1938 Winter Meetings: Out of the Hat

This article was written by Jason C. Long

This article was published in Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1901-1957

Introduction and Context

In 1938, the major leagues returned to New York City for the winter meetings, while the minor leagues held their meetings in New Orleans for the first time since 1916. The minor leagues sought to promote uniformity, and with the nation’s economy beginning to emerge from the Great Depression, several minor leagues adopted increases in salary limits. In the same vein, the major-league teams voted to increase their rosters to 25, after having trimmed to 23 during the depth of the Depression a few years earlier. The American and National Leagues also agreed on a uniform ball for 1939. Other business saw an increase in night games, rule changes, and several teams announcing radio deals. There was also important player movement, with the Cubs and Giants striking a six-player deal to exchange All-Star shortstops, the Tigers making a surprise pitching acquisition and filling their need for a third baseman, Washington trading first baseman Zeke Bonura to the Giants, and a trade between the Dodgers and Bees that apparently resulted from pulling names out of a hat.

The Minor League Meetings in New Orleans

The 37th meeting of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) began on Wednesday, December 7, at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. Mayor Robert Maestri sent an official welcome to NAPBL President William G. Bramham stating that attendees would have “an experience of a memorable character that will last . . . a lifetime.”1 Indeed, the City of New Orleans expected the meetings to provide a “great benefit” that “money could not buy” in publicity and tourism.2

The Dodgers’ Broadcast Announcement

Baseball activity was under way in New Orleans well before the meeting’s official start. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail, in New Orleans for the meetings, announced the day before they began that all Dodgers games in 1939 would be broadcast on radio. The three New York teams had agreed not to broadcast games during 1938, 1939, and 1940. In the spring of 1938, however, MacPhail had declared that he considered this agreement to be inoperative, and his announcement made clear that the Dodgers would move on from the arrangement altogether. Neither Giants owner Horace Stoneham nor National League President Ford Frick had any comment. But Yankees business manager Ed Barrow declared that MacPhail, the Yankees and Giants were “no longer bound by it and can move as they see fit.”3 Though the New York Daily Mirror suggested that the Dodgers had been “on the air” like “dead horses” for years, General Mills and Socony Vacuum Oil reportedly paid $77,000 for the broadcast rights for 1939 and 1940.4

The Cubs and Giants Strike a Six-Player Deal

The same day the Cubs and Giants made a trade in which each team sent a shortstop, catcher, and outfielder to the other. Stoneham and Giants manager Bill Terry completed the deal in New Orleans with Cubs scout Clarence “Pants” Rowland, sending shortstop Dick Bartell, outfielder Hank Lieber, and catcher Gus Mancuso, each a former All-Star, to Chicago. The Cubs sent back shortstop Billy Jurges and outfielder Frank Demaree, former All-Stars, and catcher Ken O’Dea. Apparently the Cubs had a deal in place a year earlier to trade the same players to the Pirates, but owner P.K. Wrigley vetoed the deal. His approval this time resulted from his confidence in Gabby Hartnett, who had taken over the third-place Cubs in July and led them to the National League pennant. Hartnett, who was walking around the Roosevelt Hotel with his pockets full of cigars, had re-signed with the Cubs on December 1 for a salary of $27,500, a $5,000 raise. After the trade with the Giants, somebody in New Orleans suggested to Hartnett that Leiber might be disagreeable. Hartnett responded, “Well, so am I,” and warned that anybody who would not play hard for him would not “be around very long.”5 Leiber had puzzled the Giants; after he hit.331 with 22 home runs in 1935, his performance at the plate had deteriorated. Some attributed this to Bob Feller beaning Leiber in the head during an April 1937 exhibition game that coincidentally was played in New Orleans. But Leiber’s 1936 season had already showed a decline, producing only nine homers and a .279 average. In any event, Stoneham recognized that Leiber might “come back with another club and beat” the Giants, but said that the Giants had “gone the limit” and had to “give up” on him.6

The Official NAPBL Meetings

When the meetings officially began in the Roosevelt Hotel’s Tip-Top Room at 10:00 A.M. on Wednesday, more than 1,000 delegates were on hand. Attendees included Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and representatives from each major-league club.

