1901 Winter Meetings: Firsts, Foibles, and Failures

This article was written by Jeremy Green

This article was published in the Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1901-1957


Introduction and Context

Professional baseball was mired in conflict throughout 1901. The American League abandoned the National Agreement of 1892 and announced its intention to compete on equal terms with the National League. The National League faced not only an external threat from the self-proclaimed new major league, but internal disunity revolving around organization and leadership. With the National Agreement having been abrogated and the big leagues at war, the minor leagues circled the wagons and set about defending their own interests. This strife set the stage at all three professional baseball meetings in 1901.

The first meeting, that of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, was held at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City on October 25. This was the second meeting of the year for the National Association, which represented all of the minor leagues except the California League.1 The leagues had previously met in Chicago at the Leland Hotel on September 6 to draft an agreement that would form a new organization for their mutual protection.2 The minor leagues were meeting in New York to ratify the agreement.

The American League met in Chicago at the Grand Pacific Hotel on December 2.3 The new major league had proved to be a potent and viable force in baseball and a serious challenger to the National League. It had acquired four teams from the National when that league contracted, and also inserted itself into Chicago.4 The AL was meeting for the first time as a major league.

The National League gathered in New York at the Fifth Avenue Hotel on December 10 for the last and most contentious of the three meetings. Casting a shadow over this one was the new contender, the American League. The threat of this strong newcomer, concerns about the league’s structure and leadership, and the election of a new president were already causing rifts within the organization. .

Player Movement

Little player movement or trades highlighted any of the three meetings. Business affairs and arguments left scant room for player trades in the National League, and while affairs were much more harmonious during the American League meeting, no trades were listed as having taken place in Chicago. The main form of player movement that winter was the removal of a number of players from the blacklist. The blacklist had been adopted by professional baseball starting with the adoption of the reserve clause by the National League in 1879, and was used primarily to prevent players from jumping to other teams for better salaries. The blacklist barred other teams in the league and their affiliates from hiring a player who had abandoned his contract.5

In the American League, pitcher Bill Dinneen was removed from the blacklist and allowed to return to play for the 1902 season.6 (Dinneen had jumped a contract with Boston’s National League club to play for the city’s American League team.7) Charles Comiskey announced that he had acquired a third baseman for the season, but declined to say who it was. The AL continued to urge players to abandon the National League. One, Brooklyn outfielder-first baseman Joe Kelley, was lured to Baltimore for the 1902 season.8

Despite conflicts over the presidency and the future of the league, some trading and player movement took place during the National League meeting. One major deal saw new Chicago manager Frank Selee signing first baseman Hal O’Hagan from the Rochester team.9 The Giants reportedly signed L. Quinlan, a shortstop with Montreal, and Matt McIntyre, an outfielder with Philadelphia’s AL club, although the deal was denied by Connie Mack — and, indeed, McIntyre did remain with the A’s.10 There were attempts made to move manager Ned Hanlon to the New York Giants, but Hanlon remained loyal to Brooklyn. There were reports that the Giants and Detroit had tried to sign Joe Kelley, but as we have seen, he wound up in Baltimore.11

 

The Business Side

The National Association

Business affairs dominated each of the three meetings. Foremost on the agenda at the National Association meeting was the ratification of a new National Agreement, which protected the minors from the effects of the conflict in the National League and American League; in particular, having their players plundered by the major clubs.12 The agreement was binding for 10 years and covered salary limits, transfer of players, and rules regulating contract-jumping.13 National Association President Pat T. Powers had gotten agreements from the American and National League presidents, who were by and large willing to respect existing contracts, though the Brooklyn and Boston clubs in the National League deferred responding until the matter could be taken up with the rest of the league. The minor leagues agreed on a sliding scale, illustrated in Table 1, below, for salary caps and fines for contract-jumping. The meeting set draft periods for each classification of the minors, with Class-A teams getting the most generous allotment of time to sign new talent, nearly the entire autumn.14

Clubs that signed the agreement were bound to the salary caps, and those that exceeded the caps would first receive a warning, followed by the withdrawal of benefits and protections of the Association. Similar penalties existed for players who violated contracts by leaving without consent to play for other clubs. Not only would the player draw a fine, but he would be disqualified from playing with any Association club until the Association rescinded the ban.15 The minors agreed to use a contract form similar to the one employed by the National League.

