Ed McGah

Edward Winston McGah
Born July 18, 1899, Alameda(?), California
Died September 17, 1983, Los Angeles, age 84

Ed McGah owned a piece of the Oakland Raiders longer than any of the other seven original owners. Described as “thoughtful” and “low-key”, he stuck with the team through internal squabbles, big financial losses, profoundly bad play, and lawsuits, and lived to see them win two Super Bowl championships.

He was the eldest of three surviving children of James and Wilhelmina McGah. Two of his siblings died in childhood and those who remained were his sisters Hildreth (born 1903) and Erol (born c.1909). His father worked variously as a longshoreman and general laborer while the kids were growing up. Ed left school after the eighth grade but was an avid young baseballer playing in amateur leagues into his 20s.

He was still living at home when he married his first wife, Gertrude, sometime around 1920. Edward, Jr., their only child, was born in 1921, and grew up to be a good enough ballplayer himself to get a cup of coffee with the Boston Red Sox in the late 1940s. Somewhere around this time Ed, Sr., took a job with the Superior Tile Company, based in Berkeley, and worked his way up to president of the firm by the mid-1930s.

Sometime before 1930, despite being Catholic, Ed and Gertrude divorced, and Ed married his second wife, Lucille. Into the thirties, he and Superior Tile took on bigger jobs, acting as a subcontractor on such projects as the Yerba Buena Tunnel on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. By the early 1940s, he had become a land developer and house builder, and was wealthy enough to try and land a semi-pro football team with fellow businessman and future Raider co-owner Wayne Valley, with the goal of getting into the NFL. Later that decade, he tried to get a piece of the San Francisco 49ers in the All-America Football Conference, but both efforts failed.

Still, he was making money. His development company built a large tract of 1,500 new homes in central Contra Costa County and joined up with a partner to from the McBail Development Company in 1949. In the 1950s, he branched out further, forming the Trancas Land Company with another business partner, and earned a spot on the board of directors of the Associated Home Builders of the Greater East Bay. One of Trancas’s biggest projects was the building of the Bel Aire Shopping Center in Napa.

Like most of his fellow owners, McGah was a social networker, holding membership in a number of clubs and taking part in various charitable activities. He was quite active in his support of the Silesian Boys Club, sitting on the board with future partners Art Beckett, Charles Harney, Robert Osborne, Wallace Marsh, and Chet Soda.

McGah finally got his chance to own a pro football franchise in 1960 when he joined the group that landed an American Football Franchise for Oakland. That first season he didn’t make a lot of noise, leaving most of the running of the team to Soda. Late in the year, though, the owners fell to fighting amongst themselves. In January 1961, with reconciliation no longer possible, five of the owners sold their shares to McGah, Osborne, and Valley, and McGah emerged as team president.

The new, streamlined partnership didn’t solve the Raiders’ money woes, though. With the team playing in San Francisco, and playing horrendous ball to boot, attendance was sparse and financial losses were expected to mount into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Late in 1961, McGah and Valley gave the city of Oakland an ultimatum: build a stadium or they would sell to a group likely to move the team to another city. Osborne, caught unawares by the announcement, swore the team wouldn’t leave Oakland, but he had had a heart attack several months ago, and unwilling to lose even more money in 1962, decided to sell his piece of the team to McGah and Valley.

Though the city finally approved the construction of a new stadium and put the team up in temporary digs at tiny Frank Youell Field, the Raiders were even worse in 1962 and again, McGah and Valley made it known that they were looking for someone to take the team off their hands. A deal to move the Raiders to New Orleans came close to fruition, but the parties couldn’t agree on a sale price, and it fell through.

Unable to find buyers, McGah and Valley agreed to play the 1963 season in Oakland and made the most momentous decision in franchise history: hiring San Diego Chargers assistant coach Al Davis as head coach and general manager. Davis immediately turned the team’s fortunes around, earning Coach of the Year honors and remaking the team in his own image. While the next two seasons weren’t quite as successful as the first, Davis was regarded as an up-and-comer and in 1966 was named AFL commissioner as the league battled the NFL for supremacy.

