Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Christy Walsh — Baseball’s First Agent

When you think of baseball agents, some fairly vivid pictures may appear.  You may think of Scott Boras, the super-agent, capable of putting fear, panic, and loathing into any GM….or you might think more of a caricature such as “Arlis$$, played by Robert Wuhl, Bob Sugar of Jerry Maguire fame (played by Jay Mohr)  or Ari Gold from Entourage (played by Jeremy Piven).

However, did you know that the first baseball agent was Christy Walsh.  Walsh was an ambitious go-getter who also created a highly successful syndicate of ghost writers for baseball’s biggest stars, coining the term “ghost writer” in the process. Walsh, in many ways, was a pioneer in the public relations field.

One of Walsh’s most heralded PR feats was to get a team of doctors to administer tests to Babe Ruth to determine whether The Sultan of Swat possessed any extra physical or psychological advantages.  The results were reported in a Popular Science Monthly article — Why Babe Ruth is Greatest Home-Run Hitter and subsequently picked up by the New York Times.  Never mind that the science was flawed or, at a minimum subject to other interpretations, the publicity was priceless. [4]

About Walsh’s ghost-writing syndicate, Jonathan Eig, in Luckiest Man wrote:

The athletes and writers were hapy.  The readers were happy.  Objective journalism was the only casualty.  By making the jocks and reporters partners, Walsh compromised a lot of solid reporters, turning them into fawning propagandists.  As baseball soared in popularity, thanks largely to Ruth, Gehrig, and the new media, baseball writers were in demand. Newspapers, magazines, and even motion picture producers were clamoring for baseball stories.[6]

Later on Walsh, became sports director of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in New York City and, in the early 50s, authored a book– Baseball’s Greatest Lineup– and published an All-American sports calendar.

In December 1955, Walsh died in North Hollywood, CA, at the age of 73

Walsh’s Early Years and Meeting the Bambino

Walsh, a lawyer by training, was drawn to New York city by the glamour, glitz, and opportunity.  He took a job in the newspaper industry and eventually in advertising for Maxwell-Chalmers automobiles. Walsh was fired from that job and took that as a sign to move onto to another field.  Walsh originally started with the idea of ghost writing show business names, but soon switch to sports.  And who better to represent then the Babe.

Walsh staked out the Ansonia Hotel, where Babe and his wife were staying.  He wasn’t having any luck cornering Ruth so he came up with a plan to impersonate the bellhop to deliver beer and ice to Ruth’s room.  When he was successful in gaining access to the Bambino’s room, he told Ruth about his plan to make money via ghost writing.  Ruth was intrigued and agreed to meet Walsh the next day in Penn Station. [4]

At least there were no money worries.  Ruth, his second wife, Clarie, and their two daughters had invested well, thanks to the astute counsel of his shrewd agent-turned-money-manager, Christy Walsh, who had first met the ballplayer in the early 1920s after breaking into his apartment disguised as an ice man.  Back then, Ruth blew through dollars like candy, tipping $100 for a 35-cent ham sandwich and loaning his teammates wads that he would never again see.  Walsh, with the help of Claire, set up a trust fund for the family, gave Ruth a budget, and wrote him $50 checks wherever he needed cash.  The system worked–cutting down on Ruthian spending habits, and granting him financial security for life. [5]

Walsh had appealed to Ruth by promising him $1,000 on the spot and a percentage of future sales, without the Bambino having to lift a finger–money for nothing.  To make good on the monetary promise, so his check wouldn’t bounce, Walsh went directly to the bank to borrow the money to pay Ruth. [6]

Ghost Writing Syndicate

Walsh, in his short memoir, Adios to Ghosts, describes first getting Ruth to sign a contract for ghost writing:

Mrs. Ruth stands nearby and gives me my first close-up of a mink coat; a luxurious, bulging wrap which probably set her man back a cool five thousand.  While she obligingly diverts the autograph addicts, I spirit Babe through an iron gate, produce a badly wrinkled contract in the form of a short, informal letter and without question, he inscribes “George Herman Ruth” in the correct spot and I go in search of a ghost to do the writing. [7]

Prior to signing Babe, Walsh had ghost written an article for World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker describing the 1919 Indianapolis 500, won by Howard Wilcox.  Walsh and Rickenbacker split the profits of about $800. [4].  Over time, Walsh eventually built a ghostwriting syndicate with writers such as Ford Frick, Damon Runyon, and Gene Fowler representing the top players of the game including Ruth, Ty Cobb, Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby, John McGraw, and Walter Johnson. 

Johnson was pursued by Walsh into the Pullman’s washroom of a train station in New Haven, Connecticut to sign up for the syndicate.   Big Train received a $1,000 immediate payout and made $7,000 eventually from the venture. [2]

Shirley Povich, in a 1924 column appearing in the Washington Post, describes Ruth’s failed plans as to cover the 1924 World Series.

My neighbor in the press box, according to the seating plan was to be, of all people, Babe Ruth. He had signed on to cover the World Series for the Christy Walsh Syndicate.  That sort of thing was commonplace for the game’s big stars.  They would be provided a press box seat, along with a ghostwriter and a telegraph operator, and never set their pen to paper.

