1905 Winter Meetings: Controversy Over League Presidents Take Center Stage

This article was written by Dennis Pajot

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


Introduction

Baseball had just completed perhaps its most profitable season ever, with every club in both leagues reportedly showing a profit. There was concern about the decline in hitting as well as questions about the length of the season. Even with these issues, the winter meetings of 1905 were expected to be routine affairs. However, both leagues experienced fireworks that centered on their respective presidents.

American League Meeting

The American League held its 1905 winter meeting at the Auditorium Annex in Chicago on November 22 and 23. However, the day before the meeting began, Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey accused AL President Ban Johnson of conspiring with Cincinnati Reds owner and National Commission Chairman Garry Herrmann in a plan to consolidate the AL and NL into one league. Rumors speculating how this would come about had been circulating in the press for some weeks. Reports varied, but the one most favored was consolidating the teams in Boston, Philadelphia, and St. Louis into one National League team in each city, and relegating the American League teams in Chicago and New York to a new Class-A minor American League. Another version of the story had Johnson at the head of this new National League. Whatever plan came about, Comiskey and Frank Farrell in New York would be on the losing end.1

Comiskey felt Johnson had been too cozy with Herrmann and had been too influenced by him. Comiskey made his feeling toward the senior circuit very clear: “I always have fought the National League and always will. It has no real desire to be at peace with the American League and never had. It has only been waiting the opportunity to crush us. This opportunity is now coming in this proposed amalgamation of the two leagues. When this amalgamation is attempted I shall immediately attempt to organize a new league if the American League falls into the National’s hands. I will fight the National League to a finish.”2

Comiskey and Johnson had been on bad terms for many months over Johnson’s handling of two cases in which the AL president backed his umpires, suspending a White Sox player in one case.3 According to Chicago sportswriter William A. Phelon, it was comical to see how the two behaved at the meeting: “Ban kept at the north end of the hotel, surrounded by his cohorts, and Commy seemed to limit himself to the south end, with a few friends. Between them the crowd of magnates gravitated, going first to one and then the other. On the sofas sat crowds of players and managers, telling good stories and keeping their eyes open for any rows or reconciliations. When the secret meetings were called, so I was told, Ban and Charlie kept far apart, debated every question with punctilious attention and never spoke to each other.”4

Johnson’s reply to the Comiskey charge was simple and to the point: “As far as any amalgamation of the two big leagues is concerned the man who even thinks of such a thing is either a fool or a knave.”5 He pointed out that the AL had just completed the most prosperous year in its short existence, every club in the league making money. “Money came in plentifully, public interest was at a fever point, [and] the quality of ball was superb.” There was no reason for a consolidation, and Johnson said he knew of no American Leaguer who entertained the idea.6

As could be expected, Comiskey told a Chicago Tribune reporter that he had been misquoted: He did not think the AL was in any danger of dissolution, only that he was against anything that was not in the best interest of the league.7

Before the meeting opened, the board of directors met, approved Johnson’s accounts, and formally awarded the 1905 pennant to the Philadelphia Athletics. When the meeting got under way, the first order of business was the re-election of Charles W. Somers of Cleveland as the AL vice president. After the new board of directors was set, the prime order of business was brought up. There was a strong feeling that changes in the rules were needed to improve hitting in the league. Proposals to this end included giving the batter first base on three called balls; another was to narrow home plate; and a third was to collapse the strike zone to balls crossing the plate between the batter’s waist and shoulder. Few thought much of these proposals.8 In the ensuing weeks more ideas were brought forward, but in the end nothing was done to change the rules.9

The league constitution was changed to provide that a game postponed on a team’s first trip to any city would be made up on the team’s second visit to the city. There was discussion about shortening the season from 154 to 140 games. Six clubs favored the shorter schedule, and it was decided to send the matter to the joint committee of the two major leagues in the spring. The shorter schedule had little chance, though, as most National League owners were against such a move.10

