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Hannagan & Baseball Centennial

Baseball Centennial

In 1939, Major League Baseball (MLB) owners set aside $100,000 ($1.6 million in current dollars) to celebrate the game’s 100th anniversary (It was debatable at the time and is accepted now that 1939 was not the centennial of the game.The game did not start with Abner Doubleday but evolved over time with rules of the game taking form during the 19th century. The owners also wanted the celebration to spur turnout because the Great Depression had cut attendance, and it had not fully recovered by 1939. The owners saw the baseball centennial celebration as a good opportunity to juice up attendance, and they wanted Steve Hannagan, the super publicist who was renowned for his ability to fill a sporting arena, to promote the centennial.

While the owners understood the need for promoting the game, the Baseball Commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, was not enamored with the cost of the promotional campaign. Judge Landis was an ornery old ‘cuss’ whom the owners chose in 1920 to clean up the 1919 ‘Black Sox’ scandal, when the White Sox purportedly threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

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Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis

Judge Landis assumed that the money for the campaign would be spent foolishly and that the publicist would be the only one to reap any benefit. Landis only wanted Hannagan to publicize the dedication of the National Baseball Hall of Fame on June 12, 1939 and to forget any promotional work.

Hannagan on the other hand proposed spending the money on a year-long national celebration of baseball that would culminate with the dedication of the Hall of Fame. Notwithstanding his misgivings, Judge Landis agreed to Hannagan’s recommendation.

Hannagan’s first move was to ask James Farley, the Postmaster General, to issue a commemorative stamp for the centennial. He also had the MLB owners issue a commemorative patch.

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U. S. Postal Service Commemorative Stamp for Baseball’s Centennial [2]

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Commemorative Patch for Baseball’s Centennial Celebration[3]

Another component of Hannagan’s centennial strategy was to ask nationally known sports writers to write about the Centennial in their nationally syndicated columns and literary agents to encourage their authors to write stories for major magazines. He also arranged for coverage by: The New York Journal and American with thirteen articles; the June 1939 issue of Baseball Magazine; the annual Sporting News Record Book; Spalding’s 1939 Official Baseball Guide; Newsweek, which placed Abner Doubleday on its cover; and NBC Radio, which ran an hour-long special called the “The Cavalcade of Baseball”. [4]

While it may be difficult to quantify with precision the results of Hannagan’s centennial campaign, there are several indicators that suggest it was a success.

  1. The ‘Baseball Hall of Fame’ brought in thirty thousand visitors from thirty countries and forty-eight states.
  2. Sporting News declared 1939 as the greatest year in baseball.
  3. Baseball reached its largest attendance since 1927 in 1939.

At the opening of the Hall of Fame, Judge Landis put his arms around Hannagan and told him: “I was wrong; the money was spent to achieve splendid results.”[5] Hannagan then had the pleasure of telling Landis that there was money left over from the campaign. Landis asked, “If it’s as much as $500, that’s good.”[6] Now, Hannagan had the ‘how sweet it is” moment; “I am sending you a check for $35,000.”

[7]End Notes

  1. Commemorative Stamp Issued by the US Postal Service (Retrieved April 26 ,2013) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baseball_Centennial_1939_Issue-3c.jpg
  2. Commemorative Patch Issued by Major League Baseball (Retrieved April 26 ,2013) http://www.flickr.com/photos/jerryreuss/4987316872/
  3. Anderson, William B. (September 22, 2001); The 1939 Major League Baseball Centennial Celebration: How Steve Hannagan & Associates helped tie business to Americana (Retrieved May 25, 2011); http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-79562017/1939-major-league-baseball.html.
  4. Anderson, William B. (September 22, 2001); The 1939 Major League Baseball Centennial Celebration: How Steve Hannagan & Associates helped tie business to Americana (Retrieved May 25, 2011); http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-79562017/1939-major-league-baseball.html.
  5. Hartwell, Dickson (November 22, 1947); “Prince of Press Agents”; Colliers; p. 77.
  6. Hartwell, Dickson (November 22, 1947); “Prince of Press Agents”; Colliers; p. 77.
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Hannagan Promotes Two Pugs

 

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Tex Richard Fight Promoter1

In 1929, the nationally known fight promoter, Tex Richard, promoted a heavyweight championship bout between Young Stribling and Jack Sharkey in Miami Beach. Steve Hannagan was thrilled knowing that the fight would attract huge crowds of fans to Miami Beach. Shortly before the Stribling-Sharkey match, Tex Richard died.[2]

Bill Carey, Richard’s top assistant, took over his agency and hired Jack Dempsey as the chief promoter for the fight. It was Dempsey’s debut as a promoter. Carey then hired Hannagan to publicize the fight. Hannagan received $10,000 for promoting

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Grantland Rice4

Hannagan staged a promotion party for the news flacks at the Roman Pools Casino. Grantland Rice wrote that, Hannagan’s promotions “resembled New Year’s Eve in Babylon.”[3] Rice figured that everyone within fifty miles of Miami Beach came as a free-loader resulting in two drunks to every square yard of the Beach.[5] The return on Hannagan’s $32,000 for the press bash was evident when wire stories began to flow from Miami Beach about the fight.

