1907 Winter Meetings: The New Cooperation: The Manifest Desire to Elevate the Game

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

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


The major-league portion of the 1907 winter meetings were held by both leagues on the same days, Tuesday through Thursday, December 10-12. It was the second year they’d met simultaneously. The National League met in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria while the American League met in Chicago.

New York was the home of both sets of minor-league meetings, which were held in different New York hotels. The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues held its sixth annual meeting, assembling at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, also on a Tuesday through Thursday schedule, October 29-November 1. The Eastern League held its meeting on Monday, October 28, at the Victoria Hotel, beginning at noon. There was some thought that the American Association might break away from the National Association. 

In general, though, baseball had continued since 1905 to enjoy a period of prosperity.

For the second year in a row, the Chicago Cubs had won the NL pennant, this time facing the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. The Tigers had won the franchise’s first flag. After being beaten by their South Side counterparts in Chicago during the 1906 World Series, the Cubs grabbed their first world championship, sweeping the Tigers in four games. The two teams would repeat, with nearly identical results, in 1908, providing back-to-back World Series wins for the Cubs. That was only the fifth World Series played, and the Cubs were the first team to have won two.

Under Hughie Jennings, Detroit had climbed from sixth place to first in the AL, beating out Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics by a game and a half. The 1908 race would prove even closer, the Tigers finishing by just a half-game ahead of Cleveland and a game and a half ahead of the White Sox.

A number of other postseason series were also played, for instance the seven games played in Boston’s City Series between the city’s NL and AL ballclubs. There were some 40 interleague contests in all with the National League winning 22 games to the AL’s 18. It was the first year in which the senior circuit teams had beaten their junior rivals.

As had the Eastern League, the National Board met the day before the minor-league meetings, also on October 28, and elected California League President Cal Ewing to take the place on the board of Eugene Bert, who had resigned. Agreement was quickly reached on a point designed to prevent ballclubs from releasing players merely to avoid the draft; it was determined that any player released in the last 30 days of the season would instead become a free agent and could sign with any club except the one that had released him. There was discussion of the abuse of “over-drafting,” with some clubs claiming too many players and stockpiling them.

In another preliminary, Pat Powers was unanimously re-elected as head of the Eastern League. Powers was also the head of the National Association.

Tim Murnane wrote in the Boston Globe that the American Association would arrive “with a large chip on its shoulder.” It wanted to place a team in Chicago since both Milwaukee and St. Paul “have turned out to be weak sisters.”1 The placing of a third team in Chicago would not be welcomed by either of the major leagues. The American Association thought about refusing to attend and just going its own way, but elected at the last minute to send President Joseph D. O’Brien.

Every club was present for the Eastern League meeting, which was harmonious, with “no disputes of any consequence,” and the meeting was concluded rather quickly.2

For the National Association meeting, over 80 delegates represented 23 leagues on the Association’s roster, comprising 195 clubs.3 The other seven leagues were represented by proxy; in all, 244 clubs were represented. It was the largest turnout of any meeting to date and on two days the room was too small to accommodate everyone, delegates as well as magnates, managers, and ballplayers. There was some talk abroad regarding a possible third major league, but most of the serious discussion related to defending the integrity of the minor leagues vis-à-vis the existing majors. Even then, the meetings were workmanlike with the minors “practically a unit on every proposition.”4

It was agreed that no player could play in an Eastern League game unless under regular contract to one of the teams in the league; though this might seem logical enough, a number of younger players had been farmed to one or another Eastern League club by NL and AL clubs, particularly after the minor-league seasons had ended. The New York Times said the practice had “become very prevalent during the last two years.”5 The agreement also proscribed players from traveling to the West Coast to play in the longer California League season.6

There was one controversial plan advanced by the Eastern League: to ask the National Commission to bestow Double-A status (AA) on the Eastern League, ranking it above the Class A distinction enjoyed by the American Association. The matter was never introduced, though Sporting Life suggested that “had they done so they might have secured important concessions, as the storm of the previous day had subsided, and there was manifest a disposition to placate them with a view to harmonizing the discordant elements in the Association.”7 A committee was appointed to study the matter, basically a sop. A Class AA was created in 1911. 

When the National Association meeting began, the first day was mostly routine. The Eastern League and American Association met by themselves later in the day to talk about their own issues and planned to meet separately again on the second day. AA President O’Brien said that the talk about them seceding was just talk and there was nothing to it. NL President Harry Pulliam spoke by invitation to those assembled and announced his own opposition to unrestricted farming. He also told delegates that NL players were banned from playing for the outlaw California League and subject to a $100 fine.