The minor-league magnates further agreed on a new classification system for the leagues that ran from Class A down to Class D. Table 2 illustrates which leagues were placed under which classification. Though there were no Class-D teams in the minors at this time, there was already talk about creating a Class-E circuit as well. Three leagues petitioned the Association for membership, the Ohio State League and two nascent leagues in Texas and in the “Northwest.”16

 

Table 1: Minor League Caps and Fines

League Classification

Salary Cap

Fines for Contract Jumping

Draft Period

A

$2000

$1000

Oct 1-Dec 1

B

$1200

$600

Dec 1-Jan 1

C

$1000

$400

Jan 1-Feb 1

D

$900

$300

N/A

 

Table 2: League Classification Scheme

League Classification

Leagues Within Category

A

Eastern League, Western League

B

Southern Association, Western Association, New York State League, New England League, I-I-I League

C

Pacific National League, Connecticut State League

D

None at this time

In addition to business relating to the new National Agreement, the minors addressed the issue of protection fees paid to the majors under the old National Agreement. Since the old agreement had expired, President Powers took the position that that the minor teams were due a refund.17

Finally, the minors held elections for various offices, which included James O’Rourke to the National Board of Arbitration and Henry Chadwick unanimously elected to honorary membership in the new organization. The Board of Arbitration conducted brisk business on player transgressions. Among its decisions were the denial of Michael F. Hickey’s request for release from reservation by Lowell of the New England League, and the investigation of several instances of contract violation including the case of an umpire/player, George Prentiss, who was charged by the Waterbury club with playing for another club under an assumed name.18

The National Arbitration Board resolved the case Waterbury’s favor in 1902 and ordered Prentiss to return to Waterbury, though by then Prentiss had jumped to the Boston American League club.19 Prentiss died that same year, however, rendering the decision moot.20

American League

In contrast to the National League, the American League meeting was reported as being fairly harmonious. As reported in the Chicago Tribune:

“There is a strong contrast between the two big leagues this winter. While the National has so many important matters to attend to, the American has its plans for next year all laid out and well under way toward accomplishment. The only way they could be seriously upset would be a wholesale kidnapping of American League players by the old league or tempting them away by outbidding the already high salaries offered. Many players would stand by their contract at that.”21

With all clubs represented, Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson was reelected president, with Charles W. Somers again winning the vice presidency.22 One of the first orders of business was the selection of committees, including a committee on playing rules made up of Detroit manager Frank Dwyer (a former umpire), A’s owner Connie Mack, and Cleveland owner Jack Kilfoyle; a committee to discuss the transfer of the Milwaukee club to St. Louis, consisting of owners Ben Shibe (Athletics), Fred Postal (Senators), and Charles Comiskey (White Sox); and a new board of directors.23 Among the committee rulings was a decision to limit teams to a total of 15 players.

One of the main orders of business, and a point of contention at the American League meeting, was the transfer of the Milwaukee franchise to St. Louis. Milwaukee’s co-owners, brothers Henry and Matt Killilea, were divided on the question of moving the team. Henry told the meeting he felt the team should remain in Milwaukee and that Matt should join him in retirement, but Matt held with the other magnates and the league approved the transfer. Matt Killilea would move to St. Louis as owner, sharing control of the club with Fred C. Gross after Henry Killilea disposed of his stock in the club.24 In addition, the league announced a roster of teams and dates for the 1902 playing season, which was to run from April 23 to October 15, starting a week later than the previous season. The Chicago franchise was awarded the pennant for the 1901 season at the Board of Directors meeting.25

Changes in ownership of both the Detroit and Washington clubs were announced at the meeting. The Tigers switched hands from owners James Burns and George Stallings to a stock company headed by S.A. Angus. The Senators’ Fred Postal exchanged co-ownership with Jim Manning for co-ownership with Thomas Loftus.26

Ban Johnson ended the meeting with the proclamation that the AL would move to oppose wagering at league ballparks, including expelling spectators caught gambling on park grounds.27 Johnson had made a point of upholding the American League as being committed to both fair and clean play, and was thus firmly against betting on baseball.28

National League

The National League meeting was the most contentious of the three winter meetings in 1901. The main arguments among magnates concerned the election of a new president and the proposal from some of the magnates to alter the organizational structure of the league into a trust.

