1948 Winter Meetings: Concerns and Conflicts Regarding Televised Baseball Grow Stronger

This article was written by Gary Levy

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


The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, comprising 58 leagues, held its 47th annual Winter Meetings in Minneapolis December 7-11, 1948, to engage in, among other things, its yearly “carnival of buying and selling baseball talent.”1 More than 1,200 people in all, 1,100 of them officially registered delegates, attended.2 In advance, there was speculation that many substantial trades and exchanges of talent would take place, and that the delegates would discuss the effect of televised games on attendance, along with recommendations from the two major leagues that rules on bonus payments be amended.3

The meetings started on a light note, with a luncheon headlining Frank Frisch, now a coach with the New York Giants; Carl Hubbell, the Giants farm director; Billy Evans, Tigers general manager; Casey Stengel, the new manager of the New York Yankees; Bill Meyer, manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates; Lefty Gomez, the former Yankees hurler; Bill Veeck, owner of the 1948 world champion Cleveland Indians); Leo Durocher, the Giants manager; and George I. Trautman, president of the National Association. The event turned out to be a roast of Frisch more than anything else.

Not surprisingly, Durocher and his stories dominated the event. He told of how in 1934 Dizzy Dean had taken it upon himself to replace Spud Davis as a baserunner in the World Series against the Tigers, without manager Frisch’s knowledge or permission. Dean was famously hit in the head on the basepath with a throw but nonetheless finished the game and clinched the Series with a large bump on his head. Durocher also told about how Freddy Fitzsimmons had once said something unflattering to umpire Beans Beardon, who asked him what he had said, to which Fitzsimmons snapped, “You’ve been guessing all afternoon, so guess what I said.” Carl Hubbell reminisced about how he was having problems pitching to Rogers Hornsby. After tossing three fastballs inside, as third baseman Frisch had instructed him to do, Hubbell asked again what he should pitch Hornsby. Frisch replied, “You’re the pitcher, I’m just a third baseman.”4

Unlike the other speakers of the day, president Trautman was the only serious orator, urging everyone to help improve interest in baseball as a pastime, rather than simply winning games. He “asked that the sport always be kept above reproach to justify the faith of youngsters and the public.”5

At the first business meeting of the gathering, Trautman put forth his recommendation that baseball conduct the annual player draft at the winter meetings. His goal, he said, was to make the draft process more efficient. With all the club owners there, “there could be preliminary discussions and investigations of players desired through the draft. … The whole thing could be accomplished with a minimum of confusion, with as many as 300 or 400 ballplayers changing hands in the matter of a few hours.”6 Attendees approved a recommendation that the 1949 and 1950 meetings be held in Baltimore and Columbus, Ohio, respectively.7 They also approved a $5,000 pay raise for Trautman, to $30,000, with three years remaining on his contract.8

Three International League cities, Baltimore, Jersey City, and Newark, all showed significantly lower attendance in 1948 because of competition from televised major-league games. League President Frank J. Shaughnessy urged that televising of both major- and minor-league night games be barred because of their negative impact on minor-league gates. Shaughnessy maintained that minor-league night-game attendance was being hurt because televising night games was “simply advising the fans seeking and having time for recreation to get it at home without cost.”9 Association President Trautman added, “Up until now, increased attendance has saved our lives,” and that generally ticket prices were stable, but that the increasing costs of minor-league operations presented “a very real problem” for minor-league baseball.

Thus, on day three of the convention, 54 minor-league representatives voted unanimously (the other four minor leagues were not in attendance for the vote) to ban radio and TV telecasts beyond 50 miles from the station.”10 The vote was largely symbolic unless the major leagues also voted it down at their coming meetings, for the ban. The major leagues’ concern for the health of minor-league baseball may have been overshadowed by the revenue being promised to them by television moguls.11

An amendment presented by Atlanta of the Southern Association to eliminate the bonus rule gained only seven votes and failed. A number of other proposals were also voted down, including limiting each major- and minor-league team to one bonus player a year; fixing the bonus level of the majors at $7,500 and the minors at $5,000; alternatively, fixing the bonus level of the majors and the minors at $6,000; allowing teams to option bonus players under certain waiver conditions; and optioning one year of a bonus player without having to ask waivers. The one change made to the bonus rule was to require that the amount of the bonus be made public before the contract was signed, including “such payments as are made to college men to help them with their education.”12

In early December Boston Braves shortstop Alvin Dark was overwhelmingly voted the major leagues’ 1948 Rookie of the Year. Dark got 27 votes, with left-hander Gene Bearden of Cleveland coming in second with 8 votes and Phillies outfielder Richie Ashburn, Philadelphia Athletics left-hander Lou Brissie, and Red Sox first baseman Bill Goodman tied with three votes each. This was the second Rookie of the Year award; the 1947 winner was Brooklyn’s Jackie Robinson. Dark had played a pivotal role in helping the Braves to their first pennant since 1914.13 (In 1947 and 1948, one major-league Rookie of the Year was named; starting in 1949 a winner was picked for each league.)

