New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Executive

Bill Torrey

(Hockey. Born, Montreal, PQ, June 23, 1932.)  A hockey executive, William Arthur Torrey played a leading role in constructing one the most successful  dynasties in New York sports history. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, Torrey worked for the AHL Pittsburgh Hornets. He then became vice president of the NHL’s year-old Oakland Seals before the 1968-69 season.  During Torrey’s three years there, the Seals qualified for the playoffs twice.  Torrey left the Seals after the 1970-71 season and on February 15, 1972, became the first general manager of the expansion  Islanders, who began play that October.  Torrey in the mid- to late 1970s drafted future Hall of Famers Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier, and Mike Bossy. These players anchored the Islanders from the mid-1970s until the late 1980s, forming the core of the teams that won four consecutive Stanley Cups. Torrey also acquired goaltender Billy Smith, whose play was vital to the Islanders’ fourteen straight winning seasons (1974-75 to 1987-88).  Notable for his ubiquitous bow tie, Torrey saw his teams win a record 19 consecutive playoff series – four in each of the four Stanley Cup-winning series and three more in 1984, when the Islanders reached the final before losing to Edmonton.   Torrey left the Islanders to become  the first president of the 1993 expansion Florida Panthers, helping them reach the Stanley Cup final in 1996. Torrey was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995. – By Jacob Kaczynski

Frank Cashen

Frank Cashen  (Baseball.  Born, Baltimore, Md., Sept. 13, 1925.)  There is little doubt that J. Frank Cashen was the principal architect of the Mets championship team of 1986.  Having previously served the Orioles in his native Baltimore, Cashen was working in the office of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn when the Mets were sold by the Payson family, which had owned the club since its inception.  When new owner Nelson Doubleday asked Kuhn for a recommendation for general manager, the Commissioner suggested Cashen.  He became the team’s g.m. Feb. 21, 1980, and held the position longer (1980-91) than anyone else in Mets history.  Cashen was named major league executive of the year by The Sporting News when his 1986 club was 108-54 and went on to win the World Series.  In four years (1985-88), the Mets won 398 games.  Cashen remained chief operating officer through 1992 and then became senior vice president.  He is a graduate of Loyola (Md.) and the University of Maryland Law School.  Early in his career, Cashen was a sportswriter with the old Baltimore News-American.

Fred Wilpon

Fred Wilpon (Executive.  Born, Brooklyn, NY, Nov. 22, 1936.) A graduate of the University of Michigan, Fred Wilpon entered the real estate field as vice president of Hanover Equities in 1959 and a decade later moved to Peter Sharp & Co. Since 1971, he has been chairman of Sterling Equities and owner of extensive real estate holdings. Wilpon played baseball with future Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax at Brooklyn’s Lafayette H.S. His lifelong interest in baseball led him to join the syndicate that purchased the Mets in January 1980 from the heirs of the original owner, Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson (the former Joan Whitney). Since 1980, he has served as president of the Mets and has been active both in the resuscitation of the team (which won the World Series in 1986, the N.L. pennant in 2000, and the N.L. East Division championship in 2006) and the construction of a new stadium (Citi Field, which opened next door to the demolished Shea Stadium in 2009). Wilpon brought pro baseball back to Brooklyn in 2001 when the Mets’ Class-A affiliate in the New York-Penn League moved there and became the Cyclones. On Aug. 13, 2002, Wilpon became the principal owner of the Mets when his purchase of Nelson Doubleday’s half-interest for a reported $200 million was announced.  Wilpon and his family were major victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, revealed in 2008, and the Wilpons’ potential liability to other victims led to questions as to whether Wilpon would be forced to sell the Mets to satisfy those losses.  Indeed, in 2011, an agreement was announced whereby hedge fund investor David Einhorn would purchase an interest in the Mets.  However, court rulings appeared to cap the Wilpons’ exposure to other Madoff victims and the family’s need to sell a portion of the team evaporated.  Shortly thereafter, so did the putative Wilpon-Einhorn deal.

Sonny Werblin

Sonny Werblin (Executive.  Born, Brooklyn, NY, Mar. 17, 1910; died, New York, NY, Nov. 21, 1991.)  David A. Werblin first gained wide public notice in the sports field when in 1963 he led the syndicate that purchased the bankrupt New York Titans and turned the A.F.L. club into the Jets.  In 1951, Werblin was named president of entertainment conglomerate MCA, a position he was to hold until Jan. 1965.  During a whirlwind two-year period, 1963-65, he served as president of both MCA and the Jets.  But whirlwind action was never a stranger to Werblin.  From 1971-77, he was the chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.  More than any other individual, he was responsible for the creation of the modern complex that today includes Giants Stadium, an arena and a racetrack.  His appointment on Jan. 1, 1978, as president and chief executive officer of Madison Square Garden Corporation was page-one news.  A graduate of Rutgers, Werblin was active in the school’s affairs and served as a trustee.  He was a long-time director and one-time secretary of the Monmouth Park Jockey Club.  Werblin was also a director of many corporations and was a regent of St. Peter’s College in Jersey City and a trustee of Bethany College in West Virginia.

