This article was written by Chris Jones
This article was published in the
With an attack on a future Hall of Famer’s batting average, a lifetime ban handed down to a minor-league executive, and a power struggle between the American League president and the commissioner, the 1922 baseball winter meetings did not lack for story lines.
Controversy abounded even before the meetings started, as there was serious concern that a joint meeting between the National and American leagues would not happen at all. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis had planned for a joint meeting in New York on December 14, 1922. This plan was put into jeopardy when American League President Ban Johnson scheduled the American League’s annual meeting for Chicago on the 13th, preventing American League representatives from getting to New York in time for a joint meeting the following day. In making this decision, Johnson voiced displeasure with the way the National League had handled several matters involving players who violated minor-league rules, and said he saw no need for the joint meeting.
Johnson’s decision sparked immediate controversy, with the New York Times reporting that “most of the observers were agreed that this is only another step in Johnson’s campaign against Commissioner Landis.” National League President John A. Heydler accused Johnson of going back on his word because Heydler, Landis, and Johnson had met during the World Series and “tacitly agreed that the two major league meetings would be held in New York on December 12 and 13, with a joint meeting to follow on the next day.” That contradicted a statement, attributed to President Johnson’s secretary, that Johnson had no knowledge that the other baseball leaders wanted the meetings to be held in New York.
Judge Landis confirmed the prior agreement, stating that “President Johnson of the American League, in the presence of several club owners of both leagues, said that the annual meeting of his organization would be held in New York.”Landis refused to alter his plans for a December 14 meeting, which he said would take place with or without the American League participating.
The New York Yankees’ co-owner, Colonel Tillinghast Huston, called the dispute “childish in the extreme,” according to the New York Times. Noting that Johnson’s and Landis’s offices were only a few blocks apart, Huston wondered, “Why doesn’t one walk around the corner, call on the other and get these things settled?” Huston said he would not attend the American League meeting in Chicago because personal matters would have him in New York, but scoffed at any notion that he should attend Landis’s joint meeting as the lone American League representative: “Not on your life. … What would I do there alone against eight National Leaguers? I don’t want to be a hopeless minority all by myself.”As it turned out, Huston would have other reasons to not attend any meeting involving major-league owners.
The storm clouds began to lift when a report surfaced that Johnson had agreed to move the American League meeting in Chicago to December 12, giving the owners time to travel to New York for the December 14 joint meeting. While this seemed to be Johnson’s final concession, he surprisingly later reversed course again by rescinding his call for a meeting in Chicago, and instead ordered a meeting in New York ahead of Judge Landis’s joint meeting. Johnson may have been pressured by his American League constituents, some of whom were said to not want to meet in Chicago for business reasons, including transactions pending with National League clubs. Somewhat strangely, these same owners were also reported to “not see much necessity for a meeting jointly with the present league, however.”
Minor League Meeting Notes
John H. Farrell, the secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, presented a proposal from the major leagues to increase the player limit from 40 to 50, although the proposal was expected to be opposed.Indeed it was; the National Association adopted resolutions condemning such an arrangement, which would allow each major-league club to have 25 players in the minors under option.  The proposal was reportedly unpalatable to the minor-league clubs because they did “not intend to consent to a condition that would practically give the majors control of the player market,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Western League President Al Tearney informed his club owners that he was tired of their bickering and threatened to resign. After lengthy discussions, Tearney was re-elected by the owners to a new five-year term that bound the club owners to follow his decrees. In other words, said the Chicago Tribune, “Tearney is free to conduct the league affairs as he sees fit.”
Tearney, who was also president of the Three-I League, wasn’t finished. He accused Commissioner Landis of discriminating against two of his clubs in favor of the White Sox. Landis offered little in the way of a response, reportedly stating only that he “had no desire to enter into a controversy with Tearney.”
The International League adopted a 168-game schedule, with an opening date of April 18 and a closing on September 23. The International League also declared the draft a “dead issue” as far as it was concerned.
