1920 Winter Meetings: The Year that Rocked Baseball and Changed it Forever

This article was written by Marshall Adesman

This article was published in the


Baseball fans love numbers — 755, 511, 2,632, for instance, or .300 batting averages, winning 20 games, stealing 100 bases, hitting 100 mph on the radar gun — all are part of the lore of the game. Sometimes those numbers include specific years, generally the year we started watching or the year our favorite team won the World Series; Red Sox fans, no doubt, have a special place in their hearts for 2004.

Not too many of us were around for the year 1920, but all fans, even the most casual, ought to be aware of what transpired then, because the events of 1920, tinged with drama and suspense, reshaped the game so much that its influence is still being felt.

The story of the Winter Meetings of 1920, then, must be told in the context of the entire year (which also includes a bit of the tail-end of 1919), as if it were a piece of theater.

 

ACT ONE — THE BACKGROUND

 

Back in the first two decades of the 20th century, baseball really was the national pastime. Fans (also known as “cranks” or “bugs”) just loved their baseball and loved betting on the action, which made the game very attractive to the gambling subculture. Wagers could be placed anywhere — in homes, in shops, and even in the grandstands and bleachers. Betting on baseball was pervasive, an ever-present sideshow that was ignored by the three-man governing body, the National Commission.

But disputes over players began to chip away at this structural foundation. While still in high school, George Sisler signed a contract with his hometown Akron club of the Class-C Ohio-Pennsylvania League that was quickly declared invalid.1 Despite this ruling, Akron peddled his rights to Columbus of the American Association, which later made a profit by selling the contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates.2  All this time Sisler was playing for the University of Michigan and coach Branch Rickey. The National Commission ruled that Pittsburgh’s claim would be “dormant” until Sisler graduated from Michigan, but the matter heated up again during his junior year and the commission ultimately granted his request for free agency, with his promise that he give the Pirates first crack at his services.3 By this time Branch Rickey had become manager and vice president of the St. Louis Browns, and he signed his former student-athlete in 1915. Pittsburgh owner Barney Dreyfuss appealed to the National Commission but was rebuffed and, from that point on, dedicated himself to ousting Cincinnati Reds owner Garry Herrmann, chairman of the National Commission, from baseball’s ruling body.4

ACT TWO — THE FALLOUT

 

The 1920 season was in its final days and the White Sox were involved in one of the tightest pennant races in years, a three-way affair that also included the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. Despite that, Comiskey suspended seven of the eight indicted players. (First baseman Chick Gandil had retired after the 1919 World Series.) Without two starting infielders (Swede Risberg and Buck Weaver), two starting outfielders (Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch), and their two best starters (Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams), the depleted White Sox lost two of their final three games and finished two games behind Cleveland, which went on to defeat Brooklyn in the World Series.

Repercussions were being felt off the field as well. National League President John Heydler criticized the National Commission (of which he was a member), calling it ineffective and saying that it was now time for baseball’s government to assume a new format.5 A change had been put forth even before the scandal broke, suggested by Albert Lasker, a Chicago advertising executive and Cubs stockholder. Lasker’s thought was that a three-man panel of complete outsiders ought to be placed in charge of the game, men who had absolutely no financial interest in any of the 16 clubs. The names of a host of prominent citizens were bandied about as potential chairmen, including former President William Howard Taft, Generals John Pershing and Leonard Wood, Senator Hiram Johnson of California, former Treasury Secretary William McAdoo, and Judges Charles McDonald and Kenesaw Mountain Landis.6 The Lasker Plan, as it became known, was ignored when first proposed but now, as new revelations were made public almost daily, it was revived and rapidly moved forward, spearheaded by the three American League “Insurrectos” and actively supported by the owners of three National League clubs (the Pirates, Giants, and Cubs). On October 1, a letter went out to all major- and minor-league owners, urging their support of the Lasker Plan; by October 7, the NL formally endorsed it and called for an October 18 meeting with the AL to discuss a complete reorganization of baseball.7 Ban Johnson and the “Loyal Five” (Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington) ignored this meeting, but the 11 clubs in attendance renounced the existing National Agreement; endorsed the creation of a new, three-man commission headed by a chairman; set up a six-man committee to search for the best three people to sit on this commission; and issued an ultimatum to Johnson and his group — join them in the new baseball order or this “Allied Eleven” (sometimes referred to as the “Big Eleven”) would find a 12th franchise and form a new major league; this new franchise would most likely come from one of their towns and thus offer direct competition, which would essentially mean a baseball civil war.8

After the indictments were returned on October 22, Johnson rejected the proposal, pointing out that it did not include the minor leagues at all. He countered with a new idea: a nine-man committee (three each from the AL, the NL, and the minors) that would be charged with creating a new governmental structure for baseball.9

On November 8 all 16 major-league franchises met at the Congress Hotel in Chicago, with the “Allied Eleven” conferring in one room while the “Loyal Five” met in another. Washington owner Clark Griffith was chosen to be the messenger, shuttling between meeting rooms (New York’s Jacob Ruppert joined him), as each side tried to sway the other before a self-imposed 4:00 P.M. deadline. When no progress was made, the larger group adopted the Lasker Plan and selected Judge Landis as commissioner. The Yankees, White Sox, and Red Sox resigned from the American League, the National League dissolved itself and a new 11-team NL was created, with a 12th franchise to be placed in whichever “Loyal Five” city defected; if all stayed the course, an expansion team would be awarded to either Cleveland or Detroit.10

And it was at this point that the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues — better known as the minor leagues — held its annual Winter Meetings.