When the leagues agreed to a merger, McGah and Valley welcomed Davis back, not as head coach and general manager, but as “managing general partner” with an annual salary and a small share of ownership that would grow on a yearly basis. McGah and Valley took a more passive role as Davis built the team into a perennial powerhouse.

Davis’s continued success pleased McGah, but his level of team control rankled Valley. In 1973, McGah signed Davis to a 20-year contract giving him dictatorial powers over the Raiders. Valley objected, saying he hadn’t been aware of the contract prior to its signing and sued to have it declared void. McGah responded by calling the suit “ill-founded and destructive” and added that “Wayne should know he can’t run the Raiders. He made a mess of it before.”

The suit dragged on for two years before the contract was upheld in court, though the judge did reduce the scope of powers accorded to Davis in the agreement. Valley, however, had had enough and sold his share back to McGah and Davis in 1976, less than a year before the team would win its first championship.

McGah, happy with the way the team was performing, and the profits derived therefrom, let Davis alone to run the Raiders his way, even when Davis set in motion plans to move the team to Los Angeles in 1980. While commissioner Pete Rozelle and the NFL spared no effort to prevent the move, McGah, a lifelong Bay Area man, backed up his fellow owner, and moved to Los Angeles himself when his team finally started play there in 1982.

By this time, though, he was in his 80s and his health was starting to fail. In January 1983, he had surgery for “blood clots and other internal problems” and on September 17, died at Cedars Sinai hospital after what was termed “a long illness,” just four months before his team would win its third Super Bowl title in Tampa. He was 84. He was survived by his son, Ed Jr., third wife Ruth, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.[1]

Eureka-Humboldt Standard
Los Angeles Times
Napa Valley Register
North Hollywood Valley Times
Oakland Tribune
Palm Springs Desert Sun
Sacramento Bee
San Bernardino County Sun
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Examiner
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
United States Census Bureau

 

[1] The last mention of his second wife, Lucille, that I could find was in the 1940 census and the first mention of Ruth was in his obituary. Lucille died in 1982, so he might have remarried soon after or they may have divorced years ago. I could find nothing to corroborate any particular chain of events.

Harvey Binns

Harvey C. Binns
Born May 15, 1915(?), Rochester, Nevada
Died January 4, 1982, San Francisco, age 66(?)

Salesman, discount store executive, restaurateur, politician, private detective, bon vivant, and for a short while, Raider owner, Harvey Binns lived a full life. A born entrepreneur with the gift of gab he was the center of attention wherever he went and while he didn’t last long as a pro owner, he was a perfect fit for the spirit of the early AFL and it’s a shame he didn’t stick around to see it grow.

Binns’s early days are clothed in ambiguity. His parents and any siblings he might have had were never mentioned. For most of his life, stories about him that included his age suggested he was born in 1915, a date that matched his Social Security record. However, in the 1940 census, he listed his age as 27, indicating he was born in 1913 or thereabouts. Given his personality it’s not impossible that he knocked a couple of years off his age at some point, but who knows?

The story is also complicated by the possibility there were two Harvey Binnses running around the western United States with similar backgrounds. The 1940 census says Binns was living in Denver, but there were also newspaper notices of a Harvey Binns living in Salt Lake City around the same time. There’s also evidence that each (the same?) Binns had a child around then, with one child born in 1938, and the other in 1941, but later stories indicate he only had one child from that time. It’s possible that the other child died very young, but again, who knows? I’m proceeding on the assumption that the Salt Lake City Binns is a different person as there are no other indicators that this Binns ever lived there.