Klepper Barred for Life
The minor-league convention also had its share of fireworks. Three days before the meeting, it had been announced that William H. Klepper, president of the Portland club of the Pacific Coast League, was permanently banned from participating in any affairs of the National Association. Klepper was accused of making false statements about the capital stock of the Tacoma club that he had organized.
Klepper had reportedly purchased 51 percent of the stock in the club with Tacoma residents subscribing the balance.Klepper filed a statement with National Association Secretary Farrell saying that all of the money had been paid. This was false, although Klepper claimed that he “could not possibly have hoped to benefit by this shortage … and I do not know why I have been held accountable.” He blamed Pacific Coast League President William H. McCarthy for the actions taken against him.
This was not the first time, however, that Klepper had found himself in trouble with the governing bodies of baseball. The year before, Commissioner Landis had suspended him until 1925 for allegedly attempting to “steal” Seattle’s manager. In what appeared to be one of his final acts as president of Seattle, Klepper declared manager William Kenworthy a free agent. Klepper then left Seattle to become president of the Tacoma club, and hired Kenworthy as his manager.
In the end, Landis issued a statement that the Board of Arbitration “had no jurisdiction over the Portland corporation except so far as it is connected with baseball activities.” Klepper was permitted to remain the president of the corporate entity, but was prohibited from signing contracts or other documents involving the business of the club or “personally tak(ing) part in baseball matters.”
After all that sound and fury, the National and American Leagues did meet separately on December 13, 1922, and the controversial joint meeting was held, as scheduled, the next day. Among the items on the agenda were possibly returning to a best-of-nine World Series, and limiting late-season player transactions. These and other matters were discussed at the separate meetings, but the issues were largely put off until the joint meeting and, according to one report, the leagues “did nothing save to add to the sum total of bunk they have been dishing out for years.”
In the National League meeting, at the Waldorf-Astoria, club owners discussed changing the barnstorming rule; permitting the commissioner and the home club to decide when playing conditions were suitable during the World Series instead of leaving the decision to umpires; and providing fixed payments for umpires officiating the World Series instead of a percentage of the gate receipts. No action was taken on any of the proposals. The National League did fix June 25 as the deadline after which no trades above the waiver price would be permitted.
The American League gathering, at the Hotel Belmont, reportedly discussed “important matters as keeping the players’ uniforms clean and restricting the sale of soft drinks.” The league mandated that each club provide two home uniforms to each player and extra stockings and caps when on the road. The soft-drink discussion resulted in a proposal to adopt measures intended to prevent pop bottles from being used as weapons against players.
The American League voted to have a committee decide the minimum distance home runs must travel. Most of the owners reportedly agreed that “heavy slugging hurts the popularity of baseball,” and that 300 feet should be the minimum distance for a home run. Such an action would have made “two-base zones” in the bleachers necessary at the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium, turning some “homers” into doubles. The owners left the final decision to the Rules Committee. Finally, Ban Johnson’s annual report attacked the National League, reportedly claiming that “the older circuit was in some measure responsible for corruption among players.” April 18 was fixed as Opening Day for the 1923 season.
At the joint meeting, Johnson continued to make his voice heard, launching an attack on gambling in major-league parks. He cited Boston’s Braves Field as the site of more open gambling than any other, and requested that Landis and the National League cooperate with the American League’s campaign to rid the game of the practice.
The joint session did result in some progress:
- A rule was passed preventing the transfer of players from one club to another after June 15 except through the waiver process.
- The leagues decided that the major-league draft would begin on the first day of the World Series, in the city where the first World Series game was held.
- Waiver rules were amended to provide that a club asking for and then withdrawing a waiver request on a player must do so within 48 hours or forfeit their rights to the player.
- The barnstorming rule, which had resulted in the suspension of Babe Ruth at the beginning of the season, was amended to prohibit players from participating in exhibition games after October 31.