One focus for the delegates was the lack of uniform rules across the minor leagues on such things as determining player status, calculating batting averages, and determining league champions. Delegates approved changes in minor-league agreements to establish uniformity in scoring to mimic the major leagues, particularly in batting averages; the number of players teams could have on option; offseason roster limits; restricting Class B, C, and D-league teams to six players with more than three years’ professional experience; and player classifications. President Bramham himself introduced the proposal that was adopted to remedy variations in the bases for classifying players as amateurs, rookies, or otherwise, based on their playing experience.

In addition to the proposals designed to promote uniformity across the minor leagues, several others reflected improving economic conditions. Minor-league attendance in 1938 had increased by 2 million over 1937, so player salary limits were increased in several leagues, and the roster changes needed to achieve uniformity resulted in teams carrying more players rather than fewer.

Nevertheless, a few proposals that stemmed from improving economic conditions were withdrawn. For example, the Southern Association and Texas League had proposed allowing a player (and the manager as well) to receive a portion of the purchase price when he was sold. Similarly, the Western Association and Three-I League suggested allowing leagues from Class C up to pay signing bonuses to free agents. President Bramham argued against the proposals, warning that they would lead teams back into financial problems. After a long discussion, the sponsors withdrew the proposals.

Among the proposals that the NAPBL rejected was Commissioner Landis’ recommendation to rescind the “Baltimore Agreement.” Adopted two years earlier in Montreal, it permitted scouts from one club to recommend that a player sign with another club. The majors began using the agreement to scout players and sign them for a minor-league club, with the intention of having them actually play for the major-league club. A notable example was Bob Feller, whom the Indians scouted and recommended to Fargo; Feller signed with Fargo, but reported directly to the Indians. Landis called this practice “authorized subterfuge” because it allowed major-league clubs to effectively sign players who had no professional experience. Otherwise, the National Agreement prohibited major-league clubs from signing amateurs except college players. When Landis and Bramham proposed altering the Baltimore Agreement to end this “subterfuge,” the NAPBL delegates declined in short order. As one delegate explained, the practice would continue regardless of prohibitions, “So why not let the bars down?”7 Thus, instead of prohibiting major-league clubs from using the Baltimore Agreement to sign inexperienced players, the delegates resolved to permit this practice. This proposal would require approval at the major-league meetings in New York.

Clark Griffith introduced a proposal to limit each major-league team to one minor-league affiliate per classification, with no more than seven total. After the minors had taken actions favoring major-minor affiliations, Griffith’s proposal arrived like a “thunderbolt” that left the meetings “speechless.”8 It was referred to the majors, with the minors planning a vote by mail after the majors considered the matter.

Other Activity at the NAPBL Meetings

The NAPBL conducted business in three sessions, with Wednesday’s session beginning at 10:00 A.M. and lasting past noon. While the delegates were in session on Wednesday, the NAPBL scheduled a sightseeing tour and lunch in the French Quarter for women accompanying delegates to the meetings. The men had their turn later, with a “stag party” scheduled for Wednesday night. Thursday’s session also began at 10:00 A.M., and the annual banquet took place that evening. The final session was held on Friday morning starting at 10:00 A.M.

The meetings featured the return of the “business school” for team officials. The NAPBL had offered the school at previous winter meetings, but skipped it in 1937. American Association President George Trautman presided over the school, which offered instruction for owners, business managers, and business secretaries on matters including player transfers, dealing with the press, team relations with the NAPBL, radio broadcasts, promotional activity, and accounting.

Of the 35 proposals on the agenda to alter the National Agreement, plus two introduced during the meetings, the delegates passed 28 proposals, declined four, and deferred one, while the other proposals were withdrawn. Many minor leagues held their own meetings in conjunction with the NAPBL convention, including the Middle Atlantic League, the Southern Association, the Western Association, the Texas League, and the Piedmont League, which used the gathering as an opportunity to order the Durham Bulls to stop wearing red pants

The Major League Meetings in New York

After the Friday session in New Orleans, the action shifted to New York for the major-league meetings. For the first time, the American and National Leagues held their respective meetings at the same hotel, the Waldorf Astoria. The leagues chose one hotel in response to demands from the press, which did not want to shuffle between two sites for the league meetings. Nevertheless, the big leagues’ joint session would be held at the Roosevelt Hotel, a few blocks away.

