Harry Grabiner, first and longest general manager of the White Sox, was born in Chicago.
He was a 40-year employee of the team, rising literally from peanut vendor to vice president. Grabiner served under three Comiskey owners: Charles, J. Louis, and Grace. At the time, “general manager” wasn’t really a stand-alone position, so Grabiner was the club secretary, traveling secretary, GM and more, all rolled into one.
Given his 30 years at the helm, Grabiner witnessed a full range of White Sox history: The glory of a crosstown World Series win in 1906 and the 100-win title team in 1917, the shame of the Black Sox, and the withering aftermath of their banishment. In fact, over the final 25 years of Grabiner’s tenure, the White Sox were a first-division team just five times, suffering through some of what to this day stand as the franchise’s worst seasons.
Resigning due to poor health after a 71-78-1 1945 season that saw the White Sox finish sixth in the AL, Grabiner got restless by the next year and caught on with Bill Veeck, becoming part of the investment group that purchased the Cleveland franchise. A vice president with the team under Veeck, Grabiner collapsed into a coma in Veeck’s office at the end of the 1948 season and was unable to see Cleveland go on to win the World Series — which remains the most recent one in franchise history.
Grabiner died in Chicago at age 57, 13 days after Cleveland’s title.
Side note: Grabiner’s daughter, June (stage name: Travis), became an actress, discovered in Miami at age 20 while watching a White Sox exhibition game. Born right before her father ascended to the GM role with the White Sox, she would appear in movies featuring such stars as Pat O’Brien, James Cagney, and Bette Davis, was Ronald Reagan’s leading lady in his first movie, and learned parachuting for a role from none other than Amelia Earhart. June also lived to age 93, passing away in Chicago in 2008 — one of the relatively rare fans to be alive for the White Sox World Series win in 1917 (age three) and 2005 (91).
In the middle of a family fight involving the Comiskeys and the attempt to sell the Sox, Charlie Finley (yes, THAT Charlie Finley) offered $500,000 for the club. Dorothy Comiskey immediately began to give serious consideration to selling it to him, because that was a gigantic amount of money for its time, and surpassed the initial offer that came from Bill Veeck’s group. However, Veeck had purchased (for $100!) an option period where he would have the first right to buy the team. Dorothy and her advisors tried to determine a fair price to buy that option back and instead sell to Finley, but were never able to pull it off.
Thanks in part to a final judicial ruling in March 1959, and because he raised his initial offer, Veeck’s group finally took control of the White Sox right before the start of the regular season.
Finley would eventually get into baseball as the controversial owner of the Kansas City and later Oakland Athletics.