Garry Herrmann as chairman of the National Baseball Commission, undated photograph, ca. 1903–1920

Garry Herrmann as chairman of the National Baseball Commission, undated photograph, ca. 1903–1920

August "Garry" Herrmann


Between the end of the Gilded Age and the beginning of the Progressive Era, the name August “Garry” Herrmann was known throughout the United States. Herrmann was a man who had a humble beginning; he made millions of dollars during his lifetime through his political involvement and partial ownership of the Cincinnati Reds. As a local politician he served as the right-hand man to one of the most powerful political bosses of his era, George B. Cox of Cincinnati. As president of the Cincinnati Reds and chairman of baseball’s National Commission, he helped to usher in the modern World Series and is one of the most important early major league baseball executives.


Between the end of the Gilded Age and the beginning of the Progressive Era, the name August “Garry” Herrmann (born May 3, 1859 in Cincinnati, OH; died April 25, 1931 in Cincinnati, OH) was known throughout the United States. Herrmann was a man who had a humble beginning; he made millions of dollars during his lifetime through his political involvement and partial ownership of the Cincinnati Reds. Due to a penchant for lavish spending and entertaining, however, he died virtually penniless and forgotten. As a local politician he served as the right-hand man to one of the most powerful political bosses of his era, George B. Cox of Cincinnati. As president of the Cincinnati Reds and chairman of baseball’s National Commission (the three-man governing body of professional baseball from 1903 to 1920, preceding the one-man commissioner), he helped to usher in the modern World Series and is one of the most important early major league baseball executives.

Herrmann was many things, often simultaneously: a pioneer in the business of sports, a machine politician, and a detail-oriented manager in both the private and public sectors. Herrmann transformed the Cincinnati Reds into a winning and profitable team. As a politician, Republicans from all over the country sought out Herrmann’s advice. Herrmann had the popular touch to reach ordinary people and served as the Republican Party’s ambassador of “Gemütlichkeit”(ambiance, good cheer, etc.) to the huge group of German immigrants that populated Cincinnati in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During his tenure in Cincinnati city government, he introduced modern management principles to its operations and oversaw the rebuilding of the city’s water works system.

His love of hearty German cuisine became legendary in both baseball and political circles. Legendary sports columnist Damon Runyon wrote, “His face reflected his manner of living. His nose was bulbous, his complexion at all times as red as the sunset. He loved to eat, and he loved to drink.”[1] Herrmann maintained that Cincinnati was the only place in America where you could get good food. He relished dining on such dishes as bratwurst and Thuringian blood pudding. In order to accommodate Herrmann’s tastes the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City added fried pig’s feet to its menu.[2] One spring when the Reds were playing an exhibition game in Florida, Herrmann was introduced to the crowd. As the announcer went through the exhausting list of titles held by Herrmann, he cupped his hands together and shouted to the crowd, “Yes, and I’m the champion beer drinker and sausage eater too!”[3] Indeed, Herrmann’s penchant for lavish excess, entertainment, and shady backroom machine politics made him a ripe figure for caricature. Herrmann’s political enemies detested his sense of style and gaiety. When there were no political issues to rally against, his critics criticized his silk shirts, silk underwear and silk socks as elitist excesses. While Herrmann’s gourmand habits are the focal points of most articles written about him today, which portray him in a satirical manner, this is a rather shallow profile of the man he actually was. One of the personal qualities either ignored or forgotten is that, having left school as a child to work and support his family, he strove to become well-read. He possessed an extraordinary memory and cultivated his knowledge of the liberal arts with self-teaching methods such as reading the classics and all that was considered to be the finest in literature of his time.

As a major league baseball executive, Herrmann’s early contributions to the game included negotiating the 1902 peace conference with the American League, founding the modern World Series, and organizing a conference to end the war with the Federal League in 1915 that established professional baseball as a sustainable business. His contributions to Cincinnati too have been wrongly forgotten. Herrmann was a key transition figure to a more honest progressive era for Cincinnati as well as for major league baseball. Among his many governmental accomplishments, he oversaw the transformation of the city’s mass transit system from horsecars to electric trolleys. However, Herrmann’s signature urban achievement was acting as chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the water works. Through Herrmann’s leadership, a new water system was completed in 1907 that is still in service to this day (2014).

Family Background

August Garry Herrmann was born on May 3, 1859 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His parents, Christian and Margaret (Meyer) Herrmann, were both natives of Germany who had come to America in hopes of bettering their condition. A brother, Charles, had been born a year earlier. Herrmann was born in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district, a rollicking, one-square-mile area teeming with German immigrants with Vine Street at its epicenter. Reaching the neighborhood from downtown Cincinnati required crossing the Vine Street bridge over the Miami-Erie Canal, nicknamed the Rhine by the local German inhabitants, giving the neighborhood its name.

By the 1880s there were thirty-six operating breweries in Cincinnati and “no less than 113 drinking establishments between McMillan Street and the Ohio River, a two-mile stretch.”[4] Following every sunset in the Over-the-Rhine district, German bands played and Teutonic cuisine and frothy mugs of beer were to be found in abundance in its saloons, beer gardens, concert halls and burlesque houses. In many of these establishments a patron could get a free bratwurst with every beer or get twenty-one beers for a dollar ($24.70 in 2010). Tom Wise, a popular Broadway actor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, used to say there were only three streets in America—“Broadway in New York, Market Street in San Francisco and Vine Street in Cincinnati.”[5] Around 1900, when prohibition forces began to pursue more confrontational tactics, temperance activist Carry A. Nation travelled from city to city brandishing an ax that she used to smash whiskey bottles in saloons. When she came to Cincinnati in 1901 and marched up to the Over-the-Rhine district, she seemed overwhelmed by the number of drinking establishments she saw. Later Nation was asked why she didn’t wield her ax on her jaunt up Vine Street. “I would have dropped from exhaustion before I had gone a block,” she replied.[6]