ACT THREE — MEETINGS, MEETINGS, AND MORE MEETINGS

Scene One: The Minors

 

The minors had no desire to get in the middle of this powderkeg. In fact, the previous two seasons had been played without a hitch even though the Major-Minor League Agreement had actually been abrogated before the start of play in 1919; the minors had objected to the terms of the major-league draft and, unable to come to some sort of accord, the two sides had simply agreed to operate independently.11 While overall sentiment favored maintaining neutrality, the minors did want to be part of any strong effort to rid the game of crooks and gamblers.12 But there were those in the majors who wanted the minors to get involved, so when they gathered in Kansas City at the Hotel Muehlebach on November 9, they were greeted by requests from both factions to address the delegates. Ban Johnson got to bat first, and asked the minors to remain neutral. “(Y)ou should pursue a central course, showing no favor or partiality to either side,” he said.13  However, in his first-ever appearance before a minor-league convention,14 he also sought to subtly influence their thinking by offering the carrot of power. “I think you should have equal representation on the national board and that you should have equal power with the American and National Leagues.”15 He also brought forth his idea of reorganizing the game from within and asked the minors to set up their three-man committee.

The next day Detroit owner Frank Navin and Cincinnati’s Garry Herrmann were on hand to address the owners, but they had not gotten very far when they were handed a note — all owners had agreed to meet in Chicago the very next day, without attorneys or league presidents.16 Something was a-stirring.

Free to deal with their own matters, the minors proceeded, first by re-electing Michael Sexton of Rock Island, Illinois, as president of the NAPBL and then, for the first time, adding a salary of $5,000 per year to the position so he would devote himself to the job full-time. John Farrell, who had been secretary-treasurer since the organization was founded in 1901, was re-elected to the post and given a raise to $7,500. It was decided that the money would come from a new “tax,” a 2 percent appropriation of the purchase price of all players sold.17  

They then named a six-man committee to help develop a plan for baseball’s reorganization. Sexton was chosen to head this body, along with Thomas Hickey, president of the American Association (Class AA); John Martin, president of the Southern Association (A); George Maines, president of the Michigan-Ontario League (B); W.H. Walsh, president of the South Atlantic League (C); and Walter Morris, president of the West Texas League (D). They agreed to meet with their major-league colleagues, but only after the latter had put its house in order.18

They unanimously adopted a resolution urging every state legislature to adopt a bill that would punish those found guilty of bribing or attempting to bribe a player, manager, or umpire. Written along the lines of a bill drafted by Judge John Crooker, owner of the Houston team in the Texas League and set to be proposed in that state’s legislature, the resolution called for a sentence of two to five years in prison, along with the punishment of any owners or other officials who were found to have been connected with the fixing of ballgames.19

So much was happening, so many changes were being suggested for the National Agreement. In response, Sexton was authorized to appoint a committee to prepare a new draft for either the next scheduled meeting (February 1921) or the next winter meeting. He placed himself on it and also named Farrell, Dave Fultz, president of the International League (Class AA); William Bradley, president of the Virginia League (Class B); and Bob Brown, owner of Vancouver in the Class-B Pacific Coast International League.20 The International League, however, opted for a different voice.

Dave Fultz was a former college and professional athlete who became a lawyer and, in 1912, organized a players union, the Fraternity of Baseball Players. He was elected president of the International League in 1919 but, by the following year, had antagonized a great many people — especially major-league owners — by his opposition to reinstating the minor-league player draft, and to the selection of a single commissioner.

Fultz was simply representing his constituents. The Double-A leagues (the highest level of the minors at the time) were not particularly interested in falling under the rule of a single high commissioner or in having the draft restored, at least not without a better system of compensation, which they defined as either better prices for their players or the power to hold onto those players for a longer period of time.  

