Paducah and the World Series: The Life and Times of Barney Dreyfuss

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of how a meek German immigrant went on to create the most iconic sports event of them all - the Baseball World Series.

Submitted: May 05, 2009

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Submitted: May 05, 2009



Baseball in the early years was not like the game we see today. It took 50 years for it to develop into the style that we love and appreciate now. And it was in 1903 that an effort unequaled in sporting events occurred - the creation of Baseball’s World Series Championship. It was by the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a man named Barney Dreyfuss. His story as a baseball magnate will always remain, but so little is known about his early life that it is rarely mentioned in any baseball history books. The most important part of Barney’s life, the key reason why he went on to help create sports history, was the years he spent in Paducah, Kentucky.

Baseball history tells us that 1839 was the year baseball was established as a common game. In later years Abner Doubleday became the accepted inventor, but that is not correct. It was Alexander Cartwright who historians know as the Father of Baseball. By 1845, it was he who established the ingenious dimensions of the playing field, how ‘bases’ were used, the 3 strike out, the 3 out inning, tagging the player rather than throwing the ball at a running player for an out, the ‘box score’, and many other changes.

Thanks to Cartwright (along with Henry Chadwick’s efforts), Baseball developed into a professional sport by 1869. The first pro team was known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The players had to list their 'occupation' as something completely different because Baseball was not a socially acceptable means of income. What made it acceptable was the refined manner it was played, more closely resembling what we now call Softball. Games were so pleasant that it was as appropriate as an upper class Polo event. However, as time went by that attitude changed. It became much more aggressive, tougher, and grittier. Also, team ownership quickly grew into prominence because the money involved made it a very attractive pursuit. At times competition between owners was as intense as the game on the field, and it was the very reason why baseball became so important.

During the 1870's and 1880's Baseball was a continually growing, changing sport. Overhand, hard throwing pitchers came into use when the underhand rule was eliminated. Gloves (later with webbing) for better fielding developed, as well as masks and chest protectors for catchers. Uniforms were made to look more colorful, with numbers added for identifying the player. Custom made bats became popular. One of the most important advances was the competitive acquirement of better players. It gave Baseball much better teams, but accidentally created a murky image for the general public because many players were considered ‘lower class’. Pictures of various ball clubs resemble a police line-up rather than a baseball team. The game improved, but their uncouth language often offended women spectators.

Professional organization and league establishment was the most difficult, partly because of too much distance between team locations. It was much easier when set up as regional leagues. Travel and play schedules changed, sometimes in the midst of league play. Rules and playing fields were upgraded, especially field enlargements for increased commerce. Owners were investing more money because fan attendance was the most important,and it was 'championships' that became a new focus. A champion team became the point of interest, not only for fans but increased profit for the owners.

The first championships began in the early 1880's and would continue until the turn of the century. As a side note, it was in 1890 when the only Kentucky team would appear in such a contest. The Louisville Cyclones of the American Association faced the Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the National League. It was an interesting series, the only one to officially end in a tie. The final game of the 3 game series was played in Louisville but it lasted longer than usual, finally ending due to darkness with the score 7-7. Because of cold weather and lack of attendance it was not replayed.

Professional Baseball had improved greatly, but it was in 1893 when a rule was initiated that set the sport into place. Pitching distance was increased from 50 feet to 60½. The game changed so drastically that pitchers were challenged to their limit. Batters had a distinct advantage suddenly, which they never had before, and some players’ batting averages inflated like balloons. It was the most exciting version of baseball fans had ever seen. In 1894 there was no championship played, but in 1895 pitchers were more comfortable with the rule change and the championship games were restored. It was then that Baseball was clearly recognized as the major sport in the entire country. Game attendances were better than ever, and most team owners were making profits.

However, behind closed business doors it had its share of devious, tricky, league power maneuvers. There was no neutral Commissioner of Baseball. Management was a three-man arrangement with owners called the “Commission”. Decisions to benefit the entire league were a voting technique, advantages to each owner dependent on who were their best allies. At times it was so bloodless that it put others out of business, and created enemies amongst themselves. Newspapers were the only source of information, so the inside story was hard for the public to understand. If their activities were happening today with as much instant media as we have, it would be more harsh and just as controversial. But in those days fans mostly paid attention to the players, and questionable tactics by team owners would not be known for several years.

