This article was written by Bob LeMoine
This article was published in the
The 1934 baseball winter meetings could very easily have just gone to the dogs. The talk leading up to the convention was the desperate attempt of the Boston Braves owner, Judge Emil Fuchs, to pull his team out of the red by requesting that Braves Field host nightly greyhound racing. These were desperate times during the Depression, and Fuchs saw the dogs as a chance to save his Braves. The immediate response from baseball was overwhelmingly negative, as baseball’s stained history with greedy bettors was recalled. As teams attempted to survive, the issues of economics versus purity of the old-fashioned game were at odds. The issue had already stirred up a commotion among the delegates, but it was soon overshadowed by another proposal that some saw as just as desperate.
The minor leagues had been playing night baseball for seven years and experiments in the venture had been attempted since 1880. Some minor-league clubs were able to survive the Depression by embracing this novelty, but major-league clubs continued to refuse to play after dark. Taking a risk, Cincinnati Reds owner Powel Crosley and GM Larry MacPhail presented the case for night games as a way to bolster slumping attendance.
These were the issues of the 1934 baseball winter meetings, which saw very few trades. In fact, the most talked-about player was a has-been, out-of-shape, injury-prone legend about to turn 40. Rarely would anyone care about the future of such a player, yet everything he did still made headlines, which made people wonder what was next for Babe Ruth?
In a sign that baseball was on the rebound, major-league attendance in 1934 had increased by 874,680, or 14 percent, over 1933 after dropping almost 40 percent from a high of 10.1 million in 1930 to 6,09 million in 1933. The biggest losers were the Boston Braves (down 214,598), Chicago White Sox (down 161,230), Washington Senators (down 107,459), and Brooklyn Dodgers (down 92,627).
Of the 16 clubs, only six were able to show a profit as of September 30, 1934. Economics, thus, was the foremost thought for baseball club owners who were finding themselves in desperate straits as the Depression lingered. Playing night baseball, greyhound racing, and the peddling of radio rights were three such examples of owners trying to attract a new audience, which needed a new spark to attend the old national pastime.
The Minor Leagues Convention
The 33rd annual winter meetings of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (the minor leagues) were held on November 21-23 in Louisville, Kentucky. In an event described by the Associated Press as “the melting pot of the game, where magnates, players, scouts, umpires and others gather once a year to swap players and yarns, legislate a bit and partake of the usual elaborate program of entertainment that is mapped out for them,” 900-plus delegates were present. Many major-league clubs had representation as well, looking for a chance to “wheel and deal.” There were 19 minor leagues and 128 teams in 1934, a gain over the previous year’s 14 and 95. Much of the success in the minor leagues could be credited to the leadership of William Bramham, who took over as NAPBL President in 1933. With the help of his skills in promotion and organization, the minor leagues grew to 43 at the onset of World War II. Of Bramham, a reporter wrote in 1934, “Baseball big wigs throughout the country have given him much of the credit for the return of the game to its old plane, following the depression.”
Each year since 1916 (except for 1918, during World War I), a Little World Series had been held between the champions of the Double-A American Association and International League. The champions of each league had been determined by postseason playoffs involving the leagues’ top teams. The American Association felt the playoffs lessened the quality of the Little World Series and in 1934 voted to scrap its playoff tournament and declare one pennant winner. The Association asked the International League to do the same, threatening to pull out of the Little World Series if the IL refused to change. The International League refused to consider the proposal, pointing out that their four playoff teams gained financially from the series. The AA began negotiations with the Pacific Coast League for a similar series, but that plan failed when the geographical obstacles were realized. Instead, the AA planned to hold a postseason all-star game or series.
Making news during the convention was Oklahoma oil baron and philanthropist Lew Wentz, who was seeking to purchase the St. Louis Cardinals. Wentz, Dick Farrington of The Sporting News wrote, “rolls in wealth,” and was one of the richest men in the United States, paying $5 million in income tax in 1926. He was impressed with the Cardinals farm system and success. “Then there is the fact that I like to go places in my airplane,” Wentz said. “What would be more fun than taking a jump from St. Louis to Rochester, to Columbus or to Houston?” (The latter three teams were St. Louis farm clubs.) Wentz was looking to buy out Sam Breadon’s shares of the team for $1,250,000 (other reports gave the sum as between $1,000,000 and $1,250,000), or 77 percent of the club. The sale also included the Cardinals’ minor-league system. Wentz’s net worth was $10 million (more than $179 million in 2016). Wentz felt the farm system was overvalued, and eventually backed out of the deal.