Early in the meetings the Chicago Cubs got things moving by acquiring Pittsburgh third baseman Frankie Gustine in exchange for catcher Clyde McCullough. The move was expected to help each team address a weakness. Chicago also sent left-handed pitcher Cliff Chambers to the Pirates in exchange for right-handed pitcher Calvin McLish.14 Few other trades of note took place.15

On December 9 Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler announced that he would lead an inquiry into the Giants’ signing of Fred Fitzsimmons as a coach allegedly while he was still a member of the Boston Braves. The case was made a bit more exasperating by the fact that it was somehow associated with Giants manager Durocher, who had been suspended by Chandler in 1947 for conduct detrimental to baseball. “Evidence has been presented to me that the New York ballclub tampered with Fitzsimmons even before the 1948 season ended,” Chandler said. “If this is the case, that constitutes a breach of baseball law, and I would not be doing my job if I were to overlook that matter – whether it concerned a club that Leo Durocher is connected with or anyone else’s club.”16 The commissioner said it was not the Braves who had filed a complaint, but that was not relevant.17

The major leagues held their meetings December 13-15 at the Palmer House in Chicago, and quickly voted down the National Association’s proposal to limit radio and TV telecasts of major-league games.18 On the bonus issue, they deferred any action pending action by a joint committee, to be established by the commissioner, in early 1949.19 It was reported that most major-league owners favored maintaining the current rules that restricted teams from signing players with significantly large bonus payments, but wanted more vigorous enforcement of the rules. The owners’ sentiment was that “the present rule provides too many loopholes for evasion and, in plain words, ‘there is a lot of cheating going on, which should be checked.’”20

In less controversial matters, American League Vice President Connie Mack and National League Vice President Philip K. Wrigley we re-elected.21

The two leagues gave a green light to more night baseball. The Senators and Browns had sought unlimited night games; this was rejected, but the American League owners did agree to permit teams to schedule at least four home night games, instead of the previously allowed two, with every other team without having to get their consent.22 The National League set the number at five games, led by a strong push by Boston’s Braves. The difference was expected to be ironed out in a joint meeting under Chandler the next day. Both leagues banned night ball on Sundays, on a day before a scheduled doubleheader, or on the night of a visiting team’s departure for another city.23 National League owners also voted that no team could refuse fewer than five night games with any other club; American League owners made it four. Commissioner Chandler could have cast a vote to make the two leagues agree on a common number, but he said that was unnecessary since there were no conflict of interests involved.24

Gabe Paul, assistant to the president of the Cincinnati Reds, followed up on Trautman’s proposal and recommended a dramatic shift in how players would be drafted by minor- and major-league clubs. Unlike the past, when drafts were conducted via mail or telegraph over several weeks in November with the first team filing for a player receiving the player, the new model proposed that the draft order follow the order of finish the previous season, from the worst up, with the draft continuing until the top teams finished selecting. Selections would take place over a two- or three-day period. The proposal had been studied by a committee of minor- and major-league owners and administrators appointed by Trautman, and major-league owners appeared supportive. An official vote on the proposal was set for the 1949 convention.25

Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, acting president of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America, told the leagues that the association’s fund to help out “aged and indigent” ex-players were running low because of less revenue from All-Star Games. Commissioner Chandler reassured Collins, and American League and National League Presidents Will Harridge and Ford Frick promised to cooperate to maintain the fund when necessary.26

George Weiss, general manager of the Yankees, declared that he was ready to deal any player on the roster except for Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich. White Sox general manager Frank Lane was reported to be particularly interested in Yankees third baseman Bill Johnson. Lane was also eyeing St. Louis Browns third baseman Bob Dillinger (as were up to five other teams), and had offered as much as $100,000 for the infielder. Lane was also supposedly after Yankees pitcher Allie Reynolds.27 The Athletics’ Connie Mack supposedly had offered $150,000 in cash along with five players in exchange for Dillinger.28 Giants manager Leo Durocher was also said to have claimed that any player on this roster was available, including Johnny Mize.29 Detroit joined the ranks of teams seeking a deal with the White Sox, trying to get White Sox second baseman Cass Michaels.30

None of these players changed addresses. Many blamed the lack of trades on mischief-maker Bill Veeck, owner of the 1948 World Series champion Cleveland Indians, who all but admitted that he was acting to prevent his team’s strongest rivals from making themselves better via trade. “Every time one of the better clubs in his circuit steps out to make a deal, the dynamic Cleveland owner throws a block with a better offer,” one sportswriter wrote.31 Veeck had offered infielder Johnny Berardino to several teams, including the Yankees, Tigers, and White Sox, but there were no takers. The Giants, meanwhile, tried unsuccessfully to pry lefty Johnny Vander Meer from the Reds for infielder Bill Rigney.32 Cleveland did sign former Indians catcher and Tigers manager Steve O’Neill to return as a coach in 1949.33 (O’Neill had been recently fired by the Tigers.)

