1932 Winter Meetings: Wealth of Changes Revitalizes Baseball in Poor Times

This article was written by Ely Sussman

This article was published in the


Introduction and Context

America was engulfed in the Great Depression when the 1932 Winter Meetings arrived, and like everything else, its greatest pastime was affected negatively. For lack of funds, only 16 minor-league circuits completed the 1932 season, down from the 25 that did so three years prior.[1] As a result, many baseball players were forced into unemployment. It was necessary for the National Association to reorganize in accordance with the plans that had been conceived at their West Baden, Indiana, meeting in 1931. “The annual convention,” reported Edgar G. Brands of The Sporting News, was expected to be “the most important [for the National Association] since its organization.”[2]

Delegates met December 7-9 in Columbus, Ohio, at the Deshler-Wallick Hotel, at the time considered one of the most luxurious hotels in the city. With an approximate population of 290,000, Columbus was not cluttered or difficult to navigate. [3]

Meanwhile, major-league baseball was prepared to discuss everything from competitive balance to World Series shares to attendance figures to radio broadcasting rights. Though the major-league teams were in a less dire condition than their minor-league brethren, few were coming off profitable seasons and steps had to be taken to ensure that the sport could weather the economic storm. Everything took place in New York City at the Commodore Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The American and National Leagues held separate sessions on December 13-14 and convened for a joint meeting on the 15th.

 

Player/Personnel Movement (National Association)

The player market was largely untouched during the Columbus meetings. The inactivity was unsurprising because movement had been minimal throughout the summer and fall, too. The majors didn’t execute any deals between themselves and the minors during the three days.

However, a couple of unusual transactions were announced. Two American Association umpires (R.W. Snyder and Joe Rue) were swapped for a pair from the Pacific Coast League (Tom Dunn and Eddie McLaughlin).[4] This was simply for the convenience of the men involved, allowing them to work closer to home. Also, a manager and coach effectively swapped places. Del Baker, manager of the Beaumont Exporters, the Texas League affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, headed to the major-league club as a coach for manager Bucky Harris and Detroit coach Bob Coleman was named manager of Beaumont. Baker later managed the Tigers for several seasons, winning the AL pennant in 1940. Coleman, a veteran minor-league skipper, took the reins in Beaumont and later resurfaced in the majors at the helm of the Boston Braves (1943-1945).

 

Player/Personnel Movement in the Majors

Covering the Winter Meetings for The Sporting News, Daniel M. Daniel reported that major-league executives “certainly set a record” in making no fewer than 12 trades. “Most of them were of primary importance,” he added.[5]

Brooklyn Dodgers manager Max Carey made it known that he was interested in adding pitching depth. He offered second baseman Neal Finn, third baseman Jack Warner, right-handed reliever Austin “Cy” Moore, and $15,000 to the Philadelphia Phillies for right-handed starter Ray Benge. Originally, the Phillies were unwilling to accept until Finn was included. Although not known for his hitting ability, Finn was the premier defensive player they needed to fill a gaping hole in the infield. Tragically, Finn needed midseason surgery to repair an ulcer, and he died on July 7.[6]

Outfielder and third baseman Freddie Lindstrom of the New York Giants was eager to be dealt during the meetings. Longtime manager John McGraw had retired in June, and Lindstrom didn’t enjoy playing under the direction of his successor, first baseman Bill Terry. The Giants’ sixth-place finish only lowered his spirits further. Three teams had to get involved, but ultimately Lindstrom became a Pittsburgh Pirate. To acquire him, the Bucs traded right-hander Glenn Spencer to the Giants and outfielder Gus Dugas and $15,000 to the Phillies. The Phillies received outfielder Chick Fullis from the Giants and sent them center fielder George “Kiddo” Davis to fill the vacancy left by Lindstrom’s departure.

President Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators was concerned with bulking up his bullpen. He gladly moved Harley Boss, the first baseman for his Southern Association affiliate in Chattanooga, to the Cleveland Indians for right-handed reliever Jack Russell and minor-league first baseman Bruce Connatser. Russell rewarded his new team in 1933 with 12 wins and a 2.69 earned-run average.