The Giants Trade for Zeke Bonura

As the teams left New Orleans, one loose end was Zeke Bonura’s waiver status. Bonura hit .289 with 22 home runs for Washington in 1938, having come from the White Sox after the 1937 season. But the Senators were unhappy with Bonura’s fielding at first base and believed that the right-hander was a poor fit for Griffith Stadium with its deep left field. The Senators thus placed Bonura on waivers. Initially, the White Sox claimed Bonura. He had been a fan favorite in Chicago, and the White Sox did not want Washington to trade Bonura to the crosstown Cubs. Once Clark Griffith assured the White Sox that he would not do so, the White Sox passed on Bonura. The A’s also expressed interest, with Connie Mack saying that Bonura would “hit a lot of home runs for us in Shibe Park,” but ultimately they also waived on Bonura, with a statement that Clark Griffith “would want too much in the way of playing strength in exchange for Zeke.”9 Griffith met with the Giants’ Horace Stoneham and Bill Terry at an NFL game between the NFL’s Giants and Packers at the Polo Grounds on Sunday, December 11, where they finalized a deal. The Giants sent right-handed pitcher Tom Baker, infielder Jim Carlin, and a reported $25,000 to the Senators for Bonura. This led to backlash in Washington, since Baker had already flopped with the Dodgers and Cubs, and Carlin was a career minor leaguer without a position. Griffith and manager Bucky Harris were reportedly “half apologetic” in announcing the deal.10 In New York, manager Bill Terry, a “stickler” for fielding himself, said he knew “all about” Bonura’s fielding and that he was “prepared to worry along on that,” but that “what counts most” was that the Giants “finally got somebody” to “give that ball plenty of riding.”11

The Tigers Acquire Fred Hutchinson

On the eve of the official opening, Tigers manager Del Baker arrived in New York and announced “one of the biggest surprises of the major league offseason.”12 At the last minute, the Tigers outbid the Pirates and the Yankees to acquire Seattle Rainiers pitcher Fred Hutchinson. In his first minor-league season, in 1938, the 19-year-old righty threw 290 innings, posting a 2.48 ERA and a 25-7 record. As the minor-league meetings were winding down, the Pirates had Hutchinson within their grasp. Pittsburgh president Bill Benswanger was coy, responding to a rumor that the Pirates had acquired Hutchinson by saying, “I won’t say that we won’t buy him.”13 Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, who had also been trying to acquire Hutchinson, was more frank: “Pittsburgh beat us to him.”14 But the Tigers quietly made a deal, sending $50,000 and four players — outfielder JoJo White and infielder Tony Piet from Detroit, and first baseman George Archie and right-handed pitcher Ed Selway from the minor leagues — to Seattle. In exchange, Detroit insisted on Hutchinson pitching for the Tigers in 1939; Seattle had wanted him to pitch for the Rainiers in 1939 and join the major leagues afterward. When Baker arrived in New York on Monday night and announced that Hutchinson would be wearing a Tigers uniform in 1939, a Pittsburgh official remarked, “Guess shaking hands on a deal no longer binds a bargain in baseball, as in the old days.”15

The Official Meetings

The major-league meetings officially opened on the morning of Tuesday, December 13, with the leagues’ individual sessions scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday at the Waldorf-Astoria and the joint session scheduled for Thursday at the Roosevelt Hotel. One of the prime issues for both leagues was the baseball itself. Although the ball that each league had been using contained the same interior, one year earlier the National League had adopted a thicker covering and added threads to the stitching. Both moves were designed to assist pitchers, deadening the ball and providing pitchers a better grip.

The American League Meeting

In a contentious session that lasted more than seven hours, the American League addressed matters including night baseball, which ball to use, and roster size. The National League began to allow night baseball after then-Reds president Larry MacPhail lobbied for it at the 1934 winter meetings. Despite the Reds averaging 20,000 fans at their night games, the AL continued to shun night baseball. This resulted in no small part from the sentiment among AL owners like Clark Griffith, who in the early 1930s called night games “bush league stuff” and “just a step above dog racing,” and Yankees president Ed Barrow, who called night baseball a “novelty” that would “never last.” 16 Cleveland and Philadelphia, however, sought permission to play under the lights in 1939. Heading into the meetings, the AL was split: Boston, Detroit, New York, and Washington opposed the request, while Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis were in favor. Connie Mack sorely wanted the financial boost that night games would provide, so he made a deal with Clark Griffith, privately telling Griffith that if the Senators would support night baseball in Philadelphia, Mack would pass on Bonura. They agreed, Mack passed on Bonura, and Griffith broke the deadlock; the league approved up to seven night games in Philadelphia and Cleveland.17 There could be no night games on Saturday, Sunday, or holidays, and no inning could start after 11:50 P.M. These were the same limitations that the National League employed, except that the NL allowed Saturday night games.

