1964 Winter Meetings: Commissioner’s Powers, Free-Agent Draft & All-Star Voting

This article was written by Donald Frank

This article was published in the


Baseball's Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016Major-league baseball’s 1964 Winter Meetings were conducted in Houston, Texas, from November 30 to December 4, 1964. This was a time when there were 20 teams in the majors, 10 in each league.

Several issues or topics dominated these meetings. The commissioner’s powers had been reduced after A.B. “Happy” Chandler succeeded Kenesaw Mountain Landis in 1945; those powers were restored at these meetings. A players’ proposal to return the All-Star vote to the fans was supported by the owners, but Commissioner Ford C. Frick was hesitant, probably remembering the Cincinnati ballot stuffing of 1957. As a result, a committee was appointed to study this issue. An amateur free-agent draft was discussed and supported. Players were to be drafted in an orderly process, beginning with the teams at the bottom of the standings. An umpire development program was approved. Commissioner Frick expressed words of caution in relation to expansion. He also discussed CBS’s purchase of the New York Yankees, including its implications for baseball. And finally, several trades were completed.

The Business Side

Dramatic increases in the powers of the commissioner were ratified as the owners formally restored the powers that made Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis the undisputed czar of baseball for more than 20 years. Specifically, two changes were approved. They restored the commissioner’s right to veto any action by the owners that he construed as detrimental to baseball. (This right had been stripped from the commissioner after Landis died in 1944.) Also, they granted the commissioner immunity from legal actions if the owners disagreed with him. The vote on the proposal was 9 to 1 in each league, with Bill DeWitt of the Cincinnati Reds Charles Finley of the Kansas City Athletics reportedly the only votes against it. The changes were advocated by Commissioner Frick, who had succeeded Chandler in 1951.1

After five of the nine National League starters in the 1957 All-Star Game played for the Cincinnati Reds as a result of a “razzle-dazzle promotion” in Cincinnati, the players were asked by the commissioner to select the starting lineup for the All-Star Game, with the managers filling out the remainder of the rosters. After the 1964 season, the players proposed that the All-Star voting be returned to the fans, and this idea was supported by the owners. Commissioner Frick, however, did not agree, so he created a committee to study the possibility, using a “card system” to tabulate the fans’ votes for the All Stars, with an “electronic computer” determining the final results. This committee was composed of Frick, Judge Robert Cannon, the players’ legal adviser, and Bill Giles, the public relations director of the Houston Colt .45’s.2

It had long been recognized that qualified umpires needed to be recruited, trained, and developed for baseball and, as a result, the umpire development program was recommended and approved, with Edward S. Doherty, assistant to the commissioner, placed in charge of the program. Frick, who viewed this as particularly important, declared that the program was intended “to get more kids interested in umpiring and to make it worth their while by paying minor league umpires more.”3

Reflecting on expansion to cities on the West Coast, Frick recommended that future expansion be done “be carried out through orderly procedures.” As a result of Frick’s comments, the 20 teams voted that “any expansion plan entertained by one league or one club must be explained fully to the other league before new territory could be charted.”4

Frick was questioned on the sale of the New York Yankees to CBS, viewed as controversial by some of the owners. “Because of tax problems and high costs,” he asserted, “you are going to see more ownership of teams by corporations before you see less.” He indicated that problems stemming from the deal needed to be handled by the American League, not the commissioner’s office. (He noted that this was not the first time a broadcast network had purchased a baseball team, pointing to the Fetzer Broadcasting Company acquisition of the Detroit Tigers several years earlier.5)

The day after the minor leagues adopted a free-agent draft similar to professional football’s draft of collegiate players, the major leagues voted to follow this action. Known as the First-Year Player Draft or Rule 4 Draft, it was applicable to “amateur baseball players,” including those in high schools, colleges, and other nonprofessional leagues or organizations. Beginning in June 1965, big-league teams would hold three yearly drafts: in January for midyear high-school graduates; in June for spring high-school and college graduates; and in September for players in the American Legion program and other amateur leagues. As in football’s draft, the teams at the bottom of the standings would select first. Viewed as “socialistic” by some officials, the free-agent draft was opposed vigorously by the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and New York Yankees. But only the Cardinals voted against its implementation.6

A National League recommendation to let the four expansion teams — the Angels, Astros, Mets, and Senators — option two first-year players to the minors without the fear of exposing them to the draft was debated. Under a one-year grant, the four clubs had been allowed to send out four first-year players in the 1964 season.7 The proposal was passed by the National League, but the American League vote ended in a 5-5 tie. With the leagues split, Commissioner Frick cast the deciding vote and, “siding with the status quo, vetoed the idea.”8

