1913 Winter Meetings: Preparing for the Fights Ahead

This article was written by Travis Stern

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


Introduction

The offseason after the 1913 championship season was one of turmoil. It saw the players taking formal steps to improve their working conditions, the ouster of a league president, and the opening salvos of a new war with an “outlaw” major league.

American League

Because of the impending world tour, set to depart on November 19, and the resulting absence of magnates Charles A. Comiskey of Chicago and James McAleer of Boston, the American League meeting was held slightly earlier in the month than in previous years.1 The league’s Board of Directors meeting was originally scheduled for Wednesday, November 6, in the Congress Hotel in Chicago, but was moved to the next morning, before Thursday’s larger general meeting, because some of the owners were slow in arriving.2 The board — consisting of Cleveland’s Charles W. Somers, New York’s Frank Farrell, Boston’s McAleer, and Chicago’s Comiskey — officially wrapped up the season by formally awarding the pennant to the Philadelphia Athletics and allocating $100 for the purchase of a championship pennant.3 Before adjourning, the board heard and accepted the president-treasurer’s report showing the most profitable season on record for the 13-year-old league. In the 1913 season, the American League exceeded the previous year’s attendance by “a third of a million paid admissions,” according to The Sporting News, which argued that the numbers were reliable due to the way the clubs were required to pay into the league treasury. The league was a half a million ahead of the previous year’s attendance until numbers fell away during the season’s final month. Still, every city except Boston showed an increase in attendance from the year before. Cleveland led the league in attendance, while Washington beat out the pennant-winning Athletics as the biggest road draw by a wide margin.4

The general meeting itself was brief; it reportedly took only 2½ hours.5 The four members of the Board of Directors — from Cleveland, New York, Boston, and Chicago — were replaced by the presidents of the league’s other four teams, and Somers was unanimously re-elected vice president.6 Somers and Philadelphia’s Connie Mack were selected by Johnson to sit alongside him on a Rules Committee set to meet with its National League counterparts to clarify and unify how some of the game’s rules should be interpreted. The league also decided to suggest to the National League a shortening of the season so it would run from April 14 through October 7. AL President Ban Johnson announced that he and Barney Dreyfuss, president of the National League’s Pittsburgh club and the NL’s chief schedule-maker, had agreed on the opening date but that the closing date was still unsettled. Johnson suggested that starting the season later by four days would not jeopardize the October 8 beginning of the World Series.7 (The scheduling meeting between the leagues was held in February, and the proposed date change was approved.)

In a significant action, the AL magnates voted unanimously against altering the nature of the World Series. August “Garry” Herrmann, president of Cincinnati’s National League club and the president of the National Commission, had proposed shortening the season to 126 games and then having all 16 teams play in a round-robin tournament to decide the champion. Another plan that had been floated was to replace the World Series entirely with a best-of-nine series between two all-league teams of 20 players apiece, selected by a committee of baseball writers.8 While not in favor of the Herrmann plan, Ban Johnson believed the postseason could stand some tweaking. Johnson noted the lack of monetary incentive for players to try to win as many games as they could and finish as high as possible in the standings once their team had been eliminated from winning the pennant. But Johnson did not favor a drastic reduction of games during the season.9 He reportedly would consider extending the World Series to a best of nine, but only if admission prices were reduced.10 (Later, Johnson denied he had ever favored a change.11)

The demands of the Players’ Fraternity for improved working conditions were discussed only informally since the league had yet to receive the particulars from the group. Relying on information sent to each club owner by the National Commission, the league asked that its discussion be referred to strictly as “informal” because no representative of the players was present. Even if the American League magnates had decided upon an official response, the Players’ Fraternity’s request had to first be submitted to the National Commission for consideration and subsequent recommendation to the leagues.12

The players’ list of demands, printed in the Sporting Life issue of November 15, had 17 requests accompanied by Players’ Fraternity president David L. Fultz’s explanation for each item. Among them were requests that every club provide each player with two complete uniforms exclusive of shoes. This had become standard for all teams except for those in the National League, which required a payment of $30 for the two uniforms. Besides the economic hardship suffered by players transferred between clubs during a year, Fultz recounted tales of players receiving second-hand uniforms after paying for new ones or having to borrow from other players before going on the field of play because they had not received a uniform at all.

In the name of player safety, the Fraternity requested the universal adoption of a blank wall in center field aligned with the pitching rubber and home plate and painted dark green, to serve as a background and help prevent serious injuries to batters. The players also requested that teams pay players’ traveling expenses to spring training, so long as it did not exceed the expense from the team’s home city to the spring site. Fultz argued that the players did not draw a salary for the six-week exhibition season and that at the very least, the teams could afford to pay these expenses.