Struggling left-handed pitcher Carl Fischer was dealt twice before the “wild trading orgy” was through.[7]  On December 13 the St. Louis Browns swapped him for Washington righty Dick Coffman. Only hours after changing teams, Fischer was packaged with the steady right-handed reliever Firpo Marberry and sent to the Tigers for 10-year veteran Earl Whitehill. This also paid immediate dividends for the Senators, as the left-handed Whitehill logged 270 innings and won 22 games in 1933, leading them to the pennant. And St. Louis and Washington weren’t through dealing with each other. The Browns gave up outfielders Goose Goslin and Fred Schulte, along with starting pitcher Lefty Stewart, and their compensation included outfielders Carl Reynolds and Sam West, southpaw Lloyd Brown and $20,000. This deal was warmly received in the nation’s capital. Goslin, a future Hall of Famer, had broken into the majors with the Senators and spent parts of 10 seasons with them before his stint with the Browns. They also knew of Stewart’s ability firsthand, as he had defeated the Nationals 10 times in 1931 and ’32. While Goslin and Schulte played key roles in the Senators’ pennant-winning campaign, St. Louis fell into the cellar the next year for the first time since 1913.

Desperate to rebound from miserable seasons, the Boston Red Sox (43-111) and Chicago White Sox (49-102) did a bit of business. Boston sent shortstop Al Rhyne and right-handed starting pitcher Eddie Durham to Chicago for outfielders Bob Fothergill and Bob Seeds, shortstop Gregory Mulleavy, and infielder Johnny Hodapp. None of these six players contributed much to their new teams, but both clubs fared far better in 1933 (the White Sox won 67 games, the Red Sox, 63).

Several teams plucked promising young players from the minor leagues. By sending shortstop Doc Marshall plus $5,000 to the Buffalo Bisons of the International League, the Giants added third baseman Blondy Ryan. The Brooklyn Dodgers obtained coveted shortstop Linus Frey of the Southern Association’s Nashville Vols for right-handed pitcher Earl Mattingly and $10,000. The Boston Braves purchased infielders Dick Gyselman and Al Wright from the Mission Reds of the Pacific Coast League for $60,000, and threw in pitcher-third baseman Bucky Walters. Though the 23-year-old Walters hadn’t accomplished much at this point in his career, he eventually developed into a six-time All-Star and the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1939.

All but three of the 16 major-league franchises made trades during the Winter Meetings. The exceptions were the pennant-winning Chicago Cubs (90-64) and New York Yankees (107-47), and the Philadelphia Athletics, winners of 94 games. Yankees business manager Ed Barrow and skipper Joe McCarthy considered a couple of deals, but felt little pressure to make a move after winning close to 70 percent of their games. “I’ve got the best club in the world,” McCarthy said, “and it hasn’t started to slip yet.”[8] This may have jinxed the Yankees, who would finish second in the standings in 1933. The Cubs and A’s followed up their 1932 seasons by dropping into third place.

 

Rule Changes and Other Business (National Association)

As was necessary, the Columbus meeting of the National Association led to “revolutionary changes.”[9] Contrary to what had been reported earlier in the offseason, Judge William G. Bramham was willing to run for president and he was elected unanimously. New officers were chosen to comprise the Executive Committee, which replaced the National Board of Arbitration. Warren Giles, general manager of the International League’s Rochester Red Wings; J. Alvin Gardner, Texas League president; and Dale Gear, president of the Western League and the Western Association, were selected as representatives of the Class AA (Giles), Class A (Gardner), and Class B, C, and D leagues (Gear). Bramham’s election filled the hole created when Michael H. Sexton, National Association president since 1909, was ousted in 1931. Sexton’s tenure as president remained in 2016 the longest in the history of the minors.

From the first sessions on December 7, the Committee of Five, the executives temporarily running the Association after Sexton was outsted, urged the minor leagues to establish salary limits that would aid competitive balance while safeguarding the clubs in uncertain economic times. Most circuits obliged, but because the Class-AA leagues were unable to agree upon a satisfactory figure, each one was allowed to determine its own limit.[10]

The Association’s charter was amended to reflect the expansive reorganization. It was decided that annual meetings would be moved up to the third Wednesday in November. To raise funds for the maintenance of the Association, the president was directed to keep 2 percent of the money paid to clubs whenever they reassigned players. Similarly, 3 percent of the gross gate receipts of all postseason series were to be paid to the treasury. Together with the president, the new Executive Committee was to approve league membership applications and require applicants to pay a fee for admittance.