In 1870, when Herrmann was eleven years old, his father died. Consequently, he and his older brother Charles went to work to support the family. Herrmann began working in a type foundry and became a member of Typographical Union No. 3. It was at the type foundry that August Herrmann got the nickname Garry, which he would be known by for the rest of his life. The foreman who hired Herrmann prided himself on the nicknames he gave the boys working in his shop. One of the printers suggested that they call him Bismarck. The foreman quickly reminded everyone that they already had a Bismarck in the shop. After studying Herrmann’s appearance, the foreman decided Herrmann resembled the Italian statesman Garibaldi and dubbed him “Garry.”[7]

On May 30, 1881, Garry Herrmann married Annie Becker, daughter of Mathias and Catherine Becker of Cincinnati. The newlyweds moved in with Annie’s parents, who lived on the third floor of a tenement house on Moore Street, and the couple had one daughter, Lena. Tragedy would soon strike the family when a fire broke out at their home. Herrmann, his wife, infant daughter and father-in-law were rescued. His mother-in-law, however, died of smoke inhalation. In 1898 the Herrmann family moved into a large new red-brick house that he had constructed at 47 East Hollister Street in Mount Auburn, a half-mile north and uphill from the Over-the-Rhine district. It would be his home for the remaining thirty-three years of his life.

Cincinnati Machine Politics

As he matured, Herrmann began to demonstrate administrative skill and was named manager of the Cincinnati Law Bulletin. There Herrmann gained his first exposure to the legislative and legal process that would become the foundation for the next phase of his career. In 1882 he was elected to the Cincinnati Board of Education, representing the city’s 11th Ward. Turbulence marked the city’s school system, which was poorly funded and thus came under heavy criticism. Among other issues, while the Ohio legislature had repealed the law that mandated racial segregation in the state’s schools in 1870, African-American parents mistrusted integrated schools and petitioned Herrmann and his colleagues on the Board of Education to establish several branch schools where “colored students” would be taught by teachers of the same race. In a similar vein, the large German population of Cincinnati obtained a mandate from the board that schools system-wide would teach at least part of the day in the German language, a practice that lasted until the period of anti-German hysteria ushered in by the start of World War I.

Herrmann served on the school board until 1886. In the 1884 presidential election, he led backers of Republican candidate James Blaine on a parade through the Over-the-Rhine district with Roman candles exploding and bright red fires burning outside of every saloon that cast a surreal glow over the event. All the way up Vine Street onlookers would yell out, “Hi there Garry! Way to go Garry!”[8] As the parade approached Wielert’s saloon, there standing at the door was the six-foot tall and 200-pound hulking figure of political boss George B. Cox, receiving homage from the paraders, as well as movers and shakers of the machine. Cox would become Herrmann’s political mentor. Like Herrmann, Cox was the child of immigrants, in his case from England. He was a saloonkeeper and was elected to a seat on Cincinnati City Council from the 18th Ward in 1879. In 1881 he sold his saloon and began to devote himself with single-mindedness to politics. By the mid-1880s, Cox had risen to lead one of the most powerful political machines in the country, though he resisted the term “boss.” In a magazine interview published in 1911 that chronicled his meteoric rise, Cox insisted, “The term [boss] is purely relative. And nine times out of ten, it is applied by those who wish to vilify a successful political leader.”[9]

On May 17, 1886, the Ohio legislature displaced the popularly elected Cincinnati board of public works with a new board of public affairs appointed by the governor. In turn the governor appointed Cox allies to the board, giving Cox the power to distribute some two thousand patronage jobs. Cox scattered his appointments over all of Cincinnati’s wards and broke the power of the Democrats. In 1887 Herrmann’s loyalty to the Republican Party was rewarded with an appointment as assistant clerk to the city’s police court. Four years later, Herrmann backed Cox in an internecine struggle with a rival Republican leader, George Moerlein. In return, Cox embraced Herrmann, who had especially strong ties in the Over-the-Rhine district. Soon afterward a Cox-supported bill authorizing the creation of a municipal board of administration in Cincinnati was passed by the legislature. The board consolidated decision-making authority for several departments, including parks, public health, and water. At Cox’s insistence, Mayor John B. Mosby appointed Garry Herrmann to a two-year term on the board.

Herrmann now became the public face and the administrative brains of the Cox machine. The likeable, flamboyant Herrmann was the picture of sartorial elegance, smelling of perfume, and dressed in silk plaid suits with a flower in the lapel and silk stockings. He became a de facto city manager before the concept had been developed, hiring and firing city personnel and framing the annual budgets of the city, its schools, and the University of Cincinnati. By this point Cincinnati was the nation’s ninth-largest city, boasting a population of 296,908 in the 1890 Census.

Cincinnati Times-Star columnist Alfred Henderson described Herrmann as “a man of intense nature,” but with “wonderful control of his emotions,” who “believed in the ‘spoils system,’ yet among the higher officials he insisted on at least intelligence.” In a period when reformers were beginning to clamor for a more pragmatic and less political approach to urban administration, Henderson noted that Herrmann was aware of “electoral considerations” but also “knew more of the theory and literature” of municipal government than most realized.[10] While Herrmann was somewhat aloof from the ongoing charges of controversy and criticism unleashed on Cox and his other political allies, he was not above accepting a questionable honorarium from interests seeking political access to city hall.

One of the characteristics of Herrmann’s management style was that he attempted to leave nothing to chance. Over the course of the day he would take notes on items of interest to news reporters and tried to be prepared to explain what he thought might be complicated issues. He was, in fact, developing the modern concept of press releases in government. Herrmann would leave his City Hall office almost every day around 4:00 p.m. and travel to Wielert’s on Vine Street. After glad-handing patrons at the bar, he would join Cox and his inner circle at a round table in the saloon’s backroom. Socializing and political deal-making would last until midnight there, when Herrmann and a smaller entourage would adjourn to the exclusive Halvin Hotel, where he would sip wine with bankers and members of the city’s elite class until 3:00 a.m. However late Garry Herrmann stayed out the night before, he would arrive at his city hall office the next morning promptly at 9:00 a.m., perfumed and with a fresh flower in his lapel, ready for the day’s work before him. Herrmann was able to keep up with this exhausting lifestyle year after year because he enjoyed being with people. Herrmann became so well-known that a vaudeville act in Cincinnati theatres began including jokes about him in its routines.[11]

