1908 Winter Meetings: Major Issues in the Minors, Bribery Charges, and World Series Ticket Scandal

This article was written by Dennis Pajot

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


Introduction

After what some call the greatest baseball season of all time, the winter meetings of 1908 produced much thunder, especially on the minor-league level, that had implications for the majors. Two minor leagues looking to be ranked almost on the level of the major leagues dominated the minor-league proceedings. Two major issues during the 1908 season and World Series—both involving the National League–were the major focus of much of the problems at the big-league meetings. However, much of what was started at these meetings was not finished—some never really concluded—until months after the meetings ended. Only minor changes in draft procedures and game rules were passed by the major-league magnates.

Minor League and First National Commission Meetings

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues held its eighth annual meeting in Chicago on November 10 to 12, 1908. The meeting was held at the same time and in the same city as baseball’s National Commission meeting. The chairman of the National Commission, Garry Herrmann, could not attend the meeting, so his secretary and the two major league presidents (the NL’s Harry Pulliam and the AL’s Ban Johnson) conducted the National Commission meeting.1  In regard to major-league activities, the Commission ruled on a player playing in a minor league under an assumed name, (the club fined and the player declared ineligible to organized baseball). They also approved the design of World Series emblems in the future.

The Commission took up the mishandling of the tickets by the Chicago Cubs in the 1908 World Series, but made no decision. All the Commission would say at this time was that there was no merit in charges of deliberate graft, or that Cub officials were in collusion with ticket speculators.  However, the club was “reprimanded for the crude and unbusiness-like manner in which the tickets were handled, causing annoyance and disappointment to many supporters of the Cubs.”2  However, the Commission made no formal report on the matter. The ticket scandal would be handled later.3 (See below) A large number of minor-league cases were heard by the Commission, including player salary grievances, decisions on ineligible players, some league circuit changes, and player appeals. But soon all attention shifted to the minor-league meeting at the Chicago Auditorium Annex.4

The NAPBL meeting started in routine fashion, taking up the case of some Minneapolis and Milwaukee players (among others) who played in some barnstorming games against the outlaw Logan Squares of Chicago. The players were suspended and would be reinstated after payment of light fines.5  There was discussion on raising the minimum admission price in the higher-level minor leagues to 50 cents. The Milwaukee Journal was concise in its thoughts on this: “That might be all right in the eastern cities but not in Milwaukee.”6  This idea did not get off the ground.  After hearing arguments regarding the contested ownership of the Hot Springs club, a plea to have the player draft price raised from $200 to $300, plus a request for the shortening of the drafting period to help the Class-C and D leagues (known as the “Microbes”), the minor-league delegates retired for the day. 7

The meeting then became something of a sensation in the press.

First, a little background: the  NAPBL had been formed in November 1901 as a way of ruling the various minor leagues and protecting each other, both from the warring major leagues and from themselves. One year later the recently-formed American Association, having been an “outlaw” league during the 1902 season, joined the National Association. The minors, having waived rights to representation on the National Commission, were under the rule of major-league baseball, without any say in the process.8 

The minor leagues were placed in various classifications according to the aggregate population (from the latest U.S. census) of cities forming the league, from Class A (1,000,000 total population and over) to Class B (400,000 to 1,000,000), Class C (200,000 to 400,000), and Class D (under 200,000).9  Originally the American Association, Eastern League, and Western League were classified as Class-A leagues. The Western had been given special Class-A status, as its population was below the classification, as a condition of ending the baseball war with the American Association.10

The Pacific Coast League was admitted to organized baseball as a Class-A league in 1904, even though its population was below the Class-A limit. The status was given under special circumstances to end another baseball war on the West Coast.11 

At the 1905 winter meetings the Southern League was elevated to Class-A status. This was done primarily as a reward to Southern League president William Kavanaugh for his part in defeating a scheme to reclassify the bigger minor leagues and raise draft prices. Thus three of the five Class-A leagues had populations under the constitutional limit.12  These reclassifications, and an enlargement of the National Association’s board from five to seven members, gave the smaller minor leagues the upper hand over the larger-populated Eastern League and American Association in the National Association.13

In 1907 the American Association was demanding that the Western, Pacific Coast, and Southern Leagues either be dropped to Class-B leagues, or the American Association and Eastern Leagues be given a new AA status.  This demand went nowhere and now, in November 1908, the American Association was changing its tactics. League President Joseph O’Brien said his owners no longer wanted Class-AA status, as that required a change in the National Agreement, which no doubt would fail again. He stated if the NAPBL would enforce its constitution there would be no need for a new status for the American Association and Eastern League, and therefore no need to change anything in the National Agreement.14 

