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

Category Archives: Executive

John Reed Kilpatrick


John Reed Kilpatrick (Executive.  Born, New York, NY, June 15, 1889; died, New York, NY, May 7, 1960.)  An end who earned All-America honors at Yale in 1909 and 1910, John Reed Kilpatrick was a military officer, a construction executive, a boxing promoter, president of the Rangers for the better part of three decades, and president of Madison Square Garden.  Kilpatrick was an up-through-the-ranks Army officer who served in World War I before becoming a vice president of the George A. Fuller Construction Co.  In 1933, he became president of the Rangers and responsible for boxing at the Garden after Bill Carey was forced out in a reorganization.  Conflict with Garden chairman John Hammond cost him the Rangers presidency for a year, but he returned in 1935 and remained until 1960.  Kilpatrick then become president of the Garden (except for 1942-45 when he returned to military service) and also held that position until the Garden was taken over by Graham-Paige shortly before his death.  During his time as Garden president, Kilpatrick closed Carey’s Garden Bowl boxing arena in Long Island City, sold the arena’s radio station (WMSG), backed Ned Irish in his formation of the Knickerbockers in 1946, handed boxing over to Mike Jacobs’ 20th Century Sporting Club and helped force the N.H.L. New York Americans out of business.  Along with other directors including Floyd Odlum and Bernard Gimble, he helped the Garden survive the Depression and remain the dominant New York indoor sports venue.

Walter Kennedy


Walter Kennedy (Executive.  Born, Stamford, CT, June 8, 1912; died, Stamford, CT, June 26, 1977.)  An energetic man of high integrity, James Walter Kennedy was commissioner of the N.B.A. for 12 years (1963-75), during which time the league grew from nine teams to 17.  Kennedy began his term by negotiating the league’s first major national television contract.  He oversaw the growth of the N.B.A. from an organization primarily based in the Northeast and Midwest to a truly national one.  A Notre Dame man who once did publicity for the league, Kennedy was twice elected mayor of Stamford, serving from 1959 to 1962 before returning to take over the N.B.A.  He became chairman of the First Stamford Bank and Trust after retiring from the N.B.A.  Kennedy was also chairman of the Special Olympics and president of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Ned Irish


Ned Irish (Executive.  Born, Lake George, NY, May 6, 1905; died, Venice, FL, Jan. 21, 1982.)  Edward Simmons Irish didn’t invent basketball, but he sure helped make it popular.  After working his way through the University of Pennsylvania, Irish came to New York in 1928 as a sportswriter for the Evening Telegram.  In 1930, he acquired a part-time position as publicity director for the New York Giants and the N.F.L., positions he held until 1940.  It was in 1933, while covering a C.C.N.Y.-Manhattan game at the Jaspers’ cramped gym, that he decided the sport needed an arena like Madison Square Garden.  On Dec. 29, 1934, he staged his first college basketball doubleheader at the Garden and drew a crowd of 16,180.  By 1940, the Garden was hosting a couple of dozen doubleheaders each year.  Irish served two terms as president of the Garden (1943-46 and 1960-69), was the founder of the New York Knickerbockers and, in 1946, helped to form the league that became the N.B.A.  He was Knicks president until he retired July 1, 1974.  Ned Irish was noted for his integrity, honesty and fierce loyalty to his friends and employees.  Most of all, it was his vision that pulled basketball to center stage.

George Morton Levy


George Morton Levy (Executive. Born, Seaford, NY, June 26, 1889; died, Mineola, NY, July 10, 1977.) Although he began a career as a successful criminal lawyer, George Morton Levy became internationally-renowned as the father of the modern harness racing industry. In the summer of 1940, Levy opened Roosevelt Raceway, where harness racing was conducted under the lights. The first meeting was a modest success, lasting only 27 nights, but the track was to eventually become the leading harness track in the nation. It was built on the former site of international auto racing in Westbury, Long Island, adjacent to the field where Charles Lindbergh began his fabled solo flight to Paris in 1927. Levy brought merchandising concepts to harness racing, backing the development of the mobile starting gate by Steve Phillips to eliminate numerous (and boring) false starts, and fought the heat system. Traditionally, harness racing was conducted in a series of heats until one horse won two races or one horse had a better series of finishes. Levy pushed for (and got) racing on a race-by-race basis. During the 1950s, Roosevelt set attendance and wagering records annually and Levy invested $20 million in a renovation in 1957. The Roosevelt International became one of the world’s best-known races. Although he once sold his stock and stepped down from the day-to-day management of the track, he returned as president in 1967 and headed Roosevelt until his death.