The Chicago Cubs swung a deal with the Phillies for two right-handed pitchers, knuckleballer Dutch Leonard and Walter Dubiel, in exchange for first baseman Ed Waitkus and right-handed pitcher Hank Borowy. The Indians acquired right-hander Early Wynn and first baseman Mickey Vernon from the Senators for right-handed pitchers Joe Haynes and Ed Klieman and 1948 World Series star first baseman Eddie Robinson.34 After hearing of the Cleveland trade, Yankees manager Casey Stengel (whose team had traded earlier for pitcher Fred Sanford) lamented, “This is a rugged league. You go to bed winning the pennant and wake up in second place.”35

The Yankees had been able to acquire St. Louis Browns right-handed pitcher Fred Sanford and catcher Roy Partee for $100,000, catcher Sherm Lollar, and right-handed pitchers Red Embree and Dick Starr. After the trade was concluded, the Browns’ DeWitt declared, “There will be no more major transactions by the Browns” – which seemed to close what had been fairly widespread speculation that St. Louis would be trading third baseman Bob Dillinger.36

The major leagues finalized business by approving Brooklyn as the location for the 1949 All-Star Game. In what seemed to be an annual occurrence, the Triple-A Pacific Coast League again requested special status that would give them additional protection from their players being drafted and to receive a higher payment for players who were drafted. After listening to the pleas made by PCL President Clarence Rowland, the majors again rejected the request.37

The owners later attempted to create an “invasion barrier” to keep major-league teams from popping up on the West Coast without the consent of all major-league members. They declared that “minor leagues or clubs applying for major league classification must assume responsibility for any necessary adjustments of territorial rights of others, must have adequate population, income and park facilities and must establish that operation once the major league status requested is practical and justified.”38 The plan must have worked, because wealthy oilman and politician Edwin Pauley, who had been vying to purchase the St. Louis Browns and move them to LA, said he had given up on the idea. “Too many complications,” Pauley said. “It would cost in the millions before you could buy a franchise, then gain Coast League rights to move an American or National League club into their territory.”39

As expected, Commissioner Chandler met with Giants manager Leo Durocher, team treasurer Edgar Feeley, and new coach Fred Fitzsimmons to discuss the accusation that the Giants had tampered with Fitzsimmons while he was employed by the Boston Braves. Chandler announced that no decision regarding the accusation would be announced until the following month at the earliest.40 All parties remained relatively silent on the matter; speculation was that Chandler would fine Durocher and Fitzsimmons. Durocher admitted that he had made an “innocent technical mistake” in talking with Fitzsimmons.41 Apparently, such underhanded activities were not as rare as Chandler thought, as the Browns’ Bill DeWitt later asserted that similar types of discussions had in previous years led to at least two of his coaches being signed by other clubs while still in his team’s employ. He identified them as Earle Combs and Zack Taylor (signed by the Red Sox and Pirates respectively).42 Regardless, major-league owners later voted to change the legal status of coaches, by first removing them from the reserve list and then giving them new contracts that would make them free agents once their team’s season was over.43

The report on 1948 attendance showed that it was up in the American League and down in the National League. American League attendance was 11,150,099, an increase of 1,528,917 from 1947. National League attendance was 9,770,743, a decrease of 617,727. National League teams leading in attendance (adding together home and road figures) were Brooklyn (3,050,523), New York (2,687,599), and Boston (2,665,123).44 The Pittsburgh Pirates set a new home attendance record of 1,517,021, topping their old record by 178,078. Second behind the Pirates were the New York Giants, who drew 1,459,269 to the Polo Grounds, and the World Series runner-up Boston Braves, with 1,455,439. American League home attendance leaders were the World Series champion Cleveland Indians (2,620,627) followed by the New York Yankees (2,373,901).45

The regular disagreements and quarrels among baseball writers and fans surfaced again as Stan Musial was named the National League Most Valuable Player after a season in which he hit.376, batted in 131 runs, and blasted 39 homers. It was his third MVP Award, the others coming in 1943 and 1946. Braves right-hander Johnny Sain and infielder Alvin Dark were a distant second and third behind Musial. Somewhat absurdly, some thought that Musial had won in part because he had such a “bad year” in 1947, when he “only” hit for a .312 average, with 95 runs batted in and 19 home runs. On hearing such rumblings, Musial replied, “Maybe you and I have different ideas as to what constitutes a ‘bad year.’ I hit 312, which ain’t hay, and I knocked in only eight fewer runs than I did the year before. I hit more home runs than I ever did in the majors before.”46

Cleveland player-manager Lou Boudreau was voted the American League MVP by a wide margin after he batted .355 with 106 RBIs and 18 homers. Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams were second and third respectively.