It was in this time period that a man named Barney Dreyfuss stepped into the picture. He became known as one of the most popular owners because he loved Baseball as a game, and he was one who didn't set the example of team owner treachery. Dreyfuss changed the game in ways we wish others could do today.

Bernhard Dreifus was born in Freiberg, Germany on February 23, 1865, to Isaac and Hannah (Deutsch) Dreifus. It is not known if he was named Bernhard or Barnhardt, or why the last name spelling was changed to Dreyfuss, but “Barney” was the name forever used. It was Barney’s grandparents Leon and Fannie (Dreifus) Bernheim, of Schmieheim, Germany, who were parents to Isaac and Bernard Bernheim (born 1848 and 1850 respectively). These two individuals would later become very important in the history Barney would make.

Freiberg is in the eastern portion of Germany, southwest of the city Dresden, in the foothills of the Erzgebirge Mountains. It was a foremost silver mining community, later to establish the renowned Freiberg Mining Academy. This Academy became so well known that institutes for radium, nonferrous metals, fuel, and leather would also develop. The silver mines were finally exhausted by 1913, but soon after, mining for Pyrites, Zinc, and Lead became the most productive.

Freiberg is also known for the key development of the Piano. A man named Gottfried Silbermann, a builder of harpsichords, clavichords, and organs became fascinated with its advancement. Silbermann did his share of developing the use of ‘hammers’ for Piano rather than the ‘plucking’ used in harpsichords. He also helped formalize the design, construction and use of ‘sustain’ foot pedals. Both improvements are today’s accepted standards, and German pianos are undoubtedly the finest in the industry.

Today, Freiberg, Germany has a population of 52,000 and is best known for manufacturing machinery, electrical and precision instruments, leather, textiles, and porcelain. Freiberg has always been perhaps “blue collar” in nature, but in the 1860’s it was a very bustling city. Barney was a very intelligent youth who moved through his normal education much faster than those his age. He was finished with normal schooling by the age of 15, very quickly taking a job as bookkeeper with a bank located in Karlsruhe, Germany. Karlsruhe was in the southwest, literally on the opposite side of the country. Barney worked for this bank one year, and then decided to make the move that would soon change his life forever. It was the decision to immigrate to the United States. Life in America had become a concerted effort by the integral, familial closeness of the Bernheim, Dreyfuss, and Weil families. The Bernheim’s were particularly outgoing, and openly supportive of the United States. They were so active toward the Constitutional basis of American freedom that in 1865 Isaac W. Bernheim came to the U.S., soon to be followed by Isaac’s brother Bernard, as well as Barney, Solomon, and Samuel Dreyfuss.

Isaac Bernheim was an exuberant, boisterous fellow who wasted no time in pursuing the fruits of a burgeoning if troubled country. His original intent was to work with a New York based company, but without warning they went bankrupt. With little choice Isaac picked a sales effort for pursuit, and was able to find sellable items. He became what we would today call a “traveling salesman”, but known then as a ‘peddler’. He was so aggressive that he was successful from the start. In his travels Isaac provided necessities to families and businesses with personal service. As it immediately followed a horrifying Civil War his efforts and timing could not have been more perfect. Pictures of Isaac in that era portrayed him as almost a ‘hobo’, equipped with a travel bag hanging over his shoulder. Later in life Isaac would reflect on his early days. He said, “The new avocation afforded me many opportunities to familiarize myself with the language and customs of the people (and the country itself) as perhaps no other pursuit could. It developed me physically, and worth still more to me was a spirit of independence and self-reliance, which stood me in good stead afterward. I trudged along the peaceful Pennsylvania highways dreaming of future triumphs.”

Not only did he perform well as a salesman, he also did well as a business purveyor. How Isaac Bernheim found Paducah, Kentucky is not clear, but he achieved a steady job as bookkeeper with a company called “Loeb, Bloom & Co.”, a wholesale liquor dealer. He may have started as a bookkeeper, but it wasn’t long before he was back to his expertise of selling. Isaac’s notable success allowed him to create business associates, particularly Nathan Uri, who happened to be a family member of original settlers of Paducah. Nathan’s father was part owner of a distillery near New Haven, Kentucky, their main office located in Chicago. The potential of direct connection to a distillery was very attractive, so in 1872 Isaac, his brother Bernard, and Nathan Uri formed the liquor sales firm “Bernheim Brothers & Uri”.