The majors disagreed and took it out on Fultz. His leadership and iconoclastic views earned him a pink slip as IL owners, “influenced” by their major-league brethren, booted him out and installed John Toole, a major-league attorney.21

Contract-jumping, also a major problem at that time, received considerable attention. A rule had previously been adopted that banned jumpers for “a number of years,” but clubs were actually getting around it by saying that particular players hadn’t really jumped but “had taken vacations.” In an effort to tighten up the rule, and its enforcement, it was decided that Secretary Farrell would be allowed to use his judgment as to whether players had been “mistakenly” declared ineligible. For his part, Farrell “gave his word that he’d see to it contract jumpers got what was coming to them.”22

Some general administrative matters were settled. The Texas League was elevated from Class B to Class A, and a territorial dispute between the Western Association and Southwestern League was settled. Dan O’Neill, president of the Eastern League, spoke passionately about how major-league teams had been playing Sunday exhibitions within 10 miles of EL territories. American League teams had ceased this practice after he had spoken with Ban Johnson, but the NL had not yet responded, so the minors extended their existing five-mile rule to 10. They also raised salary limits by 50 percent, and ruled that Class-C teams would now have to pay Class-D teams $500 for a drafted player, up from $350.23

As always, individual leagues, teams, and owners were very active, none more so than Ernest Landgraf. The owner of the Syracuse team spent a great deal of time talking to groups from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Newark, New Jersey; and Montreal, all of whom wanted to purchase his franchise.24  Montreal also expressed interested in the Akron club.25 In the end, Landgraf held onto his club in 1920, waiting a couple of years until the St. Louis Cardinals owner, Sam Breadon, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Meanwhile, Akron moved to Newark, and Montreal would have to wait until 1928 to ascend to the International League.

George Stallings, who gained lasting fame as the manager of the “miracle” Boston Braves of 1914, purchased the Rochester club and brought in old colleague Walter Hapgood, who resigned as business manager of the Braves for a similar position in Rochester. Stallings followed the lead of Connie Mack by installing himself as manager, which put an end to the rumors that Buck Herzog would get the job. Herzog was one of the players implicated in the alleged fix of the August 31 Cubs-Phillies game, though he was never indicted or brought to trial.26

Out west, the Pacific Coast League was embroiled in its own gambling scandal. While defending their 1919 championship, the Vernon Tigers, owned by Hollywood film comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, found themselves accused of bribing players to throw games. League President William McCarthy acted quickly, throwing Tiger first baseman Babe Borton and several other players out of the league, and turning evidence over to a Los Angeles County grand jury, which issued (lesser) criminal conspiracy indictments against the players for their alleged acts.27 Borton then charged that the 1919 pennant had also been bought.28 A legal technicality cleared all the players in court, but Borton, along with Salt Lake outfielders Harl Maggart and 1919 batting champ Bill Rumler, plus pitchers Tom Seaton (Portland) and Casey Smith (San Francisco), were expelled for life.29

The Los Angeles club found itself in a rather unusual pickle. It was informed by the city that street work would be going through part of its ballpark, so it needed to take bids from house movers to shift the grandstands east, after which it would have to rebuild the playing field. Ownership was not only concerned about the expense, but also how it could affect the series of spring-training games already scheduled with the Cubs, where any delay in getting the new site ready on time could put those games in jeopardy, a lethal double-whammy on Los Angeles’s bottom line.30

Another West Coast association, the Class-B Pacific Coast International League, looked as though it could be in some trouble when Bob Brown, owner of the Vancouver franchise, seemed ready to move his team up to the PCL.31 Those dire predictions came true when the Pacific Coast International ceased to exist after the 1921 season.

In response to the pervasive gambling problem in baseball, the Class-B Texas League decided to hire a new “sheriff” — it asked J. Doak Roberts to take over as league president. Roberts had been active in reviving the loop in 1902, had owned teams in Corsicana and Houston, and had even been president in the early years of the 20th century. Now he was asked to clean up the gambling mess, and he began by getting a list of gamblers and gaming resorts in each league city, then informed all players that anyone caught associating with any of the people or locales listed would be thrown out of the league. In fact, just the mere suspicion of crookedness would bring about swift action from this tough lawman.32

There have always been people who felt that putting money into a minor-league club was a good investment. Former Texas League player John Fagan “Barney” Burch, backed by a wealthy uncle, spent $70,000 and purchased the Omaha club of the Class-A Western League (which included a 10-year lease on the ballpark and a list of reserved players) from William “Pa” Rourke, who had been with the team as a player, manager, and owner for more than 20 years.33 But the New Haven club in the Class-A Eastern League received more for less when it announced that Walter Johnson, the longtime ace right-hander of the Washington Senators, had agreed to purchase $5,000 worth of stock. At the age of 33 and coming off the worst season of his career, the Big Train was obviously thinking about his future, but was careful to point out that he “will not take an active part” in the team’s affairs.34

  1. Walter Morris was re-elected president of the Class-D West Texas League, and announced that it would add two new franchises,35 a proclamation that proved to be premature. Meanwhile, a group of Kentucky businessmen formed a new association which they called the Old Kentucky League, to be helmed by Dr. Frank Bassett, former president of the Kitty League. Despite announcing four firm franchises and interest from three other states, this league never did get off the ground.36

Clarence “Pants” Rowland, who had won a World Series as manager of the White Sox in 1917, was hired as skipper of Columbus in the American Association. Another former major leaguer, just-retired Giant second baseman Larry Doyle, moved into the Toronto dugout, while a second International League club changed skippers as the Reading Aces handed the reins to Dick Hoblitzel.37 Meanwhile, Joe Tinker, the former Chicago Cubs shortstop and future Hall of Famer, sold his share of the Columbus club in the American Association to Thomas Wilson, making the Chicago businessman the team’s majority owner.38 Tinker moved to Orlando, where he spent the rest of his life, even playing shortstop there for two games at age 40, in 1921.

