This article was written by Chris Jones
This article was published in the
The 1963 baseball winter meetings were alive with discussion of important issues, including the permissible size of catcher’s mitts and the color of baseball bats. The clubs also made time to once again reconfigure the minor-league structure and adopt an amendment designed to assist the player-development efforts of expansion teams. The minor leagues kicked off the meetings in San Diego December 1 to 4; then they moved up the coast to Los Angeles for the major-league meetings, December 5 to 7.1
National Association Elects New President
The National Association (the minor leagues) elected Phil Piton, described as “one of baseball’s most dedicated servants,” as its new president.2 Piton succeeded George M. Trautman, who had died in June.3 Piton had spent 32 years in baseball, including time as secretary to baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw M. Landis and, for the last 17 years, as Trautman’s top assistant. Piton was elected for a five-year term at $30,000 per year.4 Upon his election Piton foresaw the need for more minor leagues in the future:
Future major-league expansion will create a need for more minors. How to accomplish this (expanding the minor-league structure) is the burning question, but I must disagree with those who say we don’t need more leagues.5
Amendment to First-Year Player Rule
The primary piece of legislation passed at the majors’ meetings was aimed at aiding the four expansion clubs. The amendment permitted the Mets, Colts, Senators, and Angels to “farm out four additional first-year players next spring without the risk of losing them on waivers or having them count against the player roster during the regular season.”6
The Houston Colts proposed the amendment, and had plenty at stake — they had 10 first-year players on their roster. Before it passed, Mets representative Johnny Murphy, the former major-league pitcher, explained the importance of the amendment:
For instance, we now have six first-year players on our roster. If this amendment passes we’d be able to send down five with only one counting against our player limit. Without the amendment we either would have to keep four of those five sitting on the bench next year or risk losing them on waivers. And just how could anyone expect a young club to develop under such a handicap?7
All other teams, however, had to continue to abide by the existing first-year rule:
They can option out only one first-year player on the roster, and he must count against the player limit. The rest must be retained or, if farmed out, can be claimed for the $8,000 waiver price.8
All-Star Game Voting
A proposal to return voting on All-Star Game players to the fans was also discussed. Fans had previously been permitted to select the starting players, which “worked satisfactorily until 1957, when Cincinnati fans, whipped up by partisan fervor, cast about 500,000 ballots and for a time threatened to place eight members of the Reds in the starting lineup of the N.L. team.”9 Ultimately, the Reds ended up with five starters on the team that year, and as a result the selection of the team was turned over to the players.
That arrangement, however, also proved to be less than ideal, as fans seemed to lose interest in the contest, and because “players have often been inclined to cast their ballots for established stars, without regard for their season’s record, while passing over performers who are having outstanding years.”10 The players, “who have a vital stake in the All-Star Game because it helps finance their pension fund,” lobbied to return the vote to the fans as well.11 In fact, “the player representatives of the 20 clubs disclosed they had agreed to ask Commissioner Ford Frick to restore the voting privilege to the fans ‘in order to engender more interest in the game.”’12
Proposals for how to conduct fan voting were debated, but no resolution was reached. Ultimately the issue was given over to a four-member committee to explore the issue and submit recommendations to Commissioner Frick.13
Oversized Catcher’s Mitts and “Colorful” Bats Outlawed
The Official Playing Rules Committee was busy in San Diego, outlawing the use of a controversial piece of equipment — the oversized catcher’s mitt. It had been “designed to give baffled receivers a better chance to handle the erratic deliveries of knuckleball pitchers.”14 The rules committee barred catcher’s mitts with a circumference of more than 34 inches, beginning with the 1964 season.15 Charley Segar, the former sportswriter who was chairman of the committee, denied that the rule was aimed at knuckleball pitchers:
“It is not aimed at any pitcher or any club. No names were mentioned in our discussion. The present rule sets a limitation on the size of the fielder’s glove and the first baseman’s mitt, but not on the catcher’s mitt. We felt it should be included.”16
The move was not made without dissent, perhaps most vocally from Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley and Houston general manager Paul Richards. Finley vehemently disagreed with the ruling and the apparent failure of the committee to seek outside input. He said the committee’s decision displayed “complete disregard for the opinions of managers, general managers, and owners.”17 Richards, a former catcher who had designed the first oversized mitt in 1960 to assist in catching knuckleball pitchers,18 voiced concern over the inferior level of play that might result:
“I don’t think fans are interested in seeing a catcher get a broken finger or seeing a pitch sailing by him that lets a base-runner grab an extra base. It’s like playing a shortstop who can’t field grounders.”19
There was also a movement to introduce the use of green bats, but it was summarily shot down. Rules committee chairman Segar commented that while “green bats, red bats or any other may be all right with the Little Leagues … colored bats will not be approved by the Official Playing Rules Committee.”20
