John L. Smith
John L. Smith
born Johann Schmitz
John L. Smith was a part-owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, although he was better known as a chemist, most notably as senior executive with Charles Pfizer & Co.
His family emigrated from Germany when he was just three years old and changed its name from Schmitz to Smith in 1918. He began working as a laboratory assistant and eventually earned a degree in chemistry through night school. He became a plant superintendent for Pfizer in Brooklyn, NY in 1919 and would remain with the company for the rest of his life. They were mainly producing chemicals for the food and beverage industry at the time, but he helped steer them towards pharmaceutical research, a field in which it would be come a giant. In particular, its work on the industrial production of penicillin starting in 1941 was ground-breaking. Smith rose to President of the company in 1945.
Smith was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers and a friend of George V. McLaughlin, who served as Pfizer's banker but also as a financial adviser to the Dodgers' ownership. The team was in financial difficulty due to to the uneasy succession of Charles Ebbets after his death in 1925, which had divided the teams stock between two competing branches of investors who did not usually see eye-to-eye. In 1941, the team needed some new investors in order to repay outstanding loans, and McLaughlin helped put Smith, who had capital, in contact with Branch Rickey and Walter O'Malley, who were running the team's business but had none. He arranged for the three to buy out first the shares of the McKeever family in November 1944, and later those of the Ebbets in August 1945.
For Smith, the Dodgers were a hobby. He enjoyed hanging around Ebbets Field, but he left the running of the team to his two partners, while he concentrated on Pfizer. Eventually, Rickey and O'Malley began to have a falling out, and Smith sided with O'Malley. However, he contacted lung cancer early in 1950 and died on July 10th that year. His widow Mary Louise Smith inherited his sizable holdings and eventually agreed to sell out the Dodgers to O'Malley shortly before he moved the team to Los Angeles, CA.