The National Board was given the authority to punish anyone for assault on an umpire. An attempt that would have reinstated some 22 players who had been banned for jumping to the Tristate League was beaten back.

On the second day, Wednesday, President O’Brien did introduce a resolution that four leagues would be reduced from Class A to Class B and that there would be a restructuring of the national board of arbitration, but virtually no one saw any benefit in the restructuring and it was argued that the Western League was a charter member of the association and could not be demoted, and it was pointed out that one of the conditions of the Pacific Coast League joining the National Association was the promise that it would never be lower than Class A. The vote was 20 to 3 to table the motion. The New York League joined the Eastern League and the American Association in the minority.

Most delegates left for home on the 31st. A six-hour session on the final day, November 1, was largely been devoted to hearing protests and appeals. One such resulted in placing A.J. Laws on the permanent ineligible list. Laws was the former president of the Western Pennsylvania League who had “organized a club at Butler, Pa., and offered a diamond ring to the young woman who sold the most season tickets and that the ring was never presented.”8

All in all, relatively few changes were legislated, simply because there was a sense that 1907 had been a successful season

1907 Winter Meetings: The Major League Portion

The two leagues met separately but simultaneously in December, the American League wrapping up its work in two days while the National League meetings extended to four days. The most notable feature of both was the internal harmony, as well as the fraternal peace between the two leagues.

Indeed, each league president sent the other a telegram wishing his counterpart well. Ban Johnson congratulated Harry Pulliam on the Cubs winning the World Series and Pulliam replied with thanks, concluding, “Long life to the American League and its president.” Anything along those lines would have been unimaginable just a few years earlier.

Matters that might have divided the two leagues, such as scheduling and rules, were referred to those respective joint committees, which would meet in February. The NL would no longer arbitrarily declare the start to its league schedule, as it had done prior to the 1903 season. Pulliam wired Johnson just before the meetings began that the NL would appoint men to a schedule committee and work things out in concert with the AL. It was, wrote the Boston Globe, a “minor discrepancy” and with Pulliam’s undertaking “the last difference between the American league and the National league has been wiped out.”9

The AL met at the Auditorium Annex in Chicago, a hotel complex built in 1893 and in the early 21st century known as the Congress Plaza Hotel.  The meeting began at 3 P.M. on December 11 and ended on the 12th. The NL met at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City from the afternoon of December 10 into the 13th, the final day added on when things ran a bit longer than anticipated.

There were some rumors before the gatherings hinting at possible discord. One was that Charles Comiskey would attempt to unseat Johnson. There was always bound to be some friction over one matter or another, particularly in the AL, which had only seven years under its belt. But no fractious issues materialized in either league. Prosperity seemed to have bred satisfaction.

A few issues came up that one league or the other favored, but after peace had been declared and a joint rules committee had been created, no change could be made unilaterally.

It had taken a full two hours to read the minutes from the previous meeting and then there followed reports from the various league officers. Pulliam’s report to the NL magnates recommended that no liquids in bottles be sold in ballparks and that no intoxicants be sold in grandstands. He also came out against “artificial doubleheaders” – ones declared by a club looking for advantage of one sort or another – and that league procedures be implemented for the rescheduling of postponed games, rather than having them be left to the home club to decide. He wanted there to be no more seven-inning games as the second games of doubleheaders. The New York Times dubbed it a “stand against bargain baseball.”10 He suggested that a ballclub not be permitted to recall a player once he had been placed on waivers. Lastly, he said that dressing rooms in four of the parks were substandard and should be upgraded.

It was not as though there was unanimity of opinion within each league. John T. Brush of the Giants, for instance, cast a lone vote against Pulliam’s re-election as president, voting instead for Frank DeHass Robison. In the AL, Johnson’s term ran to 1910, so he was not up for re-election. In appointing members to the rules committee, the AL substituted Comiskey for Thomas C. Noyes of Washington, and the league also asked Boston’s John I. Taylor to stay on the board of directors for one more year rather than rotate off as planned in favor of Washington. Both could be seen as rebukes to Washington, but none of this seemed to engender any ill will on the part of the Washington club.11

Before the two concurrent meetings had begun, both leagues had agreed to discuss the possibility of lengthening the World Series to a “best-of-nine” competition, as had been the case in 1903 but not since. The National League was in favor and initially it seemed the AL was, too.

