1949 Winter Meetings: Bonuses, Bargains, and Broadcasts

This article was written by Jeremy Green

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


Minor-League Winter Meeting

The 1949 Winter Meetings saw several firsts for the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues: the first time a meeting was held in Baltimore, the first time a player draft was held during a meeting, and the first time an incumbent Association president missed a meeting. The meeting itself was held at the Lord Baltimore Hotel from December 5 to 9. Baltimore hoped to use the meeting to promote itself as a future home for a major-league franchise. Having a storied history as an early center of professional baseball and having fielded major-league teams in the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century, Baltimore was enthusiastic about the sport. Attendance for Baltimore’s International League team, the Orioles, was impressive and exceeded that of several major league teams.1 Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro expressed the wish of a future big-league franchise for the city in his opening remarks to the convention.2

The Baltimore session was one of the largest Winter Meetings to date, it was reported.3 Orioles business manager Herb Armstrong and owner Jack Dunn received accolades from the local and national press for their handling of the gathering, which brought more than 2,500 baseball professionals representing 59 minor leagues to the city.4

The meeting was marred, however, by the absence of the Association president, George Trautman, who was recuperating from ulcer surgery at White Cross Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Vice President Frank J. Shaughnessy presided over the meeting in Trautman’s place.5

The National Association meeting was also notable for the extent to which the major leagues dominated affairs in Baltimore. Minor-league clubs voted and acted in accord with their major-league affiliates on the important issues discussed at the convention, such as the Bonus rule.6

The impact of television on minor-league attendance, stirred considerable tension and was the object of much discussion at the Baltimore meetings.

Major-League Winter Meetings

The major leagues met at the Commodore Hotel in New York City from December 12 to 14. Like the minor-league meetings, the New York sessions were dominated by discussions of broadcasting, the bonus rule, and the rule for recruiting high-school players, as well as trades. Though there remained many matters to be discussed regarding TV and radio, some of the controversy over broadcast rights for games and player pensions had been largely defused by Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler before the Winter Meetings. Chandler signed a seven-year contract with the Mutual Broadcasting Company and the Gillette Company to broadcast World Series games; baseball received $1,370,000 and earmarked the money for the players’ pension fund.7 The American and National Leagues remained divided on several key issues, such as regulations for night games, playoff tiebreaking protocols, and whether or not to repeal the Bonus rule.8

Player Movement

Minor Leagues

In previous years, the minor-league draft had been conducted remotely via mail or telegram; in 1949 for the first time, a draft was conducted at the Baltimore meetings using a system of preferential draws.9 Starting with Triple-A clubs and continuing down to Class C, teams selected draftees in reverse order of their finish. Thus,league leaders got the last picks. A bulletin board was set up in the hotel to track the order of teams and transactions, and clubs signed 222 players, a record for the time, for a total of $449,050.10

Among major transactions, the Chicago Cubs sold relief pitcher Bob Muncrief to their Triple-A Los Angeles club.11 Another notable deal, the most expensive to date conducted between a Pacific Coast League club and a major-league team involved Harold Saltzman, a right-handed pitcher with the Portland Beavers, who was sold to the Cleveland Indians for $100,000.12 A University of Oregon graduate, Saltzman had joined Portland at the tail end of the 1948 season as a reliever after being called up from the Salem club. During the Beavers’ spring training in 1949, he was coached by former Tigers pitcher Tommy Bridges, and during the season he won 23 games, including four shutouts.13 (Saltzman was 11-10 for Indians Triple-A farm team San Diego, and then left Organized Baseball.)