Illness – the flu in most cases – prevented several key figures from attending. Presidents William E. Benswanger of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Bob Quinn of the Boston Red Sox, and Brooklyn’s manager Max Carey were absent. Those who checked in but were physically limited included Perry B. Farrell, Thomas J. Hickey, and Clarence Howland, presidents of the New York-Penn League, American Association, and International League respectively.[11]

Galveston, Texas, was chosen to host the 1933 convention, thanks to the efforts of Ray Koehler and Billy Webb of the Galveston minor-league club. Indianapolis, Louisville, and Springfield, Massachusetts, also made bids.

 

Rule Changes and Other Business (Major Leagues)

Radio broadcasting was a hotly contested topic at the New York gathering. Owners William L. Veeck Sr. (Cubs), Judge Emil Fuchs (Braves), and Quinn (Red Sox) were known advocates, while some club owners, including those of all three New York clubs, were opposed. They felt broadcasts cut into ticket sales by deterring people from attending the games. The issue was put to rest at the joint meeting on December 15, when it was announced that each club could do whatever was in its best interests.[12]

A general reduction in salaries was inevitable. All umpires had to take pay cuts, and every club except the Yankees decided to drop one or more coaches to shed expenses.[13] Yankees business manager Ed Barrow, however, was no less motivated to save money. He was steadfast with the soon-to-be 38-year-old Babe Ruth and lowered his pay from $75,000 to $52,000.[14] The player limit was left at 23, but clubs were required to reach that number by May 15. The annual cutoff had previously been June 15, a date that was retained as the major-league trade deadline.

John A. Heydler, reelected president of the National League for a fifth term, said he would work for a smaller salary because of the economy. Steve McKeever (Brooklyn), Gerald Nugent (Philadelphia), Sam Breadon (St. Louis), and Sidney Weil (Cincinnati) comprised his board of directors for 1933.

 

Summary

“The majors are like a big building,” Heydler declared in Columbus. “If the foundation lacks strength the structure is in grave danger.”[15] Minor-league baseball was the “foundation” to which he was referring and after the 1932 Winter Meetings, it was far sturdier thanks to “the willingness of all, from top to bottom, to shoulder the burdens and accept the responsibilities placed upon them.”[16] Now reorganized, the National Association was better prepared to endure the harsh economic times.

 

Sources

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

Altenburg, Jess, Edgar G. Brands, and Bill Wambsganss. “Radical Changes to Be Made in Baseball Map and Regulations at Minors’ Meeting at Columbus,” The Sporting News, December 1, 1932: 6.

Lentz, Ed. Columbus: The Story of a City (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2003), 116-118.

Thompson, Denman. “Griff Considering Bids for Young First Sacker,” The Sporting News, December 8, 1932: 1.

Notes

[1] “The 3rd President,” on The Official Site of Minor League Baseball, July 8, 2011. Accessed January 1, 2012: louisville.bats.milb.com/milb/history/presidents.jsp?mc=_bramham.

[2] Edgar G. Brands, “Battle Lines Drawn as Minors Get Ready to Tackle Problems,” The Sporting News, December 1, 1932: 1.

[3] Irven Schelback, “Ambitious Programs Outlined for Delegates to Meeting,” The Sporting News, December 8, 1932: 3.

[4] “Class AA Ball Loops Can Set Own Pay Rolls,” San Diego Union, December 10, 1932: 8.

[5] Daniel M. Daniel, “Twelve Deals, Involving total of 42 Athletes, to Bring About Unusual Changes in Rosters,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1932: 3.

[6] “Mickey Finn Dies; Phils Infielder,” Boston Herald, July 8, 1933: 6.

[7] Tom Swope, “Cincy Fans Smiling the Sunny Jim Way,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1932: 1.

[8] Joe Vila, “‘Why Should I Want to Deal?’” The Sporting News, December 22, 1932: 5.

[9] “Revolutionary Changes Voted Into the National Agreement,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1932: 5.

[10] Edgar G. Brands, “National Association Revamped, Judge Bramham Named Head, Headquarters Moved to Durham,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1932: 5.

[11] “National Association Revamped,” 5.

[12] “Commissioner Will Find Farms ‘Posted,’ ” The Sporting News, December 22, 1932: 3.

[13] Harry Neily, “Heydler Gives Note of Cheer to Minors,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1932: 3.

[14] Daniel R. Levitt, Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 285.

[15] “Heydler Gives Note of Cheer to Minors.”

[16] “Revolutionary Changes Voted Into the National Agreement.”

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