1945 Winter Meetings: Resuming Peacetime Baseball

This article was written by Andy Bokser

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


For the first time since 1941, major-league baseball was able to conduct its winter meetings without having to adjust to World War II, which had decimated rosters and affected the quality of play over the previous four years. After the war ended in August 1945, the commissioner, league presidents, and team owners met in Chicago for three days at the Palmer House, December 10-13.1 The two leagues had individual meetings on Monday and Tuesday, and a joint meeting with the commissioner on the closing day.2 At that time the baseball decision-makers were looking forward to a full season with their returning major-league players.

The 1945 Winter Meetings were going to be conducted under the stewardship of the new Major League Baseball Commissioner Albert Benjamin (“Happy” Chandler. The former United States Senator and Governor of Kentucky was selected unanimously on a third ballot of the major-league team owners in early 1945 to replace the first baseball commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who died in November 1944.3

Commissioner Chandler kept his Senate seat until he assumed his duties as commissioner on November 1, 1945. The new regime was planning to move the commissioner’s office from Chicago (where the lease was to expire on December 15, 1945 to Cincinnati.4 That was approximately one week after Branch Rickey announced that he had signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with the Dodgers’ minor-league Montreal Royals. Chandler had supported the game-changing move by the Dodgers.5

Delivering a statement at the opening of the meetings was General Jacob L. Devers, the former commander of the North African Theater of Operations and the Sixth Army Group in Europe.6 He credited baseball with helping to set a standard for the teamwork that had contributed to the Army’s success in Europe during the war. General Devers also advised the assemblage that 498 major-league players were still in military service on December 1, but that he expected most of them to be available for the 1946 season.7

One of the results of the Winter Meetings was baseball’s reaffirming its commitment to protect the returning veterans’ jobs in baseball.8 In addition to preparing for the influx of former players to their rosters, the major leagues needed to resolve a brewing dispute with respect to the number of night games the teams could play in the coming season.

In particular, the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals, along with the Washington Senators (who in 1945 played 41 games under the lights at home),9 wanted to have carte blanche in determining the number of night games they could schedule.10 While the National League agreed with affording the individual clubs unrestricted rights to scheduling night games instead of going back to the previous limit of seven games a year, the American League, while willing to let the Senators and the Browns play 33 night games each, wanted to restrict the other teams to no more than 14.

Neither the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, nor Boston Red Sox had lights. However, the rules did not force a team to accept night games on the road if they had an objection. A major argument raised by those opposed to unlimited night games was that it would spoil the novelty for fans.11 One of the writers reporting the events of the Winter Meetings voiced the concern that unlimited night games would bar young fans from seeing the game and cause the game to die out. Arthur Daley of the New York Times cited the Chicago White Sox as a random example, writing that in 1940 they had an average attendance of about 30,600 for seven night games, but only 11,500 per game for their 22 night games in 1945.12

The ultimate decision regarding night games was made when new Commissioner Albert B. “Happy” Chandler agreed with the National League about expanding the teams’ rights to schedule night games. The former Kentucky governor, while diplomatically not criticizing either side in the dispute, reportedly was convinced that it would be bad for baseball for there to be differences in the rules between the two major leagues.13

Nevertheless, minor differences did exist in the leagues’ rules; for instance, the National League permitted a player ejected from the first game of a doubleheader to play in the second game, while the American League did not. In another exercise of his powers to reduce the differences between the two leagues, Chandler did agree to apply to both leagues the National League rule permitting a 30-man roster until June 15, instead of allowing the American League’s rule permitting the expanded roster until 31 days after the commencement of the season (around May 15). The owners also passed an amendment banning twilight-night doubleheaders unless caused by postponements.14

The owners strongly supported their commissioner over proposed rule amendments sought by the minor leagues to curtail some of his authority. Prior to the major-league winter meeting, Chandler responded to the rumblings from the minor leagues about this, saying, “I will insist on all the prerogatives enjoyed by Judge [Kenesaw] Landis in the running of my office. … If the minors don’t like it, they are at liberty to secede from the Union.”15 For example, the minor leagues did not want Chandler to be in charge of organizing and implementing the promotional plan for baseball.