O’Brien presented a resolution that the Southern and Western Leagues be demoted to Class-B status, and the Board of Arbitration be reduced from seven to five members, three of those members coming from Class-A leagues. The Eastern League supported this demand, while the Pacific Coast League told the National Association members it would not join in on this request.  After much debate the measure was voted down in the constitutional committee by a vote of 3 to 2. O’Brien insisted the resolution be placed before the entire delegation for a vote. After debate on the main floor, the resolution was defeated by a vote of 17 to 4, with the Missouri-Illinois League and the Pacific Coast League joining in with the American Association and Eastern League.15

O’Brien next asked permission for the American Association and Eastern League to withdraw from the NAPBL so they could form a working agreement directly with the major leagues. The two leagues wished to have contracts and reserves honored by the other minor leagues. Of course, this was a bombshell and caused much debate. The two requesting leagues claimed their intention was to withdraw temporarily to seek advice from the National Commission, while the other delegates saw it as the two leagues seeking permanent withdrawal from the NAPBL. This request was put to a vote, resulting in a 19 to 2 defeat.

The delegates of the American Association and Eastern League left the meeting room, refusing to work on an appointment of a committee to lay the matter before the National Commission; a committee was then appointed in their absence.16  This entire situation placed Pat Powers in an uncomfortable situation, as he was both president of the Eastern League and head of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues. He stepped down as head of the minors and D. M. Shively of the Western Association took over the convention.17

O’Brien tried to play down any talk of revolution by saying: “We have done nothing more serious than to withdraw from the meeting. We have not withdrawn from organized baseball nor have we severed our connection with the national association by our action. We have not become ‘outlaws’.”18

The minor leagues did conduct two further pieces of important business at the meeting. The lower minors gained a victory when it was decided that players who had been drafted would be returned to the same league they had been drafted from when the drafting team cut the player. It was also voted to increase the number of cities in the Western League from six to eight by adding clubs in Wichita and Topeka. 19

Meanwhile, the National Commission members discussed the impasse and announced it had decided the NAPBL was clearly within its rights and the Commission would not receive any delegates from the Eastern League or American Association, as they had no legal standing. Section 4, Article VI, of the National Agreement clearly stated “The National Association shall have the classification of its leagues and the adoption of a salary limit for clubs according to classification.” 

However, in an effort to settle the matter, it was decided that National Commission chairman Herrmann be asked to come to Chicago so the Commission could deliberate as a whole.  Herrmann, however, was immobilized due to a sprained ankle, so the American Association and Eastern League delegates announced they would hold a full meeting of their two leagues in Buffalo on November 18 to map out any future plans and then make a statement to the public.

The Commission, by and large, was trying to stay out of the matter, but did make clear it was going to stop this type of last-minute sensationalism by adopting a new rule that, in the future, all proposed amendments to the National Association constitution must be sent to the secretary 60 days in advance of the annual meeting.20

Eastern League president Pat Powers explained in a circular letter sent to the owners of the Eastern League that what the American Association and Eastern League wanted was representation on the National Commission. This would enable the leagues to push through new draft rules. The two leagues wanted the privilege to draft one man from the clubs of the other three Class-A leagues and two from the Class-B clubs at the same time as the major leagues were drafting, and at the same price. These players would then be allowed to remain with the club during the season in which they were purchased. The American Association and Eastern League also wanted the right to draft territory from the lesser minor leagues for a fixed compensation. In addition they wished to prevent the majors from drafting players below Class-B leagues.21

The Sporting News acknowledged the two “bolting” leagues had some legitimate grievances, but thought the thread of secession was stultifying. The editor did not believe the two minors were economically prepared for a baseball war, not even for a single season.  And the final statement of the editorial was perhaps a warning from the two major leagues: “The National and American Leagues will not admit a representative of the National Association to the Commission, nor will the majors make any other concession to the minor leagues, as a body, or to its members as individual organizations. Under no circumstances will protection be extended to a league or association of leagues that is not a party to the National Agreement, a major league or a league in the fold of the National Association. And as a corollary, the American Association and Eastern League must continue in the National Association to enjoy the benefits of organized base ball.”22

Of course, rumors of a new baseball war were all around. It was asserted the Eastern League planned to withdraw from Montreal and place a club in New York, with the specific location said to be in the Bronx. It also was hinted that the Toronto club might be moved to Detroit. The American Association reportedly was expected to invade St. Louis and Pittsburgh, as well as Chicago, abandoning St. Paul and Minneapolis, though where the third franchise would be taken from was undecided, at least in the minds of the rumor spreaders.  Charles Havenor, president of the Milwaukee Brewers, was in the meantime denying the American Association was planning on putting a franchise in any American or National League cities.23

Representatives of the Eastern League and American Association did meet in Buffalo on November 18. A committee was formed, with O’Brien as chairman. No information was released at this time, but it was believed the leagues were still pressing the points in the Powers’ letter. It was decided the leagues’ requests would be put in writing and given to the National Commission at its next meeting on December 7. The two minor leagues were scheduled to meet again on December 6.24