Bob Tisch

Bob Tisch (Executive.  Born, Brooklyn, NY, Apr. 29, 1926; died, New York, NY, Nov. 15, 2005.) Long a leader of New York’s cultural, educational, and charitable community, Preston Robert Tisch joined the elite of professional sports ownership in Feb. 1991. Achieving a life-long ambition, he purchased half of the Football Giants franchise from Tim Mara and other members of the late Jack Mara’s family, becoming chairman and co-chief executive officer of the N.F.L. club. Tisch already ranked as one of America’s most successful businessmen, as chairman and co-CEO of the $69 billion Loews Corporation, which owns Loews hotels and resorts and such diverse operations as CNA Financial, Bulova Watch, and Lorillard Tobacco. Tisch has served both his country and his city in many ways, including a term as Postmaster General of the U.S. (1986-88) and a 19-year stint as chairman of the New York Visitors and Convention Bureau (where he remained as chairman emeritus). From 1990-93, Tisch was chairman of the New York City Partnership, Inc., and the New York Chamber of Commerce and Industry. After military service in World War II, he earned his B.A. in economics at the University of Michigan in 1948. Tisch was a member of the N.F.L.’s Finance and Super Bowl Policy committees, devoting time to his league and team duties at his Giants Stadium office.

Jacob Ruppert

Jacob Ruppert (Executive.  Born, New York, NY, Aug. 5, 1867; died, New York, NY, Jan. 13, 1939.)  Col. Jacob Ruppert was a sportsman of many parts, maintaining a racing stable and a dog kennel, but gained his fame for being the man whose money and vision built the Yankees into the dominant force in New York sports in the 1920s and 1930s.  After being rebuffed in two serious attempts to buy the New York Giants, Ruppert purchased the Yankees (then commonly called the Highlanders) in 1915 almost by happenstance.  He met Col. Til Huston, who was attempting to purchase the American League club, and joined with him.  At the time, the Yankees were tenants of the Giants at the Polo Grounds and Ruppert proposed to Giants owner Charles Stoneham that the two teams build a huge 100,000-seat stadium and jointly occupy it.  But the Giants not only wanted none of that, they wanted the Yankees out of the Polo Grounds after Ruppert acquired Babe Ruth in 1920.  In 1922, Ruppert bought out Huston’s interest and began construction of Yankee Stadium.  The 1923 season not only saw the opening of the new Stadium but also saw the Yankees win their first world championship, with Ruth as the slugging star who helped fill the large building.  By 1927, the Yankees had built the most powerful team perhaps of all time.  During his ownership, the Yankees won 10 A.L. pennants and seven world championships, adding another to each list during the year of his death.  Ruppert, who served four terms as a U.S. congressman, was a full Colonel in the Seventh Regiment of the N.Y. National Guard.

Tex Rickard

Tex Rickard (Executive.  Born, Kansas City, MO, Jan. 2, 1871; died, Miami, FL, Jan. 6, 1929.)  “I never seed anything like it,” George Lewis Rickard is reported to have uttered on at least one famous occasion. But while literacy may not have been his longest suit, Tex Rickard was without doubt the greatest promoter of his time.  Among other things, Rickard created the $1 million gate in boxing and built the third Madison Square Garden (Eighth Ave. between 49th and 50th Streets). Rickard was a rancher, gold miner and saloon keeper before he got into sports promotion with the Joe Gans and Battling Nelson lightweight championship bout Sept. 6, 1906 at Goldfields, Nevada.  Then came his management of Jack Dempsey, who won the heavyweight championship from Jess Willard in 1919. On Aug. 4, 1920, Rickard told a New York press conference he was taking over the management of Madison Square Garden (that’s No. 2 on Madison Square).  Fewer than two weeks later, Rickard ran his first boxing night there and sold out the house.  The first $1  million dollar gate came in 1921 when Dempsey battled French war hero Georges Carpentier at Boyle’s Thirty Acres in Jersey City. In 1924, Rickard was informed that the New York Life Insurance Co. was foreclosing the mortgage on the current Garden.  He then rounded up what he called his “400 Millionaires” and built a new Garden in 249 days on Eighth Ave.  He promoted boxing, bike racing, introduced hockey (in 1925) on a major scale there and insured the continued presence of the Garden.