Herrmann’s Innovations

Garry Herrmann demonstrated remarkable leadership on the Board of Administration. Under his guidance the board made deep cuts in administrative operating costs in key municipal departments. However, the board also established four more fire companies and increased the Health Department’s surveillance of public health at the city’s markets and its inspection of milk, meat, fruits and livestock being shipped into the city. The Health Department required all district physicians to provide direct access to medications for the poor who lived on the streets instead of sending them to a local druggist that created delays. Around the country, many municipalities followed the innovations and management practices of Garry Herrmann closely for implementation in their own communities.[12]

For example, the water supply in Cincinnati was inadequate for many years, due to obsolete pumping, distribution, and storage facilities. By the early 1890s conditions had become so intolerable that plans for repairs and enlargement of the old system were abandoned. What followed was the necessary legislation and public approval for construction of an entirely new system. In 1896 Garry Herrmann was appointed chair of a new board of commissioners to oversee the expansion of the city’s water system. Over the next twelve years, Herrmann and his fellow commissioners would laboriously select engineers and technical advisors, then proceed to approve plans and choose a site and oversee the construction, while handling many misunderstandings and political controversies with skill and competence. Often Herrmann bore the brunt of many a crisis that threatened to involve costly litigation to delay completion, or force undesirable modifications to the project. Finally, on Friday, August 9, 1907, the new water works began supplying water to the entire city. Garry Herrmann’s work on the Cincinnati water works project gained national recognition and led to his being elected president of the American Society for Municipal Improvements.[13]

Despite these progressive improvements, machine politics still governed Cincinnati and Herrmann’s career. In 1897 two Cincinnati newspapers, the Post and the Enquirer, published a series of articles exposing the city’s patronage system and Cox’s control of all the city’s nominally bipartisan committees. Among other scandals, a waterworks employee was indicted because he could not account for about $20,000 ($542,000 in 2010) in collected fees. In the aftermath of these revelations Gustav Tafel, president of the Liberal League, a federation of German societies and labor unions, ran for the mayor’s office on a platform that attacked the political graft of the Cox machine. When he won the election, shocking the machine, Herrmann lost his position at City Hall but remained on the governor-appointed water works board.

Following the election, another scandal exposed graft in Sunday baseball in Cincinnati, which in the late 1890s was regarded by municipal law as an illegal activity. Cox had appointed Rud Hynicka as clerk of police court. Hynicka had developed a scheme whereby he would arrest ball players for playing games on Sunday. Then he would have them freed on bail and not prosecute them stating it was too difficult for the city to get a conviction. The Cincinnati Enquirer found that Hynicka earned between $150 and $200 a week on the scheme ($4,070 to $5,420 in 2010).

However, as mayor, Tafel was unable to deliver the reforms he had promised, and Cox moved back into the good graces of the affluent hilltop wards, the city’s “swing” districts. Fueled with campaign money from the Cincinnati Gas and Electric Company, the Cox-controlled Republican Party was in a position to retake control of City Hall. At the Cincinnati Republican convention of 1900, Cox and Herrmann arranged the nomination of Julius Fleischmann, an emigrant from Hungary and the co-founder of Fleischmann’s Yeast, for mayor. The Democrats endorsed Alfred Cohen, a state senator, thereby setting up perhaps the United States’ first mayoral campaign in a major city with two Jewish candidates.

Fleischmann had a liberal attitude about the Sunday closing laws, which enhanced his attractiveness as a candidate for mayor, especially in the inner-city wards with a large German population that favored lax closing laws. In addition to his yeast factory, Julius Fleischmann also operated a distillery that produced gin. (In 1920 the Fleischmanns would sell this distillery to infamous bootlegger George Remus.) In the general election, Fleischmann defeated Cohen by 5,500 votes, and the Republicans won two-thirds of the city council seats. Cox and Herrmann regained control of Cincinnati’s government and would retain it for another decade. And the alliance with Fleischmann would bring Herrmann to the Cincinnati Reds.

Major League Baseball

Garry Herrmann had been an ardent fan of baseball since childhood. In 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first professional team in the nation with a carefully selected roster of paid players. The Red Stockings played their home games on the city’s west side in a ballpark with a wooden fence located on a flood plain. It was there, peering through a hole in the fence, that young Garry Herrmann saw his first professional baseball games and developed a love for the game.

In the 1870s and 1880s, baseball rapidly developed from an amateur sport with the creation of regional “leagues” with multiple teams of professional athletes that agreed to play against each other according to a fixed schedule and to share the proceeds of ticket sales. In 1891, the Cincinnati team—whose name had been shortened to “the Reds”—was purchased by the National League. The National League then appointed John Tomlinson Brush, an Indianapolis dry goods merchant, to manage the club through a joint-stock company. Brush profited enormously from the team while running the team from Indianapolis, irritating Cincinnati fans who favored local ownership. Keenly aware of public opinion, Cox began strong-arming Brush to sell him the Reds. Brush at first resisted, but unbeknownst to Cox, Brush was planning to exit Cincinnati baseball as soon as possible as he desired control of major league baseball’s most elite franchise, the New York Giants.

On July 28, 1902, Brush traveled to Cincinnati to meet with Herrmann and Mayor Fleischmann about disposing of his company’s interest in the Reds. Two weeks later, it was announced that the Reds were back in the hands of local owners. Herrmann, Cox, and Fleischman bought control of the team from Brush for $150,000. ($3,920,000 in 2010).[14] That evening the baseball faithful of Cincinnati, who had loathed Brush, celebrated with a parade through the streets of downtown Cincinnati along a route lit with red fires and music that mirrored a huge election victory celebration.

Perpetually cash-poor thanks to his penchant for lavish entertaining, Herrmann borrowed $85,000 ($2,220,000 in 2010) to buy into the deal and became the team’s new president. A month later, with the proceeds from the sale of the Reds, Brush purchased a controlling interest in the New York Giants for $200,000 ($5,110,000 in 2010), which he operated until his death in 1912.

In essence, the Cox machine now owned the Cincinnati Reds, which brought substantial political advantages. The coalition of owners recognized that the Reds baseball team was viewed widely as a positive commercial venture for Cincinnati. It would bring many out-of-town visitors to the city who would be a boon to the merchants and tradesman in the community. The deal also helped Julius Fleischmann win reelection as mayor of Cincinnati in 1903. The Fleischmann brothers retained their interest in the team until the end of World War I.