Second National Commission Meeting

At the December 7 meeting, after taking up some minor issues of player salaries and draft disputes, the Commission took up the minor-league “bolter” issue.25

The Eastern League and American Association had met on December 6 at the Victoria Hotel in New York City. They drew up the complaints that they would put before the National Commission, but gave out no details. The lawyer representing the group, Henry Killilea of Milwaukee, stated the two leagues only wanted to be classed higher than the other minor leagues and be allowed to manage their own internal affairs. He thought these two leagues were important enough to be given these considerations.  To make his point Killilea said the American Association and Eastern League represented a population of 5,000,000 people, more than twice as many as were represented by all the other minor leagues put together. In addition to that, the attendance at games in the two leagues was twice as much as in all the other minor leagues combined.  He said the two big minors were not looking for a baseball war, but he did hint at that possibility.26

The major leagues were certainly not shaking in their boots. National League president Pulliam told reporters before the meetings: “We are prepared for anything that comes along. Of course, the game of freeze out would be very unwelcome. ‘War is sure hell’ for the man who has to pay the piper. But organized baseball is better able to stand the strain than are the minors, and if it comes to a showdown we will all be doing business after ‘outlawry’ is suppressed.”27

The American Association/Eastern League petition was presented to the National Commission in Pulliam’s ‘office in the St. James Building on December 8, with the “loyal” minor leagues also present.28 Henry Killilea masterfully presented the concerns of the “bolting” leagues to the Commission. His petition asked for the following:

1) to conduct their affairs as a separate organization under organized baseball;

2) that the American Association and Eastern League be permitted to draft players from all other leagues except the American League and National League, provided only one player could be drafted from Class-A minor-league clubs;

3) that draft and purchase rules be amended so that players drafted by the major leagues from Class-B, C, or D leagues and later not kept, be offered to the American Association or Eastern League before being returned to their original club;

4) that major-league player reserve rosters be capped at 25, and at 20 after May 15;

5) that the American Association and Eastern League be permitted to draft players from other minor leagues for a period of 15 days after the majors had drafted, and the draft price be $750 for Class-A league players, $500 for Class B, $300 for Class C, and $200  for Class D;

6) the major-league draft period for players from the American Association/Eastern League be from September 15 to October 1;

7) that the American Association and Eastern League be permitted to draft territory from other minor leagues; and 8) that no individual player could be sold more than once under an optional agreement.29

One of the points in Killilea’s argument for the American Association and Eastern League to obtain a higher status was his belief that the NAPBL legally expired on September 6, 1906. His argument was based on the fact that the NAPBL was created on September 6, 1901 for a period of five years. A resolution was later passed verbally to extend this period to September 6, 1911, but Killilea argued the added five years was not legally binding and that the NAPBL was simply a voluntary organization from which any member could withdraw without violating any contract. He went one step further, saying that with the contract between the parties to the National Agreement thus ended, the major leagues had any legal “as well as moral right” to change the conditions of the National Agreement and accept the “bolters” as partners. This argument would take away the National Commission’s reasoning for staying out of the minor-league issue.30

Michael Sexton, a board member of the NAPBL, said Killilea’s statement was not correct.  He looked at the minutes of the inaugural meeting of the National Association and found there was nothing in them relative to the length of the life of the NAPBL. He found in subsequent minutes that the 10-year agreement had been adopted by a unanimous vote and was binding upon all organizations that were members at that time, “and upon all associations, leagues and clubs hereafter becoming parties to this National Agreement.”31 

The National Commission asked for more time to look at the petition, as it was different than had been anticipated.  It was decided the National Commission would report on the issues at its annual meeting in Cincinnati on January 4.32  This delay did not sit well with the American Association/Eastern League combine, who were now reported to be in a state of mind to withdraw from organized baseball. However, Milwaukeeans Killilea and Charles Havenor calmed the group down, saying the National Commission did not even have to take the matter up and the delay put the NAPBL on the defensive. In a face-saving move Killilea, O’Brien, and Powers were granted an audience before both the National and American Leagues to present their case and ask for future negotiations. The “bolters” were granted permission to attend the January meeting “in an advisory capacity.”33

Many American Association owners thought the two big minor leagues had secured a victory. Havenor told the Milwaukee Sentinel the demands of the American Association/Eastern League were perfectly just, and he was certain they would all be granted by the major leagues in January.34  But Havenor was not listening to what American League president and Commission member Johnson was saying: “I have great respect for Mr. Killilea, but he was not furnished with the facts and it was only too plain that there was no real grievance named by the Milwaukee man.”35

