July 17th, 2013

July 17 – Happy Birthday Cap Huston

hustonHis full name was Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston but his friends called him “Cap.” The nickname was a tribute to the rank he attained in the military during the Spanish American War. He served as a captain of an engineering unit that built and repaired roads and bridges in Cuba during that conflict and when the war ended, he remained in Havana as a private contractor and made a fortune building the docks and piers that formed the infrastructure of that city’s harbor.

He used a part of that fortune to go in as equal partners with Jake Ruppert in 1915 and purchase the New York Yankee franchise from Frank Farrell and William Devery, for $450,000. On the day of the deal’s closing, Ruppert arrived with his lawyer and a certified check for his half while Huston showed up with 225 one thousand dollar bills.

The two men then invested another $500,000 of their fortunes to add the personnel necessary to create the beginning of the Yankee dynasty. They had plenty of squabbles along the way. For example, Huston was against the hiring of Miller Huggins as Yankee manager. Cap’s choice was the long-time Brooklyn skipper Wilbert Robinson. Huston hated then AL President Ban Johnson and it had been Johnson who urged Ruppert to hire Huggins. As it turned out, Huston was more than satisfied with Huggins performance but he never got over Johnson’s interference in the matter. So when Boston sold New York yet another star player in pitcher Carl Mays and Johnson threatened to veto the deal, Cap Huston was ready for the ensuing fight, which the Yankees won. He also led the effort to rid the game of corruption by installing an independent commissioner, which happened in 1922 with the hiring of Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

By far, Huston’s crowning moment as Yankee co-owner was overseeing construction of Yankee Stadium. He was on the building site every day, utilizing his engineering and construction expertise to ensure the finished product was built right. But he also loved being an owner. He enjoyed traveling with the team on road trips, going to spring training, partying with his players and making friends in every American League city. But as time went on, his relationship with Ruppert began to get strained.

The two men were just too different and too used to being the boss to co-own the same business. The situation came to a head when one of the Yanks’ 1922 World Series games was called on count of darkness with the score tied in the tenth inning. Afraid that the press would accuse the Yankee and Giant owners of suspending play just so they could sell a stadium full of tickets for the extra makeup game, Commissioner Landis ordered both teams to donate their share of that game’s gate receipts to charity. Huston wanted to give the money to injured war veterans while Ruppert had other causes in mind. The fight between the two men got hot and heavy and precipitated the termination of their partnership. Ruppert end up giving Huston $1.25 million for his share of the team in 1923.

Huston continued to attend games and stay close to the game. When he died in his office of a heart attack in 1938 at the age of 71, he had just been involved in an unsuccessful effort to purchase the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Huston shares his birthday with this long-ago Yankee prized prospect.