And finally, it was decided to hold the 1921 meetings in Buffalo, New York.39

As previously noted, these meetings began with Ban Johnson urging the minors to remain neutral in the majors’ civil war, but the NAPBL apparently was able to gauge which way the wind was blowing, so a delegation from their National Board (including Sexton, Farrell, and several league presidents) then journeyed to Chicago, where they met with Judge Landis to inform him in person that he would be acceptable as chair of “a new major-minor Commission should one be agreed to,” though it was also made clear that they planned to keep their National Board intact to settle minor-league matters.40 

Scene Two: Armistice

 

On the morning of November 12, the “Allied Eleven” met in Chicago at the Congress Hotel office of Alfred Austrian, Charles Comiskey’s personal attorney and a significant behind-the-scenes player in this entire drama. Among those present was Albert Lasker, who had been scheduled to accompany President-elect Warren G. Harding on a trip to Panama, but was advised — by Harding! — to attend the baseball meeting instead because it was more important.41 They were joined at noon by the “Loyal Five,” and after three hours they emerged with an agreement that changed baseball forever and remains essentially in effect after more than nine decades.42

Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was unanimously selected to be baseball’s first commissioner. Lasker’s proposal for two associate commissioners was dropped in favor of a single czar, though the two league presidents remained in place. All league matters would be taken up at joint meetings, where decisions would be made by a vote of the teams. It was hoped that the minor leagues would agree to endorse this compromise, which would then allow them to appoint a “special pleader” who would, when the need arose, appear before the commissioner.43

Landis desired the job, but also wanted to remain on the federal bench, where he was sure “I am doing important work in the community and the nation.”44 When one of the owners suggested that the commissioner’s duties should not take up much time, he readily accepted the seven-year contract.45 He also immediately set the tone for his office, stating, “We have got to have a higher standard of integrity and honesty in baseball than in any other walk of life — and we are going to have it. … From now on … (business) will be conducted in exactly the same manner as my court …: no favors will be granted to magnates or players.”46

There was still one more skirmish to be fought — a new National Agreement had to be hammered out. The minors had already named their six-man committee, and they would be joined by a like number of major-league moguls at a meeting set for early December.47

Scene Three: New World Order

 

Ban Johnson’s influence on the game was now waning. He had strongly favored Judge Charles McDonald, a personal friend, for the commissioner’s job, and now he tried to weaken the power of the new office when the 12-man committee got together in New York’s Hotel Commodore to draw up the new National Agreement. The draft by the committee gave Landis the power to investigate anything that he “suspected to be detrimental to the best interests of … baseball,” and then unilaterally take action based on his findings.48 Johnson suggested that the new commissioner should be allowed only to recommend action, an idea that infuriated Landis, who said he would not take the job if his hands were tied in any way. The owners were so desperate to recover from the Black Sox mess and its fallout that they gave the judge the powers he wanted.49 After wordsmithing by Landis and a trio of attorneys (one of whom was John Toole, who just two days later obtained his earlier-noted post as head of the National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs), a new National Agreement was announced on Sunday, December 12. In addition to sweeping powers for the commissioner, it also created an Advisory Council made up of the commissioner and the two league presidents; created the post of secretary-treasurer; and declared that, once ratified by the major leagues, it would be the law of the baseball land for the next 25 years.50 There was some objection from the minor leagues: George Maines, president of the Class-B Michigan-Ontario League, thought that the minors were losing their powers of self-determination,51 while others remained fearful of a restored draft. The majority of minor leaguers, though, were expecting the draft to be resumed and hoped the fee structure would be brought more in line with the cost of doing business in the postwar economy.52 The agreement would have to be ratified by the two major leagues and would be taken up at their coming Winter Meetings. The minors would not be discussing the matter until January 10, at which time they could accept or reject it, with a formal announcement of their decision to be made at a scheduled joint major-minor meeting on January 12.53 The major leagues, for their part, seemed not to care that the minors were given no administrative voice or even what the minors decided; they were now satisfied with this New World Order they had created, and at long last could gather for their annual conventions.

ACT FOUR — TALKIN’ BASEBALL

 

It had been a long and exhausting 14 months, since the World Series of 1919 set off this incredible chain of events, and no doubt everyone — executives, players, writers, fans — were worn out and eager to just talk about the game between the lines without also including legal proceedings or civil wars or new alliances or anything else. This may explain why lots of rumors were swirling as the National League met first, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, on December 14. The hometown Giants were in need of a second baseman after the retirement of Larry Doyle, and supposedly were casting their eyes on either Boston’s Rabbit Maranville or St. Louis’s temperamental Rogers Hornsby, who had just won the first of his six consecutive batting championships (among seven overall). The Pirates, without a pennant since 1909, felt they had a good chance if they could plug their hole at shortstop and were also looking at Maranville, as well as the Phillies’ Art Fletcher.54 The Pirates would eventually win the Maranville sweepstakes, sending three players (including future Hall of Fame manager Billy Southworth) plus money to Boston for Maranville in a deal completed about a month after the meetings ended.

