1912 Winter Meetings: Discussing Interleague Play and the Slow Pace of the Game

This article was written by Andy Bokser

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


Among the anticipated business of the National and American Leagues at their postseason winter meetings in 1912 were trades, policy discussions, appointments to league posts and boards of directors. The National League convened on Tuesday, December 11, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, and the American League meeting on the next day at the Congress Hotel in Chicago.

Earlier, from November 12 to 15, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (the minor leagues) met in Milwaukee. It was reported at the meeting that the National Association controlled about 6,500 players with a combined annual salary of over $3 million (maybe enough to pay a single back-end-of-the-rotation pitcher on a current major-league contender). The National Association estimated team travel and hotel expenses as close to a million dollars, and umpire costs of about $200,000. With attendance revenues reported at $6 million, it appeared that there were ample profits for at least some of the minor-league owners.1

Nevertheless, it was clear that those profits did not satisfy all of the minor-league owners. Some urged the National Association to adopt a sliding-scale salary cap (the scale depending on the league’s classification). Some members of the Double-A International League and American Association expressed opposition to the plan since such a restriction could “impair the quality of baseball.”2 After much negotiating, the leagues agreed that monthly player payroll limits would be put in place. For example, the total players’ payroll of Class-A teams were to be limited to $3,600 per month, and Class-B teams to $2,500.3 The ceiling excluded managers’ salaries.4 While the leagues debated how the limits should be enforced (e.g., via audit or affidavit), the consensus was that the owners would be placed on their honor.5

At the National League meeting, Secretary John Heydler presented a new pitching statistic, earned-run average, to evaluate pitchers’ 1912 seasons. He announced that Jeff Tesreau had allowed 1.96 earned runs per nine innings. His teammate Christy Mathewson was second with an earned-run average of 2.12.6 The American League did not adopt earned-run average as an official statistic until 1913, when Walter Johnson won the crown with a microscopic 1.14 ERA.7

The senior circuit re-elected Thomas J. Lynch as president of the league, and elected Heydler (who later served as National League president from 1918-1934) for a three-year term as secretary and treasurer.8 Heydler was awarded a salary increase.9

The National League awarded a pennant for good behavior to the Philadelphia team, whose players went through the season of 1912 with no suspensions and only one fine. The one transgressor on the Phillies was pitcher Ad Brennan, who had been thrown out of a game for “soiling a new ball.”10

The NL reported that its eight teams used 12,060 baseballs during the 1912 season. The average of 1,500 per team was attributed in part to the fact that many fans were not returning foul balls hit into the crowd. (By contrast, Major League Baseball public-relations manager Jeff Heckleman reported in June 2010 that the 30 major-league teams used about 900,000 baseballs for the season, although only 200,000 of them were used during games.11) The 1912 National League schedule included 88 postponements, 119 doubleheaders, and 78 unplayed games. Six protests were lodged during the season. The one upheld was made by the Cubs against the Pirates. 

The National League addressed a vexing situation. Umpire Charles “Cy” Rigler was being paid $2,200 by the Philadelphia Phillies for his role in having the team sign a pitcher, Eppa Rixey. The league concluded that an umpire officiating in a game involving a team that he was being paid by or was having a financial dispute with would be “against the best interest of the game.” As a consequence, the league ruled that umpires could no longer act as scouts.12 (Considering that Rixey was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1963, perhaps Rigler would have had a more lucrative career as a talent scout than an umpire. However, Rigler did not have to beat the bushes to find Rixey. He was on the baseball staff at the University of Virginia, where he saw Rixey pitch as a student pursuing a degree in chemistry.13

Among the baseball elite appearing at the meetings in New York were Christy Mathewson, John Montgomery Ward, George Stallings, Charles Ebbets Jr., Fred Clark, and Joe Tinker.14 (Stallings, the new manager of the Boston Braves, Toronto of the International League to obtain pitcher Dick Rudolph.15)

As with many meetings and conventions, not all of the issues before the National League were resolved. For example, the magnates postponed a decision on whether the NL champion New York Giants should share 25 percent of their World Series earnings with the other seven teams in the league. 

A matter that received much attention before, during, and after the winter meetings concerned Roger Bresnahan,16 who had signed to manage the St. Louis Cardinals for five years starting in 1912 at $10,000 per year plus 10 percent of the team’s profits.17 After the 1912 team finished in sixth place, going 63-90, the Cardinals fired the future Hall of Famer. He maintained that he was entitled to be paid for the balance of his contract plus his share of any profits.

Lawyers for Bresnahan and the Cardinals sought to select arbitrators to resolve the situation. It was also reported that Cincinnati Reds president Gary Herrmann and Barney Dreyfuss of the Pirates were bidding for Bresnahan’s services.18 With the matter still unresolved, Bresnahan brought his grievance to the NL meeting. He was being offered to several teams including Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Chicago.19 The matter remained unresolved at the meetings, but the National League eventually declared him a free agent and he signed with the Chicago Cubs, getting a $25,000 signing bonus. He also settled a lawsuit against the Cardinals for $20,000.20 

Another topic that garnered attention at the winter meetings was the future of the Giants. John T. Brush, the club’s combative owner, had recently died while on a train traveling to the West Coast on November 25, 1912.  It was reported that he was suffered from locomotor ataxia and other maladies, knew he was very ill and prior to his death appointed his daughter’s husband as vice president of the club.21  In his will he named his son-in-law Harry N. Hempstead and N. Ashley Lloyd, a minority partner in the team, the executors, giving them authority to vote his stock and, if they chose, to sell the team.  There was no sale of the team during the meetings.22