On November 21 the Chicago Cubs sent $50,000 and right-handed pitchers Bud Tinning and Dick Ward to St. Louis for another righty, Tex Carleton, and later Cincinnati sent $40,000 for two Cardinals farmhands, third baseman Lew Riggs and outfielder Ival Goodman. Their crosstown rivals, the St. Louis Browns, under the leadership of Rogers Hornsby, were also busy on the trade front. The Browns received $20,000, left-handed pitcher Bob Weiland and infielder Johnny Burnett from Cleveland for outfielder Bruce Campbell. Hornsby “was showered with congratulations by the other traders for that one, but the Indians seemed well pleased,” wrote the Associated Press.
Cleveland also sent a minor-league outfielder, left-handed pitcher Forrest Twogood, and a player to be named later to Toledo of the American Association for its manager, Steve O’Neill, a former catcher for the Indians who would now serve as pitching coach under manager Walter Johnson (and who would take over the helm of the team after Johnson resigned in early August). The Chicago White Sox “also parted with a big bank roll,” sending righty pitcher Phil Gallivan and infielder Billy Sullivan to Indianapolis of the American Association in exchange for outfielder Vernon Washington.Twenty minutes later Indianapolis traded Sullivan to St. Paul for third baseman Otto Bluege. Al Schacht was released by Washington and moved on to Boston as the Red Sox’ third-base coach. This effectively broke up the vaudeville-like pregame comedy routine performed by Schacht and teammate Nick Altrock.
With Babe Ruth in a steep decline, the Yankees were in need of an outfielder. The face of the Yankees and baseball itself for 14 years since coming over from the Red Sox, Ruth had played his last game as a Yankee, although he was still on the team’s roster at the time of the meetings. Ruth was gone to the Boston Braves before the 1935 season, but another Yankee legend was soon to arrive. New York sent four players to the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League for young outfielder Joe DiMaggio. Because DiMaggio had injured his knee during the 1934 season, the Yankees were hesitant about his health, so two of the players were sent on option (which meant they could be recalled), while the other two were sent outright to the Seals. But the New York Times said DiMaggio, the holder of a 61-game hitting streak in 1933, “was even a better prospect than Paul Waner was when he came from the Pacific Coast League to the Pirates.”
In other transactions on November 21, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired right-hander Mace Brown from Kansas City of the American Association, and Ike Boone, an eight-year major leaguer, signed a two-year contract to manage Toronto in the International League.
On November 22 the Chicago Cubs were active again, and were finally able to acquire the left-handed starter they had been coveting. Sending right-handed pitchers Guy Bush and Jim Weaver and outfielder Babe Herman to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs received southpaw Larry French and future Hall of Fame outfielder-third baseman Freddie Lindstrom. The deal was called the largest in the history of the minor-league convention; the player salaries totaled around $200,000. In the first two days of meetings, the Cubs had acquired two new pitchers and an outfielder, as team president Philip K. Wrigley and manager Charlie Grimm were anxious to reshape the club. In October they had traded right-handed pitcher Pat Malone for catcher Jimmy O’Dea, and nine players so far had been dealt away. Their efforts proved to be successful: The Cubs won the National League pennant in 1935.
“I am glad that Louisville has a chance to see me,” announced St. Louis Cardinals pitching ace Dizzy Dean, making a surprise appearance at the convention. Dean, saying he was on hand to conduct business with Cardinals treasurer Bill DeWitt, happened to mention that he and his brother Paul, also a Cardinals pitcher, were prepared to hold out over the club’s contract offers. Dizzy was offered $15,000 and declared that he would not take a penny more or less than $25,000. Paul Dean was offered $7,500. In early December Dean threatened to quit baseball temporarily, as a movie production company had offered him $35,000 to star in a film based on his life. Dizzy prevailed, signing with the Cardinals for an amount reported to be between $20,000 and $26,000.
Other deals on November 22 included the Cincinnati Reds purchasing right-handed pitcher Danny MacFayden from the Yankees, the New York Giants selling righty Herman Bell to Kansas City, and the Boston Red Sox selling the contract of first baseman Ed Morgan to Rochester, the Cardinals’ farm club in the International League. The Red Sox also signed a working agreement with Knoxville of the Southern Association.