On the second day, the AL magnates publicly came out in support of their president. Benjamin S. Minor of the Washington club proposed a resolution saying Johnson “had consistently worked and fought for the maintenance of two independent but friendly major league organizations” and was offered the league’s “very sincere congratulations and … its earnest thanks” for his work in managing the affairs of the AL. Comiskey endorsed this resolution, saying, “I always have held the best interest of the American League close to my heart. There never has been any question of my honesty in base ball, nor has there been any question in my mind of the honesty of Ban Johnson, or any of my associates in the league.” Even with this, it was considered doubtful that the former intimate relationship between the AL president and the White Sox owner could ever be restored.11

Next on the agenda were the minor leagues. The minors wanted the draft rules changed so that no team in a Class-A minor league could lose more than one player in the draft in any year. The minors also wished sales of players barred until after the draft. The AL owners listened but were not disposed to grant these concessions, so they decided to let Johnson talk directly to the minors at their meeting the next month.12

Player Movement and Stories

Trade rumors filled the air, but there was very little in actual player movement at this meeting. The biggest player transaction of the session was the sale of first baseman Charlie Carr by the Cleveland Blues to the Cincinnati Reds. The trade puzzled Cincinnati writer Ren Mulford Jr. a bit, as Carr had hit only .235 in 1905 while the Reds’ first sacker, Shad Barry, hit a nifty .324 after being acquired from the Cubs in May, and also played nicely in the field, even though he “fell down once or twice in the pinches.” It was believed Barry would either go to the outfield or sit on the pines.13 He was, in fact, traded by the Reds to the St. Louis Cardinals in July. There was also speculation that Carr would manage the Reds in 1906. However, the manager’s job would go to Ned Hanlon in December, and Carr wound up spending most of the 1906 season in Indianapolis of the Class-A American Association.14

Cleveland sent infielder Nick Kahl to Columbus of the American Association. It was reported the Detroit Tigers traded right-handed pitcher Frank Kitson to the St. Louis Browns for another righty, Willie “Demon” Sudhoff, but the deal did not materialize and Sudhoff was instead sent to Washington a week later for left-handed pitcher Al “Beany” Jacobson.15

Perhaps because of this lack of player movement there was plenty of story-telling in the lobbies. No doubt one of the best was a story about Rube Waddell. It was said that one day Rube was visiting his home and a team of bloomer girls came to town. A makeshift squad was assembled to play the girls, with Waddell on the mound. It was supposed that the future Hall of Famer would toss the ball to the girls nice and easy, but instead he fired it in “as he might if opposed to Mathewson.” It was feared that if he hit one of the young ladies she would be killed, so the girls took to the bench and refused to proceed with the game. After some discussion Rube went to first base and the game continued.16

National League Meeting

The National League held its winter meeting at the Victoria Hotel in New York December 12-14. What was billed to be a “featureless, routine” meeting proved, however, to be very interesting.17

The usual preliminaries took place with the awarding of the 1905 pennant to the New York Giants and the approval of the accounts of league President Harry Pulliam. The books showed that the 1905 season had produced the largest receipts in the history of the league, bringing the NL out of debt and giving it its largest cash reserve since the league was reduced to eight clubs in 1899.18

The next order of business was the announcement by James A. Hart that he had sold the Chicago Cubs to Charles W. Murphy. The NL magnates thought so much of Hart that he was elected an honorary member of the organization for life.19

The owners amended the league constitution to add one position to the league’s board of directors. In the coming season it would have representatives from Boston, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Various committees were set up, and sentiment prevailed to continue the 154-game schedule. The Spalding ball was approved as the official ball of the NL for the next six years.20

To tighten player discipline, the league strengthened a previous resolution that any player removed from a game by the umpire would be fined $10, and if the offense resulted in a suspension by the league president, the player would owe an additional $10 for each day of the suspension, and would be ineligible to play until the fine was paid. Moreover, the president was given the right to make the fine more than $10 if he deemed the offense severe enough.21