T.H. Murnane, a former major-league player and now the baseball editor of the Boston Globe, wrote that winter meetings were becoming “little more than getting together for a good time.” He wrote that he had attended at least 26 winter meetings that he found more fascinating than the 1912 NL session. He said the National Commission handled most of the business, which left the other baseball officials to do little more than to meet for the social gathering.23

In the eyes of another sportswriter, the American League meetings were hardly less dull. Henry P. Edwards of The Sporting News opined that the junior circuit meeting could have been mailed in and “not overtaxed the postman at that.”24

Among the more recognizable names at the AL meetings were Charles Comiskey of the White Sox, Frank Navin of the Detroit Tigers, Charles W. Somers of the Cleveland Indians, and Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics. Somers was re-elected vice president of the league and the presidents of the Chicago, New York, Cleveland, and Boston clubs were appointed to the league board of directors. The league executives also agreed to hold a preseason meeting in New York in February 1913.25 One of the noteworthy deals involved a National League stalwart, Frank Chance. The New York Highlanders/Yankees hired Chance as their manager. League President Ban Johnson was all in favor. The American League was hoping to capitalize on the Cubs’ rivalry with the Giants to spur fans’ interest in the Yankees. Chance’s efforts were in vain; the Yankees finished in seventh place in 1913 with a record of 57-94. Chance did not last the 1914 season with the Yankees, resigning with three weeks to go.26

It was announced that the Yankees’ home games would be played at the Giants’ Polo Grounds in 1913. The league said the arrangement would last for one year, and the Yankees would then have “a plant of their own.” 27 As it turned out, the Yankees were Giants tenants until 1923, when Yankee Stadium was opened.

In other AL matters, Ban Johnson was asked his opinion of an idea floated by Gary Herrmann of having a 64-game interleague series. Johnson said there was no chance of Herrmann’s “scheme” being adopted in 1913, and his interviewer inferred that the AL president did not want to see the plan ever implemented. The American League issued an order directing the owners and managers to work together to shorten the length of the games. The clubs bemoaned the fact that the average time of the games was close to two hours and that some low-scoring games even lasted longer than two hours. Reasons included time spent changing sides between innings, players getting back to position after foul balls were hit, the time needed to switch position players or pitchers, and catchers taking too long putting their equipment on.   

In addition, the American League, acting at least partly in response to the “base ball writers,” deliberated to continue the contract giving Western Union the exclusive right to install wires in league ballparks. Western Union sent a representative to the meeting to try to prevent termination of the agreement, but the league gave Johnson the authority to cancel the agreement unless a “satisfactory agreement” was reached.28 

A minor transaction completed at the meeting was the Yankees’ agreement to allowing Branch Rickey to become the St. Louis Browns’ team secretary. Rickey had been on the Yankees’ ineligible list for several years because of his refusal to report to the team. If this deal was not made, would the course of baseball have changed?29

While the 1912 winter meetings may not have satisfied the cravings of writers Murnane and Edwards for interesting developments, significant issues were indeed addressed, including the implementation of a popular statistical tool (earned-run average), the trials and tribulations of Chance and Bresnahan, discussions of how baseball games were too long, and the launching of Branch Rickey’s career as one of baseball’s 20th-century pioneers.

 

Notes

1 “Minor League Moguls Meet,” The Sporting News, November 7, 1912; Washington Post November 12, 1912.

2  “National Association of Minor Leagues Likely to Adopt Limit,” New York Times, November 13, 1912: 13.

3 “Fixing Salaries Tedious Task,” The Sporting News, November 21, 1912. The Class-B Northwestern League teams were allowed an extra $1,000 per month over other Class-B teams due in part to the limited population of the league’s cities.

4  “Minor Leagues Are Still in Session, Salary Limit Fixed,” Christian Science Monitor, November 14, 1912.

5 Harry Neily, “Minors Make Some Progress Toward Regulation of Salary Abuses,” The Sporting News, November 21, 1912.

6  “Tesreau’s Pitching Record,” New York Times, December 9, 1912.

7  The Sporting News Complete Baseball Record Book, 2001, 154.

8 “Lynch Re-Elected by National League,” Hartford Courant, December 11, 1912: 16.

9  “Matters of Moment in National League,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1912.

10 “National League Re-Elects Lynch,” New York Times, December 11, 1912.

11 Matt Ehalt, “Once a Treasured Commodity of Teams, Baseballs Become an Everyday Giveaway for Fans at Ballparks,” New York Daily News, June 15, 2010.

12 “National League Re-Elects Lynch,” New York Times, December 11, 1912.

13 “Eppa Rixey,” in The National Baseball Hall of Fame Almanac, 2014.

14 W.J.M., “Arbitrate Is Plan,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1912.

15 T.H. Murnane, “Stallings Releases Houser,” Boston Globe, December 11, 1912. Rudolph went 26-10 for the 1914 “Miracle Braves” and won two games in the Braves’ sweep of Philadelphia in the World Series.

16 “’Rajah’ Ends Peace Parley,” Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1912.

17 Joan M. Thomas, “Roger Bresnahan,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/roger-bresnahan/.

18 T.H. Murnane, Boston Globe, December 11, 2012. 

19 Los Angeles Times, December 8, 1912: V119.

20 Joan M. Thomas.

21 “Brush Dead,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1912

22 “Giants Are Left in Trust,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1912.

23 T.H. Murhane, “Tim Notes Changes — League Meetings Do Not Have Business as of Old,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1912.

24 Henry P. Edwards, The Sporting News, December 19, 1912.

25 Christian Science Monitor, December 12, 1912: 3.

26 Peter M. Gordon, “Roger Peckinpaugh,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/829dbefb.

27 I.E. Sanborn, “Magnates Loosen on Chance Deal,” Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1912.

28 “Good of Game Keynote of American League’s Meeting,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1912.

29 Ibid.

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