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Football Short Story
1908 - 1947: The Great Interregnum
Auburn vs Alabama: Gridiron Grudge Since 1893, John Chandler Griffin (2001)
For nearly 100 years fans have wondered just what occurred in 1908 to cause a 41-year disruption in the Alabama-Auburn football series. And even today most of the facts are still somewhat confusing.
Back in 1907 it had been mutually agreed between Alabama and Auburn that visiting teams would be paid $2.00 per player for 17 players to cover both their hotel rooms and meals for two days. The total cost: $68.
But on January 23, 1908, Alabama coach J.W. Pollard received a proposed contract from Auburn football manager Thomas Bragg requesting $3.50 per man for 22 players. The total cost would be $154 for two days of lodging and meals. Bragg further request­ed that the game be played on November 14 at the Birmingham Fair Grounds.
After reviewing the contact, on February 24 Alabama sent Bragg a compromise contract, proposing that Auburn be paid $3.00 per day for two days for 20 players, a total pay­ment of $120. But Bragg returned the proposal, stating that Auburn could not agree to a reduction in the per diem rate or the number of players outlined in his original propo­sal.
Bragg also mentioned that Auburn was not happy with Alabama suggestions for se­lecting referees for their 1908 football game, and that Auburn demanded that the referees be Northerners. At any rate, he continued, Auburn would offer more definite suggestions by April 1.
By April 6, having received no further communications from Auburn, Alabama again con­tacted Bragg. But Bragg responded that questions concerning the officiating of the game could not be decided until after Alabama had signed and returned the contract Bragg had sent to them back on January 23. He stated once again that Auburn insisted on bringing 22 players to the game and that they be paid $3.50 per man per day.
Following receipt of this letter, on April 24, Alabama's Executive Committee on Athletics, ignoring the response they'd just received from Bragg, drew up a new contract. This one was identical to the one they'd sent Bragg back on February 24, offering $3.00 per diem for 20 players. They also insisted that Southern officials should referee the game.

L: Alabama coach J. W. Pollard, R: Auburn coach Mike Donahue
The Executive Committee also informed Coach J.W.H. Pollard that should Bragg refuse the contract, Alabama would immediately begin searching for another school to replace Auburn for the game scheduled for November 14.
The next day, April 25, Auburn coach Mike Donahue and Bragg met with Alabama offi­cials, a Mr. Pritchard and Coach Pollard, in the lobby of the McLester Hotel in Tusca­loosa. At that meeting Coach Donahue expressed his view that "there was not a man in the South of sufficient ability to act as umpire in intercollegiate contests."
Alabama strongly disagreed and pointed out that it would cost a minimum of $250 to bring down a referee from north of the Mason-Dixie line, and that such an expenditure was unnecessary.
But Auburn refused to budge on the question of referees. They also repeated their de­mand that they be allowed to bring 22 players to the game and that they be paid $3.50 per player, as called for in the contract of January 23.
The Tuscaloosa Times-Gazette reported that "Auburn's refusal to entertain any of Ala­bama's suggestions made it evident that a compromise was impossible, so the discus­sion was closed."
By May 17 the Montgomery Advertiser, under the headline "Auburn Side Is Presented," reported that statements made recently by representatives of the University of Ala­bama in the Birmingham Age-Herald were "so inaccurate that they cannot be allowed to pass unanswered."
The Advertiser then quoted Manager Bragg as stating that, rather than create any con­troversy, he had accepted a contract from Alabama in 1907, the previous year, which granted only $2 per player. He pointed out to Coach Pollard that $2 per man really wouldn't meet Auburn's expenses, and that Pollard assured him that "we will make this up in our 1908 contract."
Bragg went on to state that "the 1907 contract occasioned a loss of from $1.50 to $1.75 per man for two days, and while this was an absolutely necessary and legitimate expense, it had to be paid out of Auburn's share of the proceeds of the game."