At the close of the minor-league convention, 105 players had been involved in deals, affecting 11 of the 16 major-league clubs and a majority of the minor-league clubs. Other offseason moves followed. Chicago White Sox right-hander George Earnshaw reacted to a salary cut by threatening to retire to his insurance business. He thought better of it, however, and signed a week later for a $500 bonus. Mae Nugent, wife of Philadelphia Phillies president Gerald Nugent, became the team’s vice president, the first female club vice president in the National League. The Amateur Baseball League moved its headquarters from Springfield, Massachusetts, to Miami.
Major League Meetings
The major-league meetings were held December 11-13 in New York City. For the first two days, the National League met at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the American League met at the Commodore. On the final day, both leagues combined for a joint meeting at the Roosevelt Hotel, and were addressed by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. But even the evening before the official beginning of the convention, “everyone seemed to be wrapped up entirely in arguments relating to dog racing,” reported John Drebinger of the New York Times.
Judge Fuchs, the Braves’ owner, was already a major story before he arrived. “It looks as though I’ve already talked too much,” Fuchs said upon arriving in New York. “I am not combating anybody. In Boston we have a proposition that looks very good to us and one that will in no way cast any reflections on baseball. … But I am still confident that when other owners have heard my complete story they will take another view of the situation.”
Horse-racing tracks were barred within 15 miles of the Boston city limits, but entrepreneurs were seeking out greyhound dog-racing permits. Fuchs and the Braves board of directors were among them, seeking a permit to build a track at Braves Field and hold greyhound racing at night. Fuchs received a favorable response from the Massachusetts Racing Commission but now “found himself the center of what may develop into quite a verbal tempest before it’s all over.”
NL President-elect Ford C. Frick called the proposal “absolutely preposterous.” He said, “It is entirely at variance with the principles for which baseball has battled so strenuously. … Organized Baseball has outlawed players for gambling and it is ridiculous to conceive that baseball now could permit a sport founded on gambling to move into the same premises with it.” Reaction from Fuchs’s fellow owners and Commissioner Landis was mostly negative. A National League rule stipulated that a club would lose its membership in the league if it allowed “open gambling or betting pools on its grounds or any of the buildings that are the property of that club.”
“I don’t believe that Frick said that,” Fuchs responded. “I am sure that the other directors will sanction every action of mine when I present them with the facts.” Because a portable structure for dog races was impractical, Fuchs was also reported to be negotiating with the Red Sox about holding Braves home games at Fenway Park. Despite all the fury, the issue was never addressed.
At their separate meetings on December 11, both leagues voted to continue the All-Star Game, begun in 1933 and already called “a baseball fixture” by Edward Burns of the Chicago Tribune. Some club owners opposed the game since “the rivalry among the cities had become somewhat bitter and there were those in favor of abandoning the feature,” Burns wrote. Such opposition, however, was not actually voiced at the convention. The 1935 game would be held at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. Burns wrote that there was little substance to any of the rest of the day’s convention news, wryly noting that St. Louis and Detroit were officially awarded the NL and AL pennants. “This news previously had been a substantial rumor, widely circulated around the nation,” Burns quipped. “Tomorrow the sage nabobs are expected to vote and announce that St. Louis officially won the World Series. This too, was a matter that had leaked out in early October.”
The NL formally installed Frick as its president, succeeding the retiring John Heydler; Harvey Traband as secretary and treasurer; and Sam Breadon (St. Louis), Powel Crosley (Cincinnati), Gerry Nugent (Philadelphia), and Stephen McKeever (Brooklyn) as league directors. The only trade of the day was a deal of right-handers, with the New York Giants sending Jack Salveson to Pittsburgh for Leon Chagnon.
Despite the warning of Commissioner Landis that “not in my lifetime or yours will you ever see a baseball game played at night in the majors,” Cincinnati president Larry MacPhail spoke to the convention for three hours and convinced the delegates that night baseball would be good for the game. Cincinnati owner Powel Crosley said his club was giving serious consideration to playing seven night games during the 1935 season. Crosley said 70 percent of the Reds’ total attendance in 1934 was drawn from Opening Day, Sundays, and holidays. “I feel there is something wrong with a business which finds it necessary to operate on a losing basis on all but 15 days during the season,” Crosley said. One game would be played against each opponent in the league.