Major Leagues

One of the biggest player transactions at the major-league meeting was a trade between the Giants and the Braves in which New York acquired shortstop Alvin Dark and second baseman Eddie Stanky in return for Boston outfielder Willard Marshall, third baseman Sid Gordon, shortstop Buddy Kerr, and pitcher Sam Webb.14 The Braves did brisk business with other teams in the National League, selling outfielder Marvin Rickert to Pittsburgh for cash and trading pitcher Bill Voiselle to the Cubs for infielder Gene Mauch and cash. Also in the National League, the Cardinals sent outfielder Ron Northey and infielder Lou Klein to the Reds for outfielder Harry Walker.15

In the American League a St. Louis Browns third baseman Bob Dillinger and outfielder-first baseman Paul Lehner were traded to the Philadelphia Athletics for outfielder Ray Coleman, infielder Frankie Gustine, infielder Bill DeMars, and outfielder Rocco Ippolitto, plus $100,000 in cash. Philadelphia traded third baseman Hank Majeski to the Chicago White Sox for relief pitcher Ed Kleiman. The Detroit Tigers traded right-hander Lou Kretlow and $100,000 to the Browns for second baseman Gerry Priddy. The Tigers offered $170,000 to the Browns for infielder Connie Berry and outfielder Earl Rapp, but St. Louis declined the offer.16

The Business Side

Minor Leagues

The Bonus rule was a key topic at the Baltimore meeting. The rule targeted major-league teams that signed players for bonuses in excess of $4,000, and then sent them to minor-league affiliates. According to the rule, clubs that failed to place a bonus player on the major-league roster for at least two seasons lost their rights to the player.17

In a caucus, a majority of minor-league teams voted to end the Bonus rule but fell 13 votes shy of the three-quarters majority needed to strike down the rule.18 In terms of major-league affiliations, the Cardinals and Reds were among the most ardent supporters of the rule, with the Phillies leading the opposition.19

The minors voted in favor of changing the regulations for high-school-age players. Under the new rule, a high-school student could sign with a professional club after the class in which he first entered high school had graduated.20

This altered the previous arrangement, in which a player who had either left school early or who did not finish high school on schedule had to wait until his last enrolled class (potentially later than the class in which he started school) graduated to enter Organized Baseball.21

One motion defeated by the minors was an amendment that would have given clubs in lower classifications a June 1 deadline to sign players lacking any professional experience for the following season. The minors also voted down several additional amendments, including an unrestricted draft for players with eight to nine years of experience, ending the draft for the Pacific Coast League, allowing 15 days for the recording of contracts and sales, and a proposal from Joe Cronin to move back the deadline for transferring players to 30 days after the season’s end for the assignee’s club.22

The new medium of television further divided the minor leagues, in particular the question of whether they should adopt the same regulations as the majors for broadcasts. Even though only 2.3 percent of all US households owned a television in 1949, a lack of programming meant that the networks used baseball to fill time, and over half the stations covered minor-league games.23 Eight of the 59 circuits voted against adopting the regulations on the grounds that they would make leagues powerless over their own territories, and that the minors required their own regulations.24

Indeed, the minors were feeling threatened by the new medium. There was talk of eliminating minor-league franchises anywhere within 50 miles of stations that broadcast major-league games. The New England League, which folded after the 1949 season, blamed its demise on the advent of televised baseball.25 The vote did allow clubs control over the broadcast of home and away games by stations within their territories, but not those by stations that covered major- and minor-league teams outside the home club’s territory and in the opposition’s territory.26

Several rules regarding the conduct of play were recommended during the Baltimore meetings. Among the changes suggested by the scoring committee were:

  1. A unanimous vote to credit a batter with a single when an infielder tossed his glove and it made contact with the ball; the fielder would be charged with an error.
  2. In the case of glove contact by an outfielder, the batter would get a single, double, or triple, based on the umpire’s judgment, and the fielder would be charged with an error,.
  3. A batter who bunts with two men on base and fails to advance both runners would no longer be credited with a sacrifice.
  4. Any player who allows a runner to reach first base or advance to another base due to interference would be charged with an error. The current rule gave an error only to a catcher who tipped a batter’s bat.
  5. A player must appear in at least two-thirds of his team’s games to qualify for the batting championship.
  6. The definition of an earned run was made clearer.
  7. Pitching records would now show the number of home runs hit off a pitcher.27