 

Notes

1 “Baseball Talent on Sale This Week at Convention of Minor Leagues,” Hartford Courant, December 5, 1948: 3.

2 “Major Leaguers ‘Cut Up’ at Minor Loop Luncheon,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1948: 6.

3 “Minor Leagues Meet to Trade,” Washington Post, December 5, 1948: C6.

4 “Major Leaguers ‘Cut Up’ at Minor Loop Luncheon.”

5 Ibid.

6 Carl Lundquist (United Press), “Trautman Urges Big Clearing Plan,” Washington Post, December 9, 1948: B8. There was no action taken on this proposal.

7 “Baltimore Selected for ’49 Conclave,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1948: 5.

8 “Major League Moguls Move Into Chicago,” Chicago Daily News, December 11, 1948: A2; “Minor Loop Club Owners Not Worried,” Hartford Courant, December 11, 1948: 9.

9 “Minors Would Ban Night-Game Video,” New York Times, December 6, 1948: 33.

10 Ibid.

11 Edgar G. Brands, “Coast’s Major Aspirations Dealt New Setback,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1948: 2.

12 “Baltimore Selected for ’49 Conclave,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1948: 5.

13 John Drebinger, “Alvin Dark, Braves, Named Rookie of Year in Majors,” New York Times, December 5, 1948: 81.

14 Irving Vaughan, “Cubs Get Gustine; McCullough, Chambers Go,” Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1948: C1.

15 “Major League Bid Shelved by Pauley,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1948: 2.

16 “Fred Fitzsimmons Goes Before Chandler Tuesday in ‘Tampering’ Inquiry,” Boston Globe, December 10, 1948: 46.

17 “Chandler Denies Making Scapegoat of Durocher,” New York Times, December 10, 1948: 37.

18 “Majors Vote Down Minors’ Broadcast Ban,” Chicago Daily News, December 14, 1948: B2.

19 Irving Vaughan, “Major Leagues Wind Up their Annual Confab,” Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1948: C1.

20 “Alvin Dark, Braves, Named Rookie of Year in Majors.”

21 John Drebinger, “Yanks Get Sanford, Partee from Braves,” New York Times, December 14, 1948: 41.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 “Major Leagues Wind Up Their Annual Confab.”

25 E.G. Brands, “Radical Change Considered for Minors Draft,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1948: 11.

26 “Major League Moguls Move Into Chicago.”

27 Irving Vaughan, “Sox Bid for Yanks’ Reynolds, Johnson: Tigers Push to Get Michaels,” Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1948: C1.

28 John Drebinger, “Minors Seek to Limit Baseball Broadcasts and Telecasts,” New York Times, December 10, 1948: 37.

29 John Drebinger, “Giants and Yankees in Trading Mood,” New York Times, December 8, 1948: 45.

30 “Sox Bid for Yanks Reynolds, Johnson: Tigers Push to Get Michaels.”

31 “Minors Seek to Limit Baseball Broadcasts and Telecasts.”

32 Dan Daniel, “Four-Man Swap by Cubs, Pirates Breaks Ice Jam Holding Up Trade Flow,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1948: 9.

33 “Minors Seek to Limit Baseball Broadcasts and Telecasts.”

34 John Drebinger, “Indians Land Vernon and Wynn While Phils Get Waitkus,” New York Times, December 15, 1948: 49.

35 “Casey Goes to Bed in First Place, Wakes Up in Second,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1948: 7.

36 “Yanks Get Sanford, Partee from Braves.”

37 “Major Leagues Wind Up Their Annual Confab.”

38 “Ex-Player, Ex-Pilot Steve Given Tribe Coaching Role,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1948: 9.

39 “Coast’s Major Aspirations Dealt New Setback.”

40 “Major Leagues Wind Up their Annual Confab.”

41 “Braves Acquire Pete Reiser in Late Deal With Brooklyn,” Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 1948: 18.

42 “DeWitt Urges Coach, Scout ‘Open Season,’” The Sporting News, December 15, 1948: 2.

43 Dan Daniel, “Majors Lift Coaches Off ‘Hot Seat,’ Fitzsimmons Case Causes Rule Change,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1948: 6.

44 “N.L.’s ’48 Gate 9,770,743, Giving Majors 20,920,842,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1948: 6.

45 Ibid.

46 Tom Meany, “Says Musial Tops ’Em All,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1948: 10.

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