National League Winter Meeting

The National League held its annual winter meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York on December 8, 9, and 10. The New York Giants did not send a delegate at the meeting, until forced to attend on the final day. League president Pulliam acted as chairman for all the sessions. The meetings consisted of the usual activities, including the awarding of the league championship to the Chicago Cubs, the president’s report on the season just past, Pulliam’s re-election to the post, the election of a Board of Directors and the forming of committees. All clubs agreed to take “extra precautions” in enforcing the league’s law against gambling on their grounds. A number of other items were discussed, but held over for a later meeting. One item of sentimental importance was the decision to make up any deficit in the fund to erect a monument to the late Henry Chadwick, and to make an annual appropriation for its care.36

Regarding player matters, the National League voted to reduce the time limit for the return of a player on waivers during the season from 10 days to 5 days. The “Microbes” request to increase the draft prices for players was approved and recommended to the National Commission for incorporation into the National Agreement. The delegates also adopted the National Agreement amendment to limit the major-league drafting period from September 1 to September 15, a cut back from October 1. The NL also heard the requests of the American Association and Eastern League, presented by attorney Killilea, and told the minor leagues they would have the National League’s sympathy in its struggles.37

At the same time of the baseball meetings President-elect William Howard Taft was in town, and Pulliam had the opportunity to meet him at the Hotel Astor. The President-elect told the National League president: “Glad to meet you, Mr. Pulliam. We are going to be rival Presidents, but I hope we shall always get along pleasantly.” Pulliam responded by saying he would not try to appoint the Ambassador to England, provided Mr. Taft would agree not to rob him of any of his umpires.38

The third day of the meeting produced a first in major-league history. The National League received a visit from an American League delegation, a request that had been made by AL president Johnson, for an exchange of courtesies. The remarks made were the expected ones with hopes of future harmony. According to Sporting Life “the last germ of ill-will between rival majors was wiped out.”39

After this show of harmony and unity it appeared the National League executives could adjourn with a calm, ho-hum meeting under their belts. But Pulliam sprang a sensational charge—being “like the bursting of an anarchistic bomb in a family of royalty”– that an attempt had been made to bribe umpires James Johnstone and Bill Klem in the extra game between the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs played on October 8—the game ordered to play off the tie game of September 23 (which had featured the famous Merkle play at second base). The umpires had filed formal charges, including the name of the person who initiated the bribe and the names of the persons he claimed to represent. This sensation necessitated an extra, unscheduled, day for discussion, the issuance of a formal statement, and the appearance of New York owner Brush, who had not been present at the earlier sessions, claiming illness—although some thought it was to show his disgust of the throwing out of the “Merkle game.”40  The National League statement—signed by all eight club officials–gave an outline of the attempted bribery, then continued:

“We are of the opinion that a most thorough and searching investigation of this matter be made in order to maintain the high standard and honesty of the game throughout the entire country, and if possible, to punish all persons connected with this disreputable proceeding.

“To make such an investigation as the undersigned desire, we deem it unwise to give any names of persons claimed to have been connected with this matter, as we have grave doubts as to the truths of certain statements alleged by the person who approached one of the umpires; and it is for that reason, as well as having in mind the proper punishment of all guilty parties, that all names be withheld for the present.

“We desire, however, to state that none of the persons whose names are withheld at this time is in any way connected with organized base ball.”

The statement further went on to commend Klem and Johnstone for refusing to become parties to the bribe and reporting it to the league.41

It was the opinion of some in the press that the two umpires had been approached by a gambler representing a syndicate that wanted to wage a large sum on the game. The gambler wanted Klem and Johnstone to “see” that the Giants won the game. It was stated the umpires were offered $10,000 if the Giants won. The only identification at this time was that the man who approached the umpires was “a prominent businessman of New York, who also represented many other big men of that city.”42

A committee was formed, consisting of John T. Brush (chairman), Charles Ebbets, Garry Herrmann, and Pulliam to investigate the matter.43  Some have found it odd that Brush was the chairman, since his club was involved in the scandal. However, Philadelphia newsman Horace Fogel thought it not only appropriate, but a good move, writing: “If his club is involved, it was a good stroke of policy to put him at the head of this committee, so that the evidence can be adduced in his presence and he can not afterwards charge unfairness, trumped-up charges, etc. and rush into court for an injunction or any redress.”44 The matter would take months to settle. (See below).

American League Winter Meeting

The American League held its meeting at the Hotel Wolcott in New York on December 9 and 10. All the clubs were represented, with AL president Ban Johnson chairing.  This meeting was unassuming. A Board of Directors was named and committees formed. The Detroit Tigers were awarded the 1908 league championship. As the National League did, the Americans decided to recommend to the National Commission the request for a higher draft price of the Class-C and D leagues for incorporation into the National Agreement.