The players wanted notification of fines or suspension to be in writing, hoping this would keep clubs from levying punishments out of spite or for otherwise unspecified reasons. Several of the other demands followed this impulse toward maintaining a written record, with requests that players receive a written copy of their contracts and that all written agreements be binding on both club and player. When a player was transferred, the Fraternity demanded, he should get written notice indicating the teams that had a claim on him as well as the nature of the claim. The Fraternity wanted the terms of a player’s pre-transfer contract to be kept in his new contract.13

While most of the requests were deemed acceptable by the American League and several had already been put into effect, the owners expressed serious objection to the request that players be notified in writing when waivers were asked on them. Many times waivers were asked on a player not with the intention of dealing him, but rather to gauge other clubs’ interest and to open negotiations for a trade. There had been a few breaches in this secrecy during the past year, and it was speculated that far from opening up the process, the league might seek to add a stiff penalty for disclosing waiver requests.14

The brief meeting did not see any trades occur, and several in attendance said player trades were never a topic of conversation during or after the gathering.15 The Sporting News reported only two American League managers visible in the hotel lobby, Cleveland’s Joe Birmingham and St. Louis’s Branch Rickey, and neither entered while the executive session was in progress. Birmingham denied a rumor that he might trade an outfielder to the Chicago Cubs, and speculated that he might play first base in the coming season. (He did not.) National League managers Joe Tinker of Cincinnati and Miller Huggins of St. Louis were also present.16 

National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues

The National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues met November 11 through 13 at the Virginia Hotel in Columbus, Ohio. Twenty-four of the 43 member leagues had representatives present at the initial roll call, with several more league presidents arriving later, held up by inclement weather halting departures from Cleveland. National Association President Mike H. Sexton opened the meeting and made way for remarks from Ohio Governor (and future Democratic presidential nominee) James Cox, Columbus Mayor G.J. Karb, and Governor Ben Hooper of Tennessee, who made an appeal for the next year’s meeting to be held in Nashville.

To conclude the first day’s gathering, Secretary John H. Farrell presented the annual report, noting 302 member teams from the United States and Canada. During the year 88 players had been drafted into the major leagues from the minors — the National League took 45 and the American League 43— and more than 8,500 player contracts were received and processed.17 Farrell, as chairman of the National Board of Arbitration, opened the hearings in 167 appeals to the board, which required daily morning and nighttime sessions to complete. Among the 24 claims left unsettled was an application for membership by the Cuban League. The reluctance to accept the league into the organization was attributed to the use of “colored players on teams.”18

The second day began with the appointment of committees. Besides panels on auditing, resolutions, amending the constitution, and one for drafting a resolution to honor the late Philadelphia Phillies president William H. Locke, a committee was set up to report on the feasibility of a uniform contract for all leagues in the National Association. The idea was controversial, and it was agreed that such a uniform contract would be impracticable. The primary objection was the inclusion of 10 days’ notice of release, which was opposed by the B, C, and D leagues over the cost of having to pay a player for 10 days without being able to use him.19 The delegates voted to let all leagues adopt their own form of contract; a change in Class-AA contracts was allowed to make them more in line with major-league contracts. The International League would use a three- or five-day release notice rather than 10 days, and the lower leagues planned to keep their current practices.

A committee to discuss the requests of the Players’ Fraternity was planned but never appointed. The National Board was told to be ready to meet with the National Commission and the Fraternity.

On the third day the delegates considered revisions to the constitution. Among the issues clarified were allowing Class-AA clubs to draft only one player off a Class-A club; requiring that agreements on a player’s sale be filed with the secretary’s office within 10 days; and voiding the sale of an injured player to another team unless the purchasing club was notified of the injury first. The farming of players was forbidden. Several delegates protested against major-league clubs claiming a large number of players and then canceling the draft, and the major leagues pledged to cease the practice.20 Omaha rather than Nashville was chosen as the site of the 1914 meeting, due in part to the Tennessee governor’s promise to a temperance organization that his state would be dry in the next year.21 The final act of the meeting was a vote requiring Secretary Farrell to take the entire month of December as vacation because of the work he had accomplished throughout the year.

