1957 Winter Meetings: Sunday Night Fight

This article was written by Mike Lynch

This article was published in the


The 1957 baseball Winter Meetings, held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from December 2 to 7, had many issues on the table — the relocation of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively; remuneration to and realignment of the Pacific Coast League; major-league television rights in minor-league territories; minor-league draft and bonus rules; an appeal to the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to adopt an open ballot when voting for awards; and even a pay-per-view television plan.

Although the move of the Dodgers and Giants to California had a major impact on the National and Pacific Coast Leagues, The Sporting News gave top billing to the open-ballot debate in its coverage of the meetings. In a close vote by the BBWAA, New York Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle edged Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams for the American League Most Valuable Player Award, 233 votes to 209.

Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey issued a public statement calling two of the 24 voters “incompetent and unqualified to vote” after they listed Williams 9th and 10th on their ballots.1 Scribe Joe Cashman of the Boston Daily Record blamed the snub on personal animosity between the writers and the temperamental slugger. It was that animosity that cost Williams at least two previous MVP awards (and arguably a third.)2

Some suggested that voters should be forced to make their ballots public to hold them accountable for their selections. Others, like J. Roy Stockton, sports editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, proposed to let the players decide who was most valuable to their respective teams, then allow a five-man committee to make the final decision.3

The argument for the 38-year-old Williams was that he had won his fifth batting title with a .388 average, the highest in the major leagues since he hit .406 in 1941.4 Besides, some pointed out,  he also had four more home runs than Mantle. The argument against him was equally prudent, though. “Without his bat, Williams is just another ball player,” insisted Joe Williams of the New York World-Telegram & Sun,5 although, to be fair, the Red Sox left fielder committed only one error in 125 games and posted a career-best .995 fielding percentage.

The argument for Mantle was that he was a five-tool player who won games with his “bat, glove, throwing arm and leg speed,” and who played through injuries to help the Yankees win their 23rd pennant. Some thought utility infielder Gil McDougald was the Yankees’ most valuable player, but Joe Williams balked at the notion. “More than any other member of the team, Mantle put the Yankees in the World’s Series. …”6

Despite the outrage, the BBWAA voted to keep their balloting secret to avoid “favorite-son pressure from home-town fans who understandably often are prejudiced in a player’s behalf.”7 The writers were also concerned with “timidity or outside influences that might cause an MVP voter to vote provincially rather than nationally.”8 They also voted down a proposal to limit the ballot to only five choices rather than 10, and redefined the guidelines that determined a player’s rookie status.9

The Sporting News also focused on the Dodgers and Giants, and what Dan Daniel called “one of the most astonishing financial situations in the history of major league ball.”10 The teams agreed to pay $900,000 to the Pacific Coast League over three years as compensation for the PCL losing its two largest markets. And the Dodgers would have to pay $100,000 in both 1958 and ’59 for the unexpired lease on Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. Not to mention having to build a new ballpark in Los Angeles, estimated at $10 million.

The Dodgers purchased Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field, the PCL’s Los Angeles Angels and their territorial rights, and the Fort Worth Cats of the Texas League on February 21, 1957, for $3 million.11 They transferred Wrigley Field to the City of Los Angeles in exchange for 300 acres in Chavez Ravine where they wanted to build their stadium,12 but until then their plan was to add seats to Wrigley, which had a capacity of only 20,457. Instead they ended up playing in the Los Angeles Coliseum, a massive football stadium that needed to be renovated to make it viable for baseball. The Dodgers also agreed to pay Los Angeles $30,000 a year for 20 years to support a recreation center next to Dodger Stadium.13

The Giants, on the other hand, already had a stadium waiting for them in San Francisco, albeit one with a tiny capacity. Seals Stadium, home of the PCL’s San Francisco Seals and Mission Reds, held only 18,500 spectators and, even with renovations that added seats, had a capacity of 22,900 when the Giants debuted on April 15, 1958. They’d spend only two years there before moving to Candlestick Park in 1960.