- During World Series games, Commissioner Landis and the president or another official of the home team were given the authority to determine when ground conditions were suitable for play, although once a game began, the decision on whether to suspend or postpone games would rest with the umpires.
- Clubs would be permitted to carry 40 players on their roster until June 15, instead of the prior May 15 deadline.
Cobb’s .400 Average in Dispute
One of the more hotly contested issues during the meetings stemmed from an innocuous groundball hit by Detroit player-manager Ty Cobb on May 15, 1922. Cobb and the Tigers were battling through the rain against the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. While it rained, the official scorer was among those seeking shelter beneath the stands. Cobb hit a groundball to Yankees shortstop Everett Scott, who, the New York Times reported, “fumbled and kicked the ball into centre field so far that (Lu) Blue was able to score from second base.” While the official scorer “immediately called the play an error,” an unofficial score “sent out by a reporter sitting in the press box and not in touch with the official scorer, credited Cobb with a hit.”
While one hit over the course of a major-league season may seem trivial, in this instance it was the difference between Cobb’s hitting over .400 for a third time or not. So it was news when on December 4, when the American League revealed its official batting statistics, it was learned that Ban Johnson had “(overridden) the decision of the scorer in New York on one play and changed an official error into an official hit,” raising Cobb’s average from .398 to .401. The New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America protested the ruling, declaring that the change was made “without proper investigation” and that “neither the official scorer nor any of the writers who saw the game were questioned by league authorities.”
“Last Spring an agreement was entered into with The Associated Press that its representative should cooperate with the official scorers in all cities, in order that its service might have the official stamp. … The provision was carried out in the game in question and Cobb was credited with a hit. If change was made it was without notice to The Associated Press. The American League official statistician sensibly adopted The Associated Press account.
The Associated Press scorer who had credited Cobb with the hit was Frederick G. Lieb, a sportswriter who was the incumbent president of the Baseball Writers’ Association. Lieb criticized the decision to accept his “unofficial” scoring of the play. Lieb stated that “the American League had no authority to accept the unofficial score of the Detroit-Yankee game … in preference to the official score” and explained why his scoring of the play differed from the official scorer:
My failure to agree with the official scorer in the disputed play was due to the fact that it was a rainy afternoon and Mr. [John F.] Kieran, the official scorer, left the press stand for the covered section of the grandstand. Had Mr. Kieran been in the press stand The Associated Press score compiled by me would have agreed with the official score. Obviously when there was a difference of opinion between the two scores, the official and not the unofficial score would have been accepted.
Cobb, for his part, suggested that while the writers were in an investigating mood, they should also look into awarding him additional hits from the 1921 season that he said were taken from him because of a scoring discrepancy: “Let them tell me and the public why it was three safe hits were taken from me during that series and two times at bat added,” Cobb said.  The Georgia Peach added that “of course, the public understands that I had nothing to do with President Johnson awarding me the hit in question … but since the aforementioned baseball writers are reported to have threatened to protest this action, I would like the scoring in that last series at New York in 1921 to be cleared up.”
The New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America followed through on its threat and resolved not to recognize the average of .401. The topic was on the agenda at the baseball writers’ annual meeting on December 14. Ban Johnson was invited to attend, but reportedly “first pleaded that he was busy, promised to communicate later, and after two hours sent word that he would communicate with President Lieb later.” The writers subsequently voted to support the New York Chapter’s decision and “adopted a resolution refusing to accept the American League statistics as official.” The group ordered its members “to refuse to act as official scorers unless assured that their scores will be accepted as final.” In reply, Johnson said that “Cobb’s average stands at .401, and will not be changed.” That is precisely what happened.
The chief topic of the joint meeting of the major-league clubs was said to be Tillinghast Huston’s sale of his half-interest in the New York Yankees to his partner, Jacob Ruppert. The parties declined to disclose the amount of money involved, but it was expected that Huston would receive between $1,250,000 and $1,500,000, a considerable return on the $250,000 his half-share had cost him.