Paducah, Kentucky is located in the extreme western area of the state. It is a low land, near the confluence of four major rivers: the Cumberland, the Tennessee, the Ohio, and the Mississippi. As it was established on the southern bank of the Ohio River, Paducah was a key transport hub. Such a location and recovery from the war made Paducah important to the entire region. Amongst the many endless supplies needed by so many people, it was liquor (mostly whisky) that looked obviously promising because Paducah had few providers. Many historical references say that “Bernheim Brothers & Uri” was itself a distillery, but that is not accurate. They were affiliated with a distillery, but mainly wholesalers/distributors. Plus, they conducted their business properly by providing customers with a wide variety of spirits, including wines.

In a very short time “Bernheim Brothers & Uri” became a bustling business. They grew quickly and steadily. Their office was located so close to the Ohio River that access to the shipping dock was immediate, and merchandise could be handled quickly. Their business arrangement was Isaac working sales to the West, Nathan to the East, and Bernard in charge of the office (with Herman Weil), which created an airtight process. Isaac and Nathan were ‘on the road’ constantly, proving their unshakable work ethic, so successful that it was much more profitable than they expected. There was such a demand for their services that communication with family in Germany strongly suggested increased opportunities for them. It worked because in 1879 a new business was established called “Weil Brothers and Kahn”, consisting of Henry and Jacob Weil, brothers to Herman who was part of Bernheim’s office staff. As Isaac and Bernard were associated with Paducah native Nathan Uri, the Weil’s were connected to the notable Kahn family, early Jewish settlers of Paducah as the Uri’s were. They became an additional but non-competitive liquor wholesaler. The Weil family had been long-time friends of the Bernheim’s, and the liquor trade was so widespread that trusted presence was indeed welcome. It had grown large enough to provide plenty of business to both, and so beneficial that plans began developing for expansion.

It was 1881 when Barney Dreyfuss arrived in Paducah, Kentucky. He too immigrated quickly thanks to the interfamily excitement of success in America, and at the age of 16 the opportunities in such a great country were too hard to resist. When he arrived he began living with family members in a residential area mere blocks from downtown, close to their office on north 2nd street. Barney’s family (plus the Weil’s) lived in a section near Jefferson Street (a main north-south thoroughfare), on 9th between Monroe and Madison streets. This was a very exclusive neighborhood. The close-knit family aura, vibrant city activity, and easy access to their workplace became a valuable asset to their endeavors.

The “Bernheim Brothers & Uri” liquor business had increased so steadily that Barney was another welcome addition. Bookkeeping at that level was much simpler than the intricate detail required in banking, but his immediate knowledge of complex financial minutia was a distinct advantage. Barney applied himself to office business so well that his intrinsic work became indispensable. However, it is possible that integration with a brand new lifestyle was uncomfortable. He did not have the outgoing, overt personality of Isaac Bernheim. Barney was quieter, more studious, did not frequently socialize. It is not known if illness or disassociation was the problem, or the year in which it occurred, but a doctor visit became necessary. The physician (name unknown) suggested outdoor activity because it would improve his overall health. Barney did this, and it led him to the discovery of Baseball.

Baseball in the 1880’s was growing into the sport that would later be declared “The National Pastime”. It was so popular that teams of every kind sprang up as fast as players could be found. Baseball was so active in Paducah that Barney Dreyfuss became captivated. He had no problem finding games to play, but a German immigrant working his way into the local clique was certainly a challenge. As difficult as it would be for an intimidated, physically limited, low-key person to involve himself in a rough sport, it still did not stop him. Baseball must have been a stunning realization for Barney, that perhaps he had found the path that all of us are meant to find. As players always do, he tried all the positions but settled at second base and is said to have been very good at it. Barney’s love for the game grew so intense that he formed a team at the semi-pro level. There is no record of the team’s name, or their won-lost record, or if a ‘league’ had developed around it, but there is no doubt that this was the most important discovery Barney would ever make.