Before the fighters threw their first blows, a pre-fight story out of Miami reported an attempt to kidnap Jack Dempsey. The story is that Dempsey and Floyd Fitzsimmons dove into the bathroom and locked the door when the kidnappers entered the room. When Hannagan heard about the invasion story, he raced to the Noir house and confronted Dempsey “what the hell is all this stuff about a shooting? You should have called me first.”[6]

Many reporters in Miami Beach for the fight claimed that Hannagan ginned- up the Dempsey story to publicize a lackluster heavyweight fight. Frank Sullivan of the New York World, supported Hannagan’s claim that the story was not a fake. Collier’s Magazine concurred. Irish luck played out for both Dempsey and Hannagan, and the coin flipped heads up – large crowds came to see both the fight and Jack Dempsey, one of the most famous fighters of the era..

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Graham McNamee7

The fight did turn out to be a dull affair with Sharkey winning easily. However, Hannagan’s magic worked; the fight was a sell-out. It drew the second-largest purse, $400,000 at that time for a non-championship bout. Only a Dempsey non-championship drew a larger gate.

Graham McNamee, the fight broadcaster for the National Broadcasting Company, praised Hannagan and his publicity machine during the fight. “You people over the country may not have heard much about Stephen Hannagan, but you [will] hear about him in the future.”[8]

One columnist wrote after the fight, “As for Steve Hannagan, anybody who can fill a wooden bowl with many people to see a timid kid and a considerable older [boxer] push one another around, is, I’m telling you, the ace of publicity experts. My hat is off to Steve ….” [9]

Aftermath

Sadly, Stribling died tragically in 1933 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident on the way to see his wife and their newborn child. He died soon after being wheeled into his wife’s room to see her one last time. Stribling’s one chance at the heavyweight championship misfired when Max Schmeling defeated him by a TKO in 1931.

End Notes

  1. Photograph of Tex Richard (Retrieved April 25, 2013) http://boxrec.com/media/index.php/Tex_Rickard
  2. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 112.
  3. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 112.
  4. Photograph of Grantland Rice (Retrieved April 24, 2013) http://voiceseducation.org/content/grantland-rice
  5. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 113.
  6. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; pp. 115-116.
  7. Photograph of Graham McNamee (Retrieved April 24, 2013) http://bill37mccurdy.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/remember-graham-mcnamee/
  8. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 119.
  9. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 120.
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Steve Hannagan – Sports Shorts

By the late 1920s, Steve Hannagan’s became the “go-to guy” for athletes, sports teams, and sporting events. They sought him out for advice about building an athlete’s reputation, promoting a sporting venues, and publicizing sports equipment. Here are several highlights that illustrate the breadth of Hannagan’s experience with sports are cited below.

Bowling and Billiards

By the late 1930s, Billiards had lost its shine as a sport of geometry and well-heeled patrons. Unfortunately for Brunswick, billiards was now seen by parents and civic leaders as a sport of hustlers located in a den of inequity. As Dan Parker noted in the New York Mirror; “Such has been the decline in the business [of billiards] that [Brunswick] … recently called in as consulting physician Dr. Steve Hannagan, the gentleman who specializes in publicizing sports events.”[1]

Hannagan’s campaign included a national billiard tournament at the Bal Tabarin in Chicago’s Hotel Sherman. Larry Smits from Hannagan’s Team was assigned to ghost-write an article about the event for noted billiards champion Willie Hoff.

While the tournament attracted some interest, it was not sufficient to break billiards out of its doldrums. Soon after the tournament, Hannagan met with the president and told him that “he didn’t think that billiards had too much of a future.”[2] Instead of promoting billiards, Hannagan proposed that Brunswick promote bowling because families could play the game in an atmosphere that did not have the nefarious reputation of billiards

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Hannagan’s Bowling Promotion Pin

Brunswick then directed Hannagan to run a publicity campaign for bowling to coincide with the 36th Annual American Bowling Tournament.at the Coliseum on the grounds of the Indiana State Fairgrounds, in Indianapolis. Hannagan killed two birds with his promotional pin that linked the Bowling Tournament with the Indianapolis 500.

The Tournament began with a mammoth parade led by Governor Paul McNutt, who bowled the first ball of the Tournament. National and international radio covered the opening ceremonies of the tournament. Hannagan’s prediction that bowling would be more popular than billiards held water as the game drew in teams put together by union members, church parishioners, social groups, schools, and families across the country.