There is some conflict in the record as to who first sought to create a trust. There are some indications that Albert Spalding and Jim Hart sought to organize the league in this fashion in the late 1890s, but were unable to secure enough options on individual clubs to enact this plan. John T. Brush, owner of the Cincinnati team, proposed a new scheme for a baseball trust in 1901 and acquired the backing of Giants owner Andrew Freedman. In a meeting at Freedman’s Red Bank, New Jersey, estate, two other magnates, Frank De Haas Robison of St. Louis and Arthur Soden of Boston, agreed to back Freedman and Brush’s trust.

The Brush plan would have eliminated the office of president and turned executive duties for the league over to a four-man board of regents. Profits would be split between shareholders in the trust, with the lion’s share (30 percent) going to Freedman, and 12 percent each to Brush, Soden, and Robison. The rest was to be divided among the other NL owners.29 Management of each team, down to the supplies they used, would be handled by the trust.30

Freedman, an enthusiastic supporter of Brush’s plan, had long attributed the waning fortunes of the National League to a lack of competitiveness among teams, the league being dominated by three clubs. By redistributing players between franchises, the trust could make seasons far more competitive and standings and championships far less lopsided from year to year.31 Though the pro-trust faction endeavored to keep the details of their meeting a secret, the information was leaked to the press before they could present their ideas to the other magnates at the winter meeting.32

As chronicled in Sporting Life, which published the stenographic minutes of the National League meeting in its February 8, 1902, issue, conflict arose on the first day. The meeting wasn’t very old when Barney Dreyfuss of the Pittsburgh club, seconded by Charley Ebbets of Brooklyn, nominated Spalding as league president. President Nicholas Young, whose term had expired and who was not eligible to run for re-election,33 had excused himself from the meeting so that the owners would be able to discuss their candidate freely. Colonel John Rogers of Philadelphia joined Dreyfuss and Ebbets in backing Spalding, citing what he termed Young’s unsuitability for president as well as the need for strong, singular leadership that the league could rally behind to face the American League threat.34

At this point Robison raised a point of order, calling into question whether the National League still existed, stating that the agreement the League signed in Indianapolis in 1892 was no longer valid and that the organization’s charter had expired. Brush and Freedman spoke in support of Robison, but Rogers took the stance that the league was perpetual, that the 10-year dates Robison and the other Red Bank magnates referred to dealt only with procedural matters, as a sort of sunset clause for rules, not as a date on which the league was meant to expire.35

After much debate, primarily between Rogers and Freedman, and a personal appeal by Spalding that the owners not let the league expire, the matter was called to a vote on December 11, and the magnates decided in favor of perpetuity, 5 to 1, with Freedman and Brush abstaining and Robison ultimately the only vote in favor of syndicate ball.36 The league would continue, but the question was: What form would it take?

There were several allusions to the trust mentioned by Freedman during the meeting, as well as criticism of Spalding, who Freedman felt would not fully devote himself to the task of leading the league on a “wartime” footing. The vote on the perpetuity of the league having been decided, it was time to determine if Spalding would lead the league or if it would take a new shape. The vote on Spalding’s presidency, the first of 26 such votes, was divided 4 to 4, with the Red Bank faction voting unanimously against Spalding’s election.37

In an attempt to win over the other magnates, Freedman distributed a copy of the trust plan to each owner, with the caveat that several points would need additional verbal explanation. Rogers objected to the plan immediately. He asserted that none of the other owners would want to trade their property for stocks, that forming a trust would make the National League more liable to lawsuits, and that a single executive was far less cumbersome than a committee.38

The vote remained deadlocked, with no sign of compromise. Voting went well into the early hours of Saturday morning, December 14, with no resolution. Multiple votes to postpone the vote until the following month also failed — the matter was to be decided right then and there. Finally, the Red Bank faction walked out of the meeting, ceding the chair back to Nicholas Young.

At this point, the other four magnates attempted to vote on Spalding but Young, noting that there was no quorum, refused to hold the vote. However, Hart mentioned that roll call had not been taken and that proxies might be present, allowing the meeting to continue in session. Once Young retired for the evening, the magnates elected Rogers as temporary chair and voted in Spalding 4 to 0.39 The Spalding faction claimed that since the Red Bank members vacated without leave, they should be seen as present and abstaining.