With respect to the ball, the AL voted to retain its covering but adopt the NL’s stitching. Led by former pitcher and longtime Yankees antagonist Clark Griffith, and after consulting with representatives from the National League, the AL sought a less lively ball at least in part to blunt the home-run power that had propelled the Yankees to the past three World Series championships.

Finally, the AL unanimously re-elected President Will Harridge for a 10-year term; resolved to retain the 23-man roster instead of moving back to a 25-man limit, though it did propose a two-player disabled list that would not count against the roster; declined Griffith’s proposal to ban signing bonuses (which were already prohibited in the NL); decided that Connie Mack would manage the 1939 AL All-Star Team; and voted to start the 1939 season on April 17 with the Yankees traveling to Washington to take on the Senators.

The National League Meeting

The National League meetings were less contentious and not as long as the AL meeting, with the NL waiting on the AL for several issues. For example, NL President Ford Frick announced that the NL was satisfied with its ball, though it was toying with the idea of allowing a yellow covering instead of a white exterior to promote the ball’s visibility. Thus, the NL delayed a final decision because it wanted to play with the same ball as the AL. Frick stated that if the NL could not reach an agreement with the junior circuit, then the NL might consider using a yellow ball. Differing with the AL, however, the NL voted 4 to 3 to return to the 25-man roster. (The Cubs abstaining but owner Wrigley advised that he would vote with the majority.) Under the NL proposal, teams would have until May 15 to comply with the 25-player limit. Before May 15, and after September 1, the NL proposed that teams could have a 40-man roster.

Otherwise, the NL was busy only with routine business. It adopted all the minor-league amendments proposed in New Orleans, deferred Clark Griffith’s proposal to limit teams to one minor-league affiliate per classification, and declined the Yankees’ proposal to extend the length of player contracts to cover spring training. The NL scheduled the Reds to host the Pirates at Crosley Field to open the season on April 17, 1939, with all the other teams opening the next day.

The Joint Session

Commissioner Landis presided over the joint session of the American and National Leagues on Thursday at the Roosevelt Hotel. One of the first issues that the meeting addressed was roster size. With the leagues deadlocked, it was up to Landis to cast the deciding vote. After its 4-to-3 vote, the NL agreed to make it unanimous in the joint session. Seven AL teams supported the 23-man limit, the Yankees being the only holdout. Landis sided with the majority to break the tie between the leagues, thus adopting the NL proposal for a 25-man roster between May 15 and September 1, with a 40-man roster the rest of the season.

The joint session also addressed several proposals to change the rules of play. One change that was adopted was an addition to the rule on infield flies, making it apply to certain outfield flies. The addition to the rule provided: “If before two are out, while first and second, or first, second and third are occupied, an outfielder, in the judgment of the umpire, intentionally drops a fly or line drive, the umpire shall immediately rule the ball has been caught.”18 Clark Griffith proposed another change to provide that pitchers would have to keep only one foot on the pitching rubber before throwing a pitch, rather than two. The leagues adopted the new rule, which provided:

Preliminary to pitching, the pitcher shall take his position facing the batsman with both feet squarely on the ground but his pivot foot must be on or in front in contact with the pitchers’ plate, his other foot may be directly behind or in front (not on the side of) the pitchers’ plate. In the act of delivering the ball to the batsman, he must keep one foot in contact with the pitchers’ plate defined in Rule 9. The pitcher shall not raise either foot until in the act of delivering the ball to batsman, or in throwing to a base, nor may he make more than one step in such delivery.19

A committee consisting of NL President Ford Frick, AL President Will Harridge, and Henry P. Edwards, a Cleveland sportswriter and one of the BBWAA’s founders, was convened to consider other amendments to the rules including whether to count a fly scoring a run as a sacrifice and whether to award an RBI to a batter hitting into a double play.

In addition to the rule change concerning the pitching rubber, Griffith submitted several other proposals in the joint session. He again proposed his rule change to limit teams to one affiliate per minor-league classification, which he had sponsored in each of the AL and NL meetings. But he withdrew it because Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert did not attend the meetings due to his failing health and the proposal was aimed primarily at the Yankees. He also proposed banning planned doubleheaders on Sundays, even though they appealed to most owners because they generally were among the best-attended games. The leagues declined and allowed teams to continue scheduling Sunday doubleheaders after the third Sunday of the season.