Major League Disorganization

When Herrmann and his allies purchased the Reds in 1902, the business of major league baseball was in disarray due to its lack of structure, contentions among the leagues, and no consistent ground rules for team schedules or the conduct of the actual games. Although Herrmann was mired in construction of Cincinnati’s long-awaited new water plant, he also became an active participant in baseball management. Herrmann’s legendary negotiating skills helped forge a stable basis for league play.

At the turn of the twentieth century, there was essentially one recognized league with twelve teams, the National League, which had become top-heavy and highly uncompetitive. For example, in 1899 Cleveland had finished in twelfth place with a record of 20 wins and 134 losses, a full 84 games behind the pennant-winning Brooklyn Dodgers club, while drawing a total of only 6,088 fans for the entire season. The National League decided to rejuvenate its fan base by downsizing to eight teams, dropping the Cleveland franchise and others located in Baltimore, Louisville and Washington.

At the same time, a rival American League began an aggressive attempt to undercut the National League. The American League was led by Byron Bancroft (“Ban”) Johnson, who began his career as a sporting reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial-Gazette. Johnson had become president of the upstart Western League in 1894, renamed the American League in 1899. In 1901, Johnson signed 45 star players from National League teams to contracts to play for the American League. The National League managed to invalidate a few of the contracts after filing lawsuits, but the action left an indelible mark on the establishment National League moguls. The American League also started franchises in several Midwestern and Great Lakes cities, from Minneapolis to Buffalo. Though the National League looked down on the American League as an upstart, thanks to Johnson’s leadership and aggressive marketing, by 1901 the American League was considered a major competitor, with its games drawing more fans nationwide and garnering more fans than National League teams in cities where franchises of both leagues were found.[15]

In January 1903, Herrmann convened a meeting the St. Nicholas Hotel to discuss future relations between the two leagues. By the following afternoon, they had reached a peace agreement. Acting as arbitrator, Herrmann established decorum in the proceedings that allowed the two leagues’ negotiators to solve their disagreements in a mutually beneficial manner.

Major points in the National Agreement included a pledge by both leagues to honor player’s contracts with a club as binding (the reserve clause). Henceforth players could no longer jump from one league to the other.[16] They also agreed that there would be no clubs added in the four cities that already fielded both National League and American League teams (Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and St. Louis). Each league would use the same game rules. Lastly, a three-member National Commission, tantamount to a cartel office, was established to provide executive oversight of the game, adjudicate player contract disputes, make rules, and draw up schedules for team play. Garry Herrmann was named chairman of the three-person commission alongside the presidents of the two leagues. The morning after the National Agreement was signed, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune trumpeted: “Every man who emerged from the conference chambers tonight was loud in his praises of Herrmann… Both sides of the question praised him for the fairness, business judgment and integrity that he displayed.”[17]

Herrmann’s negotiating skills provided the foundation for baseball built on two major leagues has remained to this day (2014) despite a brief attempt in 1914 to found a rival Federal League. Once again, Herrmann chaired a “peace conference” at Cincinnati in December 1915, after which the upstart league disbanded.

Tensions among the two leagues remained high though. In 1903, the Boston team (named the Red Sox in 1908) won the American League pennant and the Pittsburgh Pirates won the National League flag. The teams agreed to face each other in a nine-game “World’s Championship” series. However, Pittsburgh lost the series to Boston 5 games to 3, a huge embarrassment for the more established National League. The next year in 1904, Boston repeated as champions in the American League, while the New York Giants won the National League pennant. The 1903 games had been a voluntary arrangement between two owners. John T. Brush, the Giants’ owner, did not want to legitimize the American League in a post-season series in 1904, let alone risk losing once again. He thus declined to have his team participate in a championship series against a National League team, explaining this by simply saying “Neither the players nor the manager of the Giants nor myself desires any greater glory than to win the pennant in the National League. That is the greatest honor that can be obtained in baseball.”[18]

Herrmann and the National Commission could do little about the situation as the National Agreement did not require that the two leagues meet in post-season play. Over the winter of 1904–1905, both the press and the general public denounced the owners’ decision not to hold another championship series.

Herrmann began to advance the idea that a regular post-season series between the league champions would be a great event. Other club owners began to echo him. Sensing that he was going to be bypassed by his counterparts and perhaps suffer reduced gate receipts from disgruntled fans, Brush changed course and agreed that a post-season series would be a fitting climax to the season.

In February 1905 the two leagues adopted a resolution that the pennant-winning clubs in both leagues should meet “annually in a series of games for the Professional Base Ball Championship of the World.”[19] By early October 1905, Herrmann and Ban Johnson had developed a set of principles to regulate the annual World Series games. Again, they had to accommodate Brush’s wishes, and the ultimate plan came to be known as the “Brush Rules.” These rules are still used in the modern World Series. Key elements include the principle that players only receive shares of gate revenues from the first four games, to prevent fixing a series or prolonging it for the opportunity to reap extra economic benefits. The rules also mandated that the National Commission oversee the World Series rather than the individual teams in the game.

Major League Baseball faced growing competition from movies and other recreational choices made possible by the automobile. Between 1909 and 1912 attendance at games in the National League fell by 21% and in the American League by 13%. Major League Baseball countered by becoming increasingly fan friendly. American League president Ban Johnson’s no-nonsense policies helped eliminate rowdiness on the playing field and in the stands. To ensure a family-oriented environment, Philadelphia team owner Connie Mack in Philadelphia had plainclothes police officers in the stands to root out gamblers and rowdies. Right before the war, Mack and other team owners built a range of new, fire-resistant stadiums constructed from steel and concrete, including Comiskey Park in Chicago (1910), Fenway Park in Boston (1912), and Garry Herrmann’s own Redland Field (later Crosley Field) in Cincinnati (1912).

Always the businessman and innovator, in 1909 Garry Herrmann even experimented with night baseball. Herrmann raised $50,000 ($1.24 million in 2010) to organize the Night Baseball Development Company. On the evening of June 18, 1909, Herrmann arranged a night game lit with large arc lights. While the infield was well-lit, the outfield had pockets of shadows resulting in 18 errors. Herrmann abandoned the experiment and it was not until 1935 that the first major league night baseball game was played—fittingly in Cincinnati.

