Saturday, March 28, 2015

1943 "fantasy baseball" auction funded $124 million war bond drive

Organized Baseball raised billions of dollars in
war bonds sales during World War II to
raise its patriotic profile.

            An unusual form of fantasy baseball was created during World War II when the “War Bonds League” was formed. Participants bid on players from the three New York major league teams and followed their on-field performance. Instead of winning money based on the players’ performance, however, the fantasy leaguers paid in more money for each base hit, pitcher’s win, etc.
            It was all a plan to sell war bonds.
            As I wrote on this blog on Feb. 2, Organized Baseball -- from Yankee Stadium to the Class E Twin Ports League; owners, players and clubhouse boys alike -- relied on the forbearance of the Federal government to stay alive during World War II.
To assure they retained positive public sentiment, there was no group more diligent in their efforts to financially support the U.S. war effort than professional baseball.
The United States did not finance World War II in the manner in which recent administrations have done, by deficit spending. WWII was largely funded on a pay-as-you-go system by selling Series E bonds to the public under the Treasury Department National Defense Savings Program.
The plan was brilliantly conceived to prevent rampant inflation during a period when full employment collided with rationing of even the most basic goods and services by taking money out of circulation.
Series E bonds were sold in denominations from $25 to $10,000. Buyers paid 75% of the bonds’ face value. They were redeemable in 10 years, paying only a modest 2.9% annual rate of return.
The government urged citizens to put 10% of their pay into war bonds, and the American people responded with patriotic fervor. About half of the population, more than 85 million people, bought $185.7 billion in war bonds at a time when the median household income in America was about $2,000.
The suggestion to sell war bonds by auctioning local ballplayers originated with John H. Callen, assistant administrator of the New York War Saving Staff of the Treasury Department.    The War Bonds League auction was conducted June 8, 1943, at a luncheon in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, sponsored by the Treasury Department and the New York and Brooklyn chapters of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Dodgers outfielder Dixie Walker,
on this 1940 team-issued photo,
was also "The Peoples Cherce" in
the War Bonds League fantasy
auction, bringing $11 million.
The event was attended by some 1,500 businessmen, industrialists, bankers, etc., from Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, as well as officials of all three New York teams and National League President Ford Frick.
The principal auctioneer was former New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. He was assisted by broadcasters Red Barber of the Dodgers and Mel Allen of the Yankees.
            The auction was broadcast live by New York radio station WJZ over the Blue Network, of the American Broadcasting System.
In a feature in the June 17, 1943, issue of The Sporting News, Harry Cross of the New York Herald-Tribune reported that the ballplayer auction resulted in bond sales pledges of $123,850,000, reportedly a new record for a one-day war bond sales event.
            Cross wrote, “Brooklyn money and Dodgers boosters dominated the unusual gathering. The unbridled enthusiasm of the Brooklyn War Bond bidders reflected the kind of aggressive interest which marks Ebbets Field fans.”
            The Brooklyn backers drove the price of six Dodgers players higher than that garnered by any of the Yankees or Giants. The highest bid was $11,250,000 for Bums’ outfielder Dixie Walker, followed closely by Arky Vaughan at $11,000,000. Those bids were more than double that of any other player in the auction.
            Bragging rights for Walker were purchased by the Brooklyn Club, a social organization in the borough, while Vaughan’s “buyer” was Esso Marketeers, the public relations and promotions arm of Standard Oil.
            The Sporting News published this list of the player auction results and the sponsors who won the bids.
BROOKLYN DODGERS -- $56,500,000
            Dixie Walker                Brooklyn Club                            11,250,000
            Arky Vaughan             Esso Marketeers                        11,000,000
            Dolph Camilli               Bowery Savings Bank                  5,000,000
            Billy Herman                C.J. Devine & Co. (leading Wall St. dealer in government securities)                                                                                                                   4,000,000
            Augie Galan                Dime Savings Bank                      4,000,000
            Buck Newsom             Borden Co. (the “Elsie” dairy company)                                                                                                                                                             3,750,000
            Albie Glossop              Bowery Savings Bank                  3,500,000
            Rube Melton                Socony-Vacuum (world’s third largest oil company)                                                                                                                                           3,000,000
            Freddie Fitzsimmons   John Cashmore (Brooklyn Borough President)                                                                                                                                                    3,000,000
            Mickey Owen              Brooklyn Junior Chamber of Commerce
            Joe Medwick               Kuhn, Loeb and Co. (investment banking firm)
            Whitlow Wyatt             J. P. Stevens and Co. (textile industry giant)
            Kirby Higbe                 Bonwit-Teller (upscale 5th Avenue department store)                                                                                                                                           1,500,000