Also reportedly heading to Ruppert as a part of the transaction was Huston’s “omen of good luck,” that being a “faded derby hat” referred to as the “iron boiler” that Huston had worn throughout two summers (1921 and 1922) in which the Yankees won the pennant. Ruppert was supremely confident in the Yankees’ continued success under his sole control: “With Babe Ruth out there, and the iron boiler on my head, we can’t lose.”
Toronto Red Sox??
Boston Red Sox owner Harry H. Frazee emphatically denied a report printed in a Toronto newspaper that a Toronto syndicate had obtained an option to purchase the team. Frazee also denied that former Cubs manager Frank Chance and former automobile racing star Barney Oldfield were negotiating to purchase the team. Ban Johnson characterized the Toronto report as “pure bunk.” International League President John Conway Toole said he considered the report “unworthy of comment,” then commented, stating that there was “absolutely no possibility of Red Sox moving to Toronto or of even considering such a proposition.”
Third baseman George “Buck” Weaver, previously banned for life as one of the Black Sox, was denied his appeal for reinstatement by Commissioner Landis. Landis defended his decision by pointing to the fact that indictments were issued against the players, including Weaver, and that Weaver had failed at trial to deny under oath the testimony of a prosecution witness that Weaver had been present at a meeting that arranged for the throwing of the World Series.Landis dismissed the importance of the not-guilty verdict against Weaver, noting that “the same jury returned the same verdict in favor of Cicotte, Claude Williams, and Joe Jackson.”
While no blockbuster deals were consummated at the meetings, there were a number of player transactions involving both major- and minor-league clubs:
- Veteran Cleveland right-hander James Bagby, who won 31 games in 1920, was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The purchase price was not announced.
- Manager-owner Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics acquired third baseman Sammy Hale from the Portland (Pacific Coast League), at a cost of $75,000.
- Former Cleveland first baseman Doc Johnston announced that he had purchased his release from the Philadelphia Athletics for $5,000 in order to become the manager of a Pacific Coast League team. (He would play for Seattle in 1923, but was not the manager.)
- The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired right-handed pitcher George Boehler of the Western League’s Tulsa Oilers for $30,000. Boehler was coming off of a 1922 season in which he compiled a 38-13 record and struck out 333 batters in 441 innings. Boehler had had brief stints with Detroit and St. Louis, but would win only one game in Pittsburgh and only six in his major-league career.
- A three-team trade was reportedly discussed: “The big deal between New York, Washington and the Chicago White Sox still hung fire, although the general belief was that Chicago would get (Roger) Peckinpaugh and Waite Hoyt in a triangular trade, which would give Eddie Collins to the Yankees and perhaps send an outfielder to the Yankees. The trade did not materialize.
- Pittsburgh acquired right-handed pitcher Earl D. Kunz from the Sacramento Pacific Coast League club for $7,500 and four players: right-handed pitchers Moses Yellow Horse and William Hughes, outfielder Harry Brown, and infielder Claude Rohwer. Sacramento had originally held Kunz at a value of $35,000, but relented to the trade with the inclusion of the four players.
- Frank Chance agreed to a one-year contract to manage the Boston Red Sox.
- Veteran infielder Donie Bush was named manager of the Washington Senators, succeeding Clyde Milan.
Minor-league owners sought to help facilitate a joint meeting of all major- and minor-league teams in 1923 by resolving to hold their meetings in Chicago, provided that Commissioner Landis would call a joint session at the same time.Landis had suggested such an action by expressing his desire to have all baseball leaders in the same city to meet at the same time. Nashville was selected as an alternate candidate, besting West Baden, Indiana.
Landis and the major leagues did their part, resolving to hold the 1923 meetings in Chicago during the second week of December. In order to avoid a repeat of clubs or leagues threatening to skip the meetings, it was agreed that when a joint meeting is called, any clubs responding should constitute a quorum (although absent clubs could be represented by proxy).