George Grant, the owner of the Boston Braves, let it be known that he would be willing to sell his team if he could get his price. (It took a bit of time but Grant finally made the deal in 1922.) Meanwhile, Grant promoted 33-year-old Edwin Riley from club secretary to business manager.55

Fact became rumor, or something, in the Phillies’ dugout. The popular Gavvy Cravath had spent nine of his 11 major-league seasons in a Phillies uniform, including the 1919 and 1920 seasons when he was the player-manager. But owner William Baker fired Cravath after the team finished last in 1920 and then stated that Mike Kelley, who had just won the American Association pennant with the St. Paul Saints, would assume the reins in Philadelphia. Well, maybe they hadn’t ironed out all the details when Baker made his announcement. Or maybe Kelley agreed and then, like college basketball coach Bobby Cremins so many years later, changed his mind within a few hours. In any event, Kelley remained in St. Paul and Baker had to find a new field leader, who turned out to be former pitcher Wild Bill Donovan, who had managed the Yankees a few years earlier. Donovan would fare no better than Cravath and, in fact, was let go in midseason and would never manage again. Cravath played for Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League in 1921 and he too never managed another club.56

There were two rumors, affecting both leagues, that foreshadowed the baseball world of the future. There were eight teams in each major league, and everyone played 22 games against every other team in its league, for a total of 154. But an idea was being floated to change that, to bump that up to 24 games against each league-mate, for a 168-game schedule. That would never materialize, but expansion in 1961 (AL) and 1962 (NL) would create a 162-game season, the first change in the number of games since World War I caused the playing year to be shortened in 1918 and 1919. At the same time, there was also a rumor that the owners were considering ending the season on August 15 and then shifting to interleague play.57 After being bantered about numerous times over the years, interleague play eventually became a reality in 1997.

So were the National League meetings all sound and fury? No, there was some activity, though not nearly as entertaining as the rumors that preceded it. As expected, the owners signed off on the new National Agreement. The league president, John Heydler, was given a long-term extension and a substantial raise; with just one year left on his contract, an additional three years were inserted, taking him through 1924, and his salary was reportedly raised by 50 percent to $15,000.58  

There was continued discussion about the spitball and whether or not it ought to be abolished. There was a strong feeling that outlawing it altogether would be unfair to those pitchers who used it as their primary weapon, so it was decided to refer the matter to the new Advisory Council with the recommendation that only current practitioners be allowed to continue using the pitch.59  

Charles Ebbets of the Dodgers, William Baker of the Phillies, Garry Herrmann of the Reds, and Sam Breadon of the Cardinals were elected as the league’s new Board of Directors, and Dreyfuss was appointed to draft the 1921 schedule (154 games, it should be noted).60  They proposed that the season begin on April 13, with a six-week spring-training period beginning on March 2.61  

As for player transactions, there were only a tiny handful, two of which featured pitcher Rube Marquard. The big lefty, a future Hall of Famer, had gotten into some trouble at the World Series when it was discovered he was scalping tickets that had been given to him. The league announced that Marquard “had been sufficiently punished” and no further action would be taken against him,62 though it didn’t really say if his punishment was anything more than embarrassment. With his status now cleared up, the Dodgers then peddled Marquard to the Cincinnati Reds for another left-hander, Walter “Dutch” Reuther.63 Marquard wound up having a good year in Cincinnati and was then traded to the Braves, while Reuther was a .500 pitcher in Brooklyn before having more success in the American League.

One deal was left over from the “late unpleasantness.” Right-hander Claude Hendrix, three times a 20-game winner, and infielder Buck Herzog were both released by the Cubs. They had been implicated in the fixing of that August 31 game, and though no formal charges were ever brought against them, they never played major-league ball again.

So now it was on to the American League. After an “off day” (for the writers) on Thursday, the AL held its meetings on Friday, December 17, at the Hotel Belmont in New York City. Just as with the senior circuit, rumors abounded, many of which centered on the Boston Red Sox. After winning their fourth World Series of the decade in 1918, the Red Sox had followed up with two sub-.500 seasons, making them ripe for the rumor-mongers. The most extreme had owner Harry Frazee selling the team to a Boston-based group headed by businessman James Conway and also featuring former manager Bill Carrigan, who would return to the dugout as part of the deal. The sale price was supposed to be “up to” $1 million, though Frazee had stated publicly that he would not sell for less than $1.2 million.64  Another bit of scuttlebutt had star outfielder Harry Hooper being traded to the Yankees, while shortstop Everett Scott and first baseman Stuffy McInnis were being eyed by the White Sox.65 In addition to Hooper, the Yankees were also supposedly interested in infielder Jumping Joe Dugan of the Philadelphia Athletics as part of an overall effort to improve their team speed.66

Some of these rumors came true, just not right away. Frazee did sell the Red Sox but not until 1923, when he did indeed get his price. Bill Carrigan did return to Fenway, but not until 1927, and then turned in three straight last-place finishes. Harry Hooper did get traded, but not to New York and not during the Winter Meetings — in the very first week of spring training, he was shipped to the White Sox for outfielder-first baseman John “Shano” Collins and outfielder Harry “Nemo” Leibold.67 Connie Mack said he had no intention of sending Dugan to the Yankees and did, in fact, keep him in Philly for the 1921 season, but eventually Dugan found his way to the Bronx and became a key member of three World Series champions. He was joined by Scott, who would play in 1,307 consecutive games, a record that was later eclipsed, first by Lou Gehrig and then by Cal Ripken Jr.

