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

Category Archives: Polo

Jock Whitney

Jock Whitney (Polo and thoroughbred racing.  Born, Ellsworth, ME, Aug. 17, 1904; died, Manhasset, NY, Feb. 8, 1982.)  A polo star, successful racing stable owner, backer of plays and movies, newspaper publisher, savvy investor and radio station owner, John Hay Whitney was, it is safe to say, a man of many roles.  Son of Payne Whitney, he inherited some $180 million upon his father’s death in 1927, the year after he was graduated from Yale.  In 1929, Whitney began to pursue polo seriously and in 1935, his Greentree team won the U.S. title.  In 1928, he became the youngest member of the Jockey Club and began racing regularly in England (where he had studied at Oxford for a year).  Although he was no longer active in polo by the advent of World War II, his racing interests continued to expand.  On his mother’s death (1944), Whitney acquired Greentree Stable on Long Island (in partnership with his sister Joan) and merged his own Mare’s Nest Farm into the Greentree interests, which included Kentucky’s Greentree Stud.  Greentree produced Horses of the Year Capot (1949) and Tom Fool (1953), as well as Stage Door Johnny, winner of the 1968 Belmont Stakes.  In 20 years (1928-48), he backed plays such as Charley’s Aunt, Life with Father, and A Streetcar Named Desire, and movies (1933-40) that included A Star is Born, Rebecca, and Gone with the Wind.  Whitney also invested in Pioneer Pictures (which introduced Technicolor) and Minute Maid frozen foods.  He was publisher of the New York Herald Tribune from Aug. 28, 1958, until the paper (which cost him $40 million in losses) closed in 1966.

Harry Payne Whitney

Harry Payne Whitney (Polo, horse racing.  Born, New York, NY, Apr. 29, 1872; died, New York, NY, Oct. 26, 1930.)  A major sporting figure for the first three decades of the 20th century, Harry Payne Whitney had extensive influence in polo and thoroughbred racing.  Following his graduation from Yale (1894), Whitney was drawn to many sporting ventures including sailing, but he soon dedicated himself to polo.  Great Britain was then the world power in the sport but he set about raising an American team to challenge Britain’s international dominance.  Whitney succeeded in 1909 when the U.S.’ so-called “Big Four” team (Whitney, Lawrence Waterbury, James Montgomery Waterbury, and Devereaux Milburn) defeated the British, two matches to none (9-5, 8-2) at Hurlingham, England.  He remained part of the team that successfully defended the Westchester Cup in 1913 and 1914.  Whitney developed the long passing game and was accorded a 10-goal rating (the sport’s highest) for five seasons (1917-21).  Beginning with Irish Lad in 1902, he also had an enormous impact on racing.  Whitney was the top money-winning owner five times (1913, 1920, 1924, 1926, 1927).  His stable was tops in money won among breeders six times in seven years (1924, 1926-30) and his estate led the breeders’ money list in 1931 and 1932.  Regret and Whiskery were among the top horses he raced.  Whitney died of pneumonia in his home at 871 Fifth Avenue.

Devereaux Milburn

Devereaux Milburn (Polo. Born, Buffalo, NY, Sept. 18, 1881; died, Westbury, NY, Aug. 15, 1942.) It is not often that a player can revolutionize an old sport but Devereaux Milburn was able to accomplish just that in polo and, in the process, led United States teams to their greatest international triumphs in the period both before and after the first World War. Milburn first appeared on the international scene in 1909 and played his final international championship in 1927. In between, he also served as an artillery officer in France during World War I. Playing the No. 4 or “back” position, Milburn became perhaps the greatest player ever at that position, changing what had been seen as a largely defensive role into a major part of his team’s attack. He was also a revolutionary figure in that he was the first player ever to strike the ball as hard, long and accurately with his backhand stroke as with his forehand. After graduating Harvard Law School in 1906, Milburn came to New York and joined the Meadow Brook Club in Westbury, NY, where he was shortly to team with Harry Payne Whitney and the Waterbury brothers, Larry and Monte. This combination went to England in 1909 and won the first international title for the U.S. Subsequently, the Meadow Brook team successfully defended the championship in 1911 and 1913 before losing to the British in 1914. Wartime hostilities then suspended the competition but the U.S., with Milburn in the lead, recaptured the Westchester Cup in 1921. Until he retired in 1927, Milburn played on seven international teams for the U.S. and his team won six times.

Tommy Hitchcock

Tommy Hitchcock (Polo.  Born, Aiken, SC, Feb. 11, 1900; died, France, Apr. 19, 1944.)  During the so-called “Golden Age of American Sports” in the 1920s, Tommy Hitchcock was a name ranked amongst the immortals of his time along with Jack Dempsey, Bill Tilden, and Babe Ruth.  Indeed, he was generally known as “the Babe Ruth of Polo.”  And Thomas Hitchcock, Jr., was the real goods.  In a 19-year span from 1922-40, Hitchcock gained the maximum rating of 10 goals.  Only in 1935 did he fail to achieve the highest ranking.  That year he was rated at nine goals.  Hitchcock played on National Open championship teams in 1923, 1927, 1935, and 1936 and on Monty Waterbury Memorial Cup winning teams in 1928, 1932, 1935 and 1939.  He gave the game of polo sports page coverage and headlines never before bestowed upon the sport.  During the days of the great polo confrontations with Great Britain at the Meadow Brook Club on Long Island, Hitchcock starred for the victorious U.S. teams in the matches of 1921, 1924, 1927, 1930 and 1938.  A lieutenant colonel in a World War II flying group, Hitchcock was killed in a plane crash.

James Gordon Bennett, Jr.

James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (Yachting, polo.  Born, New York, NY, May 10, 1841; died, Paris, France, May 14, 1918.)  In common with many wealthy young men of his era, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., was both socially prominent and important to the development of sports in the U.S.  Bennett’s father founded the New York Herald in 1835 and the younger Bennett inherited the thriving enterprise in 1872.  In 1857, he became the youngest member of the New York Yacht Club, won his first trans-Atlantic race in 1866, and, in 1873, created the first intercollegiate track event, a two-mile race for a challenge cup at Saratoga, N.Y., as an adjunct to the championship rowing regatta.  Bennett introduced polo (1876) into the U.S. and built the original Polo Grounds (1880) at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue for the sport.  Though by then he had moved permanently to France, he established the Bennett Trophy Auto race in 1900, following with balloon racing in 1906 and airplane racing in 1909.  Bennett was a major patron of early U.S. Olympic teams and, in 1887, founded the Paris Herald, forerunner of the International Herald Tribune.  He sponsored several New York charities and sent Henry Morgan Stanley into the then-uncharted interior of Africa to locate Dr. David Livingstone, a noted missionary thought to have disappeared.  Stanley found him.  (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume,” Stanley is reported to have said upon locating the missionary.)  Bennett’s erratic behavior and lack of social grace led to a decline in the Herald’s fortunes, and it was sold twice within six years of his death (becoming part of the Herald Tribune in 1924).  One of his enduring legacies was the creation of strong and continuing sports coverage in his newspaper, eventually emulated by every leading daily, albeit reluctantly in some cases.

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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