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  Tue, June 22, 2004


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OTTAWA LYNX




Bosox flourished under Lannin
By RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

Legend has it that J. J. Lannin, a teenaged orphan in the 1880s who was disillusioned with his economic prospects at home in Quebec, walked all the way to Massachusetts to start a new life.

Whether he walked, rode a horse or rowed a boat, the plan worked well.

Lannin landed a job in Boston as a bellhop at the Adams Hotel, progressed to doorman, then manager, then made a fortune in real estate and coffee futures and became principal owner of the Boston Red Sox in 1914.

Lannin will be inducted posthumously (he died in 1928) into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame on Saturday morning in St. Marys along with Montreal Expos great Andre Dawson, umpire Jim McKean and former Toronto Blue Jays executive Peter Hardy.

Few baseball men can match Lannin's colourful tale. He bought in as Boston's principal owner in 1914 for the then-whopping sum of $200,000. The Red Sox are now worth $426 million US.

Lannin only owned the Red Sox for three years but they were some of the most eventful seasons in franchise -- and baseball -- history.

During his tenure, Lannin bought Babe Ruth from Baltimore (great move), sold Tris Speaker to Cleveland (a not-so-great move) and won two World Series (1915, 1916). No other owner of the long-suffering team has won more than one World Series.

Lannin was a forefather for the model of the baseball minor-league farm system, owning franchises in Providence, R.I., and Buffalo and later supporting a team in Syracuse. In fact, after paying $8,500 for Ruth, he first sent the big kid to Providence, where he mashed his only minor-league homer in Toronto before joining the big club at Fenway Park.

Baseball as a whole had big problems during Lannin's era of ownership. The short-lived Federal League was in business at the time, competing with the National and American leagues for players. The start of the First World War hung over the entire country and the suspicion that games weren't being played legitimately was a major concern years before the Chicago Black Sox scandal.

Some things never change. Lannin often tangled with American League president Ban Johnson over the quality of umpires. He also bumped heads with the National Commission after letting his players compete in an exhibition series, which was prohibited at the time.

But it was Lannin's decision to walk away from the game that made him a large part of the biggest baseball legend of them all -- the "curse of the Bambino."

In November 1916, Lannin sold the Sox to a group led by Harry Frazee and told the New York Times: "I am too much of a fan to run a baseball club and found that it was interfering with my health. . . . I have turned over to the new owners the best team in the world. It is now up to them to keep the champions at the top."

Oops. After another Series win in 1918, Frazee sold Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920. At the time, the Red Sox owner was a week away from defaulting on a $262,000 note to Lannin.

Some historians say Frazee sold Ruth to finance one of his plays, a tap-dancing comedy called "No, No Nanette" about a young lady who sheds her shell for a wild life.

All we know for sure is this: since the Ruth transaction, the Yankees have won 26 World Series, the Red Sox none.

Long-suffering Sox supporters also know too well their favourite team has made it to four World Series since the deal (1946, 1967, 1975, 1986) and lost all four in the maximum seven games.

As for Lannin, he continued to buy up hotels and property and provided accommodation for Charles Lindberg the day before the aviator departed on the first manned cross-Atlantic flight.

Lannin died in strange circumstances on May 15, 1928 when he fell from the window of his Brooklyn hotel. No one was sure whether it was suicide, a heart attack or an accident while repairing a window that caused his fall.

CANADIAN BASEBALL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM

What: 2004 Induction ceremony (Andre Dawson, Jim McKean, J. J. Lannin, Peter Hardy)

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. at ball hall and museum site in St. Marys; autograph line ($10) starts at 1:30 p.m.

More information: Phone (519) 284-1838 or go online at www.baseballhalloffame.ca.