The AL also voted for the National Agreement amendment to limit the major-league drafting period from September 1 to September 15, thus making this time frame baseball law.45 J. M. Cummings, of Baltimore thought this of little practical benefit to the minor leagues, as most of the majors had determined who they would draft days, if not weeks, before the draft period started.46  The American League also heard the American Association/Eastern League grievances and assured Killilea of the major league’s “sincere desire to aid those leading minor leagues to a better condition with a view to conserving the peace and prosperity of all connected with the National game.” 47

A number of new rules and practices were passed by American League delegates. Among the more important that there would be 40 minutes before each game for practice, the first 30 minutes for the visitors, then 10 minutes for the home team. The rule was put into place to prevent the indiscriminate throwing and batting of balls in the park.  An important, and lasting, rule change prevented a runner from advancing more than two bases when a thrown ball went into the stands.  Prior to this the runner was allowed to continue to run until he scored. 

The American League also decided no passes to games were to be issued to members of the visiting team, as this practice was being abused. A new rule was put into effect regarding something modern fans take for granted – all clubs were ordered to maintain a large bulletin board giving the batting order accurately and indicating all changes as they were made.48

After business was finished Johnson suggested his league delegates and those of the National League meet. The NL men accepted and the meeting mentioned above took place. The American League meeting adjourned shortly after 2:00 p.m. on December 10.49

Player and Manager Transactions

As at most winter meetings, trades and signing of players were done with more frequency than at other times of the year. Perhaps the major occurrence at the 1908 National League meeting in this regard was the signing by the Cincinnati Reds of Clark Griffith as the team’s manager.  It was reported Griffith’s salary was to be $7,000, with a privilege of renewal. This signing set in motion a three-club deal. The Reds traded catcher George Schlei to the St. Louis Cardinals for left-handed pitcher Ed Karger and right-handed pitcher Art Fromme. Schlei and outfielder John “Red” Murray and righty Arthur “Bugs” Raymond were then traded by the Cardinals to the New York Giants for catcher Roger Bresnahan. The future Hall of Famer would be the St. Louis player/manager.50

Another managerial maneuver involved another future Hall of Famer. It was reported during the National League meeting that veteran catcher Frank Bowerman would be elevated to the Boston Braves’ manager’s job, succeeding Joe Kelley. Kelley, who was present at the meeting, had one year remaining on his two-year contract and threatened legal troubles to Braves owner George Dovey. Pulliam mediated an arrangement for Toronto of the Eastern League to take Kelley’s contract and manage in that Canadian city. As the Future Hall of Famer’s contract called for an amount over the Eastern League salary limit, the Braves would pay the excess.51

The major trade in the American League was that of catcher Lou Criger from the Boston club to the St. Louis Browns for catcher Ed “Tubby” Spencer and $5,000.52

Conclusion of Matters Taken Up at Winter Meetings

World Series Ticket Scandal

Later in December of 1908, the National Commission gave its ruling on the Chicago World Series ticket scandal. In summary the Commission found that the Cub management had told the public tickets would be on sale at Spalding’s store on Friday morning, October 9. Tickets for all four scheduled home games — the first in Chicago to be on Sunday, October 11 — had to be purchased in one block.

The public assembled at Spalding’s only to be told later in the afternoon that the tickets would not be available until the next morning at the box office of the ball park. However, while the public was in line at Spalding’s the club was selling tickets at its own office to bands of “scalpers.” These tickets were then sold to the public at exorbitant prices. When the public did assemble at the ball park on Saturday morning, they were told only those who had arranged for reserved seats would be accommodated. While this was happening the club was still selling tickets at its office to scalpers.

The public was never notified of the sale of tickets at the club’s office, and no other tickets except those purchased by scalper’s could have been out in the public. The Chicago club officials admitted 630 tickets were sold to one person at their office.53

The National Commission found “the Chicago Club is deserving of the severest criticism and censure for the manner in which they handled the sale of tickets during the last world’s series, and that they must be held responsible for the great annoyance they caused many patrons of the game in Chicago.” 

As there was no direct charge, or proof offered, that anyone employed by the Cubs was in collusion with the scalpers, it was requested that Cubs president Charles Murphy—whom the Commission acknowledged was not in Chicago on the days this took place–look into how these tickets were secured by these persons. The commission called for clubs to make an effort to have local authorities in their city pass proper laws and ordinances to prevent the scalping of tickets. The Commission “was strongly of the opinion” that hereafter all World Series ticket sales be handled by the Commission to prevent future similar occurrences.54

Murphy made a short statement after the Commission reported its findings, saying that the Commission’s statement there were no ticket sales at the park was incorrect. He said the sale of tickets began at the park offices at 1:00 p.m. and continued until the line of buyers had melted away. Murphy said that the tickets were not on sale at Spalding’s at the advertised time due to a delay in the preparation of the tickets, which had not been delivered in time to the printer. He took the “mea culpa,” saying: “My own illness was doubtless responsible for much of the trouble and confusion.”55

