William Harridge

William Harridge
William Harridge served as the president
of the American League for 28 years.

William Harridge was the American League president for 28 years, yet his is one of the least-recognized names of baseball's short list of administrators. He was a man behind the scenes.

William Harridge (1883-1971) was born in Chicago to British parents. He learned stenography as a young man, and got a job for the Wabash Railroad. One of his duties was to process the incredible amount of paperwork generated by the rail travel of baseball teams. Ban Johnson, the president of the AL, recognized the organizational skills Will brought to his railroad work. In 1911, Ban hired Will as his personal secretary, increasing Harridge's salary from $90 a month to $200 a month.

Harridge helped Johnson keep the growing American League together for 16 years, until Johnson was forced to take a leave of absence in 1927. After a few months, Ban came back to find Harridge still working and was furious. After Johnson resigned, Harridge continued as secretary under Ernest Barnard for four more years. After Barnard died in 1931, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey pushed Harridge's nomination through, and Will became the AL president.

By 1932, Harridge had proved that he was tough enough to take on some of the strong-willed owners. He suspended Yankees catcher Bill Dickey for a month for punching another player -- challenging the most powerful owner in the circuit, the Yankees' Jacob Ruppert. Ruppert was furious initially, but within a few years was a strong supporter.

Harridge worked quietly to promote league attendance and enforce the rules. He championed the All-Star Game and, after initial opposition, night baseball. He disliked stunts, however, and quickly put a stop to Bill Veeck after Eddie Gaedel, a 3'7" performer, managed to enter a game as a pinch hitter in 1951. Will fined one of his favorite players, Ted Williams, when the Splinter's feud with fans and press, expressed through spitting, became an issue.

Yet Harridge supported Williams when fans accused him of draft-dodging in 1942. In one of his less farsighted moves, Harridge fired umpire Ernest Stewart for unionizing in 1948, though at the same time, Will worked hard to end umpire-baiting at the hands of players and managers.

Harridge stepped down as president in 1958, remaining chairman of the board of the American League until he died in 1971. Will was named to the Hall of Fame in 1972.

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