1900 Winter Meetings: A Threat of Competition

This article was written by Jamie Talbot

This article was published in the Baseball’s 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900


Baseball's 19th Century Winter Meetings: 1857-1900The main subjects considered by the magnates during the National League winter meetings of 1900-1901 were: (1) the ever-increasing threat of competition posed by the fledgling American League; (2) possible recognition of a revived American Association as a counterbalance to the AL, and (3) player contract modifications proposed by the latest incarnation of the players union.

Although a contingent of minor-league presidents and would-be AA magnates were in attendance, conspicuously left uninvited to the gatherings was Ban Johnson, head of the American (née Western) League, with the snub viewed in the press as an omen of a baseball war in the offing.1

National League Winter Meeting
December 10 to 14, 1900, Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York City

The competition menace was addressed at a session of the Board of Arbitration (club bosses John I. Rogers/Philadelphia, chairman; John T. Brush/Cincinnati; James A. Hart/Chicago; Frank Robison/St. Louis, and Arthur H. Soden/Boston, with National League President Nick Young, nonvoting ex-officio member).2 In a stratagem designed to frustrate the territorial ambitions of the American League without expressly acknowledging the nascent rival circuit, the board declared Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Kansas City venues protected by the National Agreement (and thus protected from any AL move into them without National League acquiescence).3 In its other business, the board disposed of a typical array of now-forgotten NL/minor-league wrangles.

The subject of player contract demands received a hearing before the just-minted Committee on the Players Association (Soden, Brush, and Rogers, members). A lengthy and cordial audience was granted to Harry Taylor, one-time Louisville first baseman-turned-lawyer and now legal counsel for the new Players Protective Association, accompanied by union leaders Hughie Jennings and Chief Zimmer.

Speaking on behalf of the association, Taylor presented no player salary demands. Rather, his clients sought modification of the standard National League player contract so that: (1) a player could not be reserved by his club for more than three to five seasons; (2) the practice of farming out players to affiliated minor leagues was discontinued; and (3) players could not be bought, sold, traded, assigned, or drafted without their consent.

As pointed out by Rogers, these proposals were similar to those presented by then-union leader John Montgomery Ward but rejected by NL owners in 1888. Notwithstanding that, the committee appeared somewhat receptive to Taylor’s arguments, asking him to summarize his points in writing and then submit them with a sample player contract containing the proposed modifications. These documents would then be reviewed by the club owners sitting en banc.4

A day later, Taylor’s written submissions received a hostile reception from the owners, with Brush and Rogers indignant about sample contract provisions expanding player contract rights that had gone unmentioned by Taylor during his appearance before the Committee on the Players Association.

Of the 10 to 12 previously undisclosed propositions inserted into the sample contract, perhaps most galling to the owners was one that conferred upon the player the unilateral right to adjudge his club to be in breach of their contract and declare himself to be a free agent.5 In Brush’s estimation, the Taylor contract proposal, “if we were to undertake to operate under it, would destroy the National League.”6

In addition to registering his own disapproval of the sample contract, Rogers, himself an experienced and distinguished Philadelphia attorney, bristled at the bait-and-switch nature of Taylor’s oral presentation versus Taylor’s written submissions. If tried in court, Rogers thundered, such tactics would lead to Taylor’s disbarment. Meanwhile, the Taylor contract was quickly being disavowed by the players, with a letter from union leader Jennings informing the owners that their goals were confined to the three objectives espoused in Taylor’s oral presentation to the committee.7 The association was not seeking the additional rights and benefits contained in the sample player contract submitted by Taylor. To no avail. The players’ proposals – all of them – were summarily rejected by the magnates.8

In other business, the owners focused on cutting expenses. To that end, they agreed to discontinue costly preseason trips to the South for training purposes. Players would henceforth report to their clubs on April 1 and work out in or near their home ballparks until the regular season started.

