Photo by Chris Covatta. Used with permission Autry Qualified Interest Trust.
By Ellen Bell, AngelsWin.com Staff Writer -
Women of Angels Baseball: Jackie Autry
No series on the Women of Angels Baseball would be complete without Jackie Autry—arguably the most influential female in franchise history. During her time with the Angels, she witnessed the team’s transformation from a small baseball business into a corporate sports franchise. She also had a front row seat to watch a group of home-grown, unknown players develop into World Series Champions.
During the All Star Game in New York, Jackie Autry continued her role as honorary American League President and introduced the AL Team Manager, Jim Leyland. Once again, she was at the heart of one of baseball’s biggest events of the season.
None of this was ever her intention.
In fact, the former Security Pacific Bank Vice President was actually more of a football fan when she met Angels owner, Gene Autry. But when you marry a man you adopt his family, and Gene Autry’s family was always the Angels.
“We were all like a big family back then,” she said. “From the front office to the bat boys. We had get-togethers and picnics. It would be hard to do that today.”
The Angels meant more to Gene Autry than just another business. Autry, who had no children of his own, saw the players as sons.
“He loved the Angels,” Jackie Autry said. “but if you told Gene you loved another team that was OK too, as long as you were a baseball fan. He thought that baseball was a family game and he wanted it to stay that way forever,”
The game was already changing when Jackie and Gene Autry married on July 19th, 1981. The Angels and the Dodgers were the only family owned teams at the time. Salaries began to rise and expenses increased. In baseball, the old way of doing business began to make no business sense at all.
In 1982, after a successful season and a trip to the playoffs, Jackie Autry looked at the financial statement and was surprised to see that team barely made a profit.
“Clubs were losing money back then,” she said. “even when salaries were lower.”
Jackie Autry started working with the Angels in 1983, using her prior business experience in marketing and budgeting. In her former career at Security Pacific, Autry worked her way up from a switchboard operator to become the 13th female Vice President in company history. She brought this same focused work ethic with her to the Angels Front Office. She soon learned that a professional sports franchise doesn’t run with the fiscal discipline of a bank.
“I would try to start with a two million dollar bottom line and work backwards,” she said. “But with free agents on the market and a team in the hunt for the playoffs, that two million went pretty quickly.”
Jackie Autry tried to hold a responsible bottom line, looking at the team as a businesswoman, not only as a baseball fan. Near the end of her husband’s life, she worked hard to preserve the team that he dearly loved.
She became active in Major League Baseball and is the only woman to ever serve on the Major League Baseball Executive Council, Oversight Committee, and as a member of the Board of Directors.
“In Major League Baseball, I always voted for the good of the game,” Autry said. “I looked at the Big Picture, even when if it didn’t directly benefit The Angels.”
It was this “big picture thinking” that finally convinced Jackie Autry that a change in ownership was inevitable. Years of losses and mounting debt led her to negotiate a sale to the Walt Disney Company. Disney purchased controlling rights in 1996. Even though Jackie Autry sold the team, she never lost faith in the Angels.
“I told Michael Eisner to stand pat and stick with the young players,” she said. “They’ll win you a World Series. In 2002, all players came from our farm system except for three. These were home-grown kids who won a World Championship.”
Her critics may have disagreed with her decisions to avoid high-contract players, but Autry believed that the best course was to develop franchise players from within the organization.
“It’s not about pinching pennies, it’s about building a foundation,” she said. “You cannot buy a World Championship Club.”
These days, the business of baseball is very different from the time when Gene Autry owned the team, and she admits that the multi-million dollar player contracts and blockbuster media deals have been game changers.
“If Gene Autry were alive today, he’d have a heart attack,” she said.
There are some things that are still familiar to Jackie Autry. She never misses watching a game, either from her box at Angels Stadium or from her home in the Coachella Valley. Now, freed from her financial responsibilities with the team, she can follow the Angels like her husband always did, as a devoted fan.
What would Gene Autry think of today’s Angels?