Max

That's the Ticket

Marc D. Allan MFA ’18

from Spring 2018

In October 1956, Schumacher was finishing a two-year stint in the Army and thinking about what to do with his Journalism degree from Butler. He picked up a copy of the Indianapolis Star—he had his subscription forwarded to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where he was stationed—and read a one-paragraph news brief reporting that Marjorie Smyth, the ticket manager for the Indianapolis Indians baseball team, was leaving. 

Schumacher called his mentor, J.R. Townshend Sr., who knew Frank McKinney Sr., the Indians’ Chairman of the Board, to help him arrange an interview. That December, Schumacher went to McKinney’s Fidelity Bank office on East Market Street. After a brief conversation, McKinney wrote a note on a little piece of paper and told Schumacher to take the note to Ray Johnston, the team’s General Manager. 

“He didn’t put it in an envelope,” Schumacher said. “He just handed it to me. He wrote something like: ‘This is the young man I talked to you about for the open position at the ballpark.’” 

Schumacher took the paper to Johnston. He was hired. 

Over the next dozen years, Schumacher advanced from Ticket Manager to Public Relations Director to General Manager to President and Chairman—a position he held for 47 years until he retired at the end of 2016. In that time, the Indians won 19 divisions and eight league championships, turned a profit for 42 consecutive years after periods of financial losses, and moved into a downtown Indianapolis ballpark still considered one of the best in America. 

“After I graduated from Butler, I thought I’d get a regular job—work for the Star, maybe—or be in somebody’s PR department or putting together publications for some corporation,” he said. “This just dropped in my lap.” 

Truly a Butler Family 

Schumacher grew up at 44th Street and Winthrop Avenue in Indianapolis, his academic future seemingly preordained. His father, a musician, and his mother, who worked in a downtown department store and later at a bank, both went to Butler when the campus was in Irvington. His two older sisters preceded him on the Fairview campus. “I never thought about anything else other than Butler,” he said. 

As a sophomore at Shortridge High School, where his classmates included future U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and author Dan Wakefield, Schumacher became interested in Journalism. He also played second base on the Shortridge team, which was coached by Jerry Steiner, a 1940 Butler graduate and future Butler Athletic Hall of Fame inductee. Steiner accompanied Schumacher on a visit to ask Tony Hinkle about an athletic scholarship. They arrived to find Hinkle cutting the grass, his leg in a cast—the result of a lawnmower accident from a previous session mowing the baseball field. 

Schumacher remembers Hinkle’s response. “He said, ‘Well, kiddo’—everybody was ‘kiddo’—‘we have a great school here. It’s a wonderful school. We announce when baseball practice starts, and you can come out for ball.’ He didn’t say baseball. And away we go. Long story short, that’s what I did.” 

Schumacher drove his 1936 Chevrolet Coupe the two miles to Butler (later upgrading to a ’41 Pontiac), where he studied Journalism and walked on to the baseball team. He was surprised at his first game when Hinkle called out, “Hey, Schuey, coach third base.” He did that for two years before earning some playing time in his last two years. (His best game, four hits in four at-bats against DePauw was overshadowed by teammate Norm Ellenberger, who threw a no-hitter that day.) 

When Schumacher wasn’t playing ball, he was in class or writing for The Butler Collegian. He worked his way up to Editor, but when the boss at his summer job—public relations for Junior Baseball, a citywide youth baseball program—asked him to stay on during the school year, Schumacher chose the paying job. 

Time to Go to Work 

That turned out to be the right decision: The man who ran Junior Baseball, J.R. Townsend Sr., would later provide the introduction to Frank McKinney Sr. with the Indianapolis Indians. 

By his senior year, Schumacher also had a second job with the Indianapolis Times. He took calls from sports correspondents at high schools, gathering information for box scores and game stories. He also wrote his own stories occasionally—like on the night of March 20, 1954, when he was sent to the tiny town of Milan to see if there was anyone around. (Almost everyone was in Indianapolis, watching their team win the state high school basketball championship.) 

“I loved that,” Schumacher said. “I really loved that. That got me hooked on Journalism.” 

With what he learned in classes, on The Collegian, and through his outside jobs, he graduated with skills that translated well for what was to come next. 

“I thought at the typewriter better than longhand, so to have correspondence that had to go out to somebody for Indians’ business, I could sit down and compose a coherent letter and fire it into the mail to them,” he said. “I was very happy with my education. It helped me develop the necessary skills to be successful, and I had what it took to get started.” 

Building a Franchise and Family 

From 1957 until he stepped down in 2016, Max Schumacher experienced enormous successes—and the occasional hiccups. He once traded a future Cy Young Award winner (Mike Cuellar), but he also helped assemble teams that won four consecutive championships in the 1980s. The 1986 title, won in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game when the Indians’ Billy Moore drove in the winning run off future star Rob Dibble, remains a personal favorite. 

Perhaps his greatest success in those years was meeting and marrying Judy Whybrew, an Indiana University graduate who worked on the Indians’ ticket staff. Schumacher had been hired to replace her friend Marge Smith as ticket manager, “and I was not real well received because I was replacing her friend,” he said. “But we got to know each other well, and we fell in love later.” Bruce, their first son, who succeeded Max as Indians Chairman of the Board and CEO, was born in 1959, followed by Brian, Karen, and Mark, and they now have five grandchildren. 

Over the years, Schumacher had opportunities to go to the major leagues, but he turned them down. He grew up in Indianapolis and, except for his two years in the Army, has lived here his entire life. With the Indians, he was more or less his own boss, and he was instrumental in building one of America’s great minor-league franchises. He’s particularly proud that for the team’s employees, “to have on their resume that they worked for the Indianapolis Indians is a pretty good line to have.” 

“I never had the feeling that I wanted to be a big guy in my industry,” he said. “A lot of people think if you work in baseball, you need to get to the major leagues if you want to be a success. So many people have said to me, ‘I thought you would have been in the major leagues by now.’ If you’re an attorney, do you have to work in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles to be successful in your profession? No. And I don’t, either.”