager, I’d have to have all of my own advertising and everything, and as a result, I sent him a resignation. That was in 1943. It was—
I: He wanted you out apparently.
FA: (57:11) Apparently he did. Of course, Mr Rickey went over, and I had a nice letter from Mr Rickey in which he had hoped that he could take care of many of what he considered his men as he could, but at the immediate time, he had no place for me. It was within a week I was named revenue officer for the City of Houston, which is the same as city tax assessor and collector, where I remained then for 17-1/2 years.
I: You said in 1942 the club had a bad year.
FA: Substantially so because I’d say it had a bad year, but we’d had a meeting in Cincinnati the year before, this was when he and Mr Rickey split up. It was about the Cincinnati meeting. See, I had 5% of the ballclub, which I had purchased when they made me president. That was one of the agreements we had, that I was to buy 5% interest, and I had no money. Heck! I was a poor boy. I had no money, and I had to borrow it from the bank. Anyway, at the Cincinnati meeting, Breadon came to me and said, “Mr Ankenman, we want to buy your stock.” In the agreement I had, if they did buy it, they’d pay me 6% interest. I was paying the bank out so much a month as I could. He said, “Well, what do you want for your stock?” I think I paid $7500 for it. I had had it for 17 years. I said, “Well, I don’t know, Mr Breadon. How about $15,000?” He said, “That’s okay. When I get back to St Louis, I’ll send you the check.” His excuse was that they were buying in all of the outside ownerships of their Minor League operations. He said, “I’ll send you half of it” I’m pretty sure it was half of it. He said, “I’ll send you the other half in 1 year, but I won’t pay you any interest.” And I said, “Okay.” I knew I was going to get it because I knew Mr Breadon for years. So that’s what it is. He paid me $15,000, and it took a big part of that to go to the bank and pay off. I still owed the bank several thousand dollars, I think $3000 or $4000. This first thing I did was go and pay off the bank and give me a little money. But after all my work, that’s what I got for it; 17-1/2 years. Incidentally, he said, “And you’re to get no dividends because we’re not going to pay any.” But before the thing was all over, they declared a dividend where I would have gotten another $1000, but he wouldn’t give it to me. That was the year 1942 when the club paid a dividend where I would have gotten about $1000 or more; I forget how much it was. Of course, I just resigned. I couldn’t work for a man like that.
I: So the Cardinals really remained in control of the club after that secret deal with Crooker.
FA: (1:01:10) Oh yes.
I: Who owned it before that?
FA: Otto Sens and Doak Roberts. They owned the club for some—oh quite a number of years. They had purchased it from a fellow named Claude Reilly. Claude Reilly had it. But I’ll tell you, at one time, I doubt that anybody in Houston knows that John H Kirby at one time was president of the Houston ballclub. John H Kirby was a big lumberman. He was quite prominent in Houston. He had oil and was quite a gentleman. He at one time was president for part of a year. He was president of the Houston ballclub. He sure was. By the way, among some of the local boys in this community that I signed to their first professional baseball contract, one I overlooked was an outstanding later, Ray Benge, who later went, we sold, to the Philadelphia Phillies or Athletics, I forget which one, but he was a great pitcher in the Major Leagues for along time. In fact he went from Houston; then he was at Waco. He went to Waco first, and then he went to Cleveland in 1926 and went the Phillies—Oh, yes. He went from us to Waco, and then in 1927 pitched in the National League for 11 years. That was Ray Benge that I had signed. For some reason, we had sold someway to Waco, and Waco sent him to the Phillies. But he was a great Major League pitcher for 11 years.
I: We’ve covered a lot of years. Of course we couldn’t cover everything that was important, but as we get near the end of this interview, are there any areas that you’d like to talk about that I haven’t asked you? Please feel free now to do it. There was one area that I forgot to ask you about. That was when you were the captain and manager of the old Barringer and Norton (1:03:50) teams back in 1911, 1914.