Binns probably spent most of his childhood in the Bay Area, attending Grant School in Oakland at one point. It appears that by 1938, he was married and living in San Francisco and had a child named Carolyn that year. His first wife was never mentioned in later stories about him, though Carolyn took the occasional bow. Soon after, he and his family moved to Denver, where Binns was a factory representative for the Remington Shaver Company. By 1943, they were back in Oakland, where his wife was a member of the Athens Athletic Club and a second daughter, Georgia, was born in 1945. He lived  in Honolulu for a while in the later part of the decade, but soon returned to the Bay Area, where he became vice president of a company called Movietime Products.

Sometime after the birth of Georgia, he and his first wife divorced, because in 1950, he married a second wife, Peggy. It was in 1952 that he first attracted wider notice in The City of San Francisco incident. The City of San Francisco was an express train plying the route between Chicago and San Francisco and in January 1952 a massive blizzard in the Sierra Nevada mountains blocked the tracks stranding the train without power near the Donner Pass. For several days more than 200 passengers and crew huddled together in the cold and dark with little food. Binns, one of the passengers, received attention for his role in setting up a “hospital” car where the sick and injured could be cared for until a rescue mission arrived.

The next year, his third daughter, Pamela, was born and that same year he and business partner George Talbott would start the venture that launched Binns’s entrepreneurial career. They formed Associated Government Employees (AGE), a chain of membership-only discount retail outlets located in Oakland and Vallejo, with membership limited to current and former government employees. The company’s revenues would enable Binns to pursue all sorts of additional opportunities. These included a clothing store and other retail shops in the swankier districts of Honolulu, a location visited often by the Binnses.

Life was good and getting better for Binns when, in June 1956, tragedy struck. Georgia and Pamela had accompanied their aunt and some family friends on a boat trip up the San Joaquin river when the boat capsized far from shore. One of the women aboard managed to grab two-year-old Pamela and make it to shore, but Georgia, and three others, including her aunt, drowned at the scene. Authorities blamed high waters and an overloaded boat for the mishap.

The next year Binns started another big venture, one that would regularly put his name in the social pages, The House of Harvey. This was a restaurant he built near the Oakland Airport, next to the AGE store and from the beginning he designed it to be the go-to place for high rolling executives and their families, and possibly, their mistresses. Boasting the best of fine dining, drinking, dancing, and luxury décor, including a crème de menthe fountain behind the bar, the restaurant gave Binns a chance to exhibit his natural showmanship and provided a focus for his interest in professional sports. The House of Harvey became a destination for 49er boosters and quarterback YA Tittle was regularly in attendance. Binns purchased blocks of game tickets that he sold on the premises and organized bus trips to games, complete with pregame meals and drinks.

Now with a fair amount of disposable income, he indulged even more expensive hobbies, such as his purchase of a private plane, participating in events like the Oakland-to-Reno and Hayward-to-Las Vegas air races. He also made regular trips to Hawaii with Peggy to enjoy vacation time and tend to his businesses there.

It was only natural that he found himself part of the group that would land an American Football League franchise in Oakland.  At first it seemed like a perfect fit for him, but he soon found himself at odds with several of the other owners, especially those who were building contractors, like Chet Soda, who were used to running on lean margins and a careful accounting of every expense. Arguing that a football team was entertainment and couldn’t be operated “with a slide rule and an adding machine” Binns bowed out on April 27, selling his share back to the other seven owners.

Still, he recognized the value of the team to the Oakland community and was a stalwart backer while continuing to maintain his friendship with Tittle and supporting both the 49ers and Giants across the bay. It also didn’t stop him from trying to unload a block of Raider tickets at below their printed value in December, earning the ire of his former partners, especially Soda.

All of this activity came at the apparent expense of his domestic life. In October 1960, Peggy filed for divorce, citing cruelty and asking for custody of Pamela with child support. They would reconcile over the next few months and by the next summer were vacationing in Hawaii again. Over the next couple of years he concentrated mostly on his businesses, though he kept his hand in sports matters, acting as an unofficial negotiator for the Raiders when they tried, unsuccessfully, to sign former 49er receiver RC “Alley Oop” Owens to a contract.