Paducah, Kentucky was not only a transcendent revelation for Barney Dreyfuss, spending eight of his most important years there, but also important lessons of business practice. The “Bernheim Brothers & Uri” had grown so large that they were a potent force. A deal with the Uri family had been struck, so in 1888 the Bernheim’s (with Barney) moved from Paducah to Louisville for the purchase of the distillery in New Haven. This required the establishment of business practices very different from what had existed for so long, which is why Barney was needed. Still, the Paducah office as a dealer outlet was important to maintain. With the arrival of Barney’s brother Solomon (and later his brother Samuel) it was restructured as “Dreyfuss & Weil”. It would continue as an effective arm of a growing network since it also maintained friendly relations with the newly upgraded “Weil & Schwab” (formerly “Weil & Kahn”) as they had originally established.

(Side-note:Solomon was also an effective businessman, keeping their distributorship intact for another 25 years, until tragedy occurred. On June 8, 1913, Solomon Dreyfuss was shot to death. It was officially listed as a shooting “…in a manner unknown”, which according to the Paducah Police Department would today be considered a homicide. No record exists of a constable or sheriff report, the case is forever unsolved. On June 10, Solomon Dreyfuss was buried at the Jewish Cemetery in Paducah.)

By the time they relocated to Louisville, controlling interest in the Pleasure Ridge Park Distillery had been purchased. After full ownership had been achieved, it was re-established as the “Bernheim Distillery Co.” in 1896. They began the production and manufacture of an elite whisky brand called I.W. Harper, as well as a more common type called Old Charter, with different varieties of each. They are now owned by Heaven Hill Distilleries, but in that era the Bernheim’s dreams were truly fulfilled. Isaac Bernheim was incredibly successful and would go on to become one of the most renowned, respected philanthropists ever. Besides many charitable organizations, as well as gifts to local institutions, he was so magnanimous that a large tract of beautiful landscape was given to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and was immediately named the “Bernheim Forest”. Isaac Bernheim died in 1945.

(Side-note:Isaac’s son, Bertram Bernheim, was born on February 15, 1880 in Paducah. After grammar and secondary school, Bertram began undergraduate work with the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Bertram received his medical degree in 1905, and by 1909 was a specialist in vascular surgery. He was so good that in 1913 he became clinical surgeon instructor at Johns Hopkins Medical School, re-specializing in the research of blood transfusions. Bertram’s exemplary work perfected what today is an accepted, necessary procedure.)

After leaving Paducah, Barney Dreyfuss began his own legacy of achievement. Louisville had a professional baseball team going back to the original formation of the National League, to reappear in the American Association in 1882 as the Louisville Cyclones. Then in 1892 the Association league faded away and all affiliated teams were transferred to the National League, where the Louisville team was renamed the Colonels. Thanks to his enormous success and passion for the game, Barney considered the possibility of baseball ownership. It is believed that he invested (lightly) in the Louisville Colonels about 1895. The Colonels had consistently been one of the worst teams since going to the NL in 1892, but as soon as new player arrivals showed eager possibilities his money interests increased.

In 1897 it was clear that a brand new league was under serious development. The head of the league was Ban Johnson, a well-connected and fiercely determined businessman. The owners could foresee problems ahead so new financial and positional arrangements began. It was decided that the current NL be reduced from 12 teams to 8. Amongst those chosen for elimination was the Louisville Colonels, due to poor field performance and lack of fan attendance. As Barney observed these unfolding events he took an unusual course; he did not sell the Colonels, he bought into the club, becoming its President in 1899. He also bought into the Pittsburgh Pirates who were to remain in the league. The Louisville team was bad enough to be eliminated, but the Pirates were little better than average. Between the owners this was considered a ‘merger’, a clear benefit to both teams considering the level of talent combined. The best example was a Colonels player named Honus Wagner, who would always be considered one of the best players the game has ever seen. Plus, it was hoped that the release of negligible players would inhibit the new American League’s chances of taking better players from the National League.

1900 was the first year of the restructured NL, but it was problematic. The formation of Ban Johnson’s AL went ahead full speed and his National League ‘raid’ for players was successful. These efforts did not directly affect the Pirates, but animosity between the two Leagues would. Instead of inter-league rivalry, it was during the 1899 Baseball season when various disagreements between the Pirates co-owners were most distasteful. Plenty of detailed information regarding the events is available on Library shelves everywhere, but essentially, Barney resorted to a series of questionable maneuvers against William Kerr to get full control of the Pittsburgh Pirates. When the 1900 Baseball season was underway, Barney Dreyfuss was officially listed as the President of the club.

