1956 Winter Meetings: A Love-Fest

This article was written by Jim Wohlenhaus

This article was published in the


The 1956 Winter Meetings of the two major leagues were scheduled to be held December 10-12, 1956 at the Palmer House in Chicago. 

As was customary, the minor leagues met before the major leagues, and in 1956 the National Association Winter Meetings were held in Jacksonville, Florida, from December 3 to 6 at the George Washington Hotel. Out of that conclave came proposals that affected the major leagues at their meetings. Many of the same people attended both meetings, so since most of the minors’ proposals were accepted, it could be said afterward that the minors were having a love-fest with the major leagues. At least in December of 1956.

The Minor Leagues’ Winter Meetings

In a preview of the minor-league meetings, Clifford Kachline wrote in The Sporting News that there were few “hot potato” issues before the minors’ convention.1 Kachline laid out the areas that would be under discussion:

  • A proposal by the Austin club of the Double-A Texas League for the radio and television broadcast of a major-league “Game of the Day,” with the majors and minors splitting the proceeds. Understandably, the proposal was expected to be doomed.
  • Four amendments to the major/minor-league agreement related to the bonus rule, either to eliminate it entirely or to substitute a draft of first-year players. This, too, was expected to be defeated, given general satisfaction with the existing rule, though an alternate plan, allowing major-league clubs to select up to three players, was given a 50/50 chance of passing.
  • An amendment requiring big-league teams to cut down to three players above the limit by Opening Day was thought to have some chance of passage. This would help minor-league clubs operate closer to full strength, rather than have to wait for a later cutdown date by the majors.

The Pacific Coast League might expect to lose some of the privileges of separate “open class” status previously accorded it, Kachline wrote.

About all that came of any kind of broadcast discussion was a fistfight between general managers Gabe Paul of the Cincinnati Redlegs and Harold Cooper of the Columbus Jets of the Triple-A International League. Cooper believed that Paul was not cooperating and was beaming Cincinnati games into the Columbus area. When Paul spotted Cooper at the session, he snapped at him, “You’re a damned liar, going around saying those things about me.”

“You can’t call me a liar,” Cooper shouted back and swung a left that grazed Paul’s shoulder.

The two men scuffled until other delegates separated them. Eventually, the two combatants dropped the issue.2

As for the bonus situation, the discussions centered on the requirement that a player given more than $4,000 for signing his first contract would be considered a bonus player and must be retained on the big league club roster for two years.

The amendments consisted of a proposal by the Detroit Tigers to eliminate all bonus regulations.  As a substitute measure, the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Redlegs proposed the establishment of a draft of first-year players.

As anticipated, most major-league organizations were satisfied to stick with the present rule and all four proposals were defeated.

The matter of Opening Day major-league rosters was arguably the most important issue discussed at the meeting of the minor leagues. The owners felt that getting the better players at the very beginning of their season would help them immensely at the gate, instead of having to wait to see who might come their way later. Some said it was hard to get people to buy tickets by promoting the fact that better players were coming.

Although many trades were said to be in the works, only one deal took place during the minor-league meetings. The Tigers sent right-handed pitchers Ned Garver and Virgil Trucks, southpaw Gene Host, and first baseman Wayne Belardi, plus $20,000, to the Kansas City Athletics for infielder Jim Finigan, right-handers Jack Crimian and Bill Harrington, and first baseman Eddie Robinson. Edward Prell of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the trade “was dominated by tired, high salaried ball players.”3 

The major-league and minor-league drafts were held in that order. There was grumbling that this could be the smallest major-league draft ever. This was attributed to a lack of capable players and the fact that major-league teams were “hiding” their best players on teams in the Open Classification Pacific Coast League.  Nine players were drafted; 10 had been selected in 1955 and 13 in 1954. The 1956 draftees were:

Ed Blake (right-handed pitcher), by Kansas City from Toronto (independent).

Jerry Lynch (outfielder), by Cincinnati from Hollywood (a Pittsburgh farm team).

Lloyd Merritt (right-handed pitcher), by St. Louis from Richmond (Yankees).

Cal Neeman (catcher), by Chicago Cubs from Denver (Yankees).

Tom Patton (catcher), by Baltimore from Omaha (St. Louis).

Bob G. Smith (left-handed pitcher), by St. Louis from San Francisco (Red Sox).

Jack Spring (left-handed pitcher), by Boston from Miami (Philadelphia).