A.G. Mills


A.G. Mills (Executive. Born, New York, NY, Mar. 12, 1844; died, Falmouth, MA, Aug. 26, 1929.) One of the formative figures in the early history of American sports, Col. Abraham G. Mills served (1862-65) in the Civil War as a youth. Mills then graduated from Columbian Law School (now part of George Washington U.) in Washington, D.C. He later served as the third president of the National League (1883-84), president of the New York A.C. (1891), and proposed creation of the American Olympic Committee (1921). In 1903, he authored the National Agreement that bound baseball’s major leagues (and their minor leagues) into an entity known as Organized Baseball. Unfortunately, he also chaired the Commission in 1910 that accepted the Abner Doubleday myth as the historical founding of baseball. At his death, he was the senior vice president of the Otis Elevator Co. in New York.

Jim Norris


Jim Norris (Executive.  Born, Chicago, IL, Nov. 6, 1906; died, Chicago, IL, Feb. 25, 1966.)  Although he lived virtually his entire life in his native Chicago, James Dougan Norris was noted in New York sports for a decade of major activity.  Following World War II service in the Navy (1942-45), Norris became co-owner of the N.H.L. Chicago Blackhawks in 1946.  He was also active in horse racing as an owner and breeder.  The boxing business caught his notice and in May 1949, Norris formed the International Boxing Club to buy out the ailing Mike Jacobs and the 20th Century Sporting Club, the principal New York fight promoter.  He also acquired Jacobs’ shares in the Garden and shortly owned 40% of the outstanding stock.  Norris became associated with several underworld figures who moved into the boxing business, including Frankie Carbo and Frank (Blinky) Palermo.  Norris’ half-brother, Bruce, owned the Detroit Red Wings and the Norris family owned arenas in St. Louis, Mo., and Omaha, Nebr.  Within four years, the combination of corruption and monopoly created legal problems for the I.B.C.  Its executive secretary (Truman K. Gibson, Jr.) was indicted and, in 1957, the I.B.C. was found to be a monopoly by federal courts.  Owing to its control of the New York, Detroit, and Chicago franchises in what was then a six-team N.H.L. (sometimes called the Norris House League), Norris was ordered to divest himself of his Garden holdings and dissolve the I.B.C.  After an unsuccessful appeal of the court ruling, and a messy U.S. Senate investigation into its corruption, the I.B.C. was dissolved in 1959.  The same year, Norris sold his interest in the Garden for $4 million to Graham-Paige, a New York closed-end investment firm.  He later stated his regret about ever entering the boxing business.  His racing interests centered around Spring Hill Farms (originally Peconic Farms) in Paris, Kent., and Norris’ colt, Jamie K., narrowly lost the 1953 Preakness to Native Dancer.  Both Carbo and Palermo served jail time for their boxing activities while Gibson was convicted but received a suspended sentence.  Norris’ father, James Sr. (who died in 1952), took over the Red Wings in 1933 and the same year joined the group supporting the efforts of Col. John Hammond to control the Garden.  After Hammond was ousted by John Reed Kilpatrick’s faction in 1935, the elder Norris alone among his major supporters remained.  He was elected to the board in 1936 but it was the son who became the dominant force in Garden affairs.

Harry Henshel


Harry Henshel (Executive.  Born, Rochester, NY, June 29, 1890; died, New York, NY, May 15, 1961.)  A one-time clerk for the Erie Railroad, Harry Davis Henshel married Emily Bulova Apr. 22, 1918, and joined his father-in-law’s watch company, then headquartered in Flushing, Queens.  By 1930, Henshel was a vice president and later vice chairman of the company.  Following military service in World War II, he became an enthusiastic sports buff.  Henshel encouraged the development of the Bulova Phototimer (introduced in 1948) for track meets.  He served on the foreign relations committee of the A.A.U., was chairman of the U.S. Olympic basketball committee (1952-56), and was a major fundraiser as head of the New York City Committee for the Olympic Games in 1952, 1956, and 1960.

