Friday, February 18, 2005


February 18th, 1943

William Cox Buys Phillies

This is one move for which Major League Baseball wishes they could have taken a mulligan. The Phillies' previous owner was Gerry Nugent, a man who literally did not have enough money to pay for the team's day-to-day expenses, and often had to sell the team's best players to pay the bills. Having decided that they'd seen enough of Nugent turning a baseball team into an auction house, his fellow owners bought the team for $850,000 and put it up for sale after the 1942 season. The eventual purchaser was William Cox, who had made his fortune in lumber.

Cox was not an absentee owner and this would lead to his undoing. Taking over a squad that had averaged one hundred and seven losses over the last five years, new manager Bucky Harris had them on a ninety-four loss pace, hardly great but a big improvement. Cox decided he was unhappy with this performance and fired Harris. He did so through the media, calling a press conference while Harris was with the team in St. Louis. The team initially threatened not to play if Harris was not restored as manager but Harris told the players to play without him, and returned to Philly. Calling a press conference in his hotel suite, Harris described Cox in unfavorable—if probably accurate—terms and as the press was leaving Harris dropped the bombshell that Cox was gambling on his own team.

Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis received word of the accusation from a Philly sportswriter and launched an investigation. On November 23rd, Cox was suspended, putting an end to his ownership that had begun less than a year before. Harris claimed he had made some "sentimental bets" on his team not knowing it was against the rules but that another front office employee had made the fifteen to twenty bets that Landis suspended him on account of. Cox resigned as Phillies' owner the day before the suspension was announced, but proceeded to recant his "sentimental bets" story and demanded another hearing. He got one on December fourth, although he did not attend, choosing to be represented by counsel. No change in the decision was made, and Cox became number sixteen on the permanently ineligible list.

The Phillies were sold to Bob Carpenter who ended up appointing former Yankee Herb Pennock as the GM. The Phillies would reach the World Series in 1950 but due to a number of factors (including, most controversially, a refusal to sign black players, they would not have their first until 1957) it would not be until 1976 that the Phillies were again competitive. William Cox was still on the banned list when he died in 1989.

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