Biscayne Bay Race

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Biscayne Race at Full Throttle

Carl Fisher liked speed, be it on land with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or on water with the Biscayne Bay Speedboat Race. When Fisher brought Steve Hannagan to Miami Beach from the Speedway, Hannagan proposed that Fisher add a stunt speedboat race to the Biscayne Race. The boats would be piloted by eleven of the Indianapolis 500’s best drivers.[3] However, the Indy drivers had no particular skill in boat racing except the joy of putting the pedal to the medal.

When the starting gun was fired, the drivers opened the throttles and rammed ahead throwing drivers in the water while other boats climbed the stern of front running boats.[4] Thankfully, everyone survived the race.

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Gaston Chevrolet [5]

Gaston Chevrolet won the race. In May, Gaston had also won the Indianapolis 500 earlier. Sadly, Gaston was killed later that year in a two-hundred mile race in California.

Dutch Clark: Pro-Football All League

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Dutch’ Harry Earl Clark6

Pro-Football was not a major part of Hannagan’s promotional portfolio because at that time pro-football was small potatoes. It appears that his single football project involved, the Detroit Lions and the team’s quarterback, kicker, and punter – ‘Dutch’ Harry Earl Clark  – who led the team to the NFL championship in 1935. His accomplishments are legendary, and he is enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. His story is even more amazing because he was blind in one eye. George Richards, owner of the Detroit Lions, contracted with Hannagan to portray ‘Dutch’ as an icon to build a fan base for the team. Hannagan successfully promoted Clark and the team. The mission of publicizing ‘Dutch’ was aided when he turned in another stellar performance and was selected as an ‘All-League “quarterback for the sixth time.[7]

Dogs and Gambling

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Eddie O’Hare 8

Although Hannagan was not much for gambling, he was drawn into the dog racing circuit by his friend Eddie O’Hare (adjacent picture[8]). He owned the Miami Beach Dog Track and the patent for the rabbit that paced the dogs around the race track. Hannagan coached O’Hare on how to deal with press questions about the track.[9] O’Hare paid Hannagan with thirty shares in his dog track, which were still in Hannagan’s estate when he died.[10]

Hannagan and O’Hare remained friends until O’Hare was gunned down by the mob in Chicago in 1939.[11] It turned out that O’Hare was a partner of Al Capone in several dog tracks, but when Frank Nitti, Capons lieutenant, took over, he wanted O’Hare out of the picture.The police found a pistol in O’Hare’s coat pocket next to his rosary. After O’Hare’s death, Frank married Ursula Sue Granata, O’Hare’s girlfriend.[12] 

As a sidebar, Eddie O’Hare’s son won the Congressional Medal of Honor as Naval fighter pilot in World War II. O’Hare airport is named after him.

Road Racing

Jimmy Cannon.

Jimmy Cannon13

In October 1936, Hannagan was contacted by an investor syndicate to publicize a revival of the William K. Vanderbilt Cup Auto Race. Hannagan’s biggest challenge in taking the contract was that Cup race was scheduled during the World Series that featured two New York teams, the Yankees and the Giants.

Hannagan willingly charged into the fray, calling all New York newspapers to cover the race during a rainout of a Series game. He even offered Jimmy Cannon, a feature sports writer at the New York Daily Post, a fast trip around the track. Cannon rejected Hannagan’s offer to “[whiz] around those hairpin turns! Death in the car every minute! I think that would make a wonderful story.”[14] While Cannon never took the ride, he did devote a full column to the race.

Even though Hannagan used every press tool at his disposal to drum up business for the race, it was a bore with a pedestrian winning speed of only 65 miles-per-hour and the winning driver Tasio Nuvolari was an unknown in this country. In contrast the winning speed for the 1936 Indianapolis 500 mile race was 113 miles-per-hour, and the winning car was driven by the popular Wilbur Shaw. The owners of the track were never able to make a go of the revived Vanderbilt Cup.

Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller 15

The Weissmuller gig fit the classic case of a celebrity needing a top-notch press flack to help get out of trouble. Johnny Weissmuller won fame during two Olympics in the 1920s when he captured five Olympic Gold Medals. By 1929, he had retired from competitive swimming and with three other Olympians made Crystal Champions,[16] a film about their Olympic exploits.

In 1929, Weissmuller and Stubby Kruger, a stunt diver in the movie, drove into Miami after a day of working on the set and spent the night on a toot that set-off alarms throughout the City. It was that evening of fun and hell that resulted in a call to Steve Hannagan ‘…to keep the boys out of jail.” Hannagan made short shrift of Weissmuller’s and Kruger’s problems so that they could move on without the burden of a police record. After Miami, Weissmuller was headed for Hollywood and fame, where he made six films as the iconic Tarzan.