Norm Larker (first baseman-outfielder), by Chicago White Sox from Montreal (Brooklyn).

Gil Coan (outfielder), by Detroit from Minneapolis (New York Giants).

Eleven players were taken in the minor-league draft:

Chuck Essegian (outfielder), by St. Louis from Sacramento (independent).

Marion Fricano (right-handed pitcher), by Cincinnati from Memphis (White Sox).

Bill Froats (left-handed pitcher), by New York Giants from Memphis (White Sox). 

Roger McCardell (catcher), by New York Giants from Jacksonville (Milwaukee).

Eddie Phillips (infielder-outfielder), by Detroit from Omaha (St. Louis).

Leo Posada (outfielder), by Kansas City from Corpus Christi (Milwaukee).

Daryl Robertson (infielder), by Milwaukee from St. Cloud (New York Giants).

Bob Thorpe (outfielder), by Detroit from Wichita (Milwaukee).

Charlie White (catcher-third baseman), by Baltimore from Wichita (Milwaukee).

Ed White (outfielder), by New York Giants from Memphis (White Sox).

Maury Wills (shortstop), by Cincinnati from Pueblo (Brooklyn).

In another development, college spokesmen appeared before the minor-league convention and urged adoption of a rule to protect college athletes from professional scouts. The major leagues had a ban against signing college players during their freshman or sophomore year The minor leagues had no such ban. Nothing came of this. 

The minor-league delegates voted to change their organization’s name from the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues to the National Association of Baseball.4 They also agreed to drop the term “minor league” from all literature.5 The major/minor-league agreement was rechristened the “professional baseball agreement.”6 The Mexican League, citing the fact that there were professional baseball teams in Canada, Cuba, and Mexico, in addition to those in the United States, suggested that the name be changed to the International Association, but nothing came of that, either.7

Two other proposals were passed. One was to lower, from one year to 30 days, the time when a returning serviceman does not count on the player roster. (The proposal had been vetoed by the major leagues the year before.) The other was for the consolidation of the minor and major leagues’ winter meetings.

The Major Leagues’ Winter Meetings

The major-league meetings took place in Chicago. It was scheduled for December 10-12, but the delegates finished their business early and adjourned after only two days.

On December 10 the American and National Leagues met separately to take care of business pertaining to their respective leagues. Among other things, the American League re-elected President Will Harridge to a 10-year term.

The junior circuit also amended its constitution to provide for a two-out-of-three playoff in the event of a first-place tie — the same as in the National League. Previously, AL rules called for a one-game playoff, as had occurred in 1948.

In the major leagues, visiting teams receive a share of gate receipts, and the National League owners rejected a request by the Cincinnati club that the share be raised to 40 cents on all admissions over 91 cents. There was agreement in another area, however — postponed games that had to be played after a team’s last visit to a city should be played off in that city, if at all possible, if they had a bearing on the championship.

Other than that, not much happened in the league meetings, and the joint major-league meeting took place on December 11, with Commissioner Ford Frick presiding.

At the joint session the majors:

  • Adopted a 28-player roster limit by Opening Day, affirming the proposal from the minor leagues.
  • Rescinded the rule banning the signing of a college player from the start of his sophomore year until his class has graduated or he has turned 21. In this action the major leagues acceded to the policy of the minors, who refused to accept any restriction on the signing of college players.
  • Agreed to hold the Winter Meetings in the same city with the National Association, with the meetings to be held in a minor-league city in odd-numbered years and a major-league city in even-numbered years.
  • Rejected, for the second time in four years, Cleveland general manager Hank Greenberg’s proposal for interleague play.8 Greenberg’s proposal was strongly resisted by his own American League.9

With air travel by teams increasing, one of the more important discussions by the major leagues concerned “disaster plans.”10 The owners recognized the need for a plan that could be put into effect quickly should a team be wiped out in a plane crash. If this happened, they agreed, the seven other clubs in the affected team’s league would submit lists of 10 players apiece, with the victim of the catastrophe being permitted to select three from each club. The American League proposed a price of $50,000 for the first player, $75,000 for the second player, and $100,000 for the third taken from a club. Each league named a three-man group to work out details.

