1910 Winter Meetings: Ho-Hum Affairs

This article was written by Dennis Pajot

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


Introduction

It was decided both major leagues would hold their annual winter meetings in New York City in December 1910. Although it would not be a joint meeting, this would be of great convenience to the writers and help centralize interest in the meetings.1

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (the minor leagues) had met in Chicago on November 15, 16, and 17. After the election of officers, some constitutional amendments were adopted. These included increasing the size of the National Association’s board to eight members, clarifying how money would be seized by the secretary in case of defaulting clubs and leagues, allowing contract jumpers to be reinstated “under certain conditions,” and moving up the date to secure protection from the National Association, from October 15 to September 1.2 The minors then got to the meat of their business.

By its constitution, the association was forced to reclassify some of its leagues because of constitutional requirements setting minimum population figures for league classifications; the 1910 federal census thus dictated these changes. In addition, the American Association and Eastern League were asking for the establishment of a new, higher AA standing. (At the time, Class A was the highest classification in the minor leagues.) Other leagues, however, especially the Class-A Western League, were opposed. The Western League cited the 10-year agreement, signed before the 1903 season, that it could not be demoted from the highest minor-league status, a quid pro quo for the Western’s agreeing to give up the Kansas City and Milwaukee territories to the American Association. The Three-I (Indiana-Illinois-Iowa) League was also protesting its demotion. The most recent census had put the league population about 25,000 shy of the 400,000 required to maintain its Class-B status, but league officials contended that when the five-mile radius of each club was included, the population would exceed the minimum. In the end the American Association and Eastern League decided not to push for an “AA” level, and the National Association decided not to demote any of its leagues. It was felt that any demotions would be harmful to fan interest and, of course, would also mean less money received for a drafted player. Later, at the major-league winter meetings, the non-demotions were approved.3

The Business Side

The National League meeting began on December 13 at the Hotel Breslin. The opening day was occupied with a few minor player issues, the approval of the treasurer’s accounts, the reading of the minutes from the previous year’s meeting, and the formal awarding of the championship to the Chicago Cubs. On the humanitarian side, the league voted to continue monthly sums to Mrs. Johnson, the sister of the late National League President Harry Pulliam, who had committed suicide in July 1909.4

The second day’s meeting took up various loose ends and reports, including such items as the league using 484 dozen baseballs during the 1910 season, before the league proceeded to election of a president. There had been talk of unseating Pulliam’s elected successor, Thomas J. Lynch, with the names of John Montgomery Ward and James A Hart being tossed around. In the end, Lynch was unanimously re-elected to a one-year term. John A. Heydler, in the middle of his three-year term, remained as secretary-treasurer.5  

The third day, December 15, started with the discussion of the umpires’ work on the diamond.  In what might seem like the age-old joke of umpires being blind, the league decided that when the arbiters were appointed for the next season, each would have to visit an oculist and have his eyes examined. Among the other minor business conducted this day was the offer from a Detroit automobile company to give a car to each league’s batting champion. Remembering the controversy over the conclusion of the Cobb-Lajoie batting race in the fall, with a Chalmers automobile as the prize, the owners placed the offer on file, where it stayed. A self-printing ticket machine was exhibited at the meeting at the insistence of the Giants’ John T. Brush. It seemed to interest his fellow owners.6

For various reasons, the 1911 playing schedule was discussed on different days. On day two a resolution directing the league president to work on the schedule was voted down, and President Lynch then formed a scheduling committee consisting of himself, John Heydler, and Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss. Surprisingly, after having served on this committee for more than a quarter of a century, Brooklyn’s Charles Ebbets was dropped, despite the wide belief that he was highly qualified for this type of work. Some felt his being dropped “was the result of personal spleen,”7 but Ebbets did not seem put out by being relieved of the hard work necessary for this thankless job.8

At that day’s meeting the owners also directed Lynch to confer with the American League about reducing conflicting Sunday dates in the Western cities. On the final day of the meetings the length and dates of the 1911 schedule were discussed at length. Garry Herrmann, the Cincinnati magnate, put forth a 112-game season plan, with postseason interleague play, but his scheme was not taken seriously. Some owners had favored a 168-game schedule, but the 154-game season was kept, with the playing days scheduled from April 12 to “on or about” October 12, which was Columbus Day.