For the first fifteen years that Garry Herrmann operated the Reds, they were little better than mediocre. Although he made many key player trades (even attempting to hire a young Babe Ruth from Boston in 1914) and hired and fired nine managers between 1903 and 1917, Herrmann was unable to build a team that could come close to winning a pennant.

With the Reds continuing to lose money, Cox sold his share of team ownership in 1913. For years Cox had also been investing heavily in the Keith’s and Procter vaudeville chains and owned theatres in several cities. Cox also owned the World Film Corporation, the largest film company in America at that time, and was financially overstretched. That year, he was brought on trial for misappropriation of funds at his failed bank, the Cincinnati Trust Company, but was acquitted. By 1915, Cox had grown tired of politics and retired so that Herrmann lost his main political backer. Cox died soon thereafter in May 1916.

A month after Cox’s death, Herrmann’s wife, Annie, died in June 1916 following a long illness that had made her an invalid. Annie was the love of Herrmann’s life. During the final deterioration in Annie’s health, he tirelessly remained by her side, refusing to attend any baseball or political meetings. He never married again.

World War One and Major League Baseball

In 1917 mobilization over the nation’s entry into the war caused great controversy. Many men claimed exemption from the draft on the grounds of dependent families. Among the nation’s large German population, many naturalized Germans resisted fighting because of family ties to the Fatherland. The large Irish-American population had trepidations about becoming Great Britain’s ally in the war because of hostility rooted in British control over Irish sovereignty. Immediately after President Wilson signed the War Resolution, on April 6, 1917 the U. S. Department of Justice ordered the arrests of 60 men allegedly involved in German plots, conspiracies, and machinations in the United States.[20]

In Cincinnati itself, considerable anti-German hysteria could be found. German-language instruction was dropped from the public schools. Pro-German books were removed from the public library. Ernst Kunwald, conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was interned as an enemy alien. Rumors circulated that Cincinnati’s robustly German-American meatpacking industry was deliberately sneaking ground glass into hamburger meat and other products.[21]

Herrmann attempted to walk a thin line between his German heritage and his American birthright, and between the desire for entertainment and military necessity. He had his players perform military drills on the field, substituting bats for rifles. He became baseball’s spokesman for exempting players from the draft to keep the sport going as a source of employment and morale booster: “Organized baseball, it must be remembered, is not only a sport, it is a gigantic industry involving the investment of millions of dollars and giving employment directly and indirectly to many thousands of men. As a mere industry, it is entitled to the same consideration as other industries of like dimensions, for the revenue derived solely from business is a vital concern for any nation at war. In short, baseball is essentially a war game, and its activities far from being cultivated should rather be stimulated by the present war.”[22]

Attempting to exempt players from the draft caused controversy. Ban Johnson tried to arrange specific exemptions for 288 of the leagues’ best players. Many in the general public disagreed with this proposal and began to refer to the ball players as slackers. To counter this negative public reaction, Ban Johnson suggested reducing wartime baseball rosters to 18 players.[23] At the suggestion of Garry Herrmann, owners agreed to hold a joint league meeting in Chicago in early December 1917. They agreed to stay with the 154-game schedule, but open the season later, on April 16. They agreed to a war tax of roughly ten percent on admissions (the most expensive 75-cent grandstand seats, for example, had 8 cents in tax added, for a total cost of 83 cents ($12 in 2010 dollars)). They also agreed to hold a “Bat and Ball Day” in June and contributed 25 percent of the gross gate receipts to buy baseball equipment for the troops. But they rejected Ban Johnson’s 18-player roster suggestion.

In late June 1918, army official Enoch Crowder issued a “work or fight” order for baseball players. Herrmann, members of the National Commission, and several owners traveled to Washington in hopes of convincing Newton D. Baker, the Secretary of War, to allow organized baseball to finish the season. While Baker declined to meet with the delegation, General Crowder met with them. Herrmann, the commission and club owners argued that baseball was a $10 million per year business ($145 million in 2010 dollars) that was necessary to the morale of the nation at home and the troops at the front. The War Department eventually ordered that all games including the 1918 World Series be concluded by September 12, and exempted the players on the teams that made it into the World Series from the draft. Crowder gave the National Commission official approval to play the World Series with the caveat that ten percent of the revenues from the Series be allocated to war charities.

Yet once again controversy enveloped the World Series. The Boston Red Sox won three out of the first four games over the Chicago Cubs to take a 3–1 edge. The fifth game was scheduled to be played in Boston on September 10, 1918. On the basis of the previous year’s World Series, the National Commission had promised the players that those on the winning team would receive a bonus of as much as $2,000 each ($29,000 in 2010) and those on the losing team a $1,400 bonus ($20,300 in 2010). With lower prices and lower attendance than in 1917, however, the players stood to make only half as much as the commission projected. Red Sox and Cubs players met and agreed to threaten a strike for higher pay.

That morning at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, Herrmann held an emergency meeting with player representatives. Players demanded at least $1,500 ($21,700 in 2010) for each winning player and $1,000 ($14,500 in 2010) for each losing player. Herrmann promised to respond to the players before game five started. With the game scheduled to begin at Fenway Park at 2:30 p.m., at 3:00 p.m., with 24,694 fans already in the stands, not one player had appeared on the field. The fans became restless, and the Boston Police positioned four mounted officers on the field. A park attendant with a megaphone appeared on the field and announced that game would begin in fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, the three-man commission of Garry Herrmann, Ban Johnson (American League) and John Heydler (National League) met with the players in the umpires’ dressing room. The meeting was nasty and confrontational. Herrmann tried telling the players they were lucky that there was any World Series at all. News of a players’ strike began to spread into the stands; many called their action “Bolsheviki.”[24]

Rather than disappoint the crowd—and the wounded soldiers in the stands, the players gave in and played. Chicago won this game in Boston, but Boston won the series. Each winning player received $1,102.51 and each losing player $671.09 ($16,000 and $9,700, respectively, in 2010 dollars), the smallest payout since 1906. On top of this, each player donated ten percent to war charities.[25]