Pacific Coast/International League Reshuffling
For the second consecutive winter meetings, a reorganization of the minor-league structure was deemed to be in order. This time, the Pacific Coast League agreed to absorb Little Rock and Indianapolis from the International League and expand to 12 teams, allowing the International League to contract to eight teams.21
A primary driver of the reorganization was travel costs. Four International League clubs adamantly refused to go along with a 10-team arrangement in 1964 unless the majors renewed a travel subsidy (that) amounted to $78,000 last season.”22 The other six clubs voted to continue with the 10-team setup, but fell short of the seven votes needed.23
The International League reportedly had actually been willing to expand to 12 teams — without any travel subsidy — if the additions were Oklahoma City and Dallas. This plan went nowhere when Houston balked at moving its Oklahoma City farm club to another league. Roy Hofheinz, owner of the Colts, stated that the Oklahoma City club “started in the American Association in 1962 and then switched to the Coast league a year ago” and that “we don’t want to have to start out in another league [in 1964].”24
The final hurdle to the new arrangement was cleared when Commissioner Frick brokered a swap of Triple-A clubs between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians. The Cardinals were the only club lacking a Triple-A team and Portland was the only Triple-A club needing a major-league tie-up — which seemed to make a match until the Cardinals resisted re-affiliating with Portland, with whom they had worked in 1961. So Frick, “acting as a conciliator,” got the Indians to switch working agreements with the Cardinals, turning over their Jacksonville team to the Cardinals in exchange for Portland.25 Frick commented that “we have been up to our ears in the Triple-A realignment and requested the change in order to get things finalized.”26
The resulting arrangement still left something to be desired, as it stretched the Pacific Coast League from Indianapolis to Hawaii. Someone observed that “Indianapolis is closer to Paris than Hawaii.”27 Frick simply commented that it was “not the ideal solution, but the best possible under the circumstances.”28
New Rookie Leagues /Mexican League Expansion
Two new rookie leagues were organized to operate as part of the National Association beginning in 1964. One of the leagues, the Pioneer League, was set to include Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Pocatello, and Caldwell, all in Idaho. “We’re cognizant of the fact that this rookie league may not have a long life in these cities,” said Jack Schwarz, farm director for the New York Giants.29 Schwarz explained that “this is simply a caretaker action for the day when Organized Baseball needs these cities” and that “when an opportunity for a full-season league there develops, it will replace the rookie league.”30 The second league, yet to be named, was expected to operate in Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida, and consist of six to eight clubs.31
In addition, the two circuits operating in Mexico, the Mexican League and the Mexican Center League, announced their expansion. The Mexican League added a franchise in Guadalajara to increase to eight teams, while the Mexican Center League expanded to six teams. Also, the Southwest and Tabasco Leagues, also operating in Mexico but outside of Organized Baseball, planned to combine to form a third league.32
Major- and Minor-League Drafts
A total of 63 players were selected during the major-league draft on December 2, 1963, up from 56 selections in the 1962 draft. The amount spent on the drafted players fell slightly, from $695,000 in 1962 to $691,000 in 1963. Fifty-two of the players drafted were first-year players.33 One innovation in the way the draft was conducted “was the use of portable microphones to amplify the voices of the club representatives announcing their selections.”34
In contrast, the minor-league phase of the draft contracted dramatically from the previous year. Only 35 players were selected, down from 60 in the 1962 draft, “when the revised first-year player rule was responsible for ballooning the total.”35 Also, “a decrease in the ranks of minor leagues as well as in new signings … contributed to the decline in selections.”36
- A request by the players to have the active roster increased from 25 to 26 was voted down.37
- Two proposals submitted by Kansas City Athletics owner Charles O. Finley — that the World Series begin on a weekend and be followed by three night games — were tabled. A third Finley proposal, that the regular season start on a Saturday, was voted down.38
- The minors’ annual meetings paused to pay remembrance to the late President John F. Kennedy and George M. Trautman, former president of the National Association. A moment of silence was held to honor Kennedy, and a tribute to Trautman was read to delegates.39
- Before the meetings, the Kansas City Athletics made two trades. The club sent infielder Jerry Lumpe and right-handed pitchers Dave Wickersham and Ed Rakow to the Tigers for outfielder Rocky Colavito, right-handed pitcher Bob Anderson, and $50,000.40 The Athletics also sent first baseman-outfielder Norm Siebern to the Orioles for first baseman Jim Gentile and $25,000.41
- The Los Angeles Angels traded slugging outfielder Leon Wagner to the Cleveland Indians for right-handed pitcher Barry Latman and a player to be named later (first baseman Joe Adcock.)42 While Wagner was coming off two straight All-Star Game appearances and a 26-home-run season, Angels general manager Fred Haney said that “we must tailor our club for pitching and speed, rather than power.”43