Though not yet an official national holiday, it was observed in every state in which there was a National League team, and it was important to owners like Ebbets, who said this had been a profitable day for his club the previous season. As the National League season was three days longer than that of the American League, a suspension of the rule requiring all teams in the league to approve any transferring of games was put in place. This allowed a team with possibilities of winning the championship to pull back late-season games with the consent of the opponent. It was enacted to ward off any delay of the World Series.9

Of the few constitutional amendments passed at the meeting, perhaps the most important was the abolition of the fund to which each club gave 5 percent of its base gate receipts to pay for league expenses. On a percentage basis, clubs with larger attendance were forced to pay more. It was decided that the expenses would now be defrayed by equal assessments upon each club annually. Another amendment attempted to stop the practice of a team refusing to waive a player and then turning that player back to the original team. Should this be tried, the team involved would be fined $250.10

The major order of business for the league was the sale of a 95 percent interest in the Boston Doves to a Boston syndicate for $100,000. The deal would have been finished before the meetings, but the incumbent owner, John P. Harris, stayed at the helm to vote for Lynch in the potentially tight election for the NL presidency. The four new principal owners were William Hepburn Russell, a New York lawyer and city official; brothers George A. and Lewis C. Page, publishers; and Frederic J. Murphy, an insurance executive. Russell was elected president of the club,11 and beginning the next season the team would be called the Rustlers.12 A few days after the meetings ended, John Harris purchased a block of stock in the Pittsburgh franchise and became a member of the Pirates board of directors.13

The American League began its meeting on December 14 at the Hotel Wolcott. The opening activities consisted of the reading of the minutes, the treasurer’s report, election of a new board of directors and the formal awarding of the 1910 pennant to the Athletics. After little discussion, the league adopted a 154-game schedule, beginning on April 12 and running through October 8; President Ban Johnson promised to work out the specifics of the schedule at a later date.14

The league also dealt with the transfer of controlling interest in a club, a matter that was taken up the second day. Colonel Robert Lee Hedges wanted to sell his 65 percent interest in the St. Louis Browns to a local syndicate made up primarily of E. Manning Hodgman of St. Louis, Mark and Nathaniel Ewing, Louis M. Hall, and Edward Prendergast. It was reported that the Ewing brothers, owners of a stock brokerage firm worth $4 million, would pay Hedges $535,000 for the franchise and the ballpark. Even though the Browns were not successful on the field it was reported the club consistently earned a net profit averaging $30,000 a year.15

There was speculation that Hedges was being forced out of the AL because of differences with Chicago owner Charles Comiskey. It was reported that Hedges wanted to hire Fielder Jones as manager and give him part-ownership of the club. Comiskey refused to waive his rights to Jones, who had been refusing to play for the White Sox for the last two years because the salary offered by Comiskey was too low. Jones and Hedges both denied this.

Another reason given why the American League wanted Hedges out was the poor showing of the Browns in recent years, but Ban Johnson denied this. Hedges said he wanted some local men to take over the “disorganized” Browns, as he did not feel he was able to undertake the hard task of improving the team.16

Yet another opinion was offered by Hedges’ personal counsel, who said the Browns were sold because of the owner’s health issues. “Mr. Hedges’ health has been impaired by worry and hard work, since the close of last season, and his friends and his wife finally prevailed upon him to sell the club, and accordingly the deal with the Hodgman syndicate was closed,” the lawyer said.17 The new owners would assume all liabilities of the club, including the salary of Jack O’Connor, the deposed manager of the 1910 Browns.18

The local St. Louis syndicate was not the American League’s first choice for new ownership. Reports had been published that Washington Nationals manager Jimmy McAleer had been urged to form a group to purchase the Browns from Hedges. McAleer said he was interested until he learned the asking price, and “decided that I would perhaps tie myself up for life, and that I might be better off without such a tremendous burden.”19

A committee composed of Ban Johnson, Comiskey, and Frank Farrell (New York Highlanders) was assigned to visit St. Louis and report back on the financial status of the new syndicate. This the trio did the following week, and reported favorably upon the new owners.20

 But the deal hit snags almost immediately. The new syndicate made its first payment of $30,000 on January 10, but did not make the second payment, due later in January. It was reported that there was internal squabbling, and that it was proving more difficult than expected to raise the money. The date to pay for the franchise in full was extended to February 10. As it appeared the deal would fall through, Colonel Hedges’ health “rapidly recovered, and he [said] he never felt better in his life, and eager to get to work and resurrect the lowly Browns from the graveyard brigade.”21 Hedges was re-elected president of the Browns, and named Rhoderick “Bobby” Wallace to manage the team in 1911.  On February 19 Hedges announced the deal had fallen through and he remained the head of the Browns.22

Although not affiliated with the major leagues in any way, the Base Ball Writers’ Association of America held its second annual meeting in the Hotel Breslin on December 14, with members present from 11 major-league cities. Joseph S. Jackson of the Washington Post was re-elected president, Jack Ryder of the Cincinnati Enquirer was elected vice president, and William G. Weart of the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph won election as secretary and treasurer, at a salary of $100 a year. About the only noteworthy event of this meeting was that the local representatives in each city were given the responsibility to make sure that no outsiders were admitted to the press boxes.23