With the war over, baseball returned to a full schedule in spring 1919. On opening day at Redland Field in Cincinnati, a large American flag was unfurled in center field and “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played, which followed up on the 1918 spontaneous introduction of the song in 1918 and began to solidify a long tradition of singing it for opening sporting events in the twentieth century. Herrmann tossed out the first ball before more than 22,000 spectators and Cincinnati beat the St. Louis Cardinals 6–‍2. The Cincinnati Commercial-Tribune declared: “That baseball has come back stronger, cleaner and better than ever no one could doubt… There may not have been the clown bands and there certainly were not the ‘German’ bands of yore; there may not have been the frothy frivolities that witnessed ante-bellum games, but there certainly was in evidence a big clean, healthy and over-whelming desire for the national game that bespeaks much for its brilliant future.”[26]

The Demise of the National Commission

The 1918 World Series debacle had severely weakened the legitimacy of the National Commission and the tenure of Garry Herrmann. It gave more ammunition to those wanting to dissolve the commission. National League president John Heydler later explained that “from then on,” he and his fellow league members “felt a strong one-man Commissioner was essential for the important post-war era of the game.”[27] Several incidents involving contract disputes had been key in sparking the dialogue for scrapping it as the game’s governing body, as many questioned its rulings. The three most notable were those involving George Sisler (1915), Scott Perry (1918), and Carl Mays (1919). These contract disputes demonstrated how easily the interests of the commissioners influenced decision-making. In 1910, a high school pitcher George Sisler signed with a minor league Akron team, but elected to enroll at university. While at college, Akron sold his contract to Columbus, which then sold his contract to Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pittsburgh Pirates. When Sisler was about to graduate in the spring of 1915, Dreyfuss claimed him before the National Commission. However, so did the St. Louis Browns.

The matter went before the National Commission in January 1915. John Tener, the National League president, voted to award Sisler to the National League Pirates, while Ban Johnson (American League) and Chairman Garry Herrmann voted to award him to the American League Browns. They reasoned that Sisler was a minor when he signed the contract, therefore invalidating it. Sisler went to the Browns and went on to become one of the greatest hitters in major league history and future Hall of Famer.

The Sisler decision made an enemy of the Pirates owner Dreyfuss. He felt cheated because of the close association of Herrmann and Johnson. A friend of Herrmann for fifteen years, Dreyfuss never forgave him for the Sisler decision. He began a relentless campaign to replace Herrmann and the National Commission with a one-man independent chairman with no financial interest in baseball.

In April 1918, pitcher Scott Perry tried to jump from Atlanta to the Boston Braves. Atlanta asked Boston for $2,000 ($29,000 in 2010 dollars) for Perry’s services. In a 2-1 vote the National Commission ordered Boston to pay Atlanta $500 ($7,250 in 2010 dollars) for Perry and Boston would have title to him. Garry Herrmann and John K. Tener, then president of the National League, sided with the Braves and Ban Johnson against. Yet Philadelphia Athletics owner-manager, Connie Mack, not aware of the arrangement and with the permission of Atlanta, had signed Perry to play for Philadelphia in 1918. Mack sought an injunction against the National Commission’s ruling in a Philadelphia court and won, invalidating the National Commission’s decision. The Athletics eventually withdrew their injunction and paid Boston $2,500 ($36,250 in 2010 dollars) for Perry. Tener resigned as National League president over the matter and was replaced by John Arnold Heydler.

In January 16, 1919, The Sporting News predicted that Garry Herrmann would not be reelected as chairman. Pirates owner Dreyfuss was steadily gaining support for bouncing Herrmann. Yet Herrmann still had the support of Ban Johnson who fought to keep the three-man commission and retain Herrmann. While temporarily successful, Johnson actually weakened Herrmann’s standing as all the newspapers were convinced that Johnson was running major league baseball as a czar, leaving Herrmann as little more than a figurehead. On January 8, 1920, Garry Herrmann resigned as Chairman of the National Commission.

The 1919 World Series

Ironically, while Garry Herrmann was struggling in his position as chairman of the National Commission, between 1913 and 1918 as president of the Cincinnati Reds he had been slowly, but steadily, building a highly competitive team. It began with a 1913 acquisition of third baseman Heinie Groh from the New York Giants. Each succeeding year, Herrmann continued to add quality players, mainly pitchers. In the summer of 1916, Herrmann made the best deal of his career, hiring Christy Mathewson from the Giants, past his prime as a great pitcher, as the team’s manager. Edd Roush, a centerfielder and future Hall of Fame member, also joined the team that summer. The Reds finished the 1916 season in seventh place, the 1917 season in fourth place, and 1918 in third place. Midway through the season Mathewson enlisted in the U. S. Army and was sent to France, and Herrmann hired a talented manager, Pat Moran, to replace him. After years of humiliation, Garry Herrmann’s Reds finally won the 1919 National League pennant by nine games over the New York Giants, which led to a World Series faceoff against the Chicago White Sox. The Reds defeated the Chicago White Sox in the 1919 World Series by five games to three in an unusual nine-game series (seven is usual now). Herrmann had reached the pinnacle of his baseball success.

Unfortunately the 1919 World Series nearly wrecked the baseball for good—and has cast a shadow over Herrmann’s reputation for nearly a century. Immediately following the series, allegations of a fix began to circulate among the owners and press. Nearly a year after the series, it was revealed that eight White Sox players had collaborated with gamblers to throw the World Series, unleashing one of the great scandals of American sports history. In September 1920, a grand jury in Chicago indicted eight Chicago White Sox players and five gambling associates for fixing the 1919 World Series. Several White Sox players later confessed to their role in the confessions, including Eddie Cicotte and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, considered to be one of the best players to ever play the game. The revelations unleashed a media frenzy, with public figures and newspaper articles calling for baseball to be “cleaned up.” Herrmann became one of the main targets of the campaign.