- The New York Mets purchased catcher-outfielder Hawk Taylor from the Milwaukee Braves for what was believed to be around $30,000. The sale was conditional upon Taylor, who had suffered a broken left shoulder during the 1963 season, establishing his health in the spring. Taylor’s most significant impact on baseball may well have been on a team he never played for. Taylor signed with Milwaukee in 1957 for $100,000 after the Braves topped a $90,000 offer made by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Exasperated by being outbid, Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley stated, “This is it. With the revenue we draw in Ebbets Field we simply cannot compete with the wealthier clubs. We’ll have to go elsewhere.” The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958.44
- The San Francisco Giants sent outfielder Felipe Alou, catcher Ed Bailey, and left-handed pitcher Billy Hoeft to Milwaukee in exchange for catcher Del Crandall, right-handed pitcher Bob Shaw, left-hander Bob Hendley, and a player to be named later (who turned out to be infielder Ernie Bowman). “We gave up one good player [Alou] to get two good pitchers,” said Giants manager Al Dark.45 Even after the trade the Giants still planned on having an Alou in their lineup in the person of Felipe’s brother Jesus. “Jesus will hit around .275 and we won’t lose anything defensively in the outfield,” said Dark.46
- The Baltimore Orioles traded outfielder-third baseman Al Smith to the Cleveland Indians for power-hitting outfielder Willie Kirkland.47
- In what was arguably the biggest deal of the meetings, the Detroit Tigers sent right-handed pitcher Jim Bunning and catcher Gus Triandos to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Don Demeter and right-handed pitcher Jack Hamilton. Bunning was the Tigers’ longtime ace, a five-time All-Star and already the author of 118 major-league victories. A future Hall of Famer (as well as congressman and US senator), Bunning was attending the meetings as the Tigers’ player representative, and commented that he was “tickled to death that I’ve been traded.”48
- The Dodgers sold first baseman Bill Skowron to the Washington Senators for $25,000. The longtime Yankee had been surprisingly sent to the Dodgers during the 1962 Winter Meetings and responded with his poorest season to date, managing only four home runs, 19 RBIs, and a .203 batting average in 89 games during the ’62 season.49 He would, however, rebound for the Senators and White Sox in 1964 and 1965.
The 1964 Winter Meetings were awarded to San Antonio, Texas; the minors had last met there in 1911.50 San Antonio beat out a long list of cities, including Mexico City; Portsmouth, Virginia; Columbus, Ohio; Rochester and Syracuse in New York, and five cities in Florida: Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Sarasota, and Daytona Beach. A pitch was even made by Honolulu, which proposed arranging for charter planes to fly in delegates so that airfares would be more reasonable. Such a trip was still deemed to be too expensive.
1 “Baseball Bigwigs Face Busy Week,” Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1963: 16.
2 ‘“Minors Must Expand,’ Says New Boss Piton,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 11.
3 “Rule Change Aids 4 New Ball Clubs,” New York Times, December 5, 1963: 76.
4 “Large Catcher’s Glove Ruled Out of Baseball,” Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1963: B2.
5 “Minors Must Expand.”
6 “Skowron Purchased by Senators; Indians Send Adcock to Angels,” New York Times, December 7, 1963: 44.
7 “Expansion Teams to Get Relief if Draft Rule Change Is Passed,” New York Times, December 4, 1963: 77.
8 “Skowron Purchased by Senators.”
9 “Tub Thumpers Beat Drums to Give Star Game Back to Fans, The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 2.
11 “Players to Ask Frick to Let Fans Name All-Star Teams,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 2.
13 “Tub Thumpers Beat Drums.”
14 “New Rule Bars King-Sized Mitt Backstops Used,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 2.
17 “Mitt Rule ‘Foolish,’ Finley Cries,” Washington Post, December 6, 1963: B2.
18 Future Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, an acknowledged master of the knuckleball, pitched for the Baltimore Orioles when Richards managed them.
19 “Tigers Send Bunning and Triandos to Phillies for Demeter and Hamilton,” New York Times, December 6, 1963: 56.
20 “Rules Chief Segar Says No to Plans for ‘Colorful’ Bats,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 2.
21 “PCL Expands to 12 Clubs — Int Cut to Eight,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 7.
29 “Plans Laid for Two New Rookie Loops,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 8.
30 Ibid. The Pioneer remains a rookie league, and Idaho Falls has been a member every season since its inception.
32 “2 Mexican Loops Expanding; Ramirez Plans Third Circuit,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 8.
33 “63 Players Go in Grab Bag; 52 First-Year Kids Selected,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 9.
35 “Minors Draft Only 35 Players, Down From 60 Picks in 1962,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 10.
37 “Skowron Purchased by Senators.”
39 “Kennedy, Trautman Saluted by Delegates,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 7.
40 “Sox, Cubs Set to Open Shop in Major Market,” Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1963: D3; “Majors’ Rookie Rule Expected to Change,” Washington Post and Times Herald,” December 1, 1963: C6.
41 “Sox, Cubs Set to Open Shop.”
42 “Skowron Purchased by Senators.”
43 “Angels send Leon Wagner to Indians for Latman,” Chicago Tribune, December 3, 1963: C1.
44 “Mets get Taylor in Separate Deal,” New York Times, December 3, 1963: 71.
45 “Braves Get F. Alou, Bailey, 2 Others,” Chicago Tribune, December 4, 1963: C1.
47 “Al Smith Returns to Cleveland,” Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1963: H1.
48 “Tigers Send Bunning and Triandos to Phillies for Demeter and Hamilton.”
49 “Skowron Purchased by Senators”
50 “San Antonio, Host in 1911, to Be Site of Meeting in ’64,” The Sporting News, December 14, 1963: 6.