Two of the Class-AA leagues — the International League and the American Association — discussed adopting a postseason interleague tournament similar to Herrmann’s proposal for a major-league round-robin. After discussion at each league’s meetings and an address to the International League by American Association President T.M. Chivington, it was determined that such a series would not be feasible. Despite initial widespread support, it was feared that the amount of time several teams would have to be away from their home ballparks left open an advantage that could be exploited by potential Federal League teams. The International League demanded that American Association teams travel east and play them before returning west, while the American Association favored a coin toss to determine the arrangement. International League President Edward Barrow noted that the stakes of such a tournament would be relatively low since the winner would still have to play the Pacific Coast League pennant winner to determine a true Class-AA champion.22

At the banquet on Wednesday evening, National Commission Chairman Garry Herrmann’s speech provided the first formal public remarks on both the leadership of the Players’ Fraternity and the ever-encroaching Federal League. Herrmann began by noting Organized Baseball’s successes under the purview of the National Commission for 11 years: better behavior by fans and players; better facilities; higher player salaries for the more than 8,000 players employed each season on average; and the elimination of much litigation. Proclaiming, “We are proud of our national game — base ball,” Herrmann lamented that a proposed congressional inquiry into baseball did not come to pass in the last year, and said it would have been invited, rather than feared, because the game had nothing to conceal. He said the formation of the Players’ Fraternity would “contribute materially to the betterment of baseball,” and said the National Commission would be happy to formally discuss player complaints, as well as any suggestions the club owners might have.

However, the commission insisted on discussions only with players rather than nonplayers — specifically the Fraternity’s president, David Fultz. Herrmann detailed the National Commission’s objection to Fultz: He had been critical of its actions in a monthly newspaper piece he was writing without — according to Herrmann — having full knowledge of all the facts and any evidence of the work the commission was doing. Herrmann was also critical of two recent articles in New York newspapers predicting that certain clauses in the National Agreement would not be allowed.23 (Fultz acknowledged that players he called “black sheep” members of the Fraternity had been in contact with the National Commission.)

Most damning for club owners, Herrmann said, was Fultz’s request for a pledge by players to strike at a moment’s notice. Since no grievances, complaints, or demands had been filed with the Commission, there was no cause for a strike, Herrmann said. There would be no objection to having Fultz present when issues were discussed, provided that a committee of players was also present. Herrmann concluded his remarks on the Players’ Fraternity by recognizing three categories of players — those still developing, those in the prime of their careers, and those in the waning stages — and asserted that legislation benefiting one of these groups at the expense of the others would be damaging to the game itself.

Herrmann indicated he didn’t think the new Federal League, operating outside the bounds of the National Agreement, would be a threat to the established leagues, and he welcomed the existence of the potential new league because baseball should not be confined to those in “organized ball.” He promised no interference with their operations unless they violated contractual obligations or vested rights. Asserting that players of all kinds should be free to make their own choices, Herrmann and the Commission promised to ensure that all legal provisions would be enforced, especially once a contract had been signed. He asserted that players and owners who did not respect those obligations would have no place in Organized Baseball “either now or in the future.” Herrmann also addressed the reserve clause, stating that the previous “inequitable arrangement” had been changed for the better now that players were being compensated for signing a contract that contained the clause.24 

National League

The story that dominated the National League’s offseason was the process of replacing Thomas J. Lynch as league president. Ever since assuming the post in 1910, Lynch, a former NL umpire, had endured persistent opposition from some of the owners. The search for Lynch’s successor was focused at first on Robert P. Brown, a newspaperman from Louisville, who was favored by Cincinnati’s Garry Herrmann, Pittsburgh’s Barney Dreyfuss, and Brooklyn’s Charles Ebbets. Needing five votes to make the change, the trio might have been able to persuade St. Louis president Schuyler Britton to vote for Brown but no one else, which would mean another year of unease with Lynch remaining in charge. The newly elected president of the Philadelphia club, William F. Baker, declared that he would support Lynch unless a better man could be secured.25 The “better man” Baker had in mind was the governor of Pennsylvania, John K. Tener, a former major-league pitcher. Baker had intended to gather sufficient support to offer the position on their first meeting, but a leak occurred, possibly by Cincinnati’s Herrmann in an effort to derail the plan altogether. Tener was still open to the possibility, however, and though he refrained from public comment before the vote, the move was widely lauded as a positive one for the National League. Seeing defeat, the other faction withdrew their support for Brown, and Tener was unanimously elected on the National League’s first day of meetings, December 9 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.26

Before the election took place, however, President Lynch submitted the President’s Report, detailing the league’s statistics from 1913. There had been 76 postponed games, 73 doubleheaders, 15 ties, 12 games that were never played, and five that were protested with four of those disallowed and the remaining one withdrawn. The league used 13,728 baseballs during the year. Lynch noted a general decline in “rowdyism” on the field despite two notable confrontations between players and managers. In a final bit of defiance, Lynch wished the league and its new president success and stated to the room before leaving, “I hope you will inject some of that dignity expected of him into yourselves, and be a help instead of a hindrance.” He then left the room and delivered a printed copy of his final remarks for proper quotation to the Base Ball Writers Association, meeting in session in another part of the hotel. Taken aback, the National League magnates then tabled a proposal that had been brought forth to give Lynch a gold watch as a token of gratitude.27 Later, Lynch denied a report that he would head the Federal League, stating unequivocally, “I am a National Leaguer.”28 Rumors that he might be retained as head of the umpires in the National League did not come to pass, however, and Lynch retired from baseball altogether. 