But minutes before the game, the word had come over the wires that Ruth had suffered an appendicitis and had been rushed to Emergency Hospital.  His ghostwriter also dismissed himself for the day

When Christy Walsh arrived and was told about Ruth’s absence, and why, he bellowed quickly, “Get me an operator!” Walsh took Ruth’s seat and began to dictate” “Washington , D.C., October 1, by Babe Ruth, paragraph, quote.  As I lie here, in Washington’s Emergency Hospital, as a native New Yorker my heart is with the giants, but as an American Leaguer, it is my duty to root for the Senators.” And so it went. [3]

Barnstorming: The Bustin Babe and The Larupin Lous (see picture at top right)

In 1927, to supplement his income Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig went on a 21-game cross-country tour.  Ruth got $2,500 per game while Gehrig got a flat fee of $10,000 ($3,000 more than his yearly salary. In an effort to keep costs down, the rosters were filled out by a Negro league team–The Brooklyn Royal Giants–and by local players. 

 To satisfy the crowds, Ruth and Gehrig led off each inning for their respective teams. When Ruth  hit one over the fence, it wasn’t unusual for hundreds of young boys to race onto the field and accompany the Bambino around the bases.  It was organized pandemonium.  And Ruth loved it. [1]

Fans didn’t care about the competition.  They wanted home runs and autographs.  In Trenton, they got what they came for.  Ruth homered to right field in the first inning.  As soon as the ball cleared the fence, he was mobbed by screaming children who burst from the stands.  The Babe waddled around the bases with children wrapped around his legs and clawing at his arms.  In the third inning, he homered again.  Again, he was mobbed.  Finally when he hit his third home run in the seventh inning, the fans stormed the field and refused to return to their seats.  Walsh ushered his men to the train. [6].

For more information on the barnstorming tour’s stop in Trenton, see http://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/babe-ruth/

Sources:

Comments

7 Responses to “Christy Walsh — Baseball’s First Agent”
  1. Tom Barthel says:

    You may find something of interest in one of my books:
    Tom Barthel , Walkie-Talkie Fanning Bees; The Fierce Fun of Ducky Medwick,;Pepper Martin, A Baseball Biography; Barnstorming 1901-1962; Those Peerless Semipros: The Brooklyn Bushwicks of Dexter Park. Abner Doubleday: a Civil War Biography September 2010. Still in the works is a book on Babe Ruth’s years of barnstorming.

    Thanks for the material on Babe’s Trenton game.
    Tom Barthel

  2. Richard Walsh says:

    He also founded the “All American Board of Football” in 1924 as well as the All American Board of Baseball. He was as you say the first agent and some of the clients he represented where Lou Gerhig, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Eddie Rickenbacker, Knute Rockne etc.etc.

    He was on a ladder in his garage the morning of his death at age of 63 years not 73 as stated above. The Knights of Columbus were giving him a dinner in Pasadena,Ca. that evening and people had come in from all over the world to celebrate him and his accomplishment.

    He also was important in putting Notre Dame on the map as a national football school. He was responsible for making the movies such as “The Pride of the Yankees”, Knute Rockne All American and another one that I can’t think of right now.

    The day Rockne died Christy Walsh was on a train coming from Chicago to meet Rockne in Kansas City as they were going to fly out to Hollywood to make the movie about Rockne’s life. The train was late and the plane took off and 20 minutes later all were dead. From that time on Walsh never flew but always took the train.

    If you need any more history just email me.

    Regards,
    Richard Walsh
    Nephew of Christy Walsh

  3. Kathy Lee says:

    Hello Richard.

    My grandmother was Kathleen Law, later, Kathleen Lee. She worked as your Uncle’s personal secretary for many years. She always spoke so highly of him, and they stayed in touch even after she stopped working for him. I am her namesake, and sole grandchild. I have many notes and pictures, and even gifts that Christy Walsh gave her. I wear her watch from Christy engraved: CW to KL “Loyalty Efficiency” 1926-1939. And a lovely handwritten note that he sent to her upon her wedding in 1940.

    I was wondering if you had ever heard her name before, or came across her in any of his papers and pictures.

    Thank you.

    Kathy Lee

  4. Michael C Messina says:

    Richard,

    My mother was Ruth Celeste Messina. Her mother was Celeste Morehouse. My grandmother was the sister of Christy Walsh. I have a few old pictures of Christy. One when he was a young boy with his family on their front porch. Some others with my mother and Christy Walsh Jr. taken about 1943 or so while my mother was in the army. When my mother got married Christy came to the wedding in Sacramento and I have pictures of them at the ceremony March 1945. One time when I was about five years old about 1950 or so we visited Christy at his house and I have pictures of this too. I also have a copy of the book “Adios to Ghost”
    Best Regards, Michael C Messina.

  5. Jane Leavy says:

    Richard, I have been trying to reach you to talk to you about your uncle for a book on Babe Ruth. Can you please let me know where and how I can reach you? I am the author of books on Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle. Best, Jane

  6. Dave M says:

    I’d be very interested to speak with you all — Richard, Kathy, Michael and Richard.
    I have been doing some long-term research and would appreciate any additional help you can offer.
    Please contact!

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  1. [...] Christy Walsh, sometimes referred to as "baseball’s first agent." Walsh was more carnival barker than negotiator, and he played a massive role in turning his two [...]



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