The tradition of presidents honoring sports teams goes back more than 150 years. According to ESPN, the first recorded instance of a team visiting the White House was Aug. 30, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson welcomed the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals.
But how about when the president travels to honor a championship team? That occurred Oct. 3, 1911, when President William Howard Taft visited Colorado and presented a 14-karat gold medal fob to James C. McGill, the owner of the Denver Grizzlies minor-league team.
Taft was in Denver to speak at the public lands convention in Denver, and according to The Fort Collins Express, the president “stopped long enough to be a baseball fan,” presenting the Grizzlies’ players and manager with souvenirs “all the way from buttons to automobiles.”
The Salida Record noted that Taft gave McGill a loving cup and awarded an automobile on behalf of Denver’s fans to Grizzlies manager Jack Hendricks.
Now, SC Daily has learned that the gold fob Taft presented to McGill on the baseball diamond in Denver that day will be offered either in a private sale or in an auction by SCP Auctions.
Rare Piece of Presidential Baseball Memorabilia
The fob measures 1½ inches in diameter—about the size of a half-dollar.
The obverse had a diamond set into a baseball, with a grizzly bear contained within a baseball diamond. “Western League Champions” appears in a ribbon-like motif at the top, with “Denver 1911” also included.
The reverse is engraved with the phrase, “Presented by the Denver Base Ball Association to James C. McGill. Presentation made by President Wm. H. Taft, Oct. 3, 1911.”
It was a nice tribute to the owner of a team that had done so well in the Western League. The Grizzlies went 111-54 in 1911 and won the league title by 18 games over the runner-up St. Joseph Drummers. MiLB.com ranks the squad No. 22 in its top 100 rankings.
McGill’s Grizzlies Were Kings of the Western League
The Grizzlies led the Western League in runs scored (890), triples (109), home runs (64) and stolen bases (353).
That was an improvement over the 1910 squad, which finished in second place despite 102 victories. The Grizzlies finished 5½ games behind the pennant-winning Sioux City Packers.
James Christian McGill led an interesting, and at times controversial life Born May 29, 1880, to George and Anna Smith McGill of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, McGill was orphaned when his parents died during an epidemic. He was raised by his uncle, George Ellsworth Smith, a noted gambler (or “plunger”) and horse racing enthusiast known as “Pittsburgh Phil.”
Using the share from substantial inheritance he received after Smith died in 1905, McGill moved to California and opened the McGill Motor Company of Los Angeles. He bought a piece of the Denver baseball franchise and became the sole owner of the Grizzlies in October 1910, buying out co-owner J.F. Gunthorpe.
The Grizzlies would win three consecutive Western League pennants under McGill’s ownership beginning in 1911, and in December 1913 he expanded his baseball horizons, buying the Indianapolis franchise in the American Association for $175,000. He installed Hendricks as manager in Indianapolis and made Jack Coffey his new pilot for the newly named Denver Bears.
Denver finished second to Sioux City in 1914 and was the league runner-up to St. Joseph in 1915, but Coffey mysteriously resigned before the end of the season. In January 1916, the reason became apparent: Coffey and his wife, Lorraine, sued McGill in Denver’s district court. The lawsuit alleged Lorraine Coffey was “subjected to indignities” by McGill during an automobile ride on Aug. 25, 1915. Jack and Lorraine Coffey each sought $25,000 in damages, according to a lawsuit filed in Denver.
The parties settled out of court, and the lawsuit was dismissed April 10, 1916. Coffey moved on to manage at Des Moines until 1921, then became the head baseball coach at Fordham University from 1922 until 1959.
McGill sold the Denver franchise shortly after the suit was settled, and then sold the Indianapolis team to his nephew, W.C. Smith. McGill turned his attention to horse racing, running horses in California, Kentucky and even Tijuana. During the 1930s he became a racing steward and paddock judge at Santa Anita, Del Mar and at tracks in San Francisco, and also was the director of the Longacres racetrack in suburban Seattle.
By October 1930, McGill was forced to put his house and furnishings up for a public auction, according to an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times. Items in the 10-room home of the “internationally known sportsman” included a grand piano, silk tapestries and “very fine paintings by famous artists.” McGill, however, remained active in the horse racing industry for decades.
Lost and Found
As for the medal, McGill lost it in May 1921 as he was returning from an automobile dealers’ meeting in Bear Valley, California. According to the Riverside Daily Press, the fob had been attached to McGill’s thin gold watch and might have fallen out of his overcoat pocket during his car ride home to Riverside, California.
Obviously, the newspaper notice didn’t lead to a reunion with its owner and according to SCP Auctions‘ President David Kohler, the fob eventually made its way into a sports jewelry collection where it has resided for many years. It’s expected to sell for $20,000-$30,000.
McGill died in Pasadena, California, on April 22, 1972, at the age of 91.