On the second day, Tener was officially installed as the National League’s eighth president for a four-year term at a yearly salary for $25,000, though day-to-day management would be handled by Secretary John A. Heydler until Tener’s governorship ended in January 1915. During Tener’s brief acceptance remarks, he fondly recalled playing for Cap Anson’s Chicago teams. It was then decided that the National League attendees would go en masse to Anson’s nearby theatrical performance that night as a show of support. In the afternoon the group considered the demands of the Players’ Fraternity. They decided to leave the case with the new president while refusing to publicly divulge any decisions that had been reached. Tener, who once had been secretary of John Montgomery Ward’s Brotherhood of Professional Players, would consult with the National Commission’s Herrmann and Johnson at their next meeting.

The final day of the meeting was largely devoted to work, though the owners were visited by Morgan G. Bulkeley, the first president of the league, who spoke briefly of his reminiscences and the progress that had been made since he served in 1876.  Of note was the presence of Helene Hathaway Robison Britton, the female owner of the St. Louis club, which Bulkeley admitted was an “innovation, but a very good one.”29 Among the business conducted was approval by the league for the National Commission to release $36,000 to be divided equally among the league’s eight clubs. The money was 25 percent of the New York Giants’ receipts from the 1912 World Series. The club objected to a recently established league rule that required such distribution of receipts among league members. A New York judge upheld the rule, but the Giants refused to concede the matter of $20,000 being held back from the 1913 World Series, so action on that was tabled until a later date.

The attendees discussed at length a proposal previously offered by Brooklyn’s Charles Ebbets to create a new draft system for all major-league clubs based on the reverse order of each league’s final standings, while allotting all even picks to one league and all odd to the other. While the plan garnered wide appeal, it was decided to postpone an official decision until the American League could similarly deliberate. The final bits of business disposed of before adjourning to President Tener’s end-of-meeting dinner included granting the Brooklyn club the lone exception to a constitutional prohibition against two teams occupying the same city, and forbidding a player, manager, or owner of a rival club to discuss player transfers or sales without knowledge and consent of that player’s owner and club representatives.30

By the official end of the meetings, no significant player deals had occurred. A day after adjournment, however, St. Louis traded first baseman Ed Konetchy to Pittsburgh, along with third baseman Mike Mowery and right-handed pitcher Bob Harmon, for first baseman Jack “Dots” Miller, infielders Art Butler and Al “Cozy” Dolan, outfielder J.O. “Chief” Wilson, and left-handed pitcher Hank Robinson. Konetchy had long been dissatisfied with consistently poor finishes in St. Louis and pushed for a trade to New York. Rumors had the Giants’ Fred Merkle, Fred Snodgrass, and Buck Herzog being exchanged for the first baseman and outfielder Lee Magee, but Herzog was adamant against playing for a club that far west with a threat to go “outlaw” if dealt.31 While Konetchy apparently entertained a three-year, $10,000-a-year contract to manage a St. Louis Federal League team, he eventually committed to his new Pittsburgh club.

The most notable player movement in both name and result after the meetings was that of Joe Tinker from Cincinnati to Brooklyn. After much speculation and rumor, the Cincinnati shortstop and manager was sold to Brooklyn for $25,000 with the promise that Cincinnati would pay him $10,000 as an enticement to get him to accept the transfer. Tinker, however, wanted to return to Chicago and used the resulting salary dispute to jump to the Chicago Federal League club as player-manager on December 27, 1913, for a salary of $36,000 spread out over three years.32 He was the first major player acquired by the fledgling league, and it forced both of the established major leagues to reconsider their previous position of dismissing the new organization.

Spring Meetings

It was in the wake of several large Federal League splashes that the National and American Leagues met in the middle of February 1914 to finalize their schedules. The National League met at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York for three days beginning on Tuesday, February 10, while the American League gathered at the Biltmore in New York for one day, Wednesday February 11. Both leagues ratified their schedules, which had them open on April 14 and close on October 7 per the American League’s original suggestion.33

Behind the perennially strong leadership of President Ban Johnson, the American League owners refused to appoint a “war committee” as the National League had done to fight the Federal League, choosing instead to put Johnson in charge of all matters. Johnson then deferred to the National Commission (of which he was a member) to serve as a de-facto war committee.34 The National League had appointed President Tener, Cincinnati’s Herrmann, and Boston’s John C. Toole on the first day of its meeting. Since the American League had declined to follow suit, on the second day the NL rescinded its original vote and similarly chose to place its trust in the National Commission, allowing the two established leagues to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in any dispute with the Federal League.