Player Movement at Meetings

Few trades were made at the league meetings. Bill Dahlen of the Brooklyn Superbas said, “I didn’t hear a lot of people hankering to make base ball trades. Guess there were two or three of them who would not have objected to a trade of some kind, but they held their goods too high.”24 Comiskey said, “Every time a manager came to me and talks trade, the first thing he does is to say he is willing to take Walsh off my hands. That stops the negotiations before they have reached even the infancy stage.”25

In the only trade involving major-league players on both sides, the St. Louis Browns sent Art Griggs to Cleveland in exchange for catcher Nig Clarke. Griggs, a valuable utilityman, had hit only .236 in 1910, but played both outfield and infield for the Browns. The left-handed-hitting Jay Justin Clarke had hit .155 in 21 games with the Naps in 1910.26

A number of deals involving minor-league teams were completed. The St. Louis Cardinals, for instance, sold right-handed pitcher Frank Corridon to Buffalo of the Eastern League. The 30-year-old veteran had won only six of his 20 decisions with the Cardinals in 1910. The Cardinals also sent left-hander Johnny Lush (14-13 in 1910) and right-hander Lester Backman (6-7), plus catcher Ed Phelps (.263 in 93 games in 1910), to Toronto of the Eastern League.27

Willie Keeler was sold by the New York Giants, who had signed the veteran in May, to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the end of the line for the future Hall of Famer, who played just 39 games for the Leafs before calling it a career.28 Yet another veteran player to go to Toronto was third baseman Bill Bradley, sold by Cleveland. The 32-year-old’s leg had been bothering him for the past few seasons and in fact he would never play another major-league game. Pittsburgh asked waivers on first baseman Jack Flynn in order to sell him to Kansas City of the American Association, which then attempted to deal Flynn to Washington of the American League. However, the Cubs claimed Flynn, and the Pirates withdrew the waiver. Flynn wound up playing part of the 1911 season in Pittsburgh but also spent time in St. Paul and Kansas City before the Senators finally picked him up in the Rule 5 draft of 1911.29

As in all winter meetings there were plenty of rumors relating to potential trades. One report had the Chicago Cubs sending three right-handed pitchers, Harry McIntire (13-9 in 1910), Ed Reulbach (12-8), and Lew Richie (11-4 ), to Cincinnati for right-hander George McQuillan, whom the Reds had recently acquired from the Phillies after he had posted a 9-6 mark in Philadelphia.  Cubs owner Charles Murphy was said to be willing to add veteran lefty Jack Pfiester to the deal if Clark Griffith would throw in third baseman Eddie Grant, also acquired in the trade that had brought McQuillan to the Reds, but the deal did not materialize.30

Summary

The 1910 winter meetings produced very little in the way of player movement, but the sale of two clubs (even though one fell through) led to a great deal of interest in the meetings. New Boston owner William Hepburn Russell died on November 21, 1911, and thus was not able to see his team, by then known as the Braves, win the World Series in 1914. The meetings did, however, plant the seeds for the creation of new, higher classifications in the minor leagues.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources included in the notes, the author read many additional articles in the publications listed, as well as coverage in the Milwaukee Journal and Harold Kaese’s book The Boston Braves (New York: Putman, 1948).

 

Notes

1 Sporting Life, December 3, 1901: 1.

2 Sporting Life, November 26, 1910: 6; The Sporting News, November 24, 1910: 1; Milwaukee Sentinel, November 17, 1910.

3 Sporting Life, November 26, 1910: 6; December 24, 1910: 9; The Sporting News, November 24, 1910: 1; Milwaukee Sentinel, November 17, 1910.

4 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 10.

5 Sporting Life, December 3, 1910: 1; December 24, 1910: 10.

6 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 10.

7 Ibid.

8 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 6.

9 Sporting Life, December 3, 1910: 1; December 24, 1910: 4; The Sporting News, December 21, 1910: 5.

10 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 10.

11 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 1, 2.

12 Sporting Life, January 7, 1911: 5.

13 Sporting Life, January 7, 1911: 11.

14 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 11.

15 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 1, 11; Milwaukee Sentinel, December 16, 1910.

16 Sporting Life, December24, 1910: 11,

17 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 1.

18 Ibid.

19  Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 11.

20 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 11; February 25, 1911: 1.

21 Sporting Life, January 21, 1911: 1.

22 Sporting Life, January 21, 1911: 1; February 25, 1911: 1, 2.

23 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 11.

24 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 6.

25 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 12.

26 Ibid.

27 Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 7.

28 Ibid.

29 Milwaukee Journal, December 15, 1910; Sporting Life, December 24, 1910: 3.

30 Milwaukee Sentinel, December 14, 1910.

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