Meeting at the Deschler-Wallick Hotel in Columbus, Ohio, December 5 to 7, they also voted 21 to 3 for an amendment stating that the commissioner could not determine that an existing rule was “conduct detrimental to baseball,” as his predecessor had done. Chandler stated that despite the vote he still had the inherent authority to determine what was harmful to baseball. By having his power as commissioner reaffirmed at the meeting, the major leagues failed to support the actions of the minor leagues to deprive Chandler of his power over the promotional campaign for baseball. They also approved his ruling that prohibited baseball from signing high-school players until they were out of school for more than one year.16

Before the Winter Meetings, the commissioner made it clear that he wanted to take the lead role in organizing the promotional plan for baseball in the coming postwar season. And the major-league owners formally granted him that authority at their meetings.17 Under the rules then in existence, the minor leagues’ attempt to curtail the commissioner’s power could succeed only if the major leagues approved the minor leagues’ proposed rule changes.18

There was one change to the powers and role of the commissioner: Unlike Landis, Chandler did not retain the right to veto league rules that he believed were detrimental to baseball.19 Nevertheless, while the major leagues did not specifically overrule the minor leagues’ vote, they also acknowledged that the commissioner had the authority to determine when a rule or act was harmful to baseball and to block the implementation of such a rule.

However, not all of the minor-leagues’ applications were defeated by their major-league counterparts. The latter approved the minors’ proposal to create a Triple-A level and elevate the Pacific Coast League, American Association, and International League to that status (from their previous Double-A designation); the Texas League was reborn and, along with the Southern Association, placed at the Double-A level; and the South Atlantic League was also revived and granted the right to operate as a Single-A league.

The major leagues denied the request by the Pacific Coast League to be recognized as a third major league, but in an apparent attempt to soften the rejection, they advised the PCL that the issue would be studied further. Stadium seating capacities were one of the reasons the 16 major-league clubs did not want to expand their membership to include the Pacific Coast League. For instance, the Oakland and Sacramento ballparks could each hold just 11,000 spectators, San Diego was limited to 12,000 and Portland was just a little larger at 12,500. All of these were far smaller than the existing major-league teams.20

Another reason offered to the PCL was contained in a joint statement by league Presidents Ford Frick (National League) and Will Harridge (American League), which declared that promoting the league to the major-league level would be unfair to players since it would give the Pacific Coast League the privilege of drafting minor-league players, but once they started playing at the major-league level, those teams would not be able to afford to pay those players top major-league salaries.

The president of the Pacific Coast League, Clarence Rowland, reacted to the unfavorable determination, stating that the major leagues were merely delaying the inevitable, and that the people of California, Washington, and Oregon want better than minor-league baseball.21

The major leagues also enacted rules that restricted the practice of giving out large signing bonuses. Henceforth, if a player was signed for an annual salary and a bonus exceeding $6,000, the signing team could not send him to the minor leagues unless no other team claimed him on waivers. Moreover, if he was claimed by another team, his team could not withdraw the waivers. And if the “bonus baby” did end up going to the minors after all teams passed on him, he would be subject to the annual player draft. Chandler put teeth into the rule by adding the provision that a major-league team violating the rule would lose the player, be unable to re-sign him for three years, and be fined $2,000. In addition, the individual transgressor for the team would be fined $500.