The following seasons were full of interesting events, but 1901 especially was Baseball’s historic Magna Carta. It was the year that the American League became reality, the year that most historians call the beginning of “Modern Era” Baseball, the year when the National League’s monopoly of Baseball was gone forever. As much as the NL wanted to reject it, they were soon to find out that the AL was much more organized and competitive than expected. Great names like Cy Young, Jimmy Collins, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Plank, and Kid Gleason had some of their best years. Between 1901 and 1903 competition between AL teams was as good as National League play, the Boston Pilgrims especially, finishing near the top every year. And as Barney’s Pittsburgh Pirates finished in first place three straight years, the need to reverse the vitriolic attitude between Leagues was necessary.

In 1903 it was Barney Dreyfuss who approached the Boston Pilgrims President Henry Killilea with an idea. Barney met with him before seasons end because the Pirates were strong and would finish 6½ games ahead of the New York Highlanders. The Pilgrims were stronger, soon to finish 14½ games ahead of the Philadelphia Athletics. The story has been told in different ways, but it came about with a very simple solution. The idea was, a championship series between the two teams would not only attract fans from both sides, but resulting controversy would perhaps ignite the series into the best gate attraction of all. Killilea is said to have carefully considered it, but was not entirely trusting of Barney. Legend has it that the creation of the series came down to a wager made by Dreyfuss: the winning team would take 60% of the gate receipts, the loser 40%, it would be a 9 game series to bring in as much money as possible, both teams obviously benefiting. Dreyfuss and Killilea cemented the deal with a handshake.

The American League proved their worthiness in no uncertain terms by winning the first World Series 5 games to 3. The National League saw it as the ultimate insult. Under different conditions the Pirates were capable of winning, but their pitching staff was nearly exhausted. Sam Leever was their ace and the winner of all three games, a warhorse with only one day of rest between starts. No one else on the staff was effective. Boston, with only a five man pitching staff, still remained very strong because their hurling behemoths were Cy Young and “Big Bill” Dineen. The two pitched almost 600 innings during the season, an impossible feat by today’s standards. While the National League took it personally, Barney did not. In goodwill he gave his players all the money earned at the gate.

The remainder of Barney’s career is documented in a plethora of Baseball history books, but it is important to know that he was not the treacherous, greedy team owner as perceived by the public today. Controversies made their way into every aspect of the Baseball business but Barney was one of the few who truly yearned for the betterment of the game. For instance, in 1904 the National League refused to recognize or play against the AL in a championship Series. Barney helped push for inter-league agreements, which established the World Series as a permanent icon, eventually to achieve almost mythic proportions. When the Black Sox scandal erupted in 1920 the public black mark was the worst Baseball would ever see, so bad that it challenged the continued existence of Baseball as the most popular sport. Barney was extremely vocal in encouraging the admission of Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first Commissioner in Baseball history. It became known that the selfish efforts of team owners were at the heart of the scandal, but Barney’s personal value for players was exceptional. In owning the Pirates for 32 years, the team finished in the first division 26 times, won 6 Pennants, and won the World Series in 1909 and 1925. When Barney died on February 5, 1932, the National League President John Heydler said, “I cannot tell how deeply I feel the loss of Barney Dreyfuss. He discovered more great players than any man in the history of Baseball…”

Barney’s legacy is secured. He set the example for all owners to follow but unfortunately, too many have not. Barney loved the game more than the business, and always did his best at making it good for the owners and players because one could not live without the other. He helped set new standards in a troublesome business environment not unlike what we see today. He treated his players and the game with such respect that it is difficult to find a man who owned a team for so long. In the process, Barney’s most important contribution to the game made unforgettable history in the most significant manner – creating the most memorable, monumental sports event of our time, Baseball’s World Series Championship. He had learned firsthand the unusual hardships of a player’s achievement, or finding enough talent at a professional level capable of attracting thousands of paying customers. Barney Dreyfuss did it by spending his most formative years, and discovering his future, in a little known southern town called Paducah, Kentucky.

©2002 Jeff Youngblood. All rights reserved.
Duplication of any kind isprohibited without written consent.

Contact Mr. Youngblood:
14407-A N. Pennsylvania Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK 73134

© Copyright 2020 Per Jensen. All rights reserved.

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