Historical Markers
Barney Dreyfuss (1865-1932) Historical Marker
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Barney Dreyfuss (1865-1932)

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Posvar Hall of the University of Pittsburgh

Dedication Date:
June 30, 2005

Behind the Marker

Head and shoulders of a young Barney Dreyfus waring a huit and tie.
Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, circa 1923.
Barney Dreyfuss seems an unlikely baseball fixture. Unique among team owners of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, he did not play the game at the highest levels, like markerAl Reach and markerConnie Mack did, or even grow up with it. He did not even grow up in the United States. His is an immigrant's success story.

That Dreyfuss came to the game relatively late did not stop him from leaving his mark on it, and may, in fact, have even helped him. An unabashed fan of the game, he was also an astute enough businessman to approach the game as a business. Less bound than his contemporaries by the game's earliest traditions, he was never afraid to innovate or step in to make peace between warring factions - especially if it served his own interests. But he was more than a businessman who owned a baseball team. In time, he learned to appreciate the fine points of the game so much that he became one of its keenest students and observers. No less an authority than Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey considered Dreyfuss the best judge of players he had ever seen.

Judge Landis surrounded by baseball team owners, Chicago, 1920.
Judge Landis surrounded by baseball team owners, Chicago, 1920. Pittsburgh...
Born in 1865, in Freiburg, Germany, Dreyfuss attended school in Freiburg, then worked in a bank in nearby Karlsruhe. After he turned sixteen, his prospect of being drafted into the German Army was high, and as a young Jew, his potential for advancement in the military was low. Dreyfuss's father was actually an American citizen, who had returned to Germany at the outbreak of the Civil War. So in 1885, Barney headed for Kentucky, where his cousins, who had moved to Paducah shortly after the Civil War, had established a successful distillery.

Dreyfuss arrived knowing little English, but learned quickly - both the language and the business - rising in just a few years from a clerk to an officer of Bernheim Brothers, the creator of the famed I.W. Harper bourbon label. Dreyfuss also took to the national pastime of his adopted land, organizing amateur baseball teams first for the distillery workers, then semipro clubs around town. When the distillery expanded in 1889 to larger quarters in Louisville, Dreyfuss quickly bought a piece of the Louisville Colonels of the-then major league American Association. The team won the pennant in 1890, and after the league fell apart in 1891, Dreyfuss moved it to the National League, where the Colonels remained doormats for most of the decade.

Team photograph of members standing on a ball field.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, August 19, 1905.
They were doormats, however, with potential. By 1899, when Dreyfuss acquired the team outright for about $50,000, his roster included markerHonus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Tommy Leach, Deacon Phillippe, and markerRube Waddell. His investment was about to get more interesting. When the National League cut Louisville from the league before the start of the 1900 season, Dreyfuss accepted an option to purchase an interest in the Pittsburgh Pirates, then traded the best of the Colonel's players- Wagner among them - to the Pirates, and bought out his partners. The Pirates then won pennants in 1901, 1902, and 1903.

Still, there were problems. In 1901, the upstart American League began play, moving into National League territories and raiding National League rosters for payers. All-out war between the leagues lasted until 1903 when Dreyfuss, who used all of his negotiating skill to keep the junior circuit out of Pittsburgh, brokered the peace treaty that recognized two major leagues, instituted a single set of rules, established agreements with the minor leagues, set up cooperative scheduling, and recognized each league's rights to its own players.

Photograph of the Field in the background and a crowd of people walking, horse drawn wagons and other vehicles stretching far into the foreground on a road that leads to the field.
Forbes Field soon after its opening, Pittsburgh, PA, July 5, 1909.
That February, Dreyfuss led a syndicate that purchased the Philadelphia Phillies. In September, he laid the groundwork for what would become the markerfirst official World Series. Although his Pirates would lose to the Boston Pilgrims 5 games to 3, Dreyfuss cemented his reputation for being good to players by adding his own share of the gate receipts to the players' winnings.

Concerned that Exposition Park was no longer a good neighborhood, Dreyfuss decided to relocate the Pirates three miles from downtown to the new Oakland section that his friend, industrialist markerAndrew Carnegie, was intent on developing as a vital cultural center for the region. The new ballpark - markerForbes Field - was designed to be its hub. Begun in January of 1909, the stadium opened for play at the end of June, and along with Philadelphia's markerShibe Park, which debuted the same season, was one of baseball's original concrete-and-steel venues. Critics, who dubbed it "Dreyfuss's Folly," complained it was too large, too elaborate, too expensive, and too far from downtown. But the fans loved it, and the team rewarded them that fall with a pennant and a World Series victory over the Detroit Tigers.

Dreyfuss continued to lead the team as something of a benevolent dictator until his death in 1932, winning two more pennants and the 1925 World Series over the Washington Senators, all the while remaining at the center of every important decision that affected the game. He successfully fought the insurgent threat of the Federal League in 1914 and 1915, then helped form the commission that investigated the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Despite his efforts and objections, the "lively ball" - and the home run - flourished in the wake of the Sox scandal.

Barney Dreyfuss died in early 1932 from complications of pneumonia. In 2008, he was elected the Major League baseball's Hall of Fame.
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