NEW YORK YANKEES -- $17,300,000
            Joe Gordon                 National Bronx Savings                3,500,000
            Johnny Murphy           Roosevelt Savings, Brooklyn        3,300.000
            Bill Dickey                   Bronx “Syndicate” (group of fans from neighborhood around Yankee Stadium)                                                                                                    2,000,000
            Roy Weatherly Alexander’s Department Store (discount chain in metropolitan N.Y.)                                                                                        1,500,000
            Charlie Keller              Eastern Airlines                            1,250,000
            Johnny Lindell             Socony-Vacuum                          1,250,000
            Nick Etten                    J. P. Stevens and Co.                1,000,000
            Ernie Bonham             Eastern Women’s Headwear Assn. (millinery manufacturers trade group)                                                                                                            1,000,000
            Hank Borowy               Bonwit-Teller                                 750,000
            Frank Crosetti             American Woolen Co. (huge military materials contractor)                                                                                                                                     750,000
            George Stirnweiss       J. P. Stevens and Co.                    500,000
            Spud Chandler            General Outdoor Advertising (world’s largest marketer of billboards)                                                                                                                       500,000

NEW YORK GIANTS -- $15,050,000 
            Carl Hubbell                Esso Marketeers                          3,000,000
            Mel Ott                        4 for 3 Club (social club)              2,000,000
            Dick Bartell                  War Savings Staff                       2,000,000
            Babe Barna                 Irving Savings Bank                    1,500,000
            Ernie Lombardi            North River Savings                    1,500,000
            Sid Gordon                  International Business Machine   1,250,000
            Billy Jurges                  1st Boston Corp.                       1,000,000
            Bill Lohrman                Bonwit-Teller                             1,000,000
            Ace Adams                  Norman Liberman                        750,000
            Mickey Witek               Taxi Industry                              500,000
            Cliff Melton                  Socony-Vacuum                         350,000
            Buster Maynard           J. P. Stevens and Co.                 300,000

            In addition to the successful player surrogate purchases of $88,850,000, the underbidders and others at the luncheon pledged an additional $35,000,000.
           But the auction bidding was not the end of the fund-raising effort. The sponsor of each player pledged to buy additional bonds based on the on-field performance of their players from June 15 through the end of the 1943 season.
            Announced performance pledge amounts were:
                        Single              $2,500
                        Double             $5,000
                        Triple               $7,500
                        Home Run       $10,000
                        Pitcher’s win    $25,000 (later, $35,000)
                        Pitcher’s shutout         $50,000
            As an example of the performance payout, The Sporting News cited the Dodgers-Giants game on June 15, at which War Bonds League players brought in some $90,000 in bond pledges.
            Brooklyn lost that game at the Polo Grounds, 5-6. Dodgers players in the WBL had six of the team’s eight hits, all singles. Vaughan had three hits, Herman had two and Galan had one, worth $2,500 each ($15,000 total).
            For the Giants, participating players had nine of New York’s 11 hits. Bartell, Witek, Melton and Lombardi had singles. Lombardi also chipped in a double. Ott doubled and homered and Jurges and Melton each homered, bringing the position players’ count to $50,000 in pledges. Ace Adams got the win ($25,000).
            More casual fans of the players were also welcomed to buy bonds with points credited to that player’s “team.”
            When the season was over, $7,325,000 in war bonds had been sold based on on-field performance. Dixie Walker was again the top earner, with $257,000 in sales attributed to his game play.
            In all, the three New York teams combined to account for nearly a billion dollars in bond sales -- $947,300,000 – during the 1943 season.

P.S. An interesting side note published in TSN said that the sponsor of the June 8 auction lunch, Benrus Watch Co., paid $2,000 to host of the event. The company invited all New York baseball writers to a pre-lunch meeting. Only a few attended . . . and each received a $100 watch.

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