The major news was the battle for the re-election of Harry Pulliam as president, treasurer, and secretary of the National League. It had been anticipated that there would be no opposition to his re-election, but on the day before the meeting began, New York Giants owner John T. Brush produced a new candidate for the presidency: John Montgomery Ward, the former player and labor leader who was now a successful lawyer in New York.22 Garry Herrmann of Cincinnati also announced his opposition to Pulliam. Brush and Herrmann asserted that Pulliam had made too many mistakes and lacked the “depth and breadth necessary” for the position. The bone of contention was Pulliam’s handling of a row between New York manager John McGraw and Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss during the season. Pulliam fined and suspended McGraw, who took his case to court and had the suspension lifted. Pulliam then lifted the fines of all NL players.23 It was thought Dreyfuss would join Brush and Herrmann, as would the owners in Boston and Brooklyn. The Philadelphia and Chicago owners were not expected to make much of a fight for Pulliam. Arthur Soden of Boston went so far as to tell Tim Murnane of the Boston Globe that he felt sure Ward would be the next president of the NL.24 However, there was doubt that Ward would give up his lucrative law practice, even for a salary of $10,000.25 More to the point, AL President Johnson said he would not sit with Ward on the National Commission. Johnson was quoted as saying he had no use for Ward and did not trust him after the lawyer had argued against the White Sox in a reserve clause case involving George Davis a few years earlier.26

William Shettsline, president of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Frederick Knowles of the Giants were lobbied to seek the job, but took no interest. It was believed that if Shettsline accepted the nomination, Boston and either St. Louis or Brooklyn would have voted for him, and thus Herrmann and Brush would have at least five votes (no doubt Philadelphia would go with Shettsline), enough to end Pulliam’s presidency. But Shettsline declined the nomination, making Pulliam a little more secure. Even Ban Johnson voiced his support for the NL president. Herrmann said he would not support Ward, and Hart was urged to put his name in the hat. Hart refused, and the anti-Pulliam faction had no alternative candidate.27

The next day James Potter, a stockholder in the Phillies and former president of the club, came to New York from Philadelphia to lead the fight for Pulliam. That day new Chicago Cubs owner Murphy let it be known he was in favor of Pulliam, and Dreyfuss said he would not permit his personal feelings to interfere with his conviction that the best interests of the NL required Pulliam to remain as its head. Soden of Boston soon planted himself in the Pulliam camp, saying he could see no reason for change, as the NL was doing so well. Brooklyn’s Charlie Ebbets also placed himself in the Pulliam camp.28

It soon became apparent that the anti-Pulliam faction would not get enough votes for even a tie. However, this did not stop Brush. After Pulliam was nominated for the president’s position (by none other than Dreyfuss) and this was seconded, Brush nominated Hart. This was not seconded. Hart then protested against his nomination, assuring everyone he would under no circumstances run against his friend and protégé Pulliam. Still, Brush would not withdraw the nomination and the election was held. Pulliam received six votes. Hart got the votes of New York and Cincinnati. Hart was “thoroughly displeased” with votes being cast for him. To appease him, the league passed a resolution stating that even though there had been “a complimentary vote” for him, he was in no respect a candidate for the office.29

While the NL was meeting, the minor leagues (National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues) met at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York.30 The issue that concerned the minor leagues (and the majors as well) was the draft rules, which the American League magnates had authorized Ban Johnson to discuss with the minor leagues. The minors proposed that the majors be allowed to draft no more than one player from a Class-A club at $1,500, with full payment at the time of draft (instead of the current two-payment system). Draft prices would be $750 for Class B, $500 for Class C, and $300 for Class D, with no player limits in these classifications. In addition, no player could be sold within a 10-day period prior to the draft. The proposal was accepted by National Commission members Johnson and Herrmann, except for the price for a Class-A player; they cut it to $1,000.31 This was accepted by all parties in January, and made part of the National Agreement.32