The 54-year-old Pacific Coast League was turned on its head and only five of the eight teams remained intact — Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, Seattle, and Vancouver — while the Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels, and San Francisco Seals searched for new cities to play in. “The rips have been stitched,” wrote Bob Stevens in The Sporting News, “but the success of the mend depends upon the hemstitchers’ ability to back up their claims and promises with thread that won’t suddenly disintegrate.”14

The Seals, a Red Sox affiliate, went 101-67 under manager Joe Gordon and copped the league championship in 1957. And they boasted the league’s batting champ (second baseman Ken Aspromonte) and wins leader (left-hander Leo Kiely). The Stars finished third with a record of 94-74 and featured three PCL All-Stars in third baseman Jim Baumer, catcher Bill Hall, and right-hander George Witt. The Angels finished sixth at 80-88, but had slugging first baseman Steve Bilko, who had consecutive seasons of 55 and 56 home runs in 1956 and ’57, respectively, and was the “most popular player in L.A. history in any sport up to the time the big leagues got [there].”15

But the three franchises were moved — the Seals went to Phoenix under Giants management and adopted the big-league club’s name; the Angels moved to Spokane, Washington, and remained Dodgers property, but played as the Indians; and the Stars moved to Salt Lake City and adopted the name Bees, a Salt Lake staple in the old PCL, Utah-Idaho League, and Pioneer League.16  Bob Cobb, a West Coast restaurant owner who had purchased the Stars in 1938 and built a ballpark with investments from Hollywood legends including Cecil B. DeMille, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, and Gene Autry, took a financial beating, selling the team for an estimated $145,000, far less than his asking price.17

The first day of the baseball meetings, held at the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs on December 2, featured the Rule 5 draft, with the Cleveland Indians landing outfielder Gary Geiger, who would go on to have a solid if undistinguished 12-year career, mostly with the Red Sox, and the Chicago Cubs netting infielder Tony Taylor, a future All-Star who spent 19 years in the majors, 15 of them with the Philadelphia Phillies.

But the most pressing issue was the minor leagues’ fight against major-league teams that wanted to televise their games into minor-league territory on Sunday night. International League President Frank “Shag” Shaughnessy insisted that Sunday TV would be a “death blow” to the minors, and said he was ready and willing to take legal and congressional action.18 The International League’s board of directors authorized Shaughnessy to seek legal counsel and gave him permission to use as much of the circuit’s $350,000 treasury as necessary.19

Not only did Shaughnessy have the support of the American Association, Pacific Coast League, and Texas League, but from Commissioner Ford Frick as well. “Believe me,” Frick said, “if it were up to me, I’d issue an order at once, barring the Sunday telecasts. But my hands are tied.”20 Shaughnessy even went so far as to ask Congressman Emanuel Celler, a Democrat from New York and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to reopen its antitrust investigation of baseball from the previous summer.21

“The minor league complaint,” wrote the New York Times, “is that the glamour of major league baseball, for free on television, has taken the luster off their games, cut deeply into their gate receipts and threatens them with ruin.”22 Celler called the plan “the height of folly” and claimed the majors would be “eating their young” if they televised Sunday games in minor-league territories.23 National Association President George M. Trautman gave an impromptu speech to the newly formed Minor League Baseball Writers’ Organization in which he stated, “There is an unfortunate cleavage between the majors and the minors … and yet we attempt to live in the same house.”24 Eventually, however, the majors won out.

While CBS was corralling Sunday telecasts, the International Telemeter Corporation of Los Angeles came up with a more forward-thinking plan designed to get baseball to think further into the future. Paul McNamara, the company’s vice president, told convention delegates that a “pay-as-you-see” television plan could gross as much as $25 million in future World Series revenue.25 McNamara demonstrated a closed circuit “pay-TV” model that had been in development for nine years and had drawn interest from 110 potential franchise owners. The Sporting News wrote that several major-league clubs, including the Dodgers and Giants, had explored the idea of a pay-per-view option rather than giving away its product on free TV.26

December 3 saw a sizable deal made at the major-league level when the Chicago White Sox sent future Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Doby, along with left-handed pitcher Jack Harshman, right-handed pitcher Russ Heman, and first baseman-outfielder Jim Marshall, to the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder Tito Francona, a future All-Star, former batting champ Billy Goodman, and right-handed pitcher Ray Moore. Although Doby had enjoyed another good year in Chicago, the fans had booed him during the season because his numbers weren’t up to par and White Sox management felt they couldn’t go into 1958 with a player the fans were so down on.27

The minor-league draft was also held that day but the only player of note who was drafted was former Brooklyn Dodgers wunderkind Karl Spooner, who had struck out 27 batters in his first two major-league starts, both complete-game victories, in 1954, only to see his career sputter afterward under the weight of a sore left arm. He appeared in 29 games with the Dodgers in 1955, but appeared in only 17 minor-league games in 1956-1957 before being selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the ’57 draft.  (Spooner would pitch in 11 games for two Cardinal affiliates in 1958 and then retire from baseball.)