After considerable discussion and disagreement, club roster sizes were reduced to 16 players after May 15.9 A vote on whether the NL would retain the one-umpire system sharply divided the owners, and the matter was ultimately put over to the coming February 1901 meeting.10 But the magnates were near-unanimous in their disdain of umpire conduct and performance during the past season. And in a direct swipe at NL umpire Tim Hurst, also a noted boxing referee, the magnates entertained a resolution barring employment of any umpire “who is engaged professionally in any vicious sport as either participant, referee, umpire, or official.”11 Recast as a character disqualification, the magnates incorporated the anti-boxing sentiment into a directive to be followed by league President Young in his selection of NL umpires for the coming season.12

In matters of league administration, the incumbent Board of Arbitration was returned to office for another term. But in keeping with the downsizing of the National League itself, the Board of Directors was reduced from six members to four. For the next 12 months, the directors would be Soden (Boston) and New York owner Andrew Freedman from the East, while Brush and Pittsburgh co-owner/President Barney Dreyfuss would represent the West.13

As the meeting wound down, the magnates found themselves once again scrambling to placate Freedman, following a blistering, profanity-sprinkled tirade by the Giants boss that expressed his continued dissatisfaction with league assistance to his efforts to obtain quality players for the New York club.14 To mollify Freedman this time, Rogers (Philadelphia), Hart (Chicago), and Robison (St. Louis) each offered to make player deals with New York. And the magnates placed the Giants at the head of the line in the coming January player draft.15

The meeting’s final day provided occasion for another indirect assault on the American League. President Thomas J. Hickey of the minor-league Western Association was authorized to adopt the abandoned name Western League for his circuit, and given National Agreement rights over the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Kansas City territories, two of which had hosted clubs in Ban Johnson’s American League during 1900.16 Shortly thereafter, the proceedings adjourned, with unsettled business (like the length of the 1901 playing schedule and the one- vs. two-umpire system) to taken up again in February.

Special Meeting: National League Board of Arbitration
January 19, 1901, Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York City

A special meeting of the NL Board of Arbitration was convened in the run-up to the regularly scheduled February gathering of the magnates. With Chairman Rogers confined to his home in Philadelphia by illness, Boston Triumvir Arthur Soden moderated the proceedings. Also in attendance were Board members James A. Hart (Chicago) and Frank Robison (St. Louis), while New York club boss Andrew Freedman exercised the proxy of John T. Brush (Cincinnati). The sole matter on the meeting agenda was consideration of a petition for recognition and protection under the National Agreement submitted by the American Association.

This just-organized circuit bore the name of the erstwhile major league of 1883-1891 and was mostly created to co-opt the competition threat posed by the American League. To that end, the American Association would consist of franchises located in American League venues like Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Washington, as well as in Louisville and Indianapolis. That the new AA had pledges of financial backing from Brush and various other NL magnates was an ill-kept secret.

Once the new circuit’s proposed constitution was presented by club representatives Harry Pulliam (Louisville) and William Watkins (Indianapolis), the Board admitted the remainder of the AA contingent present (A.H. Koch/Detroit;17 Arthur Irwin/Boston; Charles Havenor/Milwaukee; and, belatedly, Harry Quin/Milwaukee) into the meeting room.18 Principal spokesman Watkins thereupon informed the Board that, upon recognition and admittance to the protection of the National Agreement, the AA would seek designation as a league classified below the NL but superior to all minor-league circuits. The AA would also petition for the right to draft players from minor-league clubs once the NL player draft was completed.19

When asked by Soden to propose an assessment for the rights sought, Watkins asked for free admission and NA protection for the AA’s first year of operation (as the National Agreement was due to expire at the end of 1901). Nor did AA clubs desire to contribute the $1,000 faithful-performance guarantee required of NL clubs by Section 6 of the National Agreement. Rather, each AA club president would demonstrate the bona fides of his intention to field a team by depositing the lease to his ballpark grounds with the AA league president.20

This prompted the concern of Freedman, as two proposed AA clubs did not yet have leased grounds. To remedy the situation, Freedman suggested that those two clubs be obliged to secure ballpark leases within 10 days. Otherwise, sufficient cash collateral would have to be posted by the club ownership with the AA league president.21

Regarding personnel, the AA wanted first call on all players discarded by the National League. With NL rosters limited to 16 players for the 1901 season, those who did not make the grade would be available for draft by the AA (rather than optioned to a minor-league club or released outright).22 Finally, the American Association expected to start regular-season play on April 26 or 27.23

Once the AA reps had been excused from the proceedings, Freedman moved to grant the American Association application for recognition and National Agreement protection – on condition that each AA club owner either surrender his lease for ballpark grounds or deposit $1,000 cash as security for performance with the AA league president within the next 12 days.24 The motion was promptly seconded by Hart and carried by unanimous Board vote.25