At the minor-league meetings, National Association President W.G. Bramham also decried the “unbridled payment of bonuses” because it contributed to the financial problems of many teams. Bramham also warned the membership that there was “rampant” gambling in some minor-league parks, the participants were operating “brazenly,” and that leagues and teams that failed to take steps to curb it could bring about the “forfeiture of their membership in the National Association.” However, he stated that there was no evidence that any players or umpires were involved in the gambling.22

In covering the Winter Meetings for Baseball Magazine, Dan M. Daniel anticipated discussions and action in Chicago regarding Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Montreal minor-league team. However, he reported no discussion or action taken at the time of the Dodgers’ potentially game-changing signing.23

Trading at the meeting was light. Among the few reported transactions, the Reds sold their longtime first baseman, Frank McCormick, to the Phillies for $40,000; the Red Sox sold infielder Skeeter Newsome to the Phillies and traded left-handed pitcher Vic Johnson and cash to the Indians for right-hander Jim Bagby; and the Giants purchased the contract of pitcher (and sometimes outfielder) Clint Hartung.24 One reason offered for the lack of player moves was that the teams were unsure of how well the returning veterans would perform in 1946. Cubs’ manager Charlie Grimm, for example, said that with six of his nine catchers returning from the service, he wanted to see how they played in the spring before moving any of them.25

Discharged from the US Marines as a captain after three years of service, veteran pitching star Ted Lyons turned down the request from the White Sox that he become a coach, as he felt he could still pitch. The White Sox granted his wish.26 But the right-hander was able to go only 1-4 before retiring as a player in 1946 and succeeding Jimmy Dykes as the White Sox’ manager. (Lyons was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955.)

The meetings broke up with the general consensus that Commissioner Chandler could live up to his nickname of “Happy,” since the major-league owners had largely ratified his powers when the minor leagues sought to reduce them. Chandler having been in office only about a year since the death of Landis, it was clear that the major-league owners were going to give him time to grow on the job. Prior to his ouster in 1951, Chandler oversaw the long-overdue integration of major-league baseball, suspended Leo Durocher for “conduct detrimental to baseball,” provided money in 1947 for the new players’ pension fund, and negotiated lucrative (for the time) television and radio contracts with proceeds from both going into the pension fund.27 The strong support given to Chandler by the National and American Leagues at the 1945 Winter Meetings certainly help set the stage for his positive influences on the national pastime.

 

Notes

1 Irving Vaughan, “Coast’s Major Demand Faces Ballot Today,” Chicago Tribune, December 10, 1945.

2 John Drebinger, “Arc-Light Games Leading Problem as Majors Gather,” New York Times, December 9, 1945.

3 Terry Bohn, “Happy Chandler,” www.sabr.org/node33749

4 Tom Swope, “Fancy Trim Being Put on New Capitol,” The Sporting News, November 29, 1945

5 Terry Bohn, “Happy Chandler.”

6 britannica.com/biography/Jacob-L-Devers.

7 John Drebinger, “Chandler Blocks Night Game Limit,” New York Times, December 13, 1945.

8 Ibid.

9 “Griffith States Views,” New York Times, December 9, 1945.

10 Dan M. Daniel, “Failure to Revive Prewar Restrictions on Night Baseball Featured Major Sessions,” Baseball Magazine, February 1946.

11 Ibid.

12 Arthur Daley, “Sports of the Times — Short Shots in Sundry Directions,” New York Times December 14, 1945.

13 Daniel.

14 Drebinger, “Chandler Blocks Night Game Limit.”

15 “Chandler to Insist on Majors Giving Him Landis’ Authority,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1945.

16 Daniel.

17 “Programs for Minors’ Convention,” The Sporting News, December 6, 1945.

18 “Griffith States Views,” New York Times, December 9, 1945.

19 Official Baseball 1946.

20 H.G. Salsinger, Preface, Major League Baseball 1946 (New York: Whitman Publishing Company, 1946), 4.

21 Drebinger, “Big League Status Is Denied to Coast,” New York Times December 12, 1945.

22 E.G. Brands, “Franchises at Stake in War on Gambling,” The Sporting News, December 6, 1945, 2.

23 Daniel.

24 Ibid.

25 Drebinger, “Chandler Defies Threats of Minors,” New York Times December 10, 1945.

26 “Big League Status Is Denied to Coast.”

27 “Baseball History — Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler mlb.mlb.com/mlb/history/mlb_history_people.jsp?story=com_bio_2.

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