End Notes

  1. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 153.
  2. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 155.
  3. Fisher, Jane (1947); Fabulous Hoosier; Robert McBride & Co.; New York; p. 175.
  4. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 93.
  5. Photograph of Gaston Chevrolet (Retrieved May 4, 2013); “Gaston Chevrolet;”; Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaston_Chevrolet.
  6. Photograph of Dutch Harry Earl Clark; College Football Hall of Fame; “Dutch Clark; ”Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Clark.
  7. Roberts, Howard (1953); The Story of Pro Football; Rand McNally & Company; New York (Retrieved June 16, 2011); http://www.archive.org/stream/storyofprofootba000850mbp/storyofprofootball00850mbp_djvu.txt.
  8. Photograph of Eddie O’Hare (Retrieved August 1, 2017); “Two Stories Both Are True”; https://allaboutlemon.com/2011/12/11/two-stories-both-are-true-and-worth-reading/
  9. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 126.
  10. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document source: New York University Archives; p. 126.
  11. “Capone Mob Murder, World War II War Figure in Naming of O’Hare Airport” ;Organized Crime and Political Corruption (Retrieved May 14, 2013); http://www.ipsn.org/ohare.php.
  12. “Edward J. O’Hare”; Wikipedia (Retrieved March 31, 2013); http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_J._O%27Hare.
  13. Photograph of Jimmy Cannon (Retrieved August 2, 2017) Politico; “The columnist art, then and now, is reflected in the new anthology ‘Deadline Artists;’ http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2012/12/the-columnists-art-then-and-now-is-reflected-in-the-new-anthology-deadline-artists-067223.
  14. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 211.
  15. Elliot, James; Photograph of Johnny Weissmuller (Retrieved August 1, 2017); https://www.pinterest.com/pin/318066792405179997.
  16. “Johnny Weissmuller;” Wikipedia (Retrieved May 14, 2013); http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Weissmuller.
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Steve Hannagan’s Contribution to Sports Publicity

 

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Steve Hannagan and His Chief Associates

(Steve Hannagan seated, Joe Copps standing to left and Larry Smits to the right[1])

Steve Hannagan contributed several important principles to public relations in general and to sports publicity in particular. His principles can be divined from his work with motor racing (land and water), boxing, individual athletes, major league sports, and other competitive events.

Hannagan’s Sports Publicity Campaign Principles

  • Focus on athletes and their stories .
  • Put the athlete in direct contact with fans.
  • Make sure that athlete’s and event managers coordinate their messages and informal communications with the press agent.
  • Find a connection between a game and local markets.
  • Realize that press and publicity tactics use the same tactics as a political campaign. The press agent has to know the target market for the event, figure out what the market wants to know about the event, identify media that reaches those markets, and structure messages and events to fit the market.
  • Create a press packet for the media that tell your story and helps make their job easier.
  • Be kind to media people; they define who you are and will only work with you if they trust you. They also like free food, drinks, news tips, and anything else that is easily consumable.
  • Help others, be they fans, the media, the public, or big money, because they will remember and help you
  • Do not beat a dead horse! If the public finds the sport boring, it is a waste of time trying to convince them that they should watch it.

End Note

  1. Photograph of Steve Hannagan, Joe Copps, and Larry Smits (retrieved February 2, 2013); http://images.search.yahoo.com/images/view;_ylt=A0PDoX8wuC9RShoAuPOJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?back=http%3A%2F%2Fimages.search.yahoo.com%2Fsearch%2Fimages%3Fp%3Dsteve%2Bhannagan%2Bjoe%2Bcopps%2Blarry%2Bsmits%26fr%3Dyfp-t-900%26fr2%3Dpiv-web%26tab%3Dorganic%26ri%3D3&w=366&h=488&imgurl=imgc.artprintimages.com%2Fimages%2Fart-print%2Falfred-eisenstaedt-press-agent-steve-hannagan-on-phone-as-assist-joe-copps-and-larry-smits-listen-to-his-conversation_i-G-27-2762-FGCTD00Z.jpg&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.art.com%2Fproducts%2Fp14019728-sa-i2831698%2Falfred-eisenstaedt-press-agent-steve-hannagan-on-phone-as-assist-joe-copps-and-larry-smits-listen-to-his-conversation.htm&size=105.7+KB&name=Agent+Steve+Hannagan+on+Phone+as+Assist.+Joe+Copps+and+Larry+Smits+…&p=steve+hannagan+joe+copps+larry+smits&oid=7dea782c0844ac5e0aeb3635466c8281&fr2=piv-web&fr=yfp-t-900&tt=Agent%2BSteve%2BHannagan%2Bon%2BPhone%2Bas%2BAssist.%2BJoe%2BCopps%2Band%2BLarry%2BSmits%2B…&b=0&ni=112&no=3&ts=&tab=organic&sigr=15bbr6dtt&sigb=13topclem&sigi=15natjlac&.crumb=bE4f.9Ci8e