“Otherwise,” reported the Associated Press on the events of December 11, “the managers, filling the lobbies with cigar smoke as the magnates met in the conference rooms, talked and talked and got exactly nowhere.” Rogers Hornsby was willing to entertain offers for anyone on the St. Louis Browns’ roster, but was flustered and came up empty. He tried to lure outfielder Gerald Walker from Detroit, but Mickey Cochrane wouldn’t budge. Then he desired Washington infielder Ossie Bluege, but Clark Griffith wanted nothing to do with the offer. Griffith sought Browns’ right-handed pitchers Bump Hadley and Buck Newsom, offering what Hornsby called “a sight seeing [sic] out of Washington and a basket lunch, with pickles.” The White Sox refused all offers for outfielder Al Simmons, and the Dodgers did the same for those inquiring about right-handed pitcher Van Lingle Mungo. Washington tried in vain to persuade the White Sox to take catcher Luke Sewell.
In other business on December 11, outgoing National League President John Heydler remained with the league in the newly created office of chairman of the board of directors, a lifetime position. Heydler wrote in his last report as president that though attendance had risen in 1934, he doubted that any club but the world champion Cardinals had turned a profit. He credited the livelier ball for a more exciting product on the field, saying, “… Our games last season were marked by more hitting and consequently more action. The number of runs scored increased by 799 in 1934; there were 665 more singles, 229 more doubles, 10 more triples and 195 more home runs. The league batting average rose from .266 to .280. “[F]ears that the livelier ball would upset our well-established team balance were, of course, proved groundless by the close race which ensued,” Heydler’s report said.
Heydler’s also warned of tax levies that “present a serious situation in these times when all leagues are pressed to maintain their existing circuits and when the break of one club may menace the welfare of all.” The NL also returned to a staff of 12 umpires for the 1935 season.
On the topic of Babe Ruth, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert commented, “The Babe is on our reserve list, and as such is like any other player. Anything Ruth wants to do, I will try to help him do. There have been no offers for him as a manager or a player. When the time comes for contracts to go out for 1935, I will send him one. I will dicker with him if he cares to continue to play with us, and will meet him halfway as I always have in the past.” Would Ruth become the Yankees manager? That was not on the horizon. “I have no idea of releasing [Yankee manager Joe] McCarthy before his contract expires at the end of the 1935 season. I can find no fault with him. … When the time comes to pick his successor, I cannot say that Ruth would come in for any more consideration than any one of say 10 others.”
Reading dispatches from the convention while he was in Manila on a barnstorming tour, Ruth politely said, “Whatever baseball does to me is all right with me. The game has been good to me. I’m ready to quit if there’s no place for me.” Ruth also denied a rumor that he would manage the Yankees’ Newark farm team, saying, “No minor-league club for me.” He played a round of golf, “walloping the ball long distances, but consistently slicing, much to his disgust,” the Associated Press reported. “I am not worried about the future. I am having a good time,” Ruth said. Lefty Gomez thought of playing a round with the Babe, until he was told a cobra had been killed near the clubhouse.
On December 12 the National League finally decided to allow night baseball. The minor leagues had implemented this innovation seven years before, and unauthorized attempts at temporary or permanent lighting structures at ballparks dated back to 1880. National League clubs were now allowed to schedule up to seven night games for 1935, and any club scheduling more would be fined $15,000 and have its gate receipts confiscated. Though Cincinnati made the original request, the resolution allowing night ball was sponsored by the Cubs, Cardinals, and Braves in addition to the Reds. The Phillies favored the innovation but reserved the right to change their mind, while the Pirates voted no but reserved the right to change their mind if the idea worked. Both the Giants and Dodgers voted a flat no. The resolution said no club was obligated to accept an invitation to play a night game on the road, and neither did any club announce plans to install lighting. Philip K. Wrigley, the Cubs’ president, stated his support for night baseball, but said there was no current plan to install lights. (Wrigley Field actually became the last ballpark to add lights, more than 50 years later).
After he announced the results of the voting on night baseball, Ford Frick was able to turn his attention to the issue of greyhound racing at ballparks, and he circulated a statement from Judge Fuchs:
“Nothing will be done by me which will embarrass baseball or the National League. Under the constitution of the National League, betting, legal or otherwise, is prohibited in its ballparks, where baseball is played. I have and always will abide by the constitution of the National League. This statement is simply a reiteration of the only statement for publication ever issued affecting this subject or authorized by me as published by the Associated Press.”