In March 1963, having achieved a high profile, he announced a bid to run for a seat on the Oakland City Council against incumbent Harry Lange. Running on a platform of fiscal conservatism and opposition to what he perceived as the council’s “catering to minority groups and people who don’t pay taxes,” he finished a strong second in the primary race in April, forcing a run-off in May. Binns was not above a little grandstanding, accusing the Oakland Tribune of sabotaging his campaign and insisting, unsuccessfully, on a televised debate. Lange, for his part, accused Binns of dirty tricks but prevailed in a close race.

Just days after the loss, Binns suffered a second blow. On the morning of May 23, The House of Harvey caught fire, sustaining extensive damage. Two employees who were prepping the restaurant for the day’s business escaped unharmed. It was a total loss and while there was some talk of rebuilding, Binns walked away from it in the end. During the next couple of years, he continued as president of AGE and expanded his operations in Honolulu, leasing an apartment at the posh Ilikai Hotel and opening a “liquor, drug, and gourmet” shop in its lobby.

In 1965 his marriage to Peggy fell apart again, this time for good. Filing for divorce in February, citing mental cruelty grounds, Peggy got custody of Pamela and child support in the settlement. Court documents said Binns was making $150,000 a year at the time.

In March he announced his intention to run for mayor, challenging incumbent John Houlihan, but in April, Binns was diagnosed with an ulcer and had to withdraw. In May he made plans to marry a third time, to Ruby Rogers, a woman fifteen years his junior, with ceremonies in both Honolulu and Las Vegas and a honeymoon in Hong Kong to follow but, probably for health reasons, these plans were postponed until next year.

In early 1966, he may or may not have had surgery that was life-threatening—the reports are contradictory—but he did marry Ruby in February in Honolulu and the following year he made another bid for a city council seat, this time challenging council veteran Dan Marovich. In a bitterly contentious campaign, Binns finished a close second in the primary forcing a run-off. In the run-off election he came out on top, winning by a 3-to-2 margin.

He quickly became the gadfly of the group, opposing any and all tax measures unless the money was to be used to pay police and firefighters. He took on anti-poverty efforts, suggesting that much of the money was going to the undeserving and arguing that whites were the real minority in Oakland. He also opposed measures banning the use of mace by police and prohibiting officers from shooting at fleeing theft suspects.

He continued to have health problems during this time, entering the hospital for a kidney infection in 1968, but felt well enough in August to go in with Oakland Athletics outfielder Rick Monday on a new restaurant, called The Loop, built near the former site of The House of Harvey. He claimed to be a silent partner in the deal and despite skepticism in the press didn’t speak much about it afterward. Late in the year, he again announced he would run for mayor in 1969, but later withdrew, saying he wanted to be a “team player.”

In 1970 he and Ruby divorced due to irreconcilable differences. He wouldn’t marry again. That year he added another plank to his shingle, offering his professional services as a business consultant. Coming up for re-election in 1971, he was on the ballot with nine challengers mostly from the left. Binns survived the primary but lost narrowly in the run-off to attorney John Sutter who was running on an environmentalist platform.

In a strange echo from 1963, just before the election, Binns’s house caught fire in the early hours of the morning. He and an unidentified male house guest escaped unharmed, but the house was a total loss. Having accepted the loss of his home and his electoral defeat graciously, he went on to run for a seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in 1972 but finished a very distant third in the primary. Two years later he tried for a spot on the Bay Area Rapid Transit board of directors but again failed to generate much support and his political ambitions were at an end.

For the rest of the decade he tended to his business interests while taking a job as a private investigator  in San Francisco, working as a regional director for the John T. Lynch Company, a legal and security firm based out of Los Angeles.

On January 4, 1982, he died at the age of 66 “after a long illness,” survived by his daughters Carolyn and Pamela.

