1935 Winter Meetings: Inspirational Delegates Churn Cream Into Butter

This article was written by Ely Sussman

This article was published in the


Introduction and Context

The National Association didn’t just survive during the summer of 1935 – it flourished. “The past season,” recalled promotional department head Joe Carr, “was one of the very best that minor league baseball has experienced in years.”[1] For the Association’s 34th annual meeting, about 2,000 baseball people convened in Dayton, Ohio, to maintain the momentum. The city was home to the Class-C Dayton Ducks; it was the first time the Association congregated in a city without a more advanced club. Dayton had ample facilities to accommodate the delegates. The Biltmore Hotel, a luxurious building that opened in 1929, hosted the meeting, held November 20-22.

Chicago, meanwhile, had just the year before concluded its Century of Progress international exposition, a wildly popular fair that stimulated consumer spending and coincided with the city’s centennial celebration. The city was bustling with excitement, which made it an ideal host for Major League Baseball’s winter meetings. The American and National Leagues met separately for the first two days, December 10-11, with the Palmer House housing the AL, while the NL settled in the Congress Hotel.  A joint session was held on the 12th in the Palmer House.

 

Player Movement (National Association Convention)

A record 135 players changed teams in deals at the National Association meeting, compared with the 80 and 105 who were moved in 1933 and 1934 respectively. The Double-A Milwaukee Brewers were relieved to unload their aging pieces, including catchers Paul Florence and Tony Rensa and outfielder Earl Webb. The St. Louis Browns traded 32-year-old right-hander Fay Thomas to the Chicago Cubs for righty Mike Meola, who had amassed 39 wins in his two summers with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. This was the first transaction of the offseason to involve both American and National League teams.

Larry MacPhail of the Cincinnati Reds was particularly active. He added first baseman George McQuinn and five other players to his team on November 22, the final day of the minor-league meetings. McQuinn had been praised for his fielding while in the New York-Penn and International Leagues, and MacPhail was counting on him to take over for Jim Bottomley, whose ailing back was sapping his power – 107 games played and only one home run in 1935 – and threatening his career.  Also that Friday, the Boston Red Sox paid $75,000 to the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League for infielders Bobby Doerr and George Myatt.

One trade constructed in Dayton featured only major-league players. Catcher Earl Grace and 6-foot-3 right-hander Claude Passeau (who had been brought up from the minors and pitched in one game at the end of the 1935 season) were swapped from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Al Todd.  Rumors circulated that the New York Yankees were looking to make a deal for Philadelphia Athletics third baseman Pinky Higgins. Those were flatly denied, however, by Yankees business manager Ed Barrow and, in fact, Higgins remained in Philadelphia.

 

Player Movement (American League and National League Meetings)

“One or two established stars will be added to the lineup,” Detroit Tigers owner Walter O. Briggs said before the sessions, “if it is possible to secure them by trade or purchase.”[2] Manager Mickey Cochrane came through for his boss by bagging outfielder Al Simmons. The reigning world champions were confident that the future Hall of Famer would be an upgrade in center field over their 1935 platoon of Gee Walker and Jo-Jo White. The three-time All-Star was acquired from the Chicago White Sox for the bargain price of $75,000 after totaling a career-low 79 RBIs in 1935.

A’s manager Connie Mack was eager to exchange his star first baseman, Jimmie Foxx, for cash upon checking in at the Palmer House. “The game’s greatest auctioneer of playing talent”[3] did so successfully on December 10 when he moved Foxx and right-handed pitcher Johnny Marcum to the Boston Red Sox. In return, Mack received $150,000, veteran right-hander Gordon Rhodes, and catcher George Savino. With that, Foxx became the last member of Philadelphia’s 1929 championship team to leave the organization.

The Yankees eventually got involved at the winter meetings. They came to an all-right-handed-pitching agreement with the Cleveland Indians, sending Johnny Allen westward in exchange for Monte Pearson and Steve Sundra.

Of course, there was action at the Congress Hotel, too. J. Roy Stockton of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that New York Giants manager Bill Terry “would like to retire to the bench” after four seasons of dual responsibility as the club’s first baseman and skipper. Though Terry didn’t decide on an heir during his time in Chicago, he improved an already strong roster. The Giants dealt right-handed starting pitcher Roy Parmelee, reserve infielder-outfielder Phil Weintraub, and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for Burgess Whitehead, a defensive-minded second baseman. In 1935 Terry had given three  players, Hughie Critz, Al Cuccinello, and Mark Koenig, long trials at second base, but none showed much skill with the glove. The expectation was that Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey would move several more players at the meetings. Aside from brothers Dizzy and Paul Dean, “all of the other fellows” were being discussed in trade talks.[4] In the end, though, the rest of the roster was kept intact.

 

Rule Changes and Other Business (National Association Convention)

At the National Association business meeting, “a sweeping change in the administrative system of the minor leagues was made without a dissenting vote.”[5] Powers previously delegated to the Executive Committee were allocated to President William G. Bramham. The National Association Agreement was amended to give him the authority to check gambling and protect umpires from harassment. By unanimous vote, Bramham’s annual salary was increased from $8,500 to $12,500.[6]

The A-1 league classification – a step above Class A and one below AA – was created, for which the Southern Association and Texas League both qualified.[7] All 21 leagues active during the 1935 season were expected to continue operating. Additionally, a new eight-team Class-D circuit made up of US and Canadian teams, was one of several that were in the early stages of formation.

Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, American League President William Harridge, and National League President Ford C. Frick were present in Dayton, an indication of the growing importance of the National Association in the world of professional baseball. Delegates voted to hold the 1936 meetings in Montreal; Little Rock was the only other city to gain significant support. The meetings were tentatively scheduled for November 18-20.[8]

 

Rule Changes and Other Business (MLB Meetings)

Cleveland Indians GM Billy Evans announced his resignation two days before the start of the National Association convention. Evans had spent the past eight years with the Indians organization after 22 seasons as an American League umpire.

In Chicago, the American League owners discussed numerous topics, but night baseball was their chief concern. They agreed to an indefinite ban, with even the installation of lights disallowed.[9]

In other news, Jacob Ruppert of the Yankees continued to ban broadcasting of his team’s games, fearing that attendance would suffer if fans could simply follow the action on the radio. The Athletics, on the other hand, announced that they would allow the practice for the first time in 1936. President Harridge seemed keen on barring “butterfly nets,” elongated gloves used by some AL first basemen. Such gloves, he felt, gave their wearers a significant advantage, a violation of the league’s rules.[10]  It was decided that players could not begin barnstorming until 10 days after the close of the season.[11] Briggs was officially introduced as sole owner of the Tigers after his partner, Frank Navin, died on November 13.

Speaking to Reds owner Larry MacPhail after the 1934 season, Commissioner Landis had been pessimistic that the major leagues would ever play on artificially illuminated fields. “Young man,” he told MacPhail, “not in my lifetime or yours will you ever see a baseball game played at night in the majors.”[12] This proved to be wildly off the mark; Cincinnati hosted seven after-dark contests in 1935. Attendance at the games was encouraging and MacPhail opted to renew that schedule for the following summer. Other National League clubs were also given the freedom to arrange their own night games.[13]

The NL paid considerable attention to its umpires.  A pension list was created to reward retired officials who worked at least 15 years in the league. It was decided that umpires would be required to report to spring training – at no personal expense – to officiate in exhibition games. Like the American League owners, they banned barnstorming for the first 10 days after the season. They gave Ford Frick  another two-year term as president and gave Secretary Harvey Traband vice presidential responsibilities.[14]

At the joint session on December 12, an AL plan to reduce admission prices for children under 13 failed. The two leagues had an understanding that ticket pricing would not be changed by one without the consent of the other, and the National League opposed the plan. The 1936 All-Star Game was awarded to the Boston Braves, though a specific date was not determined. Three proposals for changes in the Major-Minor Agreement were accepted: Clubs and leagues would now be subject to punishment if they did not pay official scorers; the selection period that had to elapse during reacquisition of optioned players was voided; and the Class A-1 rating was officially created.

 

Summary

Just by tweaking the administrative structure, delegates at the National Association convention ensured that minor-league baseball would continue to rise in prominence, as it did until the full effect of World War II was felt in 1943.

MacPhail was wise to return night baseball to Crosley Field. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, the seven night games he scheduled for the 1936 season drew 136,722 fans, an average of 19,532 that was more than four times the size of the usual daytime crowd.[15] However, his club wasn’t the only one to sell more tickets in 1936; according to Baseball-Reference.com, 13 of the 16 MLB franchises had higher attendance that season despite the still-depressed economic climate.

 

Sources

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

“1936 Major League Baseball Attendance and Miscellaneous.” Baseball-Reference.com. Accessed June 23, 2012.

Bang, Ed. “Tribe Deals Remain Just So Much Talk,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935: 1.

Brands, Edgar G. “Many Changes in Major, Minor Official Personnel to Be Made,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935: 1.

Brands, Edgar G. “Inspirational Meeting at Dayton Centralizes Power in President, Cements Major League Alliance,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935.

Burns, Ed. “N.L. Goes Own Way on Meeting Plans,” The Sporting News, December 5, 1935: 1.

Drebinger, John. “Acquisition of Pearson by Yanks Features Active Day at Baseball Meetings,” New York Times, December 12, 1935: 34.

Drebinger, John. “Higgins Purchase Denied by Barrow,” New York Times, November 23, 1935: 15.

 “Giants and Cardinals in Midst of Sensational Player Trade,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935: 1-2.

Harwell, W.E. “Richards Fortifies Atlanta Behind Bat,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935: 5.

Isaminger, James C. “Foxx and Marcum Are Sold to Red Sox,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1935: 1.

Levy, Sam. “Detroit Helps Milwaukee Brew New Team,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935: 1.

Moloughney, M.J. “U.S. and Canadian Cities Plan New Class D Loop,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1935: 1.

“Night Lights Burning Low in the Majors,” The Sporting News, December 5, 1935: 1.

Swope, Tom. “Reds Invest $25,000 in New First Sacker,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935: 7.

“Yawkey’s Bankroll, Mack’s Talent Enlivens Auctions,” Brownsville Herald, December 11, 1935: 5.

Notes

[1] Edgar G. Brands, “48 of 90 Amendments Would Give President More Authority,” The Sporting News, November 14, 1935: 3.

[2] Charles P. Ward, “Briggs Will Follow Liberal Tiger Policy,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935: 5.

[3] Associated Press, “Yawkey, Mack Stir Other Ball Magnates,” Reading Eagle, December 11, 1935: 16.

[4] Dick Farrington, “Rickey Lays Cards on Swapping Table,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935: 1.

[5] Edgar G. Brands, “Minors Strengthen Organization for the Coming Years,” The Sporting News, November 28, 1935: 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9]  Edgar G. Brands, “American Thumbs Down on Night Games,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1935: 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Robert B. Payne and Tom Pierett, Let There Be Light: A History of Night Baseball 1880-2008 (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2010), 2.

[13]  Edgar G. Brands, “National Renames Frick for Two More Years,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1935: 3.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Payne and Pierett,  179.

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