Other business saw the leagues agree that if a team’s claim of a player on waivers would put the team over the roster limit, it must immediately notify Commissioner Landis which player it would drop to make room for the newcomer. (This would be the case even if the team later withdrew the waiver claim.) The leagues renewed their annual $20,000 appropriation to support the American Legion’s baseball program and heard from Christy Walsh, director of sports for the New York World’s Fair (scheduled to begin in 1939), about baseball’s place at the fair. Walsh presented a letter from Jacob Ruppert, chairman of the fair’s sports committee, urging that baseball should “dominate all other sports with an outstanding exhibit in the Academy of Sport.”20

The 1939 major-league meetings were awarded to Cincinnati after the American League consented to vary from the standard rotation that would have seen Chicago serve as the host city. The move was part of the plan to celebrate the 100th anniversary of baseball, based on the story of Abner Doubleday inventing the game in 1839. The minor leagues were invited to meet in Cincinnati too, and while that required President Bramham and the NAPBL executive committee to agree, the expectation was that they would do so. This would represent one of the few instances when the minor leagues joined the majors in the same city, or in a city that did not host a minor-league team, or when the majors met in a city other than Chicago or New York.

Other Player Movement

With Fred Hutchinson and Zeke Bonura moving to new teams, player movement continued as the meetings progressed. The Tigers went into the meetings looking for a third baseman; this had been a soft spot in their lineup for some time. While Marv Owen had hit for a decent average in the mid-1930s while manning Detroit’s hot corner, the Tigers shipped him to Chicago after the 1937 season seeking better alternatives. But Owen’s replacements at third had hit .248 with only 3 home runs in the 1938 season. At the meetings, the Tigers reportedly talked to Clark Griffith about Senators shortstop Cecil Travis, whom the Tigers would shift to third. Griffith asked for Tigers starter Elden Auker, outfielder Roy Cullenbine, and catcher Birdie Tebbetts for Travis and catcher Rick Ferrell, but the Tigers declined. They went on to talk to the Athletics about Bill Werber and to the Browns about Harlond Clift. Ultimately, the Tigers agreed to send the right-handed Auker, left-hander Jake Wade, and reserve outfielder Chet Morgan to the Red Sox for third-baseman Pinky Higgins and southpaw reliever Archie McKain. Higgins did not have Clift’s power or Werber’s speed, but he had hit .300 every year but two since breaking into the majors in 1934. Likewise, the submarining Auker had been a mainstay of Detroit’s rotation, winning at least 13 games in four of his six big-league seasons.

Cleveland had wanted Auker too, with manager Oscar Vitt saying that he had offered second baseman Odell Hale and righty reliever Denny Galehouse to Detroit. The Tigers reportedly were willing to deal Auker and shortstop Billy Rogell to Cleveland in exchange for Indians shortstop Lyn Lary and righty reliever Johnny Humphries or outfield Moose Solters. The Indians wanted Rogell and Auker, but were unwilling to meet the Tigers’ price. Thus, the Tigers kept Rogell and sent Auker to Boston to solve their longstanding need for a third baseman.

Another third baseman was traded in a deal that arose from much more fortuitous circumstances. As owner of the reigning National League pennant winner, Phil Wrigley gave a dinner for the owners on December 13. While stories varied, apparently Larry MacPhail took the opportunity to suggest a new tradition at the annual dinner to trade players by throwing names into a hat:

Let each club throw the name of a player into a hat . . . The player has to be some bird which is on the active roster on August 15 the previous year. Then everybody digs in for a player . . . In that way, we do some trading.21

Wrigley asked MacPhail whose name he would put in the hat; MacPhail identified right-handed pitcher Fred Frankhouse. Next, Wrigley asked Bees owner Bob Quinn who he would throw in, and he identified third baseman Joe Stripp. Wrigley then asked, “Why can’t you two go ahead?”22 Quinn and MacPhail consented, and that was the trade. MacPhail apparently planned to suggest doing this again the next year. Although Cardinals owner Sam Breadon said his team did not have a player whose name he would throw into a hat, Quinn, Wrigley, and the Pirates’ Bill Benswanger seemed to want to continue MacPhail’s tradition.

