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William Eckert

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  • William Eckert

    William Dole Eckert

    William Eckert was born in Freeport, Illinois on January 20, 1909 to Frank Eckert, 27, and Harriett, 34. Frank was born in Indiana and was a successful (the family had two servants in the 1910 U.S. Census) traveling salesman. Harriett, born in Illinois, had children from a previous marriage: Robert McCline, 12 years old at William’s birth and Mary McCline, 7. William was the family’s last child.

    The Eckerts soon moved to Indiana. William grew up in Indianapolis and Madison. He played first base and outfield for Madison High School. At age 15 Eckert joined the Indiana National Guard in 1924. Two years later, he enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He played football at the academy, gaining the nickname Spike; however, he did not play baseball there.


    He graduated from West Point in June 1930, 128th in a class of 241. Classmate Lauris Norstad, future commander of North Atlantic Treaty forces, offered the following quote about Eckert. “A less flamboyant man you could hardly imagine. He was very quiet, dignified and orderly. A man of moderation”

    After graduation, Eckert was appointed as a second lieutenant in a field artillery unit. In September 1930 he entered flying school in Texas and later transferred to an advanced flying school, graduating as a pilot in October 1931. He then transferred to the Air Force.

    He became a flying instructor in 1937 at which time he was a first lieutenant. He changed his path forever when he entered the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University in September 1938 and graduated with a master’s degree in 1940.

    From there, Eckert became heavily involved in logistics, maintenance and supply and worked at such positions throughout World War II until January 1944. At that time he entered Army and Navy Staff College and, upon graduation, was assigned to Europe as commander of the 452nd Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Force. In the position he won the Distinguished Flying Cross and was promoted to colonel in August 1944. He later served as chief of maintenance and supply in Europe.

    Eckert was assigned to the office of the Secretary of the Air Force in November 1947. Throughout the 1950s, he shifted between positions as deputy chief of staff for material and as vice commander of Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. During this time, he was promoted to brigadier general in 1948 to major general and to his final designation of lieutenant general in 1957. As such, he was the youngest, at age 48, three-star general in the armed forces.

    In February 1960 Eckert became Comptroller of the Air Force. He suffered a heart attack in early 1961 and retired on April 1, 1961. On that date he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.


    Eckert settled in Washington D.C with his wife Catherine and children Catherine and William. He held positions typical of a retired general:
    -director of the Logistics Management Institute, a Dept. of Defense advisory group
    -consultant for aviation firms
    -on the executive board of electronic and real estate companies

    The search for Ford Frick’s replacement in 1965 included a list of over one hundred potential candidates. When General Curtis LeMay rebuffed the owners, he suggested Eckert for the position. On November 17 Eckert was named as the fourth commissioner of Major League Baseball to serve a seven-year term for $65,000 per annum.

    Few within the baseball industry knew of Eckert and he knew just as much about baseball. The baseball magnates in all their wisdom hired a man unfamiliar with the industry and then installed Lee MacPhail, a viable commissioner candidate himself, as his assist for $40,000 a year.

    Eckert served with little distinction; however, he brought some solid assets to his new position including honesty, a solid financial background, years of administrative experience and an understanding of bureaucracy. He was though quiet and nondescript in his manner and decision making process and implementation, leading some to believe he lacked the forcefulness required to deal with the owners and upcoming labor issues.

    Of note during his reign as commissioner:
    -freed Tom Seaver from his contract with the Atlanta Braves
    -pushed for internationalization of the game which included the awarding of a major league franchise to Montréal in August 1968 and easing relations with Nippon Professional Baseball

    In controversy, he refused to cancel games after the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. He also irked some when he permitted Bob Aspromonte, Roberto Clemente, Rusty Staub and Maury Wills to skip spring training games after King’s assassination.

    On December 6, 1968 Eckert was asked to resign his position. Major league owners were concerned about upcoming labor issues and wanted to place another man at the helm. He complied and officially resigned on February 4, 1969.

    Eckert died on April 17, 1971 at age 62. He collapsed on the court while playing tennis in the Bahamas.

  • #2
    do you want to discuss him?
    "Batting stats and pitching stats do not indicate the quality of play, merely which part of that struggle is dominant at the moment."

    -Bill James


    • #3
      Who were the alternatives?

      What good alternatives were there to Eckert? I was going to start a new thread, but since this is here...

      ISTR they considered a military man in 1951, but Ford Frick got the job instead. Was the choice of Eckert sort of a holdover from their interest in a military man in '51?

      Why did Curtis LeMay recommend Eckert? Doing a friend a favor, perhaps? He couldn't have had as little knowle of the game as Eckert, could he? Or, maybe he was, but he was willing to admit it.

      Did they ever consider someone from a legal background? If labor issues come up a little earlier, would they perhaps go with Bowie Kuhn 3 years early?

      What different decisions would a different commissioner have made? Specifically with Seaver, where would he have gone int he draft if he's simply made eligible for the major league draft in June? Good enough for the Mets to have taken him #1 anyway, thus erasing the whole embarrassment of taking a catcher who didn't even reach the majors ahead of Reggie Jackson? Might a different man have stepped in and said "enough" to Charlie Finley?
      If Baseball Integrated Early - baseball integrated from the beginning - and "Brotherhood and baseball," the U.S. history companion, at - IBIE updated for 2011.

      "Full House Chronology" at yahoo group fullhousefreaks & fullhouse4life with help of many fans, thanks for the input


      • #4
        Originally posted by DTF955 View Post
        Why did Curtis LeMay recommend Eckert? Doing a friend a favor, perhaps? He couldn't have had as little knowle of the game as Eckert, could he? Or, maybe he was, but he was willing to admit it.
        Looks like your hunch is correct. They knew each other from the Air Force. Here's what Fred Lieb wrote in January 1966:

        It might have been fun to see Lemay go up against Marvin Miller. Instead of the North Vietnamese, he could have threatened to bomb the Players Union back into the Stone Age.

        There's plenty more detail in Brian's full story on the SABR BioProject, which he excerpted here.
        Last edited by VIBaseball; 04-30-2009, 06:59 AM.


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