This article was written by Abigail Miskowiec
This article was published in Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1901-1957
Preemptive Measures by the Senior League
Before the 1902 season ended, the National League presidents met to strategize their approach to the burgeoning American League. The year-old AL already had four teams in National League cities (Philadelphia, St. Louis, Boston, and Chicago) and was threatening a move to the NL stronghold of New York.
For two days at the St. James Building in New York, John T. Brush presided over a meeting of six of the eight NL presidents. The presidents called the meeting to address what was called a “very disastrous year” by Philadelphia president A.J. Reach.1 To better address these issues, the NL presidents opted to reconvene a week later on September 26.
While all eight National League presidents sat in a highly secret meeting at the St. James, the American League opted for a more public approach. AL spokesman James C. Kennedy announced to the press that the AL would be placing a team in New York for the 1903 season. However the location of the AL grounds remained tightly under wraps.
National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues2
The feud between the National League and the American League was heating up when the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues gathered for their second annual conference in New York. The meetings, held from October 23-25, resolved only a few concerns facing the young association. However, some of the major-league managers used the meetings as a venue for discussion about several issues.
The NAPBL held elections of officers. President Patrick T. Powers and secretary John H. Farrell were reelected to their respective positions. Farrell’s only proposal at the meetings suggested that the organization adopt a more stringent drunk and disorderly policy. The rule changes were submitted for adoption in February.
Jim St. Vrain, Contract Jumper
Like the major leagues, the NAPBL had to deal with players and managers who jumped from league to league, chasing bigger salaries. Although officials were unable to come to a consensus on the matter of a new minor-league salary scale that might discourage league jumpers, the NAPBL chose to inflict severe penalties against perpetrators, starting with pitcher Jim St. Vrain.
The Tacoma Tigers signed St. Vrain to a contract after he led the Pacific Northwest League with 299 strikeouts. The numbers caught the attention of Chicago Orphans3 owner Jim Hart, who offered St. Vrain $300 a month to make the jump to the National League.
St. Vrain failed at the big-league level and was sent down to the Memphis Egyptians of the Southern League. Manager Charley Frank played St. Vrain in spite of the Tacoma contract. A legal battle exploded between the two leagues. Pacific Northwest League president W.H. Lucas said, “I wish I had Mr. Charles Frank managing a club in the Pacific League. I’d teach him a base ball lesson he’d not soon forget.”4
The NAPBL resolved the matter at the winter meetings. Frank was expelled, and St. Vrain was suspended until he paid a $100 fine. John McCloskey, who managed St. Vrain and the 1901 Tacoma team, was censured for his part in the case.
The baseball world remained relatively quiet between the close of the NAPBL meeting and the start of the National League conference on December 9. In the meetings, the road toward peace with the burgeoning American League began to be paved. Like the minor-league talks, the NL meetings were held at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York.
The NL presidents passed some minor scheduling and rules changes over the course of the three-day meeting. The Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Beaneaters5 both agreed to play Sunday games for the first time in franchise history. After frontrunner John M. Ward withdrew from the race for league president, a unanimous vote raised Pittsburgh president Harry Pulliam to the head of the league. In place of an executive board, Pulliam would serve as president, secretary, and treasurer.
The threat of an AL team in New York loomed at the meetings. August Herrmann, president of the NL Cincinnati Reds, sent a letter to Ban Johnson proposing a meeting between the two leagues. The conference closed with a meeting between committees from both the NL and the AL to discuss peace accords.
Rampant Player Movement Between Leagues
Among other things, the frequent defection of players from the NL to the young American League was a major point of contention between the two. The NL faced the decision of what to do with such players. A certain precedent had been set when the senior league banned Nap Lajoie, William Bernhard, and Elmer Flick at the start of the 1902 season.
Lajoie, Bernhard, and Flick played together on the 1900 Philadelphia Phillies team in the National League. In 1901, Lajoie and Bernhard transferred to the cross-town rival Philadelphia Athletics of the American League. Lajoie led the team, batting .426, and Bernhard finished with a 17-10 record. Flick joined his former teammates in 1902.
The NL obtained an injunction that banned the three from playing in the state of Pennsylvania. Athletics manager Connie Mack allowed them to play for the Cleveland Bronchos, another AL team.
Another member of the 1900 Phillies squad, “Big Ed” Delahanty also caused an uproar at the winter meetings. The defending batting champ, Delahanty had allegedly signed contracts with both the NL New York Giants and the AL Washington Senators. Delahanty had played the 1902 season with the Senators. Delahanty’s case served as a major playing piece in the peace talks between leagues. AL representatives stated that Delahanty “would have to fulfill his contract with the Washington club or the war would be continued.”6 The NL hoped that lifting the ban on Lajoie, Flick, and Bernhard would give them leverage in the Delahanty case. Eventually Delahanty was granted to Washington.