Bakersfield Californian
Denver Post
Hayward Daily Review
Honolulu Advertiser
Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Oakland Tribune
Reno Gazette-Journal
Sacramento Bee
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Examiner
United States Census Bureau

February 21, 1961

For the first time in history the Raiders and 49ers squared off on the field of battle. The teams met at the Alameda County Fairgrounds to play basketball in a charity event and the first round went to the NFL, with the Niners winning 65-48. The Raiders were never in it, going down 38-24 at the half. Oakland’s scoring leaders were George Fields with 14 points and Charlie Hardy with 12.

Back in the football world, the team announced the signing of three free agents: halfback Clive Bullian, center Harrison Rece, and tackle Bob Voight. Bullian, 25, at 5’10” and 190 pounds, played his college ball at San Jose State and had training camp experience with several pro teams, most recently with the Dallas Cowboys last year. Fellow Spartan Tony Teresa called him “a fine all-around ball player.”

Rece, 24, at 6’3” and 235 pounds, played at the University of Tampa before transferring to Trinity in Texas. He had also spent some time playing ball during military service.

The 23-year-old Voight, at 6’5” and 265 pounds out of Los Angeles State, had been drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the 18th round after doing his own stint in the service. He was probably the best prospect of the three, having been an excellent athlete in several sports during his collegiate career.

Hayward Daily Review
Oakland Tribune
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Examiner

 

February 19, 1961

With the basketball game against the 49ers just two days away, Raiders coach Tom Louderback announced the team’s lineup: 6’3” George Fields at center, Wayne Crow and Tom Flores, both 6’1”, at forward, and 6’0” Charlie Hardy and 5’9” Tony Teresa at guard. On the bench would be John Harris, Jack Larscheid, Jetstream Smith, and Ron Warzeka.

Oakland Tribune

February 10, 1961

The Raiders were trumped by the team across the bay today when the 49ers signed San Francisco State halfback Charley Fuller to a contract. Fuller had been the Raiders pick in the 19th round of the most recent draft but chose to stay in San Francisco with the team that chose him in the 16th round of the NFL draft. No reason for his choice was given.

Hayward Daily Review
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Examiner

February 8, 1961

In Prescott Sullivan’s column in today’s San Francisco Examiner, former Raider co-owner and general manager Chet Soda was quoted as saying his fellow owners hadn’t lost quite as much money as had been originally reported. Back in December, there were stories saying the owners had lost about $400,000, or $50,000 per owner. Soda explained that the figure didn’t take into account typical business practices, that his own losses were closer to $15,000, and that his fellow owners’ losses were probably in that neighborhood, too.

“When losses are written off as a tax deduction against other income,” he said, “none of us will be hurt too much.”

Elsewhere, it wasn’t likely that the Raiders were going to meet the 49ers on the gridiron any too soon, but the teams announced they would take their rivalry to the hardwood on the 21st at a court in Pleasanton. Further details were unavailable at the moment.

Oakland Tribune
San Francisco Examiner

February 7, 1961

Eddie Erdelatz had two spots open on his coaching staff and was hard at work trying to fill them.

“We’ve had applicants, of course,” he said, “and we are checking them out, but at this point we haven’t made a decision and the jobs are still open.”

The work of the staff continued, though, and the three men were busy watching the game film from 1960, evaluating strategy and players.

Up in the front office, acting general manager Bud Hastings was working on a preseason schedule for 1961. Adding a potential twist to his plans was news that the 49ers were planning to play just one of their five games at home in Kezar Stadium, going on the road for the other four.

Though that would give the Raiders more solo exhibition dates at home, Hastings said his team would probably play only one game at home, too, though he wasn’t committing to that plan yet.

“The primary point about playing preseason games away is the financial consideration,” he said. “If you can schedule these contests in cities or locations where there are no professional teams, generally you can count on very good interest in the one game. We’ve found that where you play seven league games at home, there’s not as much interest locally in the exhibition as there is in the league contests.”

While the 49ers plan would free up Kezar, Hastings said the team was committed to playing in Candlestick Park.

