Ford Frick

By Walt Baranger

The man who put the infamous asterisk next to Roger Maris’s name in the record books was rewarded with a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Will Harridge

Ford Frick was president of the National League from 1934 to 1951 and commissioner of baseball from 1951 to 1965. Some good came of it; some not so good. By all accounts he was a capable administrator. But Hall of Fame caliber? Better than average, maybe.

When Roger Maris eclipsed Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961, Frick ordered that Maris’s accomplishment be forever footnoted as a reminder that Ruth played a 154-game season and Maris 162 games. No other single-season record was so footnoted, and that little asterisk had a devastating effect on baseball marketing (not to mention Maris’s career) for the next 30 years.

Not until later was it disclosed that Frick, a former sports writer and broadcaster, was previously employed by Babe Ruth as a ghostwriter. Frick blamed pressure from sports writers for the brouhaha. The fans knew better.

Frick did help establish the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and happily went along with the all-too-obvious canard that baseball was invented in Cooperstown, New York.

As president of the National League, he courageously backed Branch Rickey’s decision to hire Jackie Robinson and break the unwritten color barrier in baseball — but the commissioner of baseball and not the league president had the final say about that anyway. In any case, Frick was not a leader in the baseball integration movement until the Dodgers made their move.

Some of the accomplishments for which he shared the limelight, such as the westward expansion of baseball and integration, were actually initiatives of individual team owners and were done after little if any consultation with Frick. And Frick clearly maneuvered the National League into the better cities during the crucial four-team 1961 expansion of Major League Baseball.

[The National League got the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s; the American League got the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Senators. Within a few years Washington moved to Texas and the Angels decamped to Anaheim. Both National League clubs remain where they started, though the Colt .45s took a modern 1960s name in honor of the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston: The Astros.]

The Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters is named for him.

Still, the shabby treatment of Roger Maris and the concomitant public relations disaster overwhelms any discussion of Frick.

Baseball-Almanac.com has this quotation from sportswriter Jim Murray: “Ford Frick isn’t the worst commissioner in baseball history, but he’s in the photo. He couldn’t get up in the last few strides with Happy Chandler, but I don’t think anybody can catch Happy Chandler at the wire.”

That’s good enough for us.


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