Albert D. Lasker, a Warren G. Harding backer, advertising executive, and minority stockholder in the Chicago Cubs, devised a plan to scrap the National Commission in favor of a tribunal comprised of men with no financial ties to the game. The proposal would become known as the Lasker Plan. On October 2, three days before the start of the 1920 World Series, Lasker met with several team presidents in Chicago to broach his plan. Lasker submitted his proposal to Bill Veeck, president of the Chicago Cubs, Charles Comiskey, president of the Chicago White Sox, and John A. Heydler, president of the National League. Barney Dreyfuss, president of Pittsburgh Pirates, and John McGraw, vice president of the New York Giants, were also present. Although Garry Herrmann and Ban Johnson were also in Chicago, Lasker ignored them.

Fan interest, meanwhile, was unfazed by the scandal surrounding the World Series. On October 5, 1920 the series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Cleveland Indians opened in Brooklyn with every seat in Ebbets Field occupied. The scheduled nine games series went only seven games with Cleveland defeating Brooklyn five games to two. While the World Series went on, a joint meeting of the American and National Leagues to discuss the Lasker Plan was scheduled for October 18, 1920 in Chicago. While the National League moguls, including Herrmann, favored the plan, American League president Ban Johnson came out against it. Johnson worried his authority would be quashed by a tribunal with no practical knowledge of baseball administration. He also questioned how, if the National Commission could not prevent gambling interests from penetrating major league baseball, a new commission would be any different. Of the eight American League club owners, only three owners supported the plan, but they threatened to jump to the National League if the others did not agree.

Finally, all of the major league club owners from both leagues, including Garry Herrmann, but without league presidents Johnson and Heydler, agreed to meet in Chicago on November 12, 1920. After a closed-door meeting that lasted four hours, they scrapped both the Lasker Plan and Johnson’s counterproposal. Instead they decided to have a single independent commissioner as the supreme head of major league baseball and unanimously agreed to offer the job to federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Landis was offered a seven-year contract at a salary of $42,500 a year ($462,000 in 2010 dollars). Landis accepted the position, but demanded $50,000 a year ($609,000 in 2010 dollars). On January 12, 1921, the National Commission officially ended and Landis became the first commissioner of Major League Baseball. Landis was given sweeping authority over the game. Many believed that by ousting Garry Herrmann and limiting Ban Johnson, the appointment of Landis, a political progressive, was bringing an end to “bossism” in major league baseball just as Progressives sought to end it in the political arena. In both cases, it meant people like Garry Herrmann would have to go.

During the summer of 1921, the seven indicted White Sox players went on trial for fixing the 1919 World Series. While there was considerable circumstantial evidence, the prosecution was unable to establish that a criminal conspiracy had taken place or that the players had any intention of defrauding the public or bringing any ill will against the game. Garry Herrmann testified, but gave no incriminating testimony. On August 2, a jury found all seven players not guilty. That evening the jurors celebrated with the exonerated players at a local restaurant. Landis, however, stepped in to exercise his broad powers as commissioner by banning the eight players named in the scandal from ever playing organized baseball again. No sanctions were ever brought against any of the owners aside from some minor financial losses incurred during the trial.

Social Status

While Garry Herrmann never held elected office after his stint on the school board in the 1880s, he evolved into a quintessential machine politician, a position that required a reputation for hospitality and bonhomie. Herrmann probably spent more money showing his friends a good time than anyone else in Cincinnati. Often Herrmann, with an entourage of political and baseball friends in tow, would spend his weekends at the lavish Laughery Club, a private retreat owned by Cox and Herrmann on the Ohio River thirty miles downstream from Cincinnati in Indiana.

Herrmann was an active booster of Cincinnati throughout his life, helping to organize conventions, heading civic organizations, and joining a variety of fraternal organizations, such as the Masons and the Elks. In addition, he was a member of Turner Bund, a German social group dedicated to gymnastics and music. Herrmann was also on the board of the Altenheim, a retirement home for elderly German men established by wealthy members of Cincinnati’s German community in 1891. As a result of World War I, its name was changed to the Cincinnati Old Men’s Home.

In 1904, Herrmann organized the Elks’ national convention in Cincinnati, producing a spectacular affair that included a grand parade. Herrmann had hoped to set in motion a process to be elected to the post of Grand Exalted Ruler of the Order of Elks the following year, but his lavish spending caused a backlash; his opponents quickly questioned whether the Elks’ highest office should be obtained in exchange for good times showered on it by a freely-spending millionaire.

As president of the American Bowling Congress, Herrmann organized the 1908 national tournament in Cincinnati at the Freeman Avenue Armory. He managed to turn the basement of the armory into a German beer garden for the event. In 1909 Garry Herrmann served as chairman of the Turnfest (or Turner Festival) of the National American Turner Bund. The festival took place between June 19–27, 1909 and allowed Germans to maintain a sense of their heritage. The event included track and field, gymnastics contests, and much food and drink. To provide the correct mood for the event, Herrmann temporarily retrofitted a great part of the city into a resemblance of a Bavarian village. In 1917 Herrmann ran a fundraising campaign that raised $125,000 ($2,130,000 in 2010) to save and improve the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens.

For several years following the death of George B. Cox, Garry Herrmann and Rud Hynicka attempted to keep the Republican machine going. But, like Major League Baseball, by 1924 a heavy siege of reform had transformed municipal government. In Cincinnati, voters approved a reform government charter thereby changing to a city manager form of municipal government coupled with at-large council elections. In many ways, Cincinnati’s new city manager mirrored the authority of Judge Landis in baseball.

In 1926, Hynicka retired from politics after a long illness, and died the following year. To Cincinnati’s new reform government, Garry Herrmann, the sole survivor of the leadership triumvirate of the once powerful Cox machine that had dominated Cincinnati politics for nearly forty years, was a relic of the era of “Bossism.” He was no longer considered relevant to public policy formation and city planning. Furthermore, Herrmann’s health was rapidly declining and he soon retired from politics as well.

Between 1920 and 1927, Herrmann worked diligently at keeping the Cincinnati Reds competitive by acquiring quality players such as pitcher Carl Mays and catcher Bubbles Hargrave. As a result of his efforts, the Reds remained a viable franchise. For four seasons in this period, the club attained season attendance above the National League average.

Final Years

After spending twenty-five years as president of the Cincinnati Reds, on October 10, 1927, at the age of 68, Garry Herrmann resigned due to ill health. Herrmann became diabetic and had slowly been going deaf. He also resigned as a member of the Reds Board and sold his 10 percent share in the club to C. J. McDiarmid, the club’s long time secretary.