In response, Edward Burns of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Reporters, especially those from Boston, who have been all worked over the matter, considered Fuchs’ statement a gem of ambiguity and were greatly distressed when the gentleman refused to enlarge upon the typed handout.” Some focused on the phrase “where baseball is played,” and thought Fuchs must have worked out a deal for the Braves to play home games at Fenway Park so dog-racing at Braves Field would not be a conflict. Commissioner Landis followed with a statement that “Judge Fuchs had assured him that no activities involving gambling will be conducted by the Boston National League club or on any properties under its control.” No further discussion was held on the issue.
Philip Wrigley announced that Wrigley Field would admit children to Cubs games at half-price. J. Louis Comiskey, owner of Wrigley’s crosstown rival, said the White Sox had been charging 25 cents admission for children in the bleachers, but didn’t see the need to extend this practice to the grandstand unless the league made it an official policy.
Other events of December 12 included retaining the “lively ball” used in 1934, and providing retired major-league players with at least 10 years of experience free admission to any ballpark. The NL also increased the waiver price from $4,000 to $6,000, and reduced the time limit on waivers from five days to three.
At the combined session on December 13, “[S]cores of old-timers deplored the National League’s decision even to take a seven-game fling at playing baseball under the big arc lights at night. We found the general opinion that this was very much a minor rather than a major league move,” wrote Melville E. Webb if the Boston Globe. The AL was against night baseball altogether, calling the NL “the burlesque circuit.”
In other events at the joint session, L.C. McEvoy, vice president of the St. Louis Browns, proposed that both leagues ban radio broadcasting of games. The motion failed, and teams continued to make their own choices on the issue. Sam Breadon said the sale of the Cardinals was all but over when the Wentz negotiations fell through, and added, “I look for better times in baseball, beginning with the new season.” Former major-league shortstop Glenn Wright flew in from San Bernardino, California, to pitch the California town as a great place for spring training. The Pittsburgh Pirates were sold on their former shortstop’s idea, and trained there in 1935.
The meetings closed with two more trades by the Giants, who were involved in all three trades at the major-league meetings. They traded right-handed pitcher Joe Bowman to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Kiddo Davis, and infielder Billy Myers to Cincinnati for shortstop Mark Koenig and right-handed pitcher Allyn Stout.
As the meetings concluded and the owners embarked on their plans for the 1935 season, Ruth was setting sail from Manila on a two-month trip via Java and Europe. He would arrive back in the United States in late February of 1935 and begin the last stop of his major-league career, the Boston Braves. He never would manage, and his playing career would end on June 2. Ruth never played under the lights, although Cincinnati inaugurated night baseball on May 24. In Ruth’s abbreviated stay with the Braves, he sparred with Fuchs; Fuchs himself gave up control of the club on August 1; and the financially troubled team wobbled to a 38-115 record.
Even without greyhounds, the Braves still went to the dogs.
 The series was renamed the Junior World Series in 1932, according to baseball-reference.com (baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Junior_World_Series), but newspapers continued to call it the Little World Series.
 “Baseball Meetings in Louisville Are Brought to a Close,” Christian Science Monitor, November 24, 1934: 4; While no series was held in 1935, it resumed in 1936 and continued for several years (baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Junior_World_Series).
 “Cards May Be Sold; Harris Senator Pilot,” Chicago Tribune, November 14, 1934: 21; To determine today’s equivalent of Wentz’s net worth, the author used the online inflation calculator dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=250&year=1934.
 “Sam Breadon,” in Donald Dewey and Nick Acocella, eds., The New Biographical History of Baseball (Chicago: Triumph Books, 2002), 39-40. Lee Lowenfish, in Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 262, pondered some interesting “what-if’s” in regard to what might have happened if Lentz had bought the club. Rickey shared much in common with Lentz. Lowenfish wrote, “A similar devotee of aviation, Rickey would have loved to accompany Wentz on his journeys, for he was a man the passionate executive admired for his sincere philanthropy and staunch Republicanism. Although Wentz was not a spendthrift, the budget for farm system development and Major League salaries would have increased. … The two men remained good friends and occasional hunting buddies.” When Rickey was with the Dodgers and they were up for sale 10 years later, he suggested that Wentz consider the purchase, but Wentz declined.
 Ibid. The deal was completed on December 19, 1934. San Francisco received Floyd Newkirk, Jimmy Densmore, and Ted Norbert. Doc Farrell, also included in the trade, refused to report to San Francisco, so the Yankees sent $5,000 to the Seals in 1935. retrosheet.org/boxesetc/D/Pdimaj101.htm.