That was the only matter which went to a vote at the AL meeting on December 11; the vote was 7 to 1 in favor. All other matters were resolved unanimously. The White Sox cast the vote in opposition, the vote cast by the team secretary in Comiskey’s absence. The following day, Comiskey was asked to explain why he had wanted to oppose the motion and he said it was because the AL races were much more competitive than the NL races (this had been the case for four years running) and that consequently the pennant-winning teams in the AL were more exhausted at the end of a 154-game season. Should they agree to revert to a 140-game schedule, he would withdraw his opposition. His argument was persuasive and the 7-to-1 vote in favor of a “best-of-nine” series was rescinded on December 12; a unanimous vote to retain the best-of-seven system, was substituted.12

There was a discussion after Boston Doves president George Dovey suggested the limiting of rosters to 18 players, but no resolution occurred.

At prior meetings, when the leagues referred matters to the joint rules committee, they had typically done so with instructions. This year, neither league issued any “hard and fast instructions to either of its joint committees.”13

Pulliam had proposed that there be no pitcher’s mound at all, that the pitcher’s slab be on the same level as the playing field so the pitcher was not pitching downhill, giving him an advantage. There was even a suggestion by Max Fleischmann of the Cincinnati Reds that the number of balls required for a base on balls be reduced from four to three, to help with offense.

Fleischmann suggested that a batter who advanced a baserunner by means of a fly ball be credited with a sacrifice hit. And he suggested some changes in when umpires were allowed to call “time.” These proposals were discussed but no actions were taken.14

The American League suggested that pitchers not be permitted to take a new baseball and rub it on the grass and dirt to make it less slick and shiny – it was called “ball-soiling” and reportedly burned up a great deal of time.

The language adopted by the AL on postponed games read: “All postponed games of the first series shall be played on the first or succeeding days of the second series; all postponed games of the second and third series shall be played on the next day or succeeding day of the same series.”15

Considerable time was spent discussing the relationship between the majors and minors, and player movement back and forth – for instance, would a major-league player sent back to the minors be permitted to keep his big-league salary? There was also discussion about “covering up” players and farming. The AL adopted a rule that “restricts the practice of acquiring a player by refusing waiver on him and then immediately turning him over to a club outside the league.”16 A new system was put in place to regularize waiver rules; it seemed the sort of thing that a new league would need to address in its early years.

Although there was said to be a larger than usual number of players and minor-league men present at the two meetings, relatively few trades were consummated. At midnight on the eve of the NL meeting, Dovey had signed Joe Kelley to a deal to manage in Boston. The Tigers purchased catcher Ira Thomas from the New York Highlanders, and handed Hughie Jennings a new two-year deal as manager. The White Sox purchased John Anderson from Washington. Boston brought Fred Tenney to the NL meetings, seemingly to help market him. On the final day, December 13, Tenney, Al Bridwell, and Tom Needham were traded to the New York Giants for Frank Bowerman, George Browne, Bill Dahlen, Cecil Ferguson, and Dan McGann.

All in all, the fact that business was good no doubt contributed to the pacific nature of the two sessions and the relations between the leagues. Francis C. Richter wrote in Sporting Life of the AL meeting that there “was not the slightest approach to friction.”17 Feeling was so good that Detroit declined to collect a $300 fine that had been levied on Cleveland during the season for delaying a game.

All in all, Sporting Life editorialized, the two meetings reflected a “New Era” characterized by “amicable spirit, “mutual toleration,” and, perhaps above all else, “the manifest desire to elevate the game.”18

 

Notes

1 Boston Globe, October 29, 1907: 5.

2 New York Times, October 29, 1907: 9.

3 Hartford Courant, October 29, 1907: 14. The Courant had said 30 leagues would be represented but only 23 were.

4 Boston Globe, November 1, 1907: 4. The Washington Post wrote that President Powers had heard rumors about a third league but that “the national officers had no intimation of such a plan, and he did not believe there was anything in it.” See Washington Post, October 30, 1907: 8.

5 New York Times, October 29, 1907: 9.

6 The Sporting News, October 31, 1907: 1.

7 Sporting Life, November 9, 1907: 6.

8 Chicago Tribune, November 2, 1907: 10.

9 Boston Globe, December 11, 1907: 4.

10 New York Times, December 8, 1907: S3.

11 Washington Post, December 13, 1907: 8.

12 The best summary of the discussion is in the December 15, 1907, Chicago Tribune.

13 Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1907: C1.

14 Hartford Courant, December 12, 1907: 12.

15 Sporting Life, December 21, 1907: 5.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

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