Sort of appropriate that during a week when it was revealed that a whole bunch of crooked New York City policemen scammed taxpayers out of millions of dollars of undeserved disability and retirement income, today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant happens to also be one of the most well-known corrupt cops in the history of NYPD. “Big Bill” Devery became one of the first owners of the Yankee franchise when he silent partnered with the notorious saloon owner and gambler Frank Farrell, to purchase the struggling Baltimore Orioles’ American League franchise in 1903 and move it to New York.
Devery was really nothing more than a super-sized Tammany Hall-backed bribe collector with a badge, who demanded tribute from just about every border-line illicit business in his Manhattan precinct. This slob used to stand on a prescribed street corner and accept bribes in full view of the public. So crooked was the Big Apple police force back then that a brazen thief like Devery actually rose to the rank of Chief of Police in 1898 before the decade-long reform movement initiated by Teddy Roosevelt and a team of muckraking New York City newspaper and magazine reporters, finally took hold.
Unfortunately for the cause of justice, Tammany Hall still maintained enough control over the City’s court system to get Devery acquitted of corruption charges and he was able to retire a free man, collect his pension and take full advantage of all the loot he plundered from his policing days.
There was enough of that loot for him to put up half of the $18,000 purchase price he and Farrell paid for the Orioles in 1903 plus finance the hurried construction of a playing venue for the new team in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan that would come to be known as Hilltop Park. The new club’s co-owners had such questionable character that their identity was kept secret for months as negotiations over the sale of the team and construction of the park were completed. Baseball historians are still a bit perplexed over the fact that AL President Ban Johnson, a man who was so concerned with the crystal-clean image of his league, would choose to comport with men like Devery and Farrell. The best answer put forth thus far was that Johnson needed their City Hall and labor group connections to get the new ballpark built in time for the 1903 baseball season.
Whatever the reason, Devery proved to be especially inept as an owner of a baseball team and for the most part, permitted Farrell complete control over all management decisions. His most famous interaction with the Highlanders’ operation occurred during the 1914 season. Farrell had hired the legendary Cubs manager, Frank Chance to skipper the team that season. By that time, Devery had learned enough about baseball to make it a point to publicly criticize Chance for poor decision making after several Highlander losses. The crooked cop-turned owner made the mistake however, of issuing one of his criticisms of the New York manager right after a tough loss while standing in close proximity to the frustrated skipper in the team’s locker room. Chance, who had a well-known reputation as a brawler took a swing at Devery but missed, as onlookers quickly moved in to separate the two.
Can you imagine if Chance was manager at the time Steinbrenner owned the Yankees or if Billy Martin was skipper when Devery owned half the team? There would have been a murder committed in the Yankee locker room.
As it turned out, Chance wasn’t the only guy growing tired of Big Bill. Frank Farrell had grown to hate his crude and hefty partner as well. The two men stopped speaking to each other and Farrell actively started looking for someone willing to buy Devery’s share of the club.
Sure enough two prospective buyers turned up but they weren’t interested in purchasing half a team, they wanted it all. On January 30, 1915, brewery owner Jacob Ruppert and construction magnate Tillinghast Huston paid Farrell and Devery $460,000 for the Highlanders.
Devery died in June of 1919 at the age of 65. Though everyone assumed he had plenty of money, the probate court declared his estate to be in debt at the time of his death.
This Brooklyn born right hander took 27 years to make his big league debut with the New York Highlanders and unfortunately, it happened during the worst season in the franchise’s history. Joe Lake had caught everyone’s attention when in his first-ever season of minor league ball in 1907, he won 25 games for the Eastern League’s Jersey City Skeeters. That same year’s Highlander team had finished with a mediocre 70-78 record. New York’s manager, Clark Griffith knew he had to find some younger arms because his top two starters, 33-year-old Jack Chesbro and 34-year-old Al Orth were both getting a bit long in the tooth. He had received a scouting report praising a hard-throwing young right-hander named Walter Johnson, but the kid had only pitched on sandlots and for company-sponsored semi-pro teams. This lack of experience caused Griffith to hesitate reaching out to Johnson and by the time he did, the Senators had already signed the future Hall of Famer.
