The True Story of the New York Yankees and Other Little Known Baseball Facts



Contact: Stacey J. Miller
Email: sjmiller at

Chicago, IL— Who was responsible for creating the New York Yankees, arguably the world’s greatest baseball team? W. Nikola-Lisa, a lifelong New York Yankees fan and author of the just-published book, The Men Who Made the Yankees: The Odyssey of the World’s Greatest Baseball Team from Baltimore to the Bronx, tells the story.

With the 1903 season fast approaching, ex-bartender Frank Farrell (who was known as New York’s “Pool Room King” because of his controlling interest in dozens of pool halls, or “gambling dens,” scattered throughout lower Manhattan) and former bartender and prizefighter “Big Bill” Devery (whose money came from graft and corruption while working for the New York Police Department, and later from shrewd real estate investments which he oversaw from his estate in Far Rockaway, Queens) bought the Baltimore franchise from American League president Ban Johnson on the condition that they relocate the club to Manhattan.

They did, leasing a piece of property in the Washington Heights section of upper Manhattan owned by the New York Institute for the Blind, situated between 165th and 168th Streets and Fort Washington Avenue and Broadway.  But their plans to build a ballpark did not proceed without some resistance.  Over the objection of John Brush (former owner of the National League’s Cincinnati Reds and now majority owner of the New York Giants), the Washington Heights District Governing Board voted on a narrow margin of 3 – 2 to support Farrell and Devery, and construction a new ballpark began immediately.

The ballpark, also known as Hilltop Park, featured a grandstand and bleachers that held close to 16,000 fans with room for hundreds more who could stand just outside the first and third base foul lines, or several men deep behind the outfielders.  Farrell and Devery named former coal-mining executive Joseph Gordon the team’s president.  It was Gordon who suggested the team’s name – the Highlanders – because the ballpark was perched on one of the highest spots in Washington Heights, and because a crack British regiment by the same name was touring America at the same time, and their commander was also named Gordon.

But the British-sounding name didn’t go over very well with local fans, many of whom were Irish Catholics and disliked the British. So, from the beginning, the Highlanders went by various names: Hilltoppers, Burglars, Porch Climbers, New Yorkers, Americans, and – the New York Press’s favorite – Yanks or Yankees. Hilltop opened its doors on April 30, 1903, with the Highlanders beating the Washington Senators 6 – 2.

In addition to sharing the origins of the New York Yankees, award-winning author W. Nikola-Lisa provides stunning facts about the history of baseball, including:

  • In 1883, a baseball player’s minimum salary was $1,000, and a salary cap of $2,400 soon followed.
  • Baseball players, who were charged to rent their own uniforms, formed a third major league, the Players League, by 1890 that ultimately disbanded.
  • National League president William Hulbert assembled the first umpire staff consisting of a group of twenty men from which teams could tap. But it wasn’t until 1903 that stability — as well as increased pay and stature — was brought to the profession.
  • Cornelius McGillicuddy (also known as Connie Mack) managed the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics for 50 seasons before retiring in 1950 at the age of 87.
  • Cincinnati hosted the first all-professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, under the leadership of Harry Wright at the height of the Civil War in 1863.

The arc of Mr. Nikola-Lisa’s story begins prior to the Highlanders landing in upper Manhattan in 1903.  It begins in the mid-1890s when little known sports editor Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson accepted the presidency of the Western League, a small minor league located in the Midwest. Through persistent effort and a bit of good luck, Johnson moved Western League franchises eastward, hoping to contend as a major league alongside the National League.  By the end of the 1900 season Johnson was ready, announcing that the Western League would change its name to the American League and contend as a major league.

Johnson had accomplished everything he had set out to accomplish, except for one thing – he had yet to place an American League team in New York City, which, at the time, meant Manhattan.  National League owners did everything they could to keep “The Invaders” (which is what National League owners called Johnson and his upstart league) from entering the largest and most lucrative market in organized baseball.  Ultimately, it took Johnson two years to move a team into the National League’s most prized territory.

After introducing the richly-textured and complex politics engulfing the American League in its early days, Mr. Nikola-Lisa (author of works of fiction, historical fiction, and creative nonfiction) continues the story of the New York Yankees from the time they landed in upper Manhattan as the Highlanders (1903-1912), shared the Polo Grounds with the New York Giants, their National League nemesis (1913-1922), and finally built their own stadium in the Bronx (in large part, due to the efforts and appeal of recently-acquired slugger George Herman “Babe” Ruth).  The stadium opened on April 18, 1923, the same year the Yankees won their first World Series title.  By that time, the first Commissioner of Baseball had been installed and Johnson’s influence over major league business and American League politics in particular was in steady decline.

“Although the Yankee organization has grown over time, and can now point to dozens of individuals who have contributed to the success of the organization, still, when it comes down to it, there was just a handful of men – many of them friends, but just as often adversaries – who made the Yankees the team and the organization they are today,” concludes W. Nikola-Lisa.

The Men Who Made the Yankees:
The Odyssey of the World’s Greatest Baseball Team from Baltimore to the Bronx
By W. Nikola-Lisa
Gyroscope Books
July 2014
ISBN: 9780991218301 and

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