Chicago sportswriter William A. Phelon wrote of the National Commission’s investigation and ruling that “everybody is laughing raucously.” He went on to say that the “Commission’s report soaked nobody and everybody, satisfied no one, and left things just where they began. The report did not do justice either way. If the employees of the club were really guilty of any scalping, they escape exposure, punishment and condemnation; if they were innocent, they are not given any vindication, and are left with a cloud hanging over them … (t)he fans, who loudly insisted that somebody must be shown up as either guilty or innocent, get nothing — they are not shown wherein the ticket-men did wrong, nor are they shown where the unlucky officials were in the right.”56

Attempted Bribe of Umpires

The inquiry of the attempted bribery of umpires Klem and Johnstone took longer. In late January, Joe Vila, the New York correspondent to The Sporting News, was urging the committee of Brush, Pulliam, Ebbets, and Herrmann to issue a statement on what evidence it had gathered.57 

A month later H. G. Merrill from Wilkes-Barre made the same plea.58 The matter was finally turned over to the National Commission who ruled on the matter on April 19, 1909.

In its official statement the Commission ruled that “after a full and thorough investigation of all of the matters that have been presented” the statements of the umpires were true and the two were “deserving of the highest commendation” in spurning the bribe attempt and reporting it to the National League.

The Commission declined to give out the name of the person who offered the bribe, but took this action: “In this matter the Commission would not hesitate a moment to instigate a most rigid prosecution against the offender if they had the power to do so, and the corroborative testimony to sustain the charges as made by the umpires. We feel, however, that in the absence of this, the party charged with this offense by the umpires should not go unpunished, and for that reason we will furnish to every major league club owner the name of the person who attempted this offense, with instructions to such club owners to bar him from their respective grounds for all time to come.”59

The Chicago Tribune soon gave the name of the man as Joseph Creamer, the Giants’ team physician, and stated the money offered was first $2,500 and later raised to $3,000.60

Decision of Status of Minor-League “Bolters”

On January 4, 1909, the National Commission met in Cincinnati. After the usual player reinstatement issues, the members took up the American Association/Eastern League issue. Owners and representatives from the NAPBL and the “bolters” were in attendance, both giving their side again.61 According to the Milwaukee Journal: “The session waxed warm at times and there was more than one exchange of hot words.”62

After the first day adjournment, attorney Killilea and NAPBL secretary John Farrell met in an attempt to reach some type of compromise to present to their respective parties. The compromise they ironed out provided for a separate classification of the American Association, Eastern League, and Pacific Coast League, plus additional drafting privileges of players and territory for these three leagues. Another point would be that the three big minor leagues could have control of their own affairs, except where a lower class player was involved and subject to appeal to the National Commission. This compromise solution did not address the matter of the “bolters” withdrawal from the NAPBL and separate admission to the National Agreement. It was felt this was a matter for the National Commission to decide.63

On the second day this compromise proposal was presented to all members of both sides. With some tweaking, all issues were adjusted to everyone’s satisfaction in the NAPBL, except for the American Association and Eastern League leaving the National Association. Members of the American Association and Eastern League had some issues with the compromise.

John Farrell then submitted to the National Commission what the minor leagues were willing to concede to the three big minors: 1) The Eastern League and American Association would have the privilege of settling their own internal disputes; 2) Disputes involving the “bolters” and other National Association clubs would be passed on to the NAPBL board; 3) All leagues would have the right to draft territory from leagues next lowest in classification at the same time and in the same manner that players were drafted. Prices would be set for the territory in each class; 4) The big minors could draft from Classes B, C, and D only at $100 less than that paid by the major league. This drafting would take place in the 15 days immediately following the draft period of the majors; 5) There would be no objection to the secondary draft—meaning a player not kept by the majors must be offered to a minor league of a higher class than the player was originally drafted from, starting with Class AA and working down; and 6) The Eastern League, American Association, and Pacific Coast League would be designated as Class AA, without any further privileges.

The “bolters” were willing to accept most of the conditions. However, the limitation on drafting territory only from the classification immediately below their class was of little use to either the American Association or Eastern League. This would limit them to only claiming a city from the Southern or Western League—something not useful to either big minor. The “bolters” also demanded the right to draft players from the Southern and Western Leagues. Of course, the American Association/Eastern League combine was still insisting upon its primary goal — the privilege of withdrawing from the National Association in order to become a separate party to the National Agreement.