Upon receipt of the good news, the American Association men repaired to Manhattan’s Marlborough Hotel to conclude a three-day gathering of AA club investors. There, temporarily-appointed league President-Secretary Watkins announced that, in addition to official recognition and NA protection, the new circuit had been accorded special classification above all leagues in Organized Baseball save the NL, and that AA clubs would have the right to exempt five of their own team members from future NL player drafts – provisions not embodied in the official minutes of the Board of Arbitration proceedings but widely reported in the press.26

But AA spirits were quickly dampened by John I. Rogers, the absent Board of Arbitration chairman and influential co-owner of the NL Philadelphia Phillies. Apprised by telephone of the Board’s decision on the AA’s application, Rogers immediately informed the AA investors that their Philadelphia club would have to lease his ballpark rather than build one of their own. With the AA’s Philadelphia franchise already headed by Rogers factotum Hezekiah Niles, the AA men despaired that their Philadelphia club would be viewed as no more than a “second nine” farm team of the Phillies.27

This prospect so “disgusted” league investors that all except Milwaukee’s Havenor were reportedly disposed to abandon the venture. Only the looming expiration of the National Agreement and the potential for renegotiation of the Philadelphia ballpark situation in December was said to have kept disgruntled investors in the American Association fold.28 But the survival of this new circuit was now clearly in peril.

National League Winter Meeting
February 25 to 28, 1901, Fifth Avenue Hotel, New York City

Preceding the late-February regathering of the magnates was persistent rumor of oncoming change in the National League executive suite. According to the most widely published report, longtime league President Nick Young was to be removed from office, supplanted by mercurial New York Giants boss Andrew Freedman.29 Young downplayed any threat to his position while Freedman brusquely dismissed the report, informing the press that he had neither interest in being NL president nor the time for it.30 Whatever the substance of the rumor, nothing came of it and Young was back in place when the meeting commenced, lending his low-key presence to the proceedings.

The first substantive business undertaken by the magnates was responding to a request to appear before them received from Chief Zimmer on behalf of the Protective Association of Professional Baseball Players (PPA).31 Club bosses John T. Brush (Cincinnati), James A. Hart (Chicago), and Arthur Soden (Boston) were thereupon deputized to parley privately with Zimmer.32 Although events – particularly the emergence of the new American League as a credible rival major-league circuit – had greatly strengthened the union’s hand, the demands conveyed by Zimmer were relatively modest.

The union dropped the player contract proposals that the magnates had earlier found so objectionable. Nor did the PPA plan a challenge to the reserve clause. Indeed, the PPA had already issued a directive instructing members to re-sign with the club that had reserved them.33 Rather, the union’s primary goal was elimination of an NL club’s right to sell, trade, option, lend, or otherwise dispose of a player without the player’s consent.34

The magnate delegation received this demand with perhaps surprising equanimity, but the meeting foundered on Zimmer’s reluctance to commit the PPA to acceptance of the magnates’ reciprocal demand for expulsion of any union member who defied the PPA’s re-signing edict and jumped his contract (as so modified) or reserve with a National League club.35 After more than five hours of back-and-forth, Zimmer withdrew to consult with his membership regarding club owner demands.

While the magnates waited on Zimmer, the depleted state of the league treasury was exposed when Freedman demanded the recompense previously agreed upon for his paying the rental that kept Manhattan Field unavailable to rival leagues.36 The NL was then $2,600 in arrears due Freedman, and without the cash on hand to pay him. According to President Young, the only liquid funds in the league treasury were the $1,000 performance guarantees posted by each NL franchise.37 Happily, the not-always-obliging Freedman agreed to accept credit against the New York club’s annual league assessment in lieu of immediate payment of the debt.38

The gathering then moved on to changes proposed by the Playing Rules Committee, almost all of which were designed to spur the National League pace of play, roundly derided as slow and plodding compared with the snappier game played in the AL.39

The most efficacious time-saver was adoption of the foul strike rule, whereby foul balls hit by a batter would be counted as strikes unless he already had two strikes. Previously, only foul bunts counted as strikes. In addition, the pitcher was prohibited from throwing a warm-up toss to anyone other than the catcher, lest the upcoming batter start his at-bat with a one-ball count. A one-ball penalty would also be imposed if the pitcher did not deliver a pitch within 20 seconds of the batter taking his stance at the plate. The catcher, meanwhile, could take a position no deeper than 10 feet behind the plate when receiving a pitch.40 According to Philadelphia co-owner (and one-time star player) Al Reach, being close to the plate would afford the catcher a better chance of catching game-quickening two-strike foul-tip strikeouts.41