The Chicago Cubs acquired a much-needed new minor-league affiliate during the Baltimore meetings with their purchase of Newark’s Triple-A club. The Cubs wanted to move their new acquisition to Springfield, Massachusetts, which was lacking a minor-league club after the collapse of the New England League. The Cubs had an affiliation with Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League, but saw that club as more of an independent team, designed to win games and draw fans, than to suit their developmental purposes.28

Also written into the major-minor league rules was recognition for the special status of playing managers by formalizing the minor-league practice that playing managers could not be drafted without their consent.29

Finally, the minors selected St. Petersburg, Florida, as the location for their 1950 Winter Meetings.30

Major Leagues

The major-league meetings in New York covered much of the same ground as the minor-league meetings and had many of the same concerns. The chief issue in New York, as it had been in Baltimore, was the Bonus rule. While the minors had voted against the rule but did not have the required three-quarters majority, the two major leagues were divided on retaining the Bonus rule, with the National League voting 6 to 2 to retain it while the American League voted 5 to 3 against. This left the deciding vote to Commissioner Chandler, a longtime opponent of the Bonus rule, who cast a vote against it. Chandler was confident that the minor leagues would amend their decision to retain the rule in a mail vote.31 Chandler explained his opposition to the rule in a speech to the assembled major-league magnates:

“The wisdom of the rule has always been questioned by a substantial number of the clubs and provides a temptation to both players and managers to attempt to evade it. Its enforcement has therefore been difficult, and in my opinion the best interests of baseball will be served by its repeal.”32

As in the Baltimore meeting, the new rule for high-school students was also adopted by the major leagues, this time over Chandler’s objection.33 Also regarding younger players, a request from the NCAA that the leagues pass a rule for college students similar to the one for high-school students that barred scouts from approaching players was voted down.34 Chandler also struck down a motion that would allow high-school and college coaches to serve as scouts for professional teams. Personally opposed to such an arrangement, Chandler also maintained that the motion was not on the agenda and could not be adopted without unanimous consent.35

Of particular importance during the meetings, in particular during second-day sessions, were regulations concerning the broadcast of games on radio and television. The new regulations, which had been arranged between the major leagues and the US Department of Justice, stipulated that teams could authorize broadcasts outside a 50-mile radius of their ballpark at hours when a club in the broadcast area was not playing. As noted in The Sporting News:

“The rule stipulates a three and one-half hour period for one game and five and one-half hours for a double-header. During these periods, the Yankees for example, could not authorize a broadcast of a stadium game in, let us say, Buffalo.”36

Several rules and regulations regarding the conduct of play were also passed in New York. Among the major decisions were:

  1. A motion to allow the spitball back in the game was defeated 7 to1 by the American League. Tigers general manager Billy Evans cast the sole vote in favor. The National League declined to even discuss the matter.37
  2. Both leagues rejected the adoption of a uniform set of rules for breaking a first-place tie during a pennant race, despite Commissioner Chandler’s preference for a consistent method for tiebreaking. The National League would continue to break the tie in a best-of-three series, while and American League would maintain its single-game runoff to decide a winner.38
  3. Players now had to remain on the disabled list for only 30 days instead of 60.39
  4. A uniform height of 15 inches above the surrounding field for major-league pitchers’ mounds was adopted.40 Detroit Tigers pitcher Freddie Hutchinson, a member of the American League players committee, was the driving force behind this measure.41

Night games and game curfews were also a major point of discussion at the New York meeting and, as with their decision to retain separate systems for tiebreaking, demonstrated a lingering division between the leagues in terms of conduct of games. The National League voted to allow ballpark lights to be turned on when afternoon games, in the event of a tie score or failure to complete nine innings, ran into darkness. The senior league also discarded its 12:50 A.M. curfew, allowing for tie games to continue until one side prevailed regardless of how long the game ran. The only exceptions were in cases where local ordinances applied curfews or limits to a game. The league also restored its suspended-game policy; a game that had to be halted (primarily) due to a curfew would resume the next time the two teams met.42

The National League took further steps toward embracing night ball when it voted to restore the twilight doubleheader, which the American League had already allowed. The Cardinals went so far as to make their 1950 home opener against Pittsburgh a night game.43 This was the first time an opening game would be played under lights.44