Easily the most embarrassing rumor came from the pen of Detroit News sports editor H.G. Salsinger. One of the great writers of the early 20th century, Salsinger had a career that spanned half a century, covering baseball, football and two Olympics; he would posthumously receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which essentially put him into the baseball Hall of Fame, and he was also inducted into the Michigan Media Hall of Fame.68 But two weeks before the American League convened its meetings, Salsinger all but guaranteed that Clarence “Pants” Rowland would become the new manager in Detroit69 and, as we have seen, Rowland signed with the American Association team in Columbus, Ohio, while Ty Cobb was named player-manager of the Tigers at the insistence of owner Frank Navin.70

In the end, there were only two deals of note. In one, the White Sox purchased the contract of Earl Sheely from Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League.71 Sheely had been playing in Utah for five seasons and had batted over .300 every year. He would prove to be a solid first baseman for the White Sox through 1926, batting over .300 four times and just missing on two other occasions.

The other deal was much larger and would have a far greater impact. The Red Sox shipped right-hander Waite Hoyt, southpaw Harry Harper, catcher Wally Schang, and infielder Mike McNally to the Yankees for infielder Del Pratt, catcher Muddy Ruel, left-hander Hank Thormahlen, and outfielder Sammy Vick. In his Boston Globe column, writer James O’Leary stated, “It looks as if the Boston people got a little the better of the deal,” basing it on the promise of the 24-year-old Thormahlen and the excellent track record of Pratt, while calling the 21-year-old Hoyt “a speculation.”72  Well, Pratt held up his part of the deal, batting .300 for the final four years of his career, though only two were played at Fenway. Thormahlen proved to be a giant bust, winning just one more game in the majors. Meanwhile, Brooklyn-born Hoyt, who had a mere 10-12 record in his two Boston seasons, would shine with the Yankees, winning 157 times over the next decade on his way to six pennants, three World Series, and the Hall of Fame. Wally Schang would also prove to be a valuable addition to the New York roster, receiving a significant number of MVP votes in both 1922 and 1924.

While Branch Rickey is recognized as the “father” of the farm system, another St. Louis executive, Bob Quinn, was also putting this concept into practice. Continuing a system he had actually instituted when he ran the Columbus club, the Browns’ general manager “put over a couple of treaties of alliances with minor-league clubs,” agreeing to supply the players and managers.73 Not surprisingly, Columbus was one of those teams, as were Mobile, Terre Haute, Joplin, and Flint. The Browns also released Joe Gedeon despite his having been their regular second baseman for three years. Why? He admitted to the grand jury that he had been told (probably by his friend, Swede Risberg) about the fixing of the 1919 World Series and had consequently made several hundred dollars with this inside information. After the Browns released Gedeon, no other team would touch him, and eventually he was barred for life by Commissioner Landis.74

A tiny note, easy to pass over, proved to have a major impact on baseball for years. Buried in a larger New York Times story was the information that Yankees general manager Ed Barrow had signed minor-league coach and former catcher Paul Krichell to be a scout for the New Yorkers. Krichell’s “special mission” was to “comb rough diamonds from the college pools and the semipro hay mows.”75 One could say that Krichell fulfilled his task — over the next 37 years, he would discover such talent as Phil Rizzuto, Tony Lazzeri, Johnny Murphy, Charlie “King Kong” Keller, Whitey Ford, and a big Columbia University first baseman named Lou Gehrig.

Having essentially lost the struggle for power, Ban Johnson really wanted to win one fight, no matter how minor, to prove he still had some leverage in the game, and he chose the Board of Directors election as his battleground. Traditionally, owners would serve on the board on a rotating basis, and for 1921 the owners of the Yankees, White Sox, and Red Sox (plus Detroit) were scheduled to be installed. You may recall that these were the three “Insurrectos” who had been battling with Johnson and had even briefly announced their secession from the American League and subsequent hookup with the National League. Johnson exacted his revenge by denying them their seats, making sure, instead, that the board was made up of the owners from Cleveland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Washington.76 As you might imagine, this slight did not go over well with the rebels, even after Johnson compromised just a bit by offering Colonel Ruppert his seat on the board, a suggestion that was summarily refused. Ruppert’s business partner, Colonel Tillinghast l’Hommedieu Huston, publicly attacked Johnson and the “Loyal Five” for breaking with baseball tradition in selecting the new Board of Directors.77 Naturally Johnson responded in print, calling Huston “undesirable” and remarking, “It was the sentiment of the majority of the club owners that two members of our league should not be elected … as they had attempted to wreck the American league.”78 At least the league was able to agree on ratifying the new National Agreement, and the delegates also determined that they would like to make New York City the site of their meetings every year. They also endorsed April 13 as Opening Day, and approved the prohibition of the spitball once all current practitioners had retired.79  

And with that the guns were silenced.