FA: Oh, that was in 1911, 1912, 1913. I think it was in 1912, 1913, and 1914. I think I mentioned a while ago different years. It’s difficult for me to remember the exact 3 years, but 3 successive years that we won the City League pennant. That’s when I mentioned a while ago that I was manager 2 years and captain 1. My brother-in-law, Walter Williams, who was a great amateur pitcher, was either the manager or the captain during those
3 years. I don’t think any of those boys are still living. I might mention a recent incident that is quite interesting to me, but I hadn’t found it at my backdoor, that’s been probably
2 months ago, a clipping out of the Houston Chronicle dated back in 1938. It had a large picture on the sports page, and that picture depicted 5 of us with our arms hanging over the railing out at Buffalo Stadium. That picture showed Ed Killian (1:05:21), an old-time ballplayer here in Houston; Watty Watkins, who I’ve mentioned before; myself was in the middle; Carey Selph, who managed our ballclub for 2 years and who passed away some 2 months ago; and Sticks Reilly (1:05:41), who was the head of the City Recreation Department, the Athletic Department, of the City of Houston. They had a story underneath about where we 5 had done so much and told in detail what each one of us had done to revive amateur baseball in the city of Houston. I’m sorry to say that with the passing of Carey Selph about 6 weeks ago, I am the only one of those 5 who is still living. In fact, at my age, I guess that you can’t expect very many of these old-timers that have gone along as long as I have. But I had some wonderful experiences, especially as I said before that I thought that Mr Branch Rickey was the greatest yet, and I had an incident happen to me with him on one occasion. It was during the year that I was president of the Downtown Kiwanis Club. I was Downtown Kiwanis Club president in 1936. Early in that year—No, it was the fall, I guess, of that year. Anyhow, we were going to a National League National Association meeting somewhere up in the east, and a group of the Cardinal scouts and managers and all met in St Louis. We went in a special car, and we had to go through Indianapolis. And I know Mr Rickey had arranged this because he was to be the principal speaker at a Methodist National or International Conference of the Methodist Church, and he was to be the principal speaker. We stopped. We got into Indianapolis that afternoon about 6 o’clock, and he was to speak that evening at the city auditorium at Indianapolis. About time for him to go to the auditorium, he grabbed me by the arm and said, “Fred, come on and walk down to the auditorium with me. It’s only a few blocks down.” He said, “I want you to walk with me.” So we started out. Now, mind you, Mr Rickey was a great speaker. He was on Bluebird talking tours and getting paid for speaking. I heard him make the greatest speech I ever heard on the Constitution of the United States. Walking down with him, we hadn’t started very far or gotten very far, and he said, “Fred, I’ll never make it. I’ll never make it.” He said, “I’m so nervous. I’ll never make it. I’ll never make it, Fred.” He said, “Oh, I’m so nervous. I’ll never make it.” We kept going, and he kept saying, “Oh, I dread this. I’ll never make this. I’ll never make it. I’m so nervous.” Of course, all of our group went down to hear him at this big meeting they were having. He made one of the greatest speeches you ever heard. That did more for me because when I was president of the Downtown Kiwanis Club, I had to preside at 52 meetings, and by golly, every time I got up there, I’d be nervous. When I had this experience, Mr Rickey did great. I said, “Well, who am I not to get nervous when I get up to speak.” And that did me more good and helped me more in public speaking than anything in the world ever happened to me. That was really great. It sure was.
I: (1:09:44) It’s been fun talking to you, and I want to thank you very much for the time that you’ve given to me for this interview.
FA: Well, you’re quite welcome, and I enjoyed seeing you, and I know the last part of your last name is, I think, F-A-Z-A. Did I get that right?
I: (1:10:02) No. F-A-V-A.
FA: F-A-V-A. F-A-V-A. It says Shriank. S-H-R-I-A or something like that.
I: Marchafava. M-A-R-C-H-A-F-A-V-A.
FA: Yeah. I’m glad.