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Edward W. Gwinner

Contractor, baseball team owner

Edward Gwinner and his brother, Frederick Jr., ran their father’s successful contracting business for just a year after Frederick Gwinner, Sr. died in 1909.  After dissolving the firm, Edward Gwinner involved himself in a variety of business ventures—banking, transportation, baking and brewing among them—and was frequently described as a “capitalist”.

Gwinner was a high level mason, a member of the Duquesne Club, Long Vue Country Club and the Pittsburgh Athletic Association.  He was also an enthusiastic baseball fan who was intrigued by the start in 1912 of a new baseball league.  Known initially as the Columbia League, this upstart organization started with only three teams.  By 1913 they had changed their name to the Federal League and were able to boast teams in Cleveland, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Pittsburgh.   In 1914, Gwinner became president of the Pittsburgh Rebels, a job he took on with much enthusiasm.

The Federal League was considered a “rebel” or an “outlaw” league in that it did not operate within the guidelines of the National Agreement of 1889 which included a “reserve clause.”  The reserve clause ensured a team would have a “reserve” on any player under contract when that contract ran out.   The reserve clause was meant to keep players from jumping from team to team, (bucking up their salaries in the process).  Enforcing the clause, however, meant players were at the mercy of whatever team signed them and could only leave if traded or retired.  Initially, the Federal League stated that it would only sign independent agents but was soon luring players from both American and National League teams.  By 1914, the president of the Federal League boasted the Federal was the Third Baseball League and openly engaged in negotiations with players who were under contract.

By 1915 The Federal League had weathered several lawsuits stemming from their player poaching practices.  Gwinner’s love of the game took a beating after spending just two seasons as president of the Pittsburgh Rebels.   He was one of several owners who attended the negotiations of an out of court settlement that preserved the American and National leagues, dissolving the Federal League in such a way that its players could return to the established leagues without being blackballed.  Gwinner received a $50,000 award in recognition of improvements he had made to the Exposition Park on Pittsburgh’s North Side, but his brief venture into baseball lost him about twice that amount.  “I was willing to string along until the league became a paying proposition,” he explained, “ but when my partners [in the Federal League] saw fit to feather their own nests and drop me overboard I decided in my own mind that baseball politics was too much for me… As soon as I have sold my players I want to forget that I was ever in the baseball ownership game.”  Contrary to his words at that time, Gwinner insisted that the dissolution terms for the Federal League allow him the opportunity to buy into one of the American or National League teams.  Gwinner’s name would periodically surface in baseball news as a potential owner of the Cleveland Indians or as a possible co-owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Despite an agreement between the three leagues to place a moratorium on lawsuits, several more followed that held up Gwinner’s payment from the National and American leagues.  As late as 1920, Gwinner suggested he would consider entering the baseball business again but it is unclear if he ever went beyond negotiations after his stint with the Rebels. 

Edward Gwinner died in 1949 at his home at 5061 Fifth Avenue and was survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.   Gwinner’s home, originally built for William Negley in 1870, is still known as the Gwinner-Harter Mansion, and is one of the oldest surviving mansions on the Fifth Avenue portion of Pittsburgh’s, “Millionaire’s Row.”  His son, Frederick Gwinner III, was vice president of Mellon Bank when he helped found the Laurel Valley Golf Club of Ligonier, for which he served as secretary/treasurer.  Frederick Gwinner III was also a trustee of The Union Dale Cemetery.


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