“We prefer Candlestick,” he said. “The response from a spectator’s standpoint has been very good. The fans told us the seating was much better, that the seats were much more comfortable with arm and back rests. As a matter of fact, in several recent letters from fans, quite a point was made of the comforts of Candlestick Park.”

Hastings was still waiting to hear if would get the general manager’s position on a permanent basis. The owners hadn’t made a decision yet, but signs were pointing in that direction.

Oakland Tribune
San Francisco Examiner

February 3, 1961

The word made the rounds today that ex-49er halfback Hugh McElhenny could be in a Raider uniform for the 1962 season. One of the NFL’s top breakaway threats during his nine-year tenure in San Francisco, he had slowed down the last couple of years and was traded to the expansion Minnesota Vikings last week. Now, with the change, he was taking stock of his football future, considering whether it was time to play out his option this season or quit altogether. If he played out his option, he would be free to sign with anyone in 1962 and that’s where the Raiders came in.

When asked about the possibility, he said it “would really be a great idea if it could be worked out, but the chances seem remote.”

Raider officials were quick to point out they had nothing to do with the rumors.

“We haven’t talked to him,” said acting general manager Bud Hastings. “We can’t under league rules against tampering with players in the other two leagues. It carries a $5,000 fine. We can only negotiate with free agents.”

Player personnel director Wes Fry echoed his boss’s thoughts. “It’s against the AFL constitution,” he said, “and we simply don’t tamper. Of course, if McElhenny did play out his option and then came around, we wouldn’t drive him from the door.”

Oakland Tribune
San Francisco Chronicle

December 25, 1960

The Raiders had yet to sign any of their draft picks and it was reported that two of them had signed with other teams. Quarterback Dick Norman of Stanford, the team’s fifth-round pick signed with the Bears, who had drafted him as a redshirt choice last year in the fifth round. Another Stanford product, tackle Dean Hinshaw, signed with the 49ers, a 13th-round redshirt pick last year. He had been chosen in the 26th round this year by the Raiders.

San Francisco Chronicle

November 17, 1960

Chet Soda announced that the Raiders would likely play their final three home games in Candlestick Park. Moving from Kezar Stadium would solve two problems. The first problem was a December 11 game against the Titans. The 49ers were scheduled to play on the 10th and if it rained, the field would be a mess without any time for the groundskeeping crew to perform repairs. Additionally, this would allow the team to move the season finale, currently scheduled for Friday night on the 16th, to a Saturday afternoon start on the 17th. The Raider had long wanted to make this move, believing that damp, foggy nights in San Francisco significantly depressed attendance. An agreement between Kezar and the 49ers prevented the Raiders from playing within 24 hours before a 49er game and the 49ers had a game scheduled for the 18th.

Walter Haas, president of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission said, “if the Raiders meet the conditions, we very likely would have no objections.” The conditions were as follows: the Raiders would pay the commission 10% of gate receipts with a minimum $2,500 payout per game. The team would be responsible for converting the field from baseball to football and back to baseball again after the season.

Several configurations were under consideration, with the preferred alignment being to run the field along the left field foul line. No consensus had been reached on which seats would be sold, but the Raiders suggested up to 28,000 seats would be available. Assistant general manager Bud Hastings said season ticket holders would be given priority seating and would not have to exchange tickets.

San Francisco Giants president Chub Feeney was amenable, suggesting the move would reduce his team’s financial obligation to the city. The commission was scheduled to meet on the 23rd to make a final decision on the plan.

The plan would be in place for 1960 only, but Soda said, “the possibility exists the Raiders will continue to play at Candlestick in 1961. However, at the end of the season, we will take a good, long look at any and every playing site possibility. Candlestick is not necessarily the answer for 1961.”

In league news, commissioner Joe Foss said the first six rounds of the college draft would take place by telephone on the weekend of November 19-20. Results would be announced on Monday, the 21st. The remaining 24 rounds would take place sometime in December. Team order would be based on current records, with the Raiders drafting in the fifth spot.

Hayward Daily Review
Oakland Tribune
San Francisco Chronicle