The Dodgers made a few conventional trades, too. Before the meetings Larry MacPhail said he was “very likely” to swing a deal involving first baseman Buddy Hassett.23 First the Dodgers sent minor-league right-hander Lew Krausse to the Cardinals for outfielder Jimmy Outlaw. Then MacPhail fulfilled his prophecy, sending Hassett and Outlaw to the Bees for outfielder Gene Moore and righty Ira Hutchinson. The Dodgers also wanted Phillies pitcher Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy (the right-hander had earned his nickname by losing 18 games in 1937 and 20 games in 1938), but Brooklyn offered Joe Stripp (acquired in the hat deal), infielder Woody Williams, and right-handers Bill Posedel and Johnny Gaddy. The Phillies, however, said they required some combination of first baseman Bert Haas, second baseman Pete Coscarart, and infielder Johnny Hudson in exchange. In light of that, the Dodgers’ desire for Mulcahy faded and there was no deal.

The Red Sox were looking for starting pitching at the meetings, and in addition to landing Auker, they sent infielder-outfielder Ben Chapman to Cleveland for pitcher Denny Galehouse and infielder Tom Irwin. Chapman was a former All-Star who hit .340 in 1938, but the Red Sox wanted the 26-year-old Galehouse to shore up the rotation and provide pitching depth.

Other trades saw the Bees and Pirates swap catchers; Boston sent Ray Mueller to Pittsburgh for Al Todd and outfielder John Dickshot, and a trade of Sox; the Red Sox sending infielder Eric McNair to the White Sox for infielder Boze Berger. Boston had granted White Sox skipper Jimmy Dykes permission to examine McNair at McNair’s Mississippi home, and when the White Sox were satisfied with his health, the deal was completed.

Trade Rumors

A few trades were rumored at the meetings but never came to fruition. The Phillies offered Hugh Mulcahy to the Cubs for second baseman Billy Herman and $25,000. Meanwhile, the Giants offered the Phillies second baseman Alex Kampouris for shortstop Del Young and outfielder Gibby Brack. Young and Kampouris were glove-first infielders, but Brack was an effective batter in limited action and Herman was a lifetime .300 hitter who was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame. The Giants also wanted Phillies righty Claude Passeau, offering a package of outfielder Jimmy Ripple, right-handed reliever Bill Lohrman, and cash. Nothing came of any of these teams’ pursuits.

First base was a source of rumors for both Philadelphia teams. The Phillies sought a power-hitting first baseman. They ended up with a first baseman named Powers, purchasing minor leaguer Les Powers, who had slugged for the Giants’ Jersey City affiliate. Even after this purchase, the Phillies inquired about the Cubs’ young first baseman Phil Cavarretta, but no deal resulted. On the AL side, in addition to flirting with Zeke Bonura, Connie Mack reportedly wanted Rudy York from the Tigers. He was willing to offer third baseman Bill Werber, whom Mack called “one of the league’s best third basemen,”24 but the Tigers acquired Pinky Higgins and no deal for Werber transpired. The A’s received an offer for their first baseman, Lou Finney, who had hit .275 with 10 home runs in 1938; the White Sox offered outfielder Rip Radcliff, but Connie Mack held onto Finney.

Finally, the Indians wanted second baseman Don Heffner from the Browns, and offered St. Louis a wide choice of players. The Browns could choose from right-handed pitchers Willis Hudlin and Bill Zuber, southpaws Earl Whitehill and Al Milnar, plus outfielders Earl Averill, Moose Solters, Bruce Campbell, or Roy Weatherly. Heffner was a light-hitting second baseman, the players the Indians offered were similarly unremarkable, and ultimately both teams stood pat.


Though the 1938 winter meetings saw a number of developments both on and off the field, the results ranged from ineffective to inconclusive. For example, although the night games approved in Cleveland and Philadelphia attracted larger crowds than the average day games, they did not significantly affect the teams’ overall attendance. Cleveland drew more than 55,000 fans to the first night game at Municipal Stadium, on June 27, 1939. But the team’s total attendance in 1939 declined by more than 88,000 fans from 1938, even though the Indians finished in third place each year with nearly identical records. At best, night baseball in Cleveland may be viewed as having simply forestalled a greater overall decline in attendance. In Philadelphia, only a few more than 15,000 attended the A’s first night game at Shibe Park, though poor weather was a factor. Indeed, critics suggested that Connie Mack undermined his night games by scheduling them too early in the season, before the weather was warm enough. And the Phillies, who moved into Shibe Park during July 1938 and therefore also featured night games during the 1939 season, fared worst of all, averaging only slightly more than 14,000 fans for each of their seven night games.