December 4 saw the trade of another future Hall of Famer when the Indians shipped veteran hurler Early Wynn and All-Star outfielder Al Smith to the White Sox for All-Star outfielder Minnie Miñoso and infielder Fred Hatfield. “I’m the happiest guy in the Broadmoor Hotel,” said new Indians manager Bobby Bragan when he heard that Miñoso was coming to Cleveland. “If I had to name the six or eight most exciting players in baseball, Miñoso would be one of them. And from what I understand about the Cleveland picture, he’s the type of player we need.”28

Wynn forced his way out of Cleveland by writing a column in The Sporting News that expressed his frustration about rumors that he’d be dealt. “Just a week ago I was saying I wish they’d either trade me or cut out the conversation,” wrote the righty hurler.29 New Indians general manager Frank Lane got the message loud and clear and sent Wynn packing, but there was no animosity between the two.  In fact, Wynn called Lane his favorite general manager and Lane kidded Wynn about using his “favorite medium” to make his point.30  

Another deal, made on December 5, had major implications on baseball history — the Cincinnati Reds sent outfielders Curt Flood and Joe Taylor to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitchers Willard Schmidt, Marty Kutyna, and Ted Wieand. The three right-handers Cincinnati acquired won only six games for the Reds and every one of them came from Schmidt, while Flood helped the Cardinals win two World Series, won six Gold Gloves, and was named to three NL All-Star teams in his 15-year career.

A more controversial deal was consummated between the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Braves when the Cubs sent right-handed pitcher Bob Rush, fellow righty Don Kaiser, and outfielder Eddie Haas to the Braves for left-handed pitcher Taylor Phillips and catcher Sammy Taylor. Opponents of the deal, most of whom were National League general managers, felt the acquisition of Rush all but guaranteed another pennant for the Braves, who were defending NL champions. “What did [the Braves] use on those poor Cubs, a shotgun?” asked bewildered Phillies GM Roy Hamey.31

Rush was a two-time All-Star who had enjoyed his best season in 1952, when he went 17-13 with a 2.70 ERA for the Cubs, but was only 6-16 with a 4.38 ERA in 1957, and after 10 years in the majors was only 110-140 with a 3.71 ERA in 339 games. Still, men like Phillies manager Mayo Smith, Giants vice president Chub Feeney, and manager Bill Rigney, and Dodgers vice president Buzzie Bavasi were apoplectic that the Cubs would give up so much to the defending champ for so little in return.32

On December 6 the Phillies traded veteran southpaw Harvey Haddix to Cincinnati for slugging outfielder Wally Post in what was deemed an even swap.

Several other issues were voted on during the convention, two of which passed by substantial majority votes. A draft of four-year players was adopted and the bonus rule was repealed. Any player reserved by an Open Classification (Pacific Coast League), Triple-A or Double-A team, who had been in Organized Baseball for four years, was now subject to an unrestricted draft. Single-A players had to have only three years in Organized Baseball to be subject to the draft, and lower classifications required only two years.33

The bonus rule, which had been devised to curtail the wealthiest teams from signing and hoarding the best talent, had been used off and on since 1947. In its latest version it stated that any player who was paid or promised more than $6,000 must remain on a major-league roster for two years before he could be sent down to the minors. A player who signed a $4,000 contract with a minor-league club was also considered a bonus player and subject to an unrestricted draft before he could be sent to another team.34

“In killing the bonus rule for the second time in five years, the game has again thrown open the gates to unrestricted bidding for untested young talent,” wrote The Sporting News.35

Other issues that were resolved included an amendment by the Scoring Rules Committee that allowed a scorer to change a call pending a check with players and umpires on the field. It was also suggested that direct phone lines be installed in as many major- and minor-league fields as possible so scorers could quickly and easily contact players and umpires.36

Notes

1 The Sporting News, December 4, 1957: 14.

2 Ibid. In 1941 Williams finished second to Joe DiMaggio in MVP balloting despite hitting .406 and leading the league in several offensive categories, while DiMaggio led in only two. But the latter played for a pennant winner and had enjoyed a historic 56-game hitting streak. In 1942 Williams was head and shoulders above MVP winner Joe Gordon at the plate, but Gordon played second base for a pennant winner, while Williams’s Red Sox finished nine games behind the Yankees. In 1947 Williams was the best hitter in the AL but lost to DiMaggio again by a single vote. Some voters were claimed to have listed Williams at the end of their ballots. But to be fair, others left DiMaggio off their ballots completely. 