Graeme Hammond


Graeme Hammond (Executive.  Born, Philadelphia, PA, Feb. 1, 1858; died, New York, NY, Oct. 30, 1944.)  A standout athlete at Columbia (1875-78), Graeme Hammond later became a national fencing champion and one of America’s leading amateur athletics executives.  Hammond ran track, rowed crew, and played football at Columbia, winning the I.C.4A. quarter-mile and half-mile in 1877.  He was an active fencer for 25 years (1881-1906), winning several national titles, and also served as president of the Amateur Fencers League of America from 1895-1926.  Hammond was president of the New York Athletic Club (1916-19) and the American Olympic Association (forerunner of the U.S.O.C.) in 1928.  He graduated N.Y.U. Medical School in 1881 and was a noted neurologist.

Joe McCrane


Joe McCrane (Executive. Born, Clifton, NJ, July 11, 1924; died, Napa, CA, Sept. 28, 2003.) A football and lacrosse player at West Point, Joseph Matthew McCrane, Jr., was also general manager of the Garden State Park racetrack in Cherry Hill, N.J. It was this combination of experiences that led him to create the N.J. Sports and Exposition Authority and its subsequent progeny, the Meadowlands sports complex. Although much of the credit was later assigned to Gov. William Cahill, his successor Gov. Brendan Byrne, and sports promoter Sonny Werblin, McCrane was the primary driving force behind the Meadowlands development. He served with the Marines in the South Pacific during World War II and then enrolled at West Point. McCrane lettered as a backfield backup in football and an attackman in lacrosse before graduating in 1950. That year, he married Joan Mori, daughter of the founder of Garden State Park, Eugene Mori. McCrane left military service in 1955 and subsequently became general manager of the track. In 1969, he was campaign manager of Cahill’s campaign, being appointed state treasurer after the election. The following year, McCrane created the N.J.S.E.A. and gained legislative approval for it. He then persuaded the Mara family to commit to moving the Football Giants (then based in Yankee Stadium) to New Jersey. Ground was broken for the sports complex in 1972. McCrane’s thesis was that the racetrack would throw off sufficient revenue to make the complex self-sustaining (which at the outset was true). Further, McCrane argued that racing cash flow would support the bonding necessary for the capital costs of building the racetrack, a football stadium, and a ballpark for major league baseball. The Lindsay administration’s agreement to renovate Yankee Stadium prevented the defection of the Yankees to the complex and the baseball stadium was never built. An arena was subsequently added, instead, providing, in the event, a home for the N.B.A. Nets and N.H.L. Devils. McCrane, however, was indicted in 1972 on charges of masterminding a plot to create illegal Federal tax deductions for campaign contributions. An unrelated indictment on state bribery charges was dropped. Intense publicity caused his Federal trial to be moved to Scranton, Penna., where he was convicted in December 1974. McCrane was sentenced in May 1975 to three years’ probation and a $20,000 fine. He and Joan Mori were divorced in 1982 and McCrane later was an executive with a company that marketed armored limousines. He was also part of several unsuccessful groups that sought to acquire pro football teams.

Floyd Odlum


Floyd Odlum (Executive.  Born, Union City, MI, Mar. 30, 1892; died, Indio, CA, June 17, 1976.)  A law graduate of the University of Colorado, Floyd Bostwick Odlum came to New York in 1917 to join the firm of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, specializing in utilities work.  In 1923, Odlum and his first wife with a partner formed an investment pool that became Atlas Utilities Corp., an exceptionally successful holding company.  He shrewdly sold his stock just before the 1929 stock market crash and used the resultant cash to prosper even further during the Great Depression.  On Sept. 24, 1935, Odlum and several associates took control of the financially-ailing Garden, installing Col. John Reed Kilpatrick as president.  In 1937, he took over R.K.O. Radio Pictures and shifted his attentions towards California, where he and his second wife, aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran, subsequently moved.  Odlum later moved into the aviation industry and promoted the development of a new missile (called the Atlas), which was eventually used to power N.A.S.A.’s lunar landers.  During World War II, he served with the War Production Board and the Office of Price Administration.  Odlum subsequently sold his Garden interests, left Atlas in 1960, and, afflicted with severe arthritis, went into semi-retirement on a 732-acre estate in Indio, Calif.

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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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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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