Jack Zeller

John A. "Jack" Zeller, born September 11, 18831 in Missouri,2 was a professional baseball player, manager, and executive. He was the general manager of the Detroit Tigers from 1938-1945. Zeller was buried in Dardanelle, AR.


Jack's wife Aylmer Eloise Perry was a native of Dardanelle, AR. When Aylmer died in 1955, she was buried in her family's cemetery, Brearley Cemetery, in Dardanelle.3 Fourteen years later, on February 17th, 1969, Jack died in Glendale, AZ,4 and was buried in Brearley Cemetery near his wife.5


"John A. Jack Zeller, 85, general manager of the Tigers from 1938 to 1945, died of a heart ailment at Glendale, Ariz., February 17. Zeller resigned at the height of his career after the Tigers had won the 1945 American League pennant and had defeated the Cubs in the World Series. An astute judge of players, Zeller built the '45 champions by deals that brought second baseman Eddie Mayo, shortstop Skeeter Webb, outfielder Roy Cullenbine, catcher Bob Swift and pitchers George Caster and Jim Tobin to the club. The Tigers' other catcher was Paul Richards, who was a Detroit coach before Zeller persuaded him to return to active duty. The Tigers also were pennant-winners in 1940. Zeller obtained catcher Billy Sullivan and outfielder Bruce Campbell in deals that strengthened the club, but his most important contribution was to talk Hank Greenberg into switching to the outfield so that Rudy York could play regularly at first base. Between then, Greenberg and York hit 74 homers and drove in 284 runs in the 1940 season. Zeller, a native of St. Louis, started in baseball as a lefthanded pitcher in 1903, shuttling from Joplin to Sedalia to Fort Leavenworth in the Missouri Valley League. The following year, he pitcher for Providence (Eastern) and Schenectady (New York State). In 1905, with Haverhill (New England), he pitcher a 12-inning exhibition game on a cold, snowy day and suffered arm trouble that led to his release. Converting to a first baseman, Zeller played with independent teams until 1909, when he purchased a half-interest in Springfield of the Connecticut League and managed the club for three years. Selling out, he obtained control of Pittsfield in the same circuit and served as president and manager. When the league folded in 1915 because of World War I, Zeller subsequently went into the Army and was discharged as a second lieutenant in 1919. He was in Texas, trying his luck in the oil business, when officials of the Fort Worth club asked him to keep an eye open for players. In short order, he became a full-time scout. With Zeller helping to supply some of the players, the Cats started on a string of six straight Texas League pennants in 1920. Impressed by Zeller's success with Fort Worth, President Frank Navin of the Tigers brought him to Detroit as a scout in 1925. In 1936, after Navin's death, Walter O. Briggs, who had become president of the Tigers, gave Zeller the job of director of affiliated clubs, with headquarters at Beaumont, Tex. Two years later, Briggs handed him the portfolio of general manager. Zeller helped the Tigers set up a nucleus of a farm system under Navin, but eventually his activities brought him to the attention of Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis, who slapped down on the Tigers in January, 1940, and made free agents of 91 minor league players owned by the club. The Tigers were accused of "wholesale" cover-ups through gentlemen's agreements and fake transfer of contracts. Zeller had entered into farm operations reluctantly. in 1944, he suggested to the major leagues' postwar planning committee that all farm systems be abolished through divestment of ownerships in the minor leagues and discontinuance of working agreements. "I am firmly convinced," he said, "that baseball needs independent ownership of minor league clubs. Sure, I set up some farms, despite my opposition to that method of doing business. I had to develop eight subsidiaries in self-defence. If all major league clubs stopped operating that way, baseball would be a tremendous gainer." Nothing came of Zeller's idea. After resigning as general manager of the Tigers, he continued on the club's payroll as a part-time scout until February, 1947, when he joined the Braves as their chief scout. He remain with the club until his retirement in 1954."6
3 The Sporting News, 1/4/1956, p.24
4 The Sporting News, 3/18/1969, p.45
6 The Sporting News, 3/18/1969, p.45