May 17 – Happy Birthday Del Webb
Most of the Yankees’ most successful (World Series-winning) owners were born with silver spoons in their mouths. That’s certainly the case with the Steinbrenner brothers, Hank and Hal who inherited the team from their father and with “the Boss” himself, who’s dad left him the American Shipbuilding Company. Jacob Ruppert’s dad gave his son a thriving beer brewery. The spoon in Dan Topping’s mouth when he was born was actually made of tin because his grandfather on his mom’s side was one of the largest owner of tin mines in the entire world.
The only Yankee owner to win a World Series who wasn’t born with money was Topping’s partner, Del Webb. Webb entered this world on May 17, 1899 in Fresno, California and actually started out wanting to be a ballplayer. He quit high school to become a carpenter’s apprentice and play semipro baseball. In his late twenties he came down with typhoid fever and moved to Phoenix, AZ because doctors told him the drier climate would help him recover from the dreaded disease. He brought his tool-box with him to his new desert home and started his own one-man construction company. He might not have made it as a baseball player but he grew that little construction company into one of the largest and most diversified construction, real estate development and property management firms in the country. When WWII broke out, he got the contract to build the infamous Poston War Relocation Center, the Arizona-based internment camp that was home to 17,000 Japanese Americans. His company, Del Web Corporation, built and managed huge retirement communities, resort hotels, major league ballparks and Las Vegas casinos.
On January 26, 1945, Webb and Topping along with Larry MacPhail Sr. purchased the Yankees from the estate of Ruppert for $2.8 million. The plan was for Webb and Topping to treat the purchase as an investment and rich man’s hobby and let MacPhail run the thing. But when legendary Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy quit because he couldn’t stand his new boss and his successor, Bill Dickey did likewise, Topping and Webb bought out MacPhail and took full control of the franchise.
Webb often said his most significant contribution to the team was convincing Casey Stengel to leave his job as a manager of the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League to become Yankee skipper in 1949. Stengel’s successor as New York manager, Ralph Houk absolutely adored Webb and the feeling was mutual.
Topping and Webb maintained ownership of the franchise for two decades during which the Yankees captured fifteen pennants and ten world championships, still the most successful twenty year period in the club’s history. They sold it to CBS in August of 1964 for $11million. Del Webb had become an extremely wealthy man by knowing when to buy and when to sell a property and he certainly made the right calls when he decided to purchase and then dump his Yankee shares. He died from lung cancer on July 4, 1974. Married twice he had no children. In 2001, the Del Webb Corporation was purchased by a company called Pulte Homes.