3 The Sporting News, December 4, 1957: 13.

4 Among players 38 or older with at least 500 plate appearances, Williams’s .388 average is the highest ever.

5 The Sporting News, December 4, 1957: 14.

6 Ibid. Although nobody knew what Wins Above Replacement (WAR) or Win Shares (WS) were in 1957 because they hadn’t been “invented” yet, the writers got the vote right and it’s not really close. Mantle led the AL in both categories with 11.3 and 50.5, respectively, while Williams came in second in both with 9.7 and 35.5, respectively. In fact, going back to 1901, Mantle’s Win Shares in 1957 rank 10th all-time through 2015. Williams’s aren’t even in the top 100.

7 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 1.

8 Ibid.

9 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 2; On October 7, 1957, the BBWAA voted to ban a player from Rookie of the Year voting if 1) he was on a major-league roster when the 25-player rule was in effect from May 15 to September 1; 2) he had more than 75 at-bats in any previous season in the majors; 3) he had pitched more than 45 innings in any previous season in the majors. During the Winter Meetings the writers increased the at-bats limit to 90 and defined the roster status as no more than 45 days, so as not to punish a player who was merely riding the bench and not gaining experience.

10 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 1.

11 sabr.org/bioproj/park/3912a666.

12 Dodger Stadium opened on April 10, 1962, and cost $23 million to build.

13 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 6.

14 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 13.

15 baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Steve_Bilko.

16 Salt Lake City’s baseball history dates back to 1901. The city’s teams were known as the Elders and Skyscrapers before becoming the Bees in 1915.

17 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 1, 6.

18 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957, 5.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 New York Times, January 16, 1958; Congress chose to do nothing about major-league baseball airing a Sunday “game of the week” and CBS began airing games in 1958.

23 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 5.

24 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 16.

25 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 9.

26 Ibid. Telemeter’s plan included a coin-operated box that connected to any television set and would unscramble a signal when the proper amount of money was deposited. It was first tested in Palm Springs, California, in 1953 and for $1.25 box owners could watch Forever Female, a movie starring William Holden and Ginger Rogers. Though it was ahead of its time, Telemeter never got off the ground, serving only 5,800 households at its peak. The company signed a deal with the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts in 1961, but discontinued the experiment in 1965.

27 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 4; Doby hit only 14 home runs, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1948, but his OPS+ of 127 was actually better than the 126 he had posted in 1956, when he hit 24 homers and drove in 102 runs.

28 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 3.

29 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 4.

30 Ibid.

31 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 22.

32 Ibid. Rush had a solid season for the Braves in 1958, going 10-6 with a 3.42 ERA in 147⅓ innings, but he lost his lone World Series start, and won only 7 games for them after that and was sold to the Chicago White Sox in June 1960. Kaiser never pitched for the Braves and was out of the majors at 22; Haas was great for the Braves in a 1958 cup of coffee, but suffered a compound fracture of his ankle during spring training in 1959 and spent the whole year on the disabled list. He returned in 1960 and hit his only major-league home run, but played sparingly and was out of the majors, as a player, at age 25, resurfacing in 1985 as the Atlanta Braves’ manager for much of the season. Phillips was a complete bust, going 8-17 with a 5.44 ERA for the Cubs, Phillies, and White Sox from 1958 to 1963, while Taylor had one decent year with the Cubs, batting .269 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 1959 on his way to an undistinguished six-year career spent primarily as a backup catcher.

33 Selection prices were set at $25,000 if a player was drafted by a major-league team; $15,000 by the PCL; $12,000 by Triple A, and on down to $1,000 if a player was drafted by a Class-C club.

34 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 15.

35 Ibid.

36 The Sporting News, December 11, 1957: 16.

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