Personnel Movement

Although not a player movement, there was news on the managerial front. The Cincinnati Reds signed Ned Hanlon as their manager. Hanlon had been managing in Brooklyn for the previous seven seasons (he won back-to-back National League titles in 1899 and 1900), but Ebbets was reluctant to sign him for 1906. The Reds offered Hanlon $8,000, and Brooklyn would only go as high as $6,000. One condition Hanlon made to sign with Cincinnati was that ex-manager Joe Kelley would be retained as player-captain at his old salary.33 Ebbets then signed Patsy Donovan to skipper his team, as well as to play the outfield.34 The St. Louis Cardinals were also looking for a manager, but failed to sign one at the meeting.35

A number of multi-player deals involving bigger-name players were transacted at the meeting. Pittsburgh sent third baseman Dave Brain, second sacker Del Howard, and right-handed pitcher Vive Lindaman (who had won 24 games with Jersey City in 1905) to the Boston Beaneaters for future Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis; the righty immediately became the ace of the Pirates’ staff. Boston also traded catcher Pat Moran to Chicago for right-handed pitcher Francis “Big Jeff” Pfeffer and catcher Jack O’Neill. Donovan had only been on the job for Ebbets for a matter of hours when he traded outfielder Jimmy Sheckard to the Chicago Cubs for right-handed pitcher Herbert “Buttons” Briggs, third baseman James “Doc” Carey, outfielders Jack McCarthy and Bill Maloney, and cash.36

 

Notes

1 Sporting Life, November 25, 1905: 8, December 2, 1905: 2, 3, 5; Boston Globe, November 21, 23, 1905; Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1905; New York Times, November 23, 1905; Washington Post, November 23, 1905.

2 Sporting Life, December 2, 1905: 5.

3 Boston Globe, November 23, 1905; Sporting Life, December 2, 1905: 5.

4 Sporting Life, December 9, 1905: 9.

5 Sporting Life, December 9, 1905: 5, 8.

6 Sporting Life, December 2, 1905: 5, 8; Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1905.

7 Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1905.

8 Boston Globe, November 23, 1905; Sporting Life, December 2, 1905: 5, 8.

9 Sporting Life, December 9, 1905: 7.

10 New York Times, November 23, 1905; Sporting Life, December 2, 1905: 2, 3, 5.

11 New York Times, November 24, 1905; Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1905; Sporting Life, December 2, 1905: 5, 9, 10.

12 Boston Globe, November 23, 1905; Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1905; Sporting Life, December 2, 1905: 5.

13 New York Times, November 24, 1905; Sporting Life, December 2, 1905: 2, and December 9, 1905: 5.

14 Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1905; The Sporting News, December 23, 1905: 1.

15 The Sporting News, December 9, 1905: 5, 9; Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1905. Kitson was swapped just a couple of weeks later to the Washington Senators for right-hander John “Happy” Townsend, who was then flipped to Cleveland for yet one more righty, Francis “Red” Donahue.

16 Sporting Life, December 9, 1905: 9.

17 Sporting Life, December 9, 1905: 3, and December 23, 1905: 4.

18 Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4.

19 Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1905; Washington Post, December 13, 1905; Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4.

20 Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 3, 4.

21 Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4.

22 Boston Globe, December 12, 1905.

23 New York Times, December 13, 1905; Frederick G. Lieb, The Pittsburgh Pirates (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1948), 115-119; Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 6.

24 Boston Globe, January 12, 1905; The Sporting News, December 23, 1905: 1; Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4.

25 New York Times, December 13, 1905.

26 Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 6; SABR BioProject article on George Davis by Nicole DiCicco.

27 The Sporting News, December 23, 1905: 1; Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4, 7.

28 Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1905; Washington Post, December 13, 1905; Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4; The Sporting News, December 23, 1905: 1.

29 Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4.

30 New York Times, December 13, 1905.

31 Sporting Life, December 23, 2905: 4, 5.

32 Sporting Life, February 10, 1906: 8.

33 Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4.

34 Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4; The Sporting News, December 23, 1905: 1.

35 Sporting Life, December, 23, 1905: 4.

36 Sporting Life, December 23, 1905: 4.

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