Two trades were consummated on the last day. The New York Yankees traded catcher Charlie Silvera, a  player to be named, and cash to the Chicago Cubs for another player to be named later (it turned out to be catcher Harry Chiti). The Cubs then traded catcher Hobie Landrith, left-handed pitcher Jim Davis, right-handed pitcher Sam Jones, and utilityman Eddie Miksis to the St. Louis Cardinals for right-handed pitcher Tom Poholsky, left-handed pitcher Jackie Collum, catcher Ray Katt, and minor-league infielder Wally Lammers.

Sources

In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted Retrosheet.org and the following articles:

Bailey, Mercer. “Minors Ask Majors to Cut Squads,” Washington Post and Times Herald, December 7, 1956.

Daniel, Dan. “Another Minor League Convention,” The Sporting News, December 5, 1956.

Drebinger, John. “Giants, Eager for Trades, Press for Thomas of Pirates,” New York Times, December 5, 1956.

——. “Change in Majors’ Player-Limit Rule Looms as Minors Open Convention; Early Roster Cut to 28 Is Favored,” New York Times, December 6, 1956.

——. “Player Limit, Interleague Games Top Issues on Majors’ Agenda,” New York Times, December 9, 1956.

——. “Giants, Dodgers Still Seek Deals,” New York Times, December 13, 1956.

——. “Major League Owners Lift All Restrictions on Signing of College Players,” New York Times, December 12, 1956.

Kachline, Clifford. “Surprise Resolution Hails Majors for Financial Help,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1956.

Munzel, Edgar. “Majors Bury College Rule, Coaches Howl,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1956.

——. “Players’ Pool to Be Set Up by Each Loop,” The Sporting news, December 26, 1956.

——. “Provides 40 More Players by Mid-April,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1956.

Prell, Edward. “Deals Simmer as Big League Chiefs Meet,” Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1956.

Reichler, Joe (Associated Press). “Tigers Get Robinson, Finigan in 8-Man Deal,” Washington Post and Times Herald, December 4, 1956.

——. “Majors Rescind College Rule,” Washington Post and Times Herald, December 12, 1956.

Reidenbaugh, Lowell. “Majors Pick Only Nine in Draft Downtrend,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1956.

“Baseball Men Angry Over Lack of Talent,” Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1956.

“Cincinnati, Columbus Officials End Dispute,” Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1956.

“Colleges Urge Minor League Baseball to Adopt Protective Signing Rule,” Hartford Courant, December 5, 1956.

“Frick Backs Minor League Proposal,” Harford Courant, December 7, 1956.

“Majors Rescind College Player Rule,” Hartford Courant, December 12, 1956.

“Minor Leaguer Socks Reds Gabe Paul as Fist Fight Marks Baseball Parley,” Hartford Courant, December 4, 1956.

“Minor Leagues Fight Changes in Bonus Plan,” Boston Globe, December 7, 1956.

“Minors Seek Earlier Date for Cutdown,” Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 1956.

 “Minors Vote Early Cuts by Majors,” Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1956.

“Re-Election for Ten Years, A.L.’s Tribute to Harridge,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1956.

“Tigers, A’s Make Eight-Player Deal,” Los Angeles Times, December 4, 1956.

“Trade Rumors Dominate Minor League Meetings,” Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 1956.

 “Trade Rumors Persist as Minor Meetings End,” Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 1956.

“TV Dispute Overcome by Majors,” Hartford Courant, December 5, 1956.

Notes

1 Clifford Kachline, “Few Hot-Potato Issues Before Minors’ Confab,” The Sporting News, December 5, 1956: 2.

2 United Press, “Fight Enlivens Baseball Meeting,” Boston Globe, December 4, 1946: 23. See also Tom Swope, “Gabe’s Tropical Souvenirs Include Mexico Farm Club,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1956: 6.

3 Edward Prell, “Big Leaguers Arrive for 3 Day Meeting,” Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1956: B2.

4 United Press, “Minors Have New Name,” New York Times, December 15, 1956: 67.

[5] Clifford Kachline, “Aid Plan Makes Game One Happy Family,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1956: 15.

[6] “Minors Have New Name.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Harold Kaese, “Radical Inter-League Play Scheme Has Good Points … And Weak Ones,” Boston Globe, December 11, 1956: 14.

[9] Greenberg’s plan called for each team to play four games against every team in the opposite league, with the contests to count in the regular 154-game schedule. J.G. Taylor Spink, Baseball Guide and Record Book 1957 (St. Louis: Charles C. Spink & Son, 1957), 110.

[10] Edgar Munzel, “Major Leagues Shape ‘Disaster Plan,’ ” The Sporting News, December 26, 1956: 1.

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