About midway through the gathering, the owners received a formal statement from Zimmer on behalf of the PPA. In return for the contract concessions sought from the magnates, the Zimmer statement declared that “all National League and Eastern League players who may sign American League contracts will be suspended pending action by the Players Protective Association as a body.”42

With dozens of PPA members having already jumped to the AL and more likely to do so, the prospect of suspension of AL-bound players from the union acting “as a body” was largely illusory. The Zimmer communiqué, however, gave the magnates a face-saver and, as noted by such unlikely champions as Andrew Freedman and Arthur Soden, represented the best deal with the union the magnates were apt to get. By a 7-to-0 vote (Chicago temporarily absent), the National League accepted the PPA player-contract proposal.43

The discipline of unruly players was the next matter on the agenda. Still bristling from the outcome of the 1898 Ducky Holmes affair,44 Freedman proposed giving management of the home team the power to remove from the game any player whose conduct violated decorum standards. His fellow magnates were all for better player behavior, but were disposed to leave on-field player discipline to the umpire. When his proposal was rejected by a 6-to-2 vote, Freedman angrily stormed out of the meeting.45

The by-now terminal condition of the American Association was addressed by Indianapolis front man William Watkins. In the weeks after the John I. Rogers intrusion into the Philadelphia ballpark issue, disenchanted investors had withdrawn their backing of the circuit’s Boston, Baltimore, and Washington franchises, resulting in the collapse of the Eastern half of the AA. The withholding of promised financial aid from NL owners had also undermined the venture. With the American Association as originally envisioned no longer feasible, Watkins sought continued National Agreement protection for its Western venues while he tried to affiliate them with the minor-league Western Association or reorganize the surviving clubs into a new independent minor-league operation.46 Bitter recriminations between Brush and Rogers over the Philadelphia situation preceded official interment of the AA and the covering of its funeral expenses.47

The meeting concluded with ratification of amendments to the National Agreement needed to conform the pact to the contract agreement that the NL owners had just made with the players union.48 The magnates also unanimously adopted the 1901 playing schedule crafted by President Young.49 With all-out war with the new American League now plainly on the horizon, the NL magnates then headed for home.50

 

Notes

1 See, e.g., the Baltimore Sun and Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 15, 1900.

2 The transcript of the December 1900 meeting is preserved in a single volume denoted herein as T.

3 See T2-6 to 11. The National Agreement afforded the league little legal protection as the new American League was not a party to it.

4 See generally, T43-4 to T65-17. Aside from a brief statement made at the end of the proceedings by Zimmer, attorney Taylor did the talking for the union.

5 As noted by Brush at T79-25 to T80-6.

6 T82-1 to 2.

7 T103-16 to T104-2; T232-19 to T233-7.

8 Per parliamentary procedure, the player association proposals were originally tabled. See T106-14 to 16. But when the Jennings letter was brought up later in the meeting, the magnates unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by Rogers that condemned the players’ association proposals as “prejudicial to individual club interests … and destructive of organized base ball.” T235-14 to T236-1.

9 T117-14 to T130-12. During the season this date was modified to June 15.

10 See T164-15 to T179-11.

11 T162-14 to 20. Ironically, the resolution proposer was New York club owner Andrew Freedman, a man notoriously given to resolving disputes with his fists.

12 See T164-8 to 14.

13 T106-21 to T110-23.

14 T211-19 to T217-6.

15 See T217-7 to T223-19. In another hostile gesture toward the American League, several magnates made explicit mention of American League players being available for the draft.

16 T241-20 to T243-23. The American League of 1900 included the Kansas City Blues and the Minneapolis Millers. The former Western League club in St. Paul, meanwhile, had relocated to Chicago and won the American League pennant in 1900, the circuit’s only season as a minor league.

17 Koch, a successful promoter from Milwaukee who wanted the AA’s Philadelphia franchise, had been branded a “carpetbagger” by the powerful Rogers and blocked from assuming control of AA fortunes in Philadelphia. See the Philadelphia Inquirer, January 21 and 23, 1901. Koch then agreed to assume the AA operation in Detroit.