Harry M. Stevens

Harry M. Stevens (Executive.  Born, London, England, June 14, 1855; died, New York, NY, May 3, 1934.)  Harry Mosley Stevens may be one of the few sports figures to have invented a business.  Stevens’ efforts created the modern sports concessioning business, although he always referred to himself as a “publisher and caterer.”  Stevens came with his family from England in 1882, stopping briefly in New York before moving to Niles, Ohio.  In 1887, he took over publishing scorecards for the Columbus baseball club after complaining that the cards then available told him virtually nothing.  Over the next three years, his product became so widely respected that he expanded to Toledo and Milwaukee, and into the National League in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Washington.  In 1891, Stevens took over the business in Boston.  His biggest break came in 1894, when he became the concessionaire of the Polo Grounds and the second Madison Square Garden.  He then became a part of New York sports, catering at Ebbets Field, Yankee Stadium, and the major New York racetracks.  Stevens introduced the hot dog as a staple of ballpark service and was celebrated by New York sportswriters as “the hot dog king.”  The son of a lawyer, Stevens was well-versed in English literature and could quote freely from the entire range of Shakespeare.  Along with his four sons, he established a business that his letterhead proclaimed stretched from “the Hudson to the Rio Grande” as he added racetracks and ballparks as far away as Mexico.

George Steinbrenner

George Steinbrenner (Executive.  Born, Rocky River, OH, July 4, 1930; died, Tampa, FL, July 13, 2010.) One of the most visible figures in New York sports history, George Michael Steinbrenner, III, owned the Yankees longer than anyone else had, and reestablished the team as the sport’s flagship franchise team during his tumultuous 37-year ownership, though his path to New York was, in retrospect, anything but obvious.  After graduating from Williams and doing post-graduate work at Ohio State, Steinbrenner became an assistant football coach at Northwestern in 1955.  Then came two seasons as an assistant coach at Purdue (1956-57) before Steinbrenner followed his family into the Great Lakes shipping business, becoming treasurer of Kinsman Transit Co. in Cleveland in 1957.  His first prominent venture in pro sports was as owner of the Cleveland Pipers of the short-lived American Basketball League during the 1962-63 season.  Steinbrenner was tentatively offered an N.B.A. expansion spot for his team after signing Ohio State star Jerry Lucas to a contract, but the A.B.L. collapsed and the N.B.A. offer was withdrawn.  In 1972, Steinbrenner had thoughts of purchasing his hometown Cleveland Indians when he learned that the Yankees were for sale.  On Jan. 3, 1973, it was announced that Steinbrenner’s syndicate had purchased the Yankees from C.B.S.  He then set about revitalizing the club, which had not won a pennant since 1964, and succeeded by 1976.  After an initial spurt of success (four pennants in six seasons from 1976-81), the Yankees missed the playoffs every year from 1982-93 (a strike shortened the ’94 season with the Yankees comfortably in first place), and then climbed the baseball mountain again, winning, in the event, four World Series in five seasons (1996, ’98-2000).  The Yankees won 11 A.L. pennants and seven World Series during his ownership.  Steinbrenner led the syndicate that took control of the New Jersey Nets N.B.A. club and later the Devils for five years (1999-2004) and formed the YES Network.  He is also a board member of the New York Racing Association.  Aside from the Yankees, his holdings included American Shipbuilding, of which he was president from 1967-78 and then served as chairman.

Neil Smith

Neil Smith (Executive.  Born, Toronto, Ont., Jan. 9, 1954.)  An all-America defenseman at Western Michigan, Neil Smith played two seasons in the Islanders farm system before becoming a scout for the team.  He moved to the Detroit Red Wings as director of professional scouting in 1982 and then became the director of scouting.  He also served as general manager of Adirondack in the A.H.L., where the club won two Calder Cup championships.  On July 17, 1989, Smith became the ninth general manager in Rangers history (succeeding Phil Esposito, who was dismissed May 24).  When a management shakeup forced out Jack Diller, Smith became the Rangers’ ninth president on June 19, 1992, when the post had been vacant for 14 months.  Smith rapidly assembled the pieces that produced, in 1994, the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup in 54 years, trading for center Mark Messier, hiring coach Mike Keenan, and acquiring several playoff-tested veterans during the 1993-94 season.  In 1996, he signed Wayne Gretzky, who spent the final three seasons of his unparalleled career with the Rangers.  The team’s fortunes declined precipitously after Messier, following an acrimonious negotiation, signed a free agent contract with Vancouver in July 1997.  On Mar. 27, 2000, Smith was fired (along with coach John Muckler) as the Rangers missed the playoffs for the third straight season.  Smith also served as Islanders general manager, but his tenure lasted only 40 days (June 8-July 18, 2006), abbreviated because of Smith’s refusal to accept the management structure created by team owner Charles Wang.

About This Dictionary

The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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About Bill Shannon

A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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