The American League, in contrast, voted to allow lights for day games only during the final series of season with teams vying for either first, second, third, or fourth place in the standings.45

Further business at the meeting saw the election of officials, with the Athletics’ Connie Mack being elected to the American League vice presidency and the Browns’ William De Witt selected for the Executive Council.46 In the National League, Phil Wrigley of the Cubs took over the vice presidency, while Frank McKinney of the Pirates was elected to represent the league on the Executive Council. Branch Rickey of the Dodgers, Bob Carpenter of the Phillies, Cincinnati’s Warren Giles, and Fred Saigh of the Cardinals were all appointed to the league’s Board of Directors.47

Commissioner Happy Chandler found much to be happy about in the form of a new seven-year contract and a $15,000 raise, upping his salary to $65,000 a year, effective before the 1950 World Series.48 Granted during the meetings, the raise was announced by Frank McKinney, spokesman for a five-man committee appointed by the major leagues to oversee the commissioner’s contract. McKinney cited Chandler’s leadership under “one of the most perplexing periods in the game’s annals.”49 (Chandler’s happiness would subside after it was discovered that the new contract was illegal under the terms in the current contract. At the 1950 meetings, in fact, the contract issue bubbled up again, and instigated the nonrenewal of Chandler’s contract in 1951.)

Comiskey Park in Chicago was chosen as the site for the 1950 All-Star Game, which was to be held on July 11.50 The Chicago Tribune was again granted the rights to conduct the poll to select players for the All-Star Game.51

Summary and Close

The meetings of 1949 found baseball to be straddling two eras, and in many ways, they reflected numerous concerns that had been dogging professional baseball since its inception. There were apprehensions over the bonus rule, the draft, player contracts, the rights of the minor leagues, and the old divisiveness between the majors that continued to be manifested in the form of separate approaches to tiebreaking and night games. Commissioner Chandler’s attempts to assert himself over these divisions and impose unity and consistency on the leagues met with only mixed success, and in spite of the raise he had been granted, there was unease over his handling of affairs, not the least of which regarded television.

At the same time, 1949 saw a raft of new concerns for professional baseball in the form of broadcast media, especially the perceived threat, as well as potential opportunities, of television. Even as early as 1949, television contracts were lucrative enough to support the player pension fund and perceived as damaging enough to threaten minor-league clubs and, indeed, entire leagues. There were also novel and lasting changes made to the player draft in the minors, and greater influence was exerted by major-league clubs over the affairs of their minor-league affiliates.

 

Notes

1 Joseph E. Shaner, “Record of Big Gates No. 1 Sales Argument,” The Sporting News, December 7, 1949: 3.

2 C.M. Gibbs, “Chicago Stags Defeat Bullets by 84 to 72 at Coliseum: International Meeting Opens Baseball Convention,” Baltimore Sun, December 8, 1949: 23.

3 Louis M. Hatter, “Minor League Baseball Convention Opens Here Today,” Baltimore Sun, December 5, 1949: 15.

4 “Minor League Baseball Convention Opens Here Today”; C.M. Gibbs, “Minor League Meeting Ends,” Baltimore Sun, December 10, 1949: 13.

5 “Minor League Baseball Convention Opens Here Today.”

6 “Minors’ Fate Rests in Majors’ Hands,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1949: 10.

7 Dan Daniel, “Repeal of the Bonus Rule Expected to Be Chief Issue for Majors,” The Sporting News, December 7, 1949: 20.

8 John Drebinger, “National League Votes Afternoon Lights, Ends Night-Game Curfew,” New York Times, December 13, 1949: 47.

9 “First Formal Draft Held by Minors in Baltimore,” The Sporting News, December 7, 1949: 10.

10 Edgar G. Brands, “Record Total of 222 Players Drafted by Minors,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1949: 7. A photograph of the bulletin board accompanies the article.

11 Edgar Munzel, “Cubs Seek Higher Polish on Talent in New AAA Unit,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1949: 2.