A proposal to allow interleague trading from the World Series to December 15 was also defeated, meaning  “The present free-for-all period is Nov. 20 to Dec, 15, and it will remain that way.”9

Player Movement

An abnormally high number of player trades were made, including one that had a major impact on the 1965 season. The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Frank Howard, an outfielder noted for prodigious home runs, to the Washington Senators. The Dodgers sent the 27-year-old Howard, the 1959 National League Rookie of the Year, pitchers Phil Ortega and Pete Richert, and third baseman Ken McMullen to the Senators for southpaw pitcher Claude Osteen and infielder John Kennedy. In 1964, Howard had batted .226 with 26 home runs and 69 RBIs. Right-hander Ortega had posted a 7-9 record with a 4.00 ERA, including three shutouts and one save as he divided his time between the rotation and the bullpen. Richert, 24 (as was Ortega) and considered to be a promising lefty, was 2-3 in 1964, with a 4.15 ERA and one shutout in eight games after being recalled from the minors. In 1964, the 22-year-old McMullen found himself stuck behind Dodgers legend Junior Gilliam and riding the minor-league shuttle. He played in just 24 games in LA, batting .209 with one home run. The Senators were looking for youthful talent and got it, especially with Howard and McMullen. Howard became one of the most feared sluggers in baseball, twice leading the American League in home runs, while McMullen became a solid everyday performer at third. Ortega had three good years in Washington, while Richert, after two-plus years in the Senators’ rotation, was traded to Baltimore and became part of the vaunted bullpen that helped the Orioles win three straight AL pennants.10

For their part, the Dodgers were willing to sacrifice all this youthful talent in order to solidify their starting rotation behind Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and they succeeded with the 24-year-old Osteen. The southpaw was 15-13 in 1964, including 13 complete games, with a 3.33 ERA for a Senators team that had lost 106 games. He would eventually win nearly 200 games in the majors, most of them with the Dodgers, and helped them win two pennants and the 1965 World Series title; he was also selected to three All-Star teams. In 1964 Kennedy had batted .230 with 7 home runs and 35 runs batted in, and that proved to be his best career mark.11

The Los Angeles Angels traded left-hander Bo Belinsky to the Philadelphia Phillies for Rudy May, another southpaw, and Costen Shockley, a first baseman. Belinsky had a 9-8 mark in 1964 with a 2.86 ERA, but had been suspended since August 14 as a result of an altercation with a writer. Belinsky had gained fame in 1962 when, as a rookie, he pitched a no-hitter for the Angels, but he would win only seven more games in the majors. May, 20 at the time of the deal, pitched in the majors from 1965 to 1983 and posted a career record of 152-156, with a 3.46 ERA. Shockley, 22, hit 36 home runs in the Pacific Coast League in 1964 and was considered to be a top prospect, but wound up playing just 51 games in the majors.12

The Cleveland Indians traded first baseman Bob Chance and infielder Woodie Held to the Washington Senators for Chuck Hinton, an All-Star outfielder. In 1964 Chance had batted .279 with 14 home runs and 75 RBIs, but never again approached those numbers. Held, a major leaguer since 1957, had batted .236 in 1964 with 18 home runs and 49 RBIs. Hinton was an All-Star in 1964, a year in which he had batted .274 with 11 home runs and 53 runs batted in.13

The Philadelphia Phillies, who had just missed making a trip to the World Series in 1964, traded left-hander Dennis Bennett to the Boston Red Sox for first baseman Dick Stuart. Bennett’s record in 1964 was 12-14 with a 3.68 ERA. Bennett, 25, was viewed as one of the aces of the Phillies, but they felt they needed more offense at first base. In 1964, Stuart, a controversial slugger, had batted .279 with 33 home runs and 114 RBIs. In his two years with the Red Sox, Stuart had hit 75 home runs and driven in 232 runs. The trade returned Stuart to the National League, where he had hit 117 home runs for the Pittsburgh Pirates in five seasons before his relocation to Fenway Park. Pinky Higgins, general manager of the Red Sox, welcomed Bennett. “This deal has been thoroughly discussed since the World Series,” Higgins said. “Despite losing Stuart’s power, the Red Sox feel Bennett can be the best left-hander the club has had since Mel Parnell retired.” Gene Mauch, the manager of the Phillies, rolled out the red carpet for Stuart, too. “