After the conclusion of the meeting, Spalding went to Young’s room at the hotel and demanded access to minutes and records.40 Spalding claimed he would not withdraw his name but would accept only on condition that Freedman leave baseball. Spalding said, “On (Freedman’s) record in baseball, and I speak only of his baseball record, I openly and publicly charge Andrew Freedman with being a traitor and a marplot. He has done more to ruin baseball than any other four forces that ever existed in the history of the game.”41

The election of Spalding was problematic, to say the least. Freedman immediately initiated legal action against the league,42 which remained divided, possibly leaderless, and certainly no more unified in the eyes of the press and the public.

Summary and Close

Baseball remained locked in conflict as the winter meetings ended and 1902 began. The National Association had a new set of rules and protocols under which to operate, a major change from the previous year. The American League started 1902 in a much stronger position, unified, growing, and presenting a serious challenge to the National. The National League remained beleaguered as 1902 commenced, divided, no closer to peace, and not even clear as to who was running the league. Freedman and other magnates continued to challenge the legality of Spalding’s election until Spalding relinquished his claim to the presidency in April. An executive committee would rule the league until Harry Pulliam rose to the presidency later in the year. During that time, the American League was able to consolidate its gains and set the stage for the peace agreement negotiated by the two leagues in January of 1903.

 

Notes

1 Not to be confused with the National League, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) was the corporate name of the minor leagues until 1999, when it renamed itself Minor League Baseball (MiLB).

2 “Minor Leagues in Union,” Chicago Tribune, September 6, 1901: 6.

3 “Session of the Baseball Men,” Chicago Tribune, December 3, 1901: 6.

4 Benjamin G. Rader, Baseball: A History of America’s Game (Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2002).

5 Robert F. Burk, Never Just a Game: Players, Owners, and American Baseball to 1920 (Chapel Hill,

North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 62-63.

6 “Bars Those Who Bet,” Washington Post, December 4, 1901: 8.

7 Francis C. Richter, “The American League Is Bravely Holding Its Own in Every Direction,” Sporting Life, Volume 37, Number 4, April 13, 1901: 4.

8 “Approve Changes,” The Sporting News, December 7, 1901: 1.

9 “Two for Uncle Nick,” Washington Post, December 10, 1901: 8.

10 “Spalding Acts as League President,” New York Times, December 15, 1901: 13.

11 Jimmy Keenan, “Joe Kelley,” SABR BioProject, January 25, 2011. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/joe-kelley/

12 T.H. Murnane, “Hold the Power,” Boston Globe, November 3, 1901: 40.

13 “Baseball Meeting,” Hartford Courant, October 26, 1901: 1.

14 “Banded Together,” The Sporting News, November 2, 1901: 3.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid. Prentiss was misspelled as Prentice in this issue. For more on Prentiss, see David Forrester’s biography of him on BioProject at sabr.org/bioproj/person/a3bd6618.

19 “The Prentiss Case,” Sporting Life, Volume 39, Number 1, March 22, 1902: 7.

20 “George Prentiss,” SABR Encyclopedia, n.d., accessed May 20, 2012.

21 “Problem for the Old League,” Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1901: 19.

22 “Baseball Club Owners Assembling,” New York Times, December 2, 1901: 2.

23 “All Satisfied,” Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1901: 6.

24 “Approve Changes”; “Bars Those Who Bet.”

25 “Approve Changes”; “Session of the Baseball Men.”

26 “Make-Up of the Clubs,” Washington Post, December 3, 1901: 8.

27 “Bars Those Who Bet.”

28 Rader, Baseball, 80.

29 Burk, Never Just a Game, 152.

30 Bill Lamb, “Andrew Freedman,” The Baseball Biography Project. n.d. Accessed August 11, 2011. bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&bid=2870&pid=17415; John Saccoman, “John Brush,” The Baseball Biography Project. n.d. Accessed August 11, 2011. bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&bid=3632&pid=7362.

31 Rader, Baseball, 85.

32 Rader, Baseball, 90.

33 “National League Meeting,” New York Times, December 9, 1901: 10.

34 “Official Stenographic League Minutes,” Sporting Life, Volume 38, Number 21, February 8, 1902: 10. (Hereafter Minutes).

35 Minutes, 10-13.

36 Minutes, 15; “No Trust in Baseball,” New York Times, December 12, 1901: 10.

37 Minutes, 15.

38 Minutes, 21.

39 Minutes, 23.

40 “League’s Peril,” Boston Globe, December 15, 1901: 4.

41 “A.G. Spalding Is Made President,” Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1901: 6.

42 “Freedman Gets Writ,” Washington Post, December 17, 1901: 8.

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