So the Highlanders went and got today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant instead and Griffith put him in his 1908 starting rotation. It looked like a genius move when both Lake and the team got off to a quick start that season. New York was actually on top of the AL standings with a 20-15 record on June 1st. They then lost 12 of their next 16 games and after arguing with the front-office over the team’s reversal of fortune, a frustrated Griffith was let go and replaced by Yankee starting shortstop, Kid Elberfield. The “Tabasco Kid” proved to be a much better player than he was a manager. He skippered the team to a dismal 27-71 record and a last-place finish. Every Highlander starter ended the year with a losing record including Lake, who at 9-22 led the league in losses.
Still, when the team’s 1909 spring training camp opened, new manager George Stallings told the New York press that Lake figured prominently in his pitching plans for the upcoming season. It was a wise move on the part of Stallings. Lake already had a decent fastball and Chesbro had helped him improve his knuckleball. The second-year hurler used both pitches efficiently enough to fashion a noteworthy 14-11 record in ’09 with an outstanding ERA of just 1.88. But instead of keeping Lake, the Highlanders traded him to the Browns in December of that year for a 37-year-old veteran catcher named Lou Criger, who would end up hitting just .188 for New York in 1910.
Lake went on to do some very good pitching for some very bad St. Louis ballclubs the next two seasons before ending his big league career as a Tiger in 1913. He shares his January 6th birthday with this former Yankee starting pitcher, this one-time Yankee shortstop, this former 20-game-winning pitcher and this former Yankee reliever.
|SLB (3 yrs)||22||39||.361||2.88||76||60||15||42||3||2||533.2||558||272||171||5||133||238||1.295|
|NYY (2 yrs)||23||33||.411||2.60||69||53||16||36||5||1||484.2||432||238||140||8||136||235||1.172|
|DET (2 yrs)||17||18||.486||3.18||54||26||22||17||0||2||299.2||339||161||106||6||63||121||1.341|
His real name was Wilbur Roach, but he eventually became known better by the nickname “Roxey.” A native Pennsylvanian, Roach seems to have also been a pretty astute businessman and before Ted Williams came along, perhaps the the best fly-fishing ball player ever born.
He started playing minor league ball in 1906, when he was already 23-years-old. He made his big league debut with the 1910 New York Highlanders, a surprisingly good team that would finish 25 games over five hundred that season. That was only good enough for second place, far behind the powerful A’s of Connie Mack.
George Stallings was the skipper of that Highlander ball club and he might have thought Roach had a decent shot at unseating New York’s starting shortstop at the time, the light-hitting John Knight. Roxey appeared in 70 games that year but hit just .214. Mean whiile, Knight had an offensive epiphany, finishing the 1910 season with a .312 batting average, which was about 100 points higher than his lifetime average had been up to that point.
Getting outplayed by Knight was not the only disruption that occurred in Roach’s career that year. George Stallings had suspected that New York’s starting first baseman, Hal Chase was involved with professional gamblers and was throwing games. When he became convinced his suspicions were true, he went to both the League President and the Highlanders’ ownership and demanded Chase be banned. Instead, the team’s owners, who happened to be big gamblers themselves, not only sided with Chase, they fired Stallings and made the first baseman the team’s new manager.
After appearing in just 13 games for New York in 1911, Roach’s contract was sold to a minor league team. Since he owned both a pool hall and a bowling alley back home in Pennsylvania, Roach didn’t need his baseball salary to survive but he kept playing minor league ball and in 1915 signed a contract to play for the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. At midseason, however, the Buffalo franchise of the upstart Federal League offered him $1,000 more than the Leafs were paying him and he jumped the team to take the raise.
When the Federal League folded, Roach continued playing minor league ball, this time in Louisville. He also continued pursuing his favorite sports, which were fly fishing and hunting. Earlier in his career, he had purchased some land in Michigan to serve as his private fish and game preserve. He moved up there, opened a Ford dealership and pursued his passions. It seems that he was also one of the great fly tiers of all time. Known as “patterns” in the sport, Roxey’s Fox Squirrel Tail and Gray Squirrel Tail fly patterns have become famous worldwide among fly fisherman and are still replicated today.
Roxey was also proficient in another area as well. He fathered 14 children. He suffered a fatal heart attack the day after Christmas in 1947.
|NYY (2 yrs)||83||308||260||31||57||11||3||0||22||15||35||39||.219||.319||.285||.603|
|WSH (1 yr)||2||2||2||1||1||0||0||1||1||0||0||0||.500||.500||2.000||2.500|
|BUF (1 yr)||92||370||346||35||93||20||3||2||31||11||17||34||.269||.303||.361||.664|