The National Commission chairman, Herrmann, stated the commission thought the territorial drafting complaint of the American Association and Eastern League was well founded, but under no circumstances would the National Commission agree to the “bolters” demand for recognition as a separate party to the National Agreement, even if the minor-league association would agree to this demand. Herrmann, “in courteous terms,” advised the two leagues to accept the compromise offered by the NAPBL.64

After the day’s adjournment the Eastern League and American Association committee met to discuss the situation. There was much sentiment in favor of withdrawal from the NAPBL, an action that would mean outlawry and war.  Henry Killilea pleaded with the excited delegates to rethink this position. Cooler heads prevailed and after some time the delegates decided to accept the NABL proposal, with the exception of the territorial draft clause and the additional right to draft players from the Southern and Western Leagues. In regard to the territorial rights a compromise was decided in which it was “understood” the price for rights to a city would be $5,000 for a Class-A city, $4,000 for a Class-B city, $3,000 and $2,000 respectively for Class-C and D territories.65

The loyal minors accepted these proposals, with some modifications—most notably that Class-AA leagues could draft one man from each Class-A club, only in cases where the major leagues had not previously selected a man. The National Commission took over the territorial issue and decided any league had the right to draft territory from any contiguous class upon certain terms. These terms were to include a set price for the territory in each class, three months’ notice of intention and three more for consummation, notice to the National Board for the reasons for drafting territory, and additional money to be determined for the value of the franchise, plant and team.66

With the matters in this satisfactory state, the National Commission adjourned and delegates from the minor leagues made arrangements to go home. The American Association and Eastern League held a joint business meeting to make some adjustments in regard to the new conditions. AA president Joseph O’Brien resigned his seat on the NAPBL board, and Patrick Powers formally resigned his office as president of the NAPBL (Michael Sexton was soon elected to the post).67

Upon returning to Milwaukee, O’Brien told reporters: “We got all we wanted, and both the Eastern League and the Association should flourish under the new conditions. Our request to be allowed to act as a third part to the agreement with representation on the National Commission was not allowed, but that was only a minor detail to the other conditions. Great credit is due to Mr. Killilea for the part he played in securing the concessions.”68

The winner in this agreement, without really entering the battle, was the Pacific Coast League. They were granted the privilege of gaining the new higher classification because of the promise made to it when it entered organized baseball that it would never be asked to accept a classification more than one step below the major leagues. Pacific Coast League president Cal Ewing said he would not be doing his duty to his league unless he took everything that was handed him.69

In March 1909 the revised National Agreement was published, incorporating the concessions granted the Eastern League, American Association and Pacific Coast League, with the exception of the territorial draft, which had not yet been approved by the big leagues and minor leagues.70

Then on May 4 all these bitterly fought gains evaporated when the National Commission abrogated the entire new National Agreement, and announced all baseball rules and regulations would go back to what they had been before the concessions were made to the big minors.

The National Commission said the revised Agreement had been sent to the American Association and Eastern League to be ratified and approved, but neither had done so. Thus “no league or club operating under organized base ball will be required to pay attention to any of the new features embodied in the revised Agreement.”

Garry Herrmann said there was no ulterior motive in all this, only that they two leagues never replied and the National Commission was forced to do something to avoid confusion throughout the baseball world.71  It was reported the American Association and Eastern League refused to ratify the new agreement because the major league magnates would not put a definite price on the territorial rights of any league. The National Commission told the American Association/Eastern League combine to sign the agreement and an amount would be inserted later.

At the earlier meeting it was “understood” what the territorial prices would be, but wording of new National Agreement stated a league “may draft a city from a league of lower classification upon terms and conditions to be proscribed by the National Commission within 30 days from the signing.” In other words, the price of a territory would not be known until after the purchase.72  As J. M. Cummings wrote in The Sporting News: “A child knows that there are no ‘understandings’ in law. Black and white goes and only that.”73  As the new AA classification gave the Big Three little or no additional power, they decided to ignore the agreement and continue under the old one.74

Thus the big three minors lost their AA classification. Southern League president William Kavanaugh had no objection to the National Commission abrogating the revised National Agreement, but did object to the wording of the announcement. In his opinion the new Agreement became binding when the National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues ratified it, and the ratification and approval of the American Association and Eastern League was not necessary.75 

With this news there were the usual rumors of a baseball war, especially the renewed story of the American Association planning an invasion of Chicago. It was thought the American Association was more eager to go to war than the Eastern League, as the Eastern had no interest in placing a team in any of the major league cities in the east.76  O’Brien pretty much put the entire matter behind him when he said: “We are too busy catering to the base ball public. This is no time to meddle with the politics of the game.”77  Havenor was quoted as saying “I guess that we are about as well off this way as we would have been the other, if not better.”78

The American Association and Eastern League would have to wait until the 1912 season to obtain Class-AA status.

 

Notes

1 Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 1.

2 Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 7.

3 Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 1, and November 28, 1908: 6, 7.

4 Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 6.