President Tener and the rest of the league were then able to turn their attention to the issue between Chicago president Charles Murphy and his deposed manager, Johnny Evers. Tener ruled that Murphy must pay Evers the $40,000 called for by his contract as player and manager.  Murphy argued that a letter from Evers in which he requested more money or might not ever play ball again constituted his resignation. Murphy admitted, however, that he had failed to give Evers the 10 days’ notice required by all contracts signed in the National League under the National Agreement.35 Within the month Murphy, who had few friends among National League magnates, was forced out of the club’s ownership as Charles Taft purchased his stock for $500,000.36

 

Notes

1 “The American League Holds an Uneventful Meeting in Chicago,” Sporting Life, November 15, 1913: 10; “Americans Fancy Tener in National,” The Sporting News, November 13, 1913: 1.

2 “American League Will Ignore Fraternity,” Hartford Courant, November 6, 1913: 18.

3 “The American League Holds.”

4 “American Leaguers to Hear Story of Success,” The Sporting News, November 6, 1913: 1.

5 “Americans Fancy Tener.” 

6 “American League Meets in Chicago,” New York Times, November 7, 1913: 10.

7 Ibid.; “The American League Holds.”

8 “A Series Plan,” Washington Post, December 7, 1913: S3.

9 “Johnson’s Amendments,” Sporting Life, November 8, 1913: 7.

10 “American Leaguers to Hear.”

11 “American League Will,”

12 “The American League Holds.”

13 Ibid.

14 “American Leaguers to Hear.”

15 “Americans Fancy Tener.”

16 “Americans Sit on Herrmann’s Idea,” The Sporting News, November 13, 1913: 5; “American League Meets.”

17 “National Association Starts Its Twelfth Annual Meeting at Columbus, O.,” Sporting Life, November 15, 1913: 6.

18 “Minor Leaguers Hand a Rebuff to the Commission,” The Sporting News, November 20, 1913: 5.

19 “National Association: The Twelfth Annual Meeting at Columbus, Ohio, the Most Successful in a Decade,” Sporting Life, November 22, 1913: 5; “Seeking Uniform Baseball Contract,” Hartford Courant, November 13, 1913: 19.

20 “Seeking Uniform.”

21 “National Association Starts Its Twelfth.”

22 “Late News Items,” The Sporting News, December 11, 1913: 1; “International Passes Up Interleague Series With AA,” The Sporting News, December 18, 1913: 3.

23 These clauses asked for (3) transferral of a contract subject to all terms of the original contract, (5) written notification of an unconditional release or request of waivers on a player, (10) free agency if not tendered a contract after the 45-day probationary period, and (13) inability of clubs to withdraw a request for waivers on a player once asked.    

24 “The Powers’ Policy!” Sporting Life, November 22, 1913: 1, 18.

25 “Phillies Again to Be King Makers in Their League,” The Sporting News, November 13, 1913: 1.

26 “The National League Holds a Most Successful Spring Meeting,” Sporting Life, December 20, 1913: 6.

27 Ibid.

28 “National League Meeting[:] John K. Tener Elected President for Four Years,” Sporting Life, December 13, 1913: 2; “The National League Holds.”

29 “The National League Holds”: 7.

30 “The National League Holds”: 6-8.

31 “Gives Feds Chance to Sling the Ink,” The Sporting News, November 6, 1913: 1; “Discussion of Demands,” Los Angeles Times, December 11, 1913: III4.

32 Daniel R. Levitt, The Battle That Forged Modern Baseball: The Federal League Challenge and Its Legacy. (Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania: Ivan R. Dee, 2012); ProQuest ebrary. Web. June 17, 2015, 3-10. 

33 “National League Schedule,” Sporting Life, February 14, 1914: 6; “American League Schedule,” Sporting Life, February 14, 1914: 7.

34 “The American League Holds One of Its Usual Quiet Meetings,” Sporting Life, February 21, 1914: 11.

35 “The National League Comes Into Line With Defensive Policy,” Sporting Life, February 21, 1914: 10.

36 Lenny Jacobsen, “Charles Murphy,” The Baseball Biography Project, sabr.org/bioproj/person/e707728f, accessed July 31, 2015.

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