Sports: Hockey & Baseball
Born: May 10, 1918
Died: September 16, 2005
John J. McMullen was born May 10, 1918 in Jersey City and grew up in Montclair. He attended Montclair High in the early years of the Great Depression. In 1936, John was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1940, and saw combat in World War II. He rose to the rank of Commander before retiring from the Navy in 1954. He earned a Masters degree in engineering from MIT and a PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. John started a marine engineering firm in 1959 and bought Norton Lilly, an international shipping agency in the early 1970s.
John got his first taste of sports ownership in 1974, when he bought into the limited partnership that purchased the Yankees from CBS. The group was led by George Steinbrenner, and John was widely quoted as joking that there is “nothing as limited as a limited partnership with George Steinbrenner.“ In 1979, John bought the Houston Astros. One of his first moves was to sign free agent Nolan Ryan. In 1980, the Astros came within a few outs of winning the pennant, falling to the Phillies in the NLCS. He was a popular owner with his players, but the fans criticized him for firing team president Tal Smith.
John hoped to bring a professional hockey team to New Jersey. In 1982, he purchased the Colorado Rockies and moved them to the Meadowlands. The New Jersey Devils made it to the playoffs in 1988 after hiring Lou Lamoriello, and went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1995. By then, John, who lived in Montclair, had sold the Astros.
After a second NHL title in 2000, John sold the Devils to Steinbrenner’s YankeeNets group for more than five times his original purchase price. He had wanted to build the Devils a new arena in Hoboken but faced fierce community opposition, as well as resistance from Governor Christie Whitman. Throughout his life, John was a supporter of museums and libraries, most notably Boston College, where is son Peter went to school in the 1970s. John passed away in 2005 at the age of 87.