The Reds board of Directors realized that for many years while the franchise struggled to stay afloat financially between 1910 and 1918, Herrmann had performed his duties as president for a pittance of a salary. Recognizing Herrmann’s service and loyalty, in 1927 they voted him a $25,000 bonus ($314,000 in 2010) and a $10,000 ($126,000 in 2010) annuity for the remainder of his life.

Herrmann spent his final years at his home at 47 East Hollister Street, out of the public eye. On April 25, 1931, Garry Herrmann fell into a deep coma and died at home shortly before 9:00 a.m. He was 72 years old. With him at his death were his daughter, Lena, and son-in-law, Karl Bendorf Finke, who had married on November 16, 1910 at St. John’s German Evangelical Protestant Church. Herrmann had transferred ownership of his property to his daughter, Lena, and left an estate of just $120 ($1,720 in 2010).

Following Herrmann’s demise, the story of his life and legacy slipped quietly into oblivion. Herrmann, despite his enormous contributions to the game, from the 1902 “peace conference” to establishing the World Series as an annual event, is mostly forgotten, even while his contemporaries such as Ban Johnson and Kenesaw Landis are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This unfortunate historical slight was partially addressed in 2008 when Garry Herrmann was enshrined in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.[28] However, after nearly a century after retirement, in 2015 he became a finalist on the Pre-Integration Committee for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but did not receive sufficient votes for inclusion.[29]

August Garry Herrmann had a remarkable life and a storied career in both politics and baseball. First and foremost in Herrmann’s heart was his family, followed by his sense of German heritage and his city. He might be proud to know that more than eighty years after his death, his beloved city of Cincinnati retains its German identity (in 2002 Cincinnati had the third largest German population in the country),[30] the Cincinnati Reds continue to flourish, and components of his water works still lend support to the city’s modern system. German tradition in the city so familiar to Herrmann continues to flourish through the May Festival, architecture in the Over-the-Rhine district, food, churches, and a very large and widely celebrated Oktoberfest. Furthermore, German language instruction has returned to the Cincinnati public schools. The legacy and contributions of August Garry Herrmann continue to thrive in Cincinnati.


[1] Damon Runyon, “Garry Herrmann Rejoiced in Pleasure of His Guests,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 27, 1931.

[2] “Father of the World Series Was Name Given Herrmann,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 26, 1931, 26.

[3] Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf, Baseball Anecdotes(New York: Harper & Row, 1989).

[4] The WPA Guide to Cincinnati, a reprint of Cincinnati – A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, with a new Introduction by Zane L. Miller and a new Preface by Harry Graff (Cincinnati: Cincinnati Historical Society, 1987), 105.

[5] The WPA Guide to Cincinnati, 104.

[6] The WPA Guide to Cincinnati, 112.

[7] Homer Croy, “The King of Diamonds – Garry Herrmann of Cincinnati – The Fan and Financier of Baseball,” Human Life: The Magazine About People, May 1910, 1, news clipping in the archives of National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, N.Y.

[8] Alfred Segal, “Political Playboy Famed As Good Host,” Cincinnati Post, April 25, 1931, 1.

[9] George B. Cox, “How I Made My Millions,” New York World, May 14, 1911, 6–7.

[10] Alfred Henderson, “Herrmann Was City Manager Here,” Cincinnati Times-Star, April 25, 1931, 11.

[11] Croy, “The King of Diamonds.”

[12] “August Herrmann,” Cincinnati, The Queen City, 1788–1912, 4 vols. (Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1912), 3:493.

[13] August Herrmann, “Rates of Taxation in the Larger Cities of the United States,” Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Convention of the American Society of Municipal Improvements, Washington, D.C., 1898 (accessed May 7, 2014)..

[14] Cincinnati Times-Star, July 29, 1902, 1.

[15] Joe Santry and Cindy Thomson, “Ban Johnson,” in New Century, New Team: The 1901 Boston Americans, ed. Bill Nowlin (Phoenix, Ariz.: Society for American Baseball Research, 2013).

[16] Player challenges to the reserve clause led to a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Federal Baseball Club v. National League that exempted Major League Baseball from the Sherman Antitrust Act. In 1975, further challenges rendered the decision obsolete with respect to the reserve clause, but Major League Baseball continues to cling to its antitrust exemption, never having formally lost it.

[17] Ed Grillo, “Committee of the Rival Leagues Sign Agreement,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, Jan. 11, 1903, 12.

[18] Lee Allen, The American League Story (New York: Hill & Wang, 1962).

[19] “Said by the Magnates,” Sporting News (December 25, 1908) 2.

[20] New York Tribune, April 7, 1917, 1.

[21] WPA Guide to Cincinnati, 94.

[22] Donald Dewey, The 10th Man – The Fan In Baseball History (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004).

[23] “Baseball Chaos Indicated by Clash of Opinions on Policies,” The Sporting News, Nov. 29, 1917, 5.

[24] “Red Sox and Cubs on Strike, While Crowd Yells, ‘Play Ball,’” Boston Globe, Sep. 10, 1918, 4.

[25] Lee Allen, 100 Years of Baseball (New York: Bartholomew House Inc., 1950), 196.

[26] “Redlegs Defeat Cardinals 6-2 Before a Big Crowd at Redland,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, April 24, 1919: 3.

[27] J. G. Taylor Spink, Judge Landis and Twenty-Five Years of Baseball (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1947).

[28] For over three decades following Herrmann’s demise, more than thirty boxes of his personal papers, including 45,000 letters, sat neglected in a large storeroom at Crosley Field, the magnificent ball park that Herrmann had built in 1912. In 1960, Reds owner, Powel Crosley, Jr., had the collection sent to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. For the next forty-four years the collection was almost completely inaccessible, and many items were smuggled out and sold on the black market. Finally, in 2004, an archivist was hired to process and microfilm the collection, and in 2007 Herrmann’s papers were made available to scholars and researchers for the first time.

[30] Munich Germany,

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title August "Garry" Herrmann
  • Coverage 1859-1931
  • Author
  • Website Name Immigrant Entrepreneurship
  • URL
  • Access Date July 18, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 22, 2018