12 L.H. Gregory, “Saltzman, Just an Eager Beaver in Spring, now a $100,000 Indian,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1949: 8. See also Obituary of Harold Saltzman, The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), January 18, 2011: obits.oregonlive.com/obituaries/oregon/obituary.aspx?n=harold-saltzman&pid=147910977.

13 Ibid.

14 Ken Smith, “Stanky Key to Leo’s New Type of Club,” The Sporting News, December 21, 1949: 1.

15 Dan Daniel, “Dramatic Rush of Trading Closes Meetings,” The Sporting News, December 21, 1949: 7.

16 Ibid.

17 “Bonus Rule,” Baseball-Reference.com, last modified on April 11, 2011, accessed on June 10, 2012, baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Bonus_rule.

18 Edgar G. Brands, “Minors Defeat Bonus Repeal in Hot Fight,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1949: 5, 6.

19 By classification, the three Triple-A leagues unanimously favored repeal, the two Double-A leagues split their vote, three of the four Class-A leagues voted against repeal, Class B voted 6 to 5 for repeal, Class C voted 8 to 5 against repeal, and Class D voted 16 to 9 in favor. See Brands, “Minors Defeat Bonus Repeal in Hot Fight.” This table breaks down voting by league:

 

Minor Leagues Favoring
Repeal of Bonus Rule

Minor Leagues Favoring
Retention of Bonus Rule

Minor Leagues
Passing/Abstaining

American Association, Big State, Border, Canadian-American, Coastal Plain, Colonial, East Texas, Eastern, Eastern Shore, Far West, Georgia-Alabama, Georgia-Florida, International, Interstate, K-O-M, Kitty, Middle Atlantic, Mountain States, North Atlantic, Pacific Coast, Piedmont, Pony, Rio Grande, Sooner State, Southeastern, Southern Association, Sunset, Tobacco State, Virginia, Western Carolina, Western International, Wisconsin State.

Alabama State, Appalachian, Arizona-Texas, Blue Ridge, Carolina, Central Association, Central, Cotton States, Evangeline, Florida International, Florida State, Georgia State, Mississippi-Ohio Valley, New England, North Carolina State, Northern, Ohio-Indiana, Pioneer, South Atlantic, Texas, Three-I, Tri-State, Western Association, Western League, West Texas-New Mexico.

California League

 

20 Ibid.

21 “Repeal of Bonus Rule.”

22 “Minors Defeat Bonus Repeal in Hot Fight.”

23 James R. Walker and Robert V. Bellamy Jr., Center Field Shot: A History of Baseball on Television (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 24.

24 Ibid.

25 Edgar G. Brands. “Game’s Map Develops TV ‘Shell Holes,’” The Sporting News, December 14, 1949: 1.

26 “Minors Defeat Bonus Repeal in Hot Fight.”

27 Edgar G. Brands. “Changes in Scoring Rules Suggested by Minor Group,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1949: 18.

28 “Cubs Seek Higher Polish on Talent in New AAA Unit.”

29 “Minors Defeat Bonus Repeal in Hot Fight.”

30 “Minors’ Convention Ends,” New York Times, December 10, 1949: 14.

31 Dan Daniel, “Majors Grease the Skids for Bonus Rule,” The Sporting News, December 21, 1949: 5-8.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 “Ban on Hiring of School Coaches to Scout Bushes,” The Sporting News, December 21, 1949: 6.

36 “Majors Grease the Skids for Bonus Rule.”

37 Ibid.

38 “National League Votes Afternoon Lights.”

39 Daniel. “Majors Grease the Skids for Bonus Rule.”

40 Ibid.

41 “National League Votes Afternoon Lights.”

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 “Majors Grease the Skids for Bonus Rule.”

45 “National League Votes Afternoon Lights.”

46 Ibid.

47 “Majors Grease the Skids for Bonus Rule.”

48 Dan Daniel, “Chandler Receives $15,000 Boost, Promise of a New Pact in October,” The Sporting News, December 21, 1949: 1.

49 Ibid.

50 “National League Votes Afternoon Lights.”

51 “Majors Grease the Skids for Bonus Rule.”

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