In the same vein, it is not clear that the changes in the ball suppressed offense. Although American Leaguers hit 68 fewer home runs in 1939 than in 1938, slugging percentages and batting averages in 1939 remained within a few points of their 1938 totals. And changes aimed at the Yankees also failed; the Bronx Bombers led the league in slugging and homers, just as they had in 1938, as they claimed their fourth straight pennant. In the National League, slugging increased slightly in 1939 while home runs increased from 611 to 649 with the new ball.

Finally, the teams that acquired players at the winter meetings did not see great improvement in the standings. For the Giants, Billy Jurges hit .285 and was an All-Star in 1939, but Zeke Bonura did not give the ball too much “riding,” hitting just 11 homers as the team fell from third place in 1938 to fifth in 1939. Likewise, the Cubs fell from pennant winners in 1938 to fourth place in 1939, even though Hank Leiber did find Wrigley Field agreeable as he bounced back with a .310 average and 24 home runs. The Tigers fell from a fourth-place finish in 1938 to fifth place in 1939. Even though Pinky Higgins was solid at third base, hitting .276 with eight homers, Fred Hutchinson posted a 5.21 ERA and claimed only three wins as the Tigers went 5-7 in his 12 starts. Elden Auker, whom the Tigers sent to the Red Sox in exchange for Higgins, also did not post a great 1939, posting a 5.36 ERA as he went just 9-10 and Boston again finished second to the Yankees, who went on to sweep the Reds in the 1939 World Series as both the majors and minors headed to Cincinnati for the 1939 winter meetings.



1 “Welcome From New Orleans,” The Sporting News, December 1, 1938: 4.

2 Harry Martinez, “Sports From the Crow’s Nest,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 4, 1938: Sec. 4, 7.

3 “Dodger Baseball to Be Broadcast,” New York Times, December 7, 1938: 29.

4 “Scribbled by Scribes,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1938: 4.

5 Ibid.

6 Roscoe McGowen, “Giants Get Jurges, O’Dea and Demaree in Deal With Cubs,” New York Times, December 7, 1938: 29.

7 “Frisch, Seeking Post in Majors, Rules Out New Orleans Pilot Job,” New York Times, December 9, 1938: 33.

8 Edgar S. Brands, “Minors Loosen Bands of Economy, Invite Majors to Do Likewise,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1938: 7.

9 “Powers No. 1 Catch in Phil Power Hunt,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1938: 1.

10 Denman Thompson, “Capital Can’t Make Bonura Deal Add Up,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1938: 11.

11 John Drebinger, “Senators Send Bonura, First Baseman, to Giants,” New York Times, December 12, 1938: 24.

12 Sam Greene, “Detroit Goes High to Land Hill Prize,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1938: 1.

13 “Sale of Coast Ace to Pirates Is Seen,” New York Times, December 10, 1938: 22.

14 Ibid.

15 “Tigers and Red Sox Both Fill Old Voids,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1938: 7.

16 John Helyar, Lords of the Realm (New York: Villard Books, 1994), 40.

17 Griffith’s vote represented an about-face from his earlier statements, but his opposition to night baseball had become equivocal. While Griffith initially described night games as “bush league stuff,” he later began to consider them. See David G. Surdam, Wins, Losses, and Empty Seats: How Baseball Outlasted the Great Depression (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011), 233-35. And while he supported the AL banning night games for the 1938 season, by July of that year he acknowledged to American League president Will Harridge that “night baseball in Washington would pack them in.” See “Night Baseball Trend Is Seen by Harridge in Major Leagues,” New York Times, July 3, 1938.

18 E.G. Brands, “New Player Limit, Uniform Ball for Majors,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1938: 7.

19 Ibid.

20 John Drebinger, “Major Leagues Raise Player Limit to 25; Red Sox and Tigers Complete Deal,” New York Times, December 16, 1938: 34.

21 Dan Daniel, “Over … the Fence,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1938: 7.

22 Ibid.

23 “Traders Turn to N.Y. Session,” Baltimore Sun, December 10, 1938: 15.

24 “Powers No. 1 Catch in Phil Power Hunt.”