SUMMARY

The Winter Meetings of 1920, which actually took place on three stages, completely wheeled around the activities of the previous year, which began with the World Series of 1919 and were kicked into high gear with the allegation that the Cubs-Phillies game of August 31 had been fixed. In order to maintain the trust of the fans and their status as America’s national pastime — to say nothing of trying to salvage their primary sources of income — baseball’s owners completely restructured their government by creating the office of commissioner, hiring Judge Landis, and giving him a blank check to rid the game of gambling and, essentially, run it as he saw fit. Landis readily embraced these nearly dictatorial powers for almost a quarter of a century, and the owners, by and large, meekly followed along. Given the advantage of time we can see that Landis fulfilled his original mandate. No team ever again threatened to secede, and future challenges, such as those from the Mexican League and the Continental League, were turned aside. Landis’s iron rulings set the precedent for dealing with the issue of gambling, which remains in effect today.

Another long-range result of the 1920 Winter Meetings was the ascendance of the New York Yankees. The acquisition of pitcher Waite Hoyt and catcher Wally Schang from Boston solidified their team and began a dynasty that would last into the 1960s. The Red Sox, on the other hand, would not contend for a pennant until 1938, and would not go to another World Series until 1946.

 

 

Sources

 

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted:

 

Carney, Gene. Burying the Black Sox (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc., 2006).

“Free Draft Novel Idea of M’Credie,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

“Have Quinn at Sea on a Training Camp,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

Johnson, W. Lloyd, and Miles Wolff, eds. The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, second edition (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America Inc., 1997).

Kirby, James. “The Year They Fixed the World Series,” ABA Journal, Vol. 74, February 1, 1988: 65.

Miner (no first name given). “Hamilton Adds Good Ones to Joplin Roster,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

“Offers For Sisler? Yes, Two of Them,” The Sporting News, December 2, 1920.

“Ty Cobb Signs Up to Manage Tigers,” Boston Globe, December 19, 1920.

Vila, Joe. “Landis Given All Powers Asked For to Keep Baseball Clean,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

Wood, Wilbur. “Here’s Lead to New Scandal Gotham Scribes Can Follow,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

 

Notes

1 Michael T. Lynch Jr., Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson and the Feud That Nearly Destroyed the American League (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2008), 85.

2 Lynch, 95.

3 Lynch, 97.

4 Lynch, 98.

5 Lynch, 137.

6 Lynch, 138.

7 Lynch, 139.

8 David Pietrusza, Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (South Bend, Indiana: Diamond Communications, Inc., 1998), 164-165.

9 Lynch, 141.

10 Pietrusza, 166-167.

11 Robert L. Finch, L.H. Addington, and Ben H. Morgan, eds., The Story of Minor League Baseball (Columbus, Ohio: The Stoneman Press, 1952), 21 and 22.

12 I.E. Sanborn, “Minor Leagues to Stay Neutral in Baseball War,” Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1920.

13 “Ban Addresses Minors,” Los Angeles Times, November 10, 1920.

14 “Baseball Conflict Shifts to Minors,” New York Times, November 10, 1920.

15 “Ban Addresses Minors.”

16 David Pietrusza, “’The Czar is Dead — Long Live the Czar!’: How Kansas City Played a Role in Creating the Commissioner’s Office,” Road Trips (Cleveland: Society for American Baseball Research, 2004) ,15.

17 “Minors Conclude Session,” New York Times, November 12, 1920.

18 “Minors Ask for an Equal Voice,” Christian Science Monitor, November 12, 1920.

19 Earl Obenshain, “Minors Prove Intent to Be Masters of Own Destiny,” The Sporting News, November 18, 1920: 3 and 5; “Minor Leaguers Ask Laws in Every State on Baseball Gaming,” Chicago Tribune, November 11, 1920.

20 Obenshain, 5.

21 Brian McKenna, “Dave Fultz,” SABR Baseball Biography Project (http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/1857946b), undated, accessed May 24, 2013; Joe Vila, “Late News Item: Fultz Is Retired To Meet Major Wishes,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920; “Toole Takes A Chance On The International,” The Sporting News, December 23, 1920. By the way, it is interesting to note that, more than 40 years later, the major leagues would do something similar, ousting their Commissioner, General William Eckert, and replacing him with their attorney, Bowie Kuhn.

22 Obenshain, 5.

23 Ibid.

24 “Late News Items: Knights of Columbus Will Lead In Fight,” The Sporting News, December 2, 1920; “Toole Takes a Chance on the International,” The Sporting News, December 23, 1920.

25 “Baseball Program for December,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1920.

26 “Late News Items: Strongest Decision Yet Given Baseball,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1920.