5 The Sporting News, November 12, 1908: 1.

6 Milwaukee Journal, November 9 and 11, 1908.

7 Chicago Tribune, November 11, 1908:61; Washington Post, November 11, 1908:8; Milwaukee Journal, November 11, 1908.

8 Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 1.

9 The Sporting News, November 19, 1908: 4; Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 1.

10 Sporting Life November 21, 1908: 6.

11 Milwaukee Sentinel, November 10, 1908;   Hartford Courant November 10, 1908;    Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 6.

12 Milwaukee Sentinel, November 10, 1908.

13 Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 2.

14 Milwaukee Sentinel, November 10, 1908.

15  Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 6; The Sporting News, November 12, 1908: 1.

16  Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 7.

17 Milwaukee Sentinel, November 12, 1908.

18 Hartford Courant, November 12, 1908.

19 Hartford Courant, November 12, 1908; Sporting Life November 21, 1908: 2; Milwaukee Journal, November 14, 1908.

20 The Sporting News, November 19, 1908: 4; Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 6, 7.

21  Sporting Life, November 21, 1908: 7; Milwaukee Journal, November 19, 1908.

22  The Sporting News, November 19, 1908: 4.

23  Milwaukee Sentinel, November 14, 1908; Milwaukee Journal, November 13, 1908; The Sporting News, November 19, 1908: 3.

24  Sporting Life, November 28, 1908: 6.

25 The Sporting News, December 10, 1908: 5.

26  Sporting Life, December 1, 1908; Washington Post, December 7, 1908: 4

27 Milwaukee Journal, December 7, 1908.

28 Milwaukee Journal, December 8, 1908; The Sporting News, December 10, 1908: 1, December 17, 1908: 2.

29 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 1; The Sporting News, December 10, 1908: 1.

30 Sporting Life, December 26, 1908: 6.

31 Sporting Life, January 2, 1909: 10; The Sporting News, December 24, 1908: 4.

32 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 1, 2.

33 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 2; Milwaukee Sentinel, December 11, 1908.

34 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 13, 1908.

35 Boston Globe, December 13, 1908.

36 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 4; Milwaukee Sentinel, December 10, 1908.

37 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 4; Milwaukee Sentinel, December 9, 1908.

38 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 5.

39 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 4.

40 Boston Globe, December 9, 1908; Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 4; Milwaukee Sentinel, December 12, 1908; The Sporting News, December 17, 1908: 1.

41 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 4.

42 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 4.

43 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 4.

44 The Sporting News, December 17, 1908: 5.

45 Sporting Life, December 26, 1908: 2.

46 The Sporting News, February 17, 1908: 2.

47 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 4.

48 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908:4; Milwaukee Sentinel, December 11, 1908.

49 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 4.

50 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 5.

51 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 5.

52 Sporting Life, December 19, 1908: 5.

53 Sporting Life, December 26, 1908: 1; The Sporting News, December 24, 1908: 2.

54 Sporting Life, December 26, 1908: 1, 2; The Sporting News, December 24, 1908: 2.

55 Sporting Life, December 26, 1908: 2.

56 Sporting Life, January 2, 1909: 5.

57 The Sporting News, January 28, 1909: 1.

58 The Sporting News, February 18, 1909.

59 Sporting Life, April 24, 1909: 7.

60 The Sporting News, April 29, 1909: 2.  The entire matter is too lengthy and falls out of the compass of this article, but is interesting. The best reading on the details and possible full involvement in the matter can be found in David W. Anderson, More than Merkle, A History of the Best and Most Baseball Season in Human History (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 210-222; and Cait Murphy, Crazy ’08, How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 261-263, 284-286.

61 Sporting Life, January 16, 1909: 1.

62 Milwaukee Journal, January 5, 1909.

63 Sporting Life, January 16, 1909: 1. 

64 Sporting Life, January 16, 1909: 2.

65 Sporting Life, January 16, 1909: 2; The Sporting News, May 20, 1909: 4.

66 Sporting Life, January 16, 1909: 2; The Sporting News, January 14, 1909: 4.

67 Sporting Life, January 16, 1909: 2.

68 Milwaukee Journal, January 7, 1909.

69 Sporting Life, January 16, 1909: 2.

70 Sporting Life, April 3, 1909: 10.

71 Sporting Life, May 15, 1909: 1.

72 The Sporting News, May 13, 1909: 2, 6; June 2, 1909: 2.

73 The Sporting News, June 2, 1909: 2.

74 Sporting Life, May 15, 1909: 1.

75 The Sporting News, May 13, 1909: 4; Sporting Life, May 15, 1909: 1.

76 The Sporting News, May 13, 1909: 4; Sporting Life, June 5, 1909: 16.

77 Sporting Life, May 15, 1909: 2.

78 Milwaukee Journal, May 5, 1909.

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