Bragg stated that he had informed Pollard, both verbally and by letter, that he would be willing to take $3.50 as the maximum rate, but if it turned out that the team's ex­penses amounted to less, then Auburn would charge only the amount actually incurred and would return any unused money to Alabama.
As for the referee question, Bragg was quoted as saying, "With regard to the commit­tee's assertion that Mr. Donahue and I stated that there was no man in the South capa­ble of umpiring an intercollegiate contest, I would emphatically deny that we made any such statement. We simply stated that we did not know of a satisfactory available man to officiate as umpire in the Alabama-Auburn game, and we asked Dr. Pollard to sug­gest some men for our consideration, though he failed to do so. Moreover, we did not ask that an Eastern man be selected as umpire until after we had failed to agree upon some available Southern men."
The resolutions sent to the Auburn management were in the nature of an ultimatum, dictating the only terms upon which the Alabama authorities would sign a contract for next season, and using as a threat the statement that negotiations were being opened with other colleges for a game on November 14, before the Auburn authorities had had the opportunity to finally pass upon the matter.
Two days later, on May 19, the Birmingham Age-Herald, in a fine example of slanted jour­nalism, reported the following: "Auburn's action in this matter is indicative of a desire to evade its annual game with Alabama. Alumni of both institutions in Birmingham think that the talk of an Eastern umpire is ridiculous. The people regret that Alabama and Auburn will not meet this year. They care very little for the reasons."
The series would not resume until 1948.
Baseball Short Story
"He Was a Major League Pitcher Right Then"
Lee Lowenfish, Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman (2007)
Branch Rickey was a law student at the University of Michigan in 1909-10 after playing for the St. Louis Browns in 1906 and the New York Highlanders in 1907..
The spring of 1910 would be noteworthy for Branch Rickey ... He had been hired as the University of Michigan's new baseball coach. ... When Rickey learned of the baseball opening, he sprang into action. He wrote about sixty of his onetime associates in the college and professional baseball ranks, asking for letters of recommendation. Rickey carefully orchestrated the requests so that every day, two of the letters in his behalf arrived at the office of Michigan athletic director Philip Bartelme. The admin­istrator did not know that a former Major League baseball player was on campus, but when he met the applicant, he was immediately impressed with his passion for the game and his principled views on the proper role of athletics on a college campus. ...
Eager to hire the earnest barrister-in-training, the administrator faced the hurdle of convincing law school dean Harry Hutchins that Rickey could handle his huge course load and coach a varsity team. After a two-hour, face-to-face meeting with the applicant, the dean reluctantly gave his consent on the condition that Rickey must be called on to answer questions every day in each of his law classes. ...
When Bartelme got the official word of the dean's approval, he called Rickey into his office with the good news. However, he made one earnest request of his new employee. "Stop sending me those darned letters!" ...
[The previous coach] had left Rickey an inexperienced but eager team, and Rickey rolled up his sleeves and went to work at educating them in the art and science of baseball. He taught his charges the proper way to run and to bunt. He instructed the catchers [Rickey's position in the majors] in the right technique of removing the mask on pop-ups so as to not to trip over it while locating the ball. At Michigan he also came up with the idea for what has become one of the most commonly used defensive strategies in baseball, "the daylight play." Designed to keep runners from taking too big a lead off second base, the strategy involved the pitcher whirling to second base on a pick-off attempt when he saw "daylight" between an unsuspecting base runner and a shortstop breaking to cover the base. Always interested in helpful technical innovations, Rickey also came up with the idea of sliding pits filled with sand to teach the players how to slide on each leg. ...
Not only did Rickey's first baseball season as Michigan coach end successfully, but he also continued to pile up good grades in law school. ...
The word about Rickey's coaching and baseball lecturing abilities was beginning to spread. Occa­sionally, on off days from the American League pennant race, Detroit Tigers players, scouts, and coaches came to Ann Arbor to sit it on Branch Rickey's practices and listen to his practical and inspirational instruction. At other times Rickey would take his players to Detroit to watch the gifted play of outfielders Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, two future Hall of Famers, and other stalwarts on the Tigers ...