Peace Committee Elected
The senior league had already won two “baseball wars” since its inception in 1876. The NL defeated the American Association, its first rival, in 1891 and the Players’ League, which folded after one season, in 1890.
Now, the NL faced the task of appointing a committee to face off against Ban Johnson’s American League. New NL president Harry Pulliam suggested a mutual respecting of contracts and extended an invitation to the AL for a meeting on December 12. They met at the Criterion Hotel in New York. The two sides agreed to cease hostilities until they could meet again in January.
Not all of the NL moves were peaceful, though. For the first time, the NL released the coming season’s schedule before their rival league. Many saw it as a declaration of war because the AL would have to plan its own schedule around cross-town NL games in order to draw better crowds.
Just a few weeks later on December 22, the American League presidents met for a six-hour meeting. The conference, held at the Pacific Hotel in Chicago, was the shortest yet held in AL history. The AL executives gathered to name the three-man committee to negotiate peace accords with the NL in January. Additional player movements and business issues were deferred until another time.
Much of the winter was filled with wild speculation on the location of the New York American League stadium. Ban Johnson insisted that the team play on the island of Manhattan, but several hurdles postponed an official announcement for months. The Interborough Rapid Transit Company refused to lease the land for the original site, situated between 141st and 145th Streets, Lenox Avenue, and the Harlem River. Finally in mid-March 1903, Johnson announced that the New York Baseball Club grounds at 165th Street and 11th Avenue would host the AL New York team.
Elections and Attacks
The primary issue at the meeting was the restoration of peace between the two leagues. The AL chose Johnson, vice president Charles Somers, Cleveland president John Kilfoyle as representatives, and Henry Killilea as the league’s legal representation. They were to meet with NL presidents August Herrmann of Cincinnati, Jim Hart of Chicago, and Frank Robison of St. Louis. While on one hand the AL offered peace, they also discussed moving teams from Baltimore and Washington to New York and Pittsburgh, respectively. This would have created a direct conflict with existing NL franchises.
In late February, representatives of the NL, AL, and NAPBL convened in Chicago to discuss the state of the game as a whole. In this one-day meeting, officials regulated the slope of the field, ruling that the pitcher’s mound could be no more than 15 inches higher than the base lines and that the base lines must be level with home plate. The AL and NAPBL adopted the foul ball-strike rule as written in the NL rulebook. Initially, the American League representatives were fundamentally opposed to the foul-strike rule, but the alliance between the NL and NAPBL reps swayed the AL in favor of the rule. Finally, the three leagues agreed on a uniform balk rule, stating “a balk shall constitute any delivery of the ball to the batsman by the pitcher while either foot of the pitcher is back of the plate.”7
The ensuing peace meetings would create a temporary accord between the leagues. They agreed to honor each other’s contracts, in line with the ruling on Delahanty. The goodwill continued throughout the 1903 season and resulted in the first World Series behind held in October 1903.
In addition to the sources cited in the notes, the author was also informed by:
“Baseball War Declared,” New York Times, September 26, 1902: 10.
“For Peace in Baseball,” New York Times, December 11, 1902: 6.
“Baseball War at an End,” New York Times, December 12, 1902: 10.
“New Baseball Setback,” New York Times, January 8, 1903: 6.
“Agreement in Baseball,” New York Times, January 11, 1903: 10.
“Sweeping Peace Pact is Signed,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 11, 1903: 9.
“Grabbing of Ball-Players,” Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1903: 8.
“Baseball Suits Dismissed,” New York Times, January 22, 1903: 10.
“More Baseball Troubles,” New York Times, January 30, 1903: 10.
“Baseball Meetings Called,” New York Times, February 19, 1903: 10.
“Baseball Season Near,” New York Times, March 1, 1903: 16.
1 “Baseball Owners Meet,” New York Times, September 16, 1902: 6.
2 Not to be confused with the National League, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) was the official corporate name of the minor leagues until 1999, when they changed the name to Minor League Baseball (MiLB).
3 The Chicago Orphans would be renamed the Cubs prior to the 1903 season.
4 Harry Higgins, “Tacoma’s Tip,” Sporting Life, August 30, 1902: 3.
5 Boston’s National League franchise went through many monikers before settling on the Braves in 1912. Starting in 1936, the team was called the Boston Bees but reverted to the Braves in the 1941 season.
6 “Baseball Legislation,” New York Times, December 22, 1902: 8.
7 “Changes in Baseball Rules,” New York Times, February 24, 1903: 2.