27 Matt Gallagher, “Vernon, as a Team, Gets a Clean Bill,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

28 “Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle’s Vernon Tigers,” sportshollywood.com/vernontigers.html, accessed March 2 and May 24, 2013.

29 Ibid. Rumler was eventually reinstated by baseball, though not until 1928.

30 Matt Gallagher, “Coasters Impatient at Grand Jury’s Delay,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1920.

31 “Toole Takes a Chance on the International.”

32 “Texas Has a Cleanup Man,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

33 “Rourke Sells Omaha Club,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1920.

34 Paul W. Eaton, “Small Chance That Feds Will Fight On,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920. Johnson, by the way, pitched for another seven seasons.

35 Joe Vila, “Late News Item: Fultz Is Retired to Meet Major Wishes,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

36 “Old Kentucky Is Organized,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

37 Bruce Dudley, “Class AA Leaguers Merely Onlookers,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920; “Toole Takes a Chance on the International.”

38 “Minors Urge Legislation Against Baseball Gambling,” Washington Post, November 11, 1920.

39 “Minors Conclude Session,” New York Times, November 12, 1920.

40 Obenshain, 5.

41 Pietrusza, Judge and Jury, 169

42 “Landis Takes Baseball Job; Peace Declared,” Hartford Courant, November 13, 1920.

43 Ibid.

44 Pietrusza, Judge and Jury, 170.

45 Ibid. Landis did find, however, that he could not handle both jobs concurrently and stepped down from the federal bench on March 1, 1922.

46 “Landis Confers With Herrmann,” Boston Globe, November 21, 1920.

47 I.E. Sanborn, “Major Operation on B.B. Fabric to Restore Game,” Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1920. The major-league owners committee included Garry Herrmann of Cincinnati, Charles Ebbets of Brooklyn, Barney Dreyfuss of Pittsburgh, Tom Shibe of Philadelphia, Frank Navin of Detroit, and James Dunn of Cleveland.

48 Pietrusza, Judge and Jury, 173-174.

49 Pietrusza, Judge and Jury, 174.

50 “Agree on Terms of Baseball Pact,” New York Times, December 10, 1920.

51 “Minors Slighted, Says M-O Leader,” Washington Post, December 14, 1920.

52 “Agree on Terms Of Baseball Pact.”

53 Ibid.

54 James C. Isaminger, “Baker Sure Before Announcing Again,” The Sporting News, December 2, 1920; Ralph S. Davis, “Pittsburg Fancies Its Turn Has Come,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1920.

55 James O’Leary, “Red Sox Select Hot Springs for Camp,” The Sporting News, November 25, 1920; Melville E. Webb Jr., “Boston Boy Chosen Braves’ New Business Manager,” Boston Daily Globe, December 19, 1920.

56 James C. Isaminger, “Quaker City Fans Puzzled at Mix Between Baker and Kelley,” The Sporting News, November 25, 1920; “Baker Sure Before Announcing Again,” The Sporting News, December 2, 1920; “Mack Sits Pretty While Others Fret,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1920.

57 “Longer Schedule May Be Adopted,” New York Times, November 18, 1920.

58 James O’Leary, “New Baseball Plan Adopted,” Boston Globe, December 16, 1920.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Frank Smith, “National Moves to Start Major Season April 13,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1920.

62 “National League Completes Meeting,” Washington Post, December 16, 1920.

63 “Reuther Goes to Brooklyn,” Christian Science Monitor, December 16, 1920.

64 “Baseball Program for December,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1920.

65 Joe Vila, “John M’Graw Talks About Next Season,” The Sporting News, November 25, 1920.

66 Joe Vila, “Giants Falling Back on Maranville Now,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1920.

67 http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hoopeha01.shtml, accessed May 29, 2013.

68 http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20080208/SPORTS07/106200010

69 H.G. Salsinger, “Here’s Tipping Off the Hand of Navin,” The Sporting News, December 2, 1920.

70 The Georgia Peach, still going strong at age 34, played for eight more seasons and batted over .300 every year, including a .401 mark in 1922.

71 Oscar Reichow, “Chicago Magnates Give Fans a Brand of Dope They Like,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1920.

72 James O’Leary, “Big Trade Gives Red Sox a Shade,” Boston Globe, December 15, 1920.

73 “Quinn Pretty Busy in His Idle Moments,” The Sporting News, November 25, 1920; “Spring Atmosphere Where Rickey Sits,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1920.

74 Rick Swaine, “Joe Gedeon,” SABR Baseball Biography Project (sabr.org/bioproj/person/eded419b), undated, accessed March 2 and May 31, 2013.

75 “American League Meets Here Today,” New York Times, December 17, 1920.

76  “Johnson’s Forces Rule A.L. Session,” New York Times, December 18, 1920.

77  “Huston Launches Attack on Johnson,” New York Times, December 21, 1920.

78 “Johnson Defends League’s Action in Electing Directors,” Chicago Tribune, December 22, 1920.

79 “Johnson’s Forces Rule A.L. Session.”

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