18 See the single-volume transcript of the Board of Arbitration proceedings (hereinafter TBA)1-15 to TBA2-10; TBA9-1.

19 TBA2-17 to TBA3-11.

20 TBA3-16 to TBA6-14.

21 TBA6-15 to TBA8-25.

22 TBA9-11 to TBA11-2.

23 TBA9-15 to 19.

24 TBA11-9 to TBA12-16.

25 TBA12-17 to 18.

26 See, e.g., the Boston Herald, Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Leader, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Washington Post, January 20, 1901.

27 As reported in the New York Times, January 20, 1901.

28 Ibid.

29 See, e.g., the Washington Evening Star, February 25, 1901, and Dallas Morning News and Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Times, February 26, 1901.

30 See the Washington Evening Star, February 26, 1901. By now, baseball club ownership was losing its charm for Freedman, and he would sell his interest in the Giants to John T. Brush at the end of the 1902 season. Perhaps more important, Freedman had already become immersed in the myriad responsibilities of overseeing the massive NYC subway construction project and now had little time for the game.

31 According to Zimmer, all but two National League players were PPA members. The union also represented most, but not all, of those who had signed with the American League, as well as players in the Eastern League. See transcript of February 26-28, 1901 NL owners meeting (hereinafter 2T) 35-4 to 2T36-17.

32 2T1-19 to 2T4-11.

33 See 2T71-18 to 2T73-4.

34 See 2T45-12 to 2T46-13. See also the Washington Post, February 26, 1901.

35 This earned Zimmer an extended lecture on the fabric and structure of Organized Baseball from an impatient John T. Brush. In the midst of his remarks, Brush, a department-store owner, informed Zimmer that he and most of the other club bosses made little or no money from their investment in baseball. Their livelihoods came from business interests outside the game. To them, owning a baseball team was largely a “diversion.” See 2T93-10 to 2T94-13.

36 Manhattan Field (née the New Polo Grounds) was the former home field of the New York Giants and still an active venue for college football, harness racing, track meets, and other sporting events. The lease on the grounds to Manhattan Field cost Freedman $10,000 annually.

37 2T100-10 to 2T101-9.

38 2T101-10 to 2T104-1.

39 The average NL game was now estimated to take 2 hours 45 minutes to complete.

40 2T108-23 to 2T127-17. See also, the Boston Herald and Kansas City Star, February 28, 1901. Another rule change would have eliminated awarding first base to a batter hit by a pitch, but was later rescinded by the owners via a preseason mail ballot.

41 Reach’s argument was enthusiastically endorsed by Brush, a neighborhood game catcher himself in his pre-Civil War youth. Or so he claimed. See 2T118-17 to 20.

42 See 2T127-17 to 2T128-17. The transcript of the meeting did not memorialize the content of the Zimmer statement but its full text was widely reprinted in the press. See, e.g., the Boston Journal, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and Washington Post, February 27, 1901.

43 2T144-1 to 2T145-22.

44 During a July 1898 game at the Polo Grounds, ex-Giants outfielder Holmes had directed an anti-Semitic slur at Freedman. The disciplinary action subsequently undertaken by the National League against Holmes was deemed inadequate by the much-offended Freedman, whose displeasure visited dire financial consequences upon NL for the next two seasons. For a fuller account of events, see “The Ducky Holmes Game” in Bill Felber, ed., Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the Nineteenth Century (Phoenix: SABR, 2013), 268-269.

45 2T154-7 to 2T189-10. Only St. Louis owner Frank Robison voted in favor of the Freedman proposal. An angry Freedman’s immediate departure went unnoted in the meeting minutes but was duly reported in the press. See, e.g., the Boston Herald and Canton (Ohio) Repository, February 28, 1901.

46 See 2T199-3 to 2T254-6.

47 Among other things, the magnates voted to reimburse newly installed AA President Charles B. Power (who had resigned his post as sports editor for the Pittsburg Leader to take charge of AA affairs) $300 in expenses incurred. See 2T300-5 to 2T307-22.

48 2T293-3 to 2T296-6.

49 2T290-6 to 2T291-12.

50 The holdover issue of one umpire versus two was not addressed at the late-February meeting. During the 1901 season, the National League used a combination of one- and two-man umpiring crews.

© SABR. All Rights Reserved