Rickey resumed his coaching duties at Michigan before the 1912 season started. ... One morning in late March, a tall, gangly, quiet left-handed pitcher appeared at the indoor practice session at the gymnasium and wanted to know if he could try out for the team. He said that his name was George Sisler, and he was a freshman from Manchester, Ohio, studying mechanical engineering. "Oh, a freshman," Rickey said. "Too bad. You can't play this year. This inside work is only for the varsity." ...
Rickey's captain ... came over and told the coach that Sisler had set outstanding high school records in Ohio. Never liking to give bad news to anyone, Rickey consented to take a look at the freshman. ... A one-minute workout was all Rickey needed to appreciate what kind of jewel was sparkling on his coaching field. "This boy was something in grace and delivery from the very first pitch," Rickey wrote in The American Diamond. Although, as a freshman, Sisler could not play for the varsity, Rickey allowed him to work out with the team in the indoor drills. Restricted to throwing only fastballs, Sisler embar­rassed the varsity with the speed and movement of his pitches. "He was a major league pitcher right then!" Rickey marveled. ...
Sisler's baseball exploits led local sportswriters to dub him "the boy wonder," and professional scouts started to flock to his summer industrial league games. ... Sometime between Sisler's junior and senior years in high school, ... a scout, acting in behalf of ... the Akron team in the Ohio-Penn­sylvania League, had offered a professional contract to the heralded prospect. Though Sisler accep­ted no money he did sign the contract. The young player soon began to have second thoughts about his action and the impact it would have on his amateur eligibility. He was concerned his father would be very upset that his son might forgo his education for the transitory pleasures of the sporting life. ...
What Sisler did not know was that his contract had been shifted from Akron to Columbus, Ohio, in the American Association and had been purchased in early 1912 for $5,000 by Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss. By the summer of 1912 the astute and powerful Dreyfuss was ready to raise a ruckus ... If Sister did not report, he would be placed on the "permanently ineligible" list of profes­sional baseball. ...

L-R: Branch Rickey 1912; George Sisler; Barney Dreyfuss
Rickey was keeping close watch on the Sisler case. ... In August 1912 Dreyfuss went public with his demand that Sisler report to Pittsburgh. Dreyfuss's argument was simple: he had paid the Colum­bus franchise $5,000 for Sisler's contract earlier in the year, and it was time to claim his property. Sisler's amateur eligibililty at Michigan was, of course, no concern for Dreyfuss.
Sportswriters ... warned Sisler that he risked being blacklisted if he refused to report to Pittsburgh. ... The young Michigan student-athlete was, of course, disturbed at the threat to his college eligibility, but he had many important people in his corner. His father ... wrote the National Commission, the gover­ning authority of Major League Baseball, explaining that his son was "a bashful, backward boy" who had been influenced by the flattery of the sout and had signed something that he did not "in any way understand." ... A trustee of the University of Michigan ... wrote the Commission that Sisler was a student in good standing who had every reason to return to and play for the university. Last but not least Branch Rickey submitted a stirring defense of Sisler's blamelessness. ...
After tens of thousands of words were filed in the dispute, the Commission withheld judgment, in effect freeing the player to complete his college career. Barney Dreyfuss still claimed his rights to Sisler, and when the star player graduated in 1915, the case would arise once more. When Dreyfuss lost again it was the beginning of the end of the National Commission as baseball's governing body. That Sisler wound up going to play for Branch Rickey and the St. Louis Browns only rubbed more salt in Dreyfuss's wounds.

About This Site
This site is devoted primarily but not exclusively to college and pro football. The unique feature of this site is the publication each fall of the author's rankings of all FBS college football teams and similar rankings for the NFL. I live in New Orleans and am a graduate of LSU and FSU. So I present a Southern and particularly an SEC point of view but one that is reasonably objective. I also publish a monthly Football Magazine with stories from the past and a monthly Baseball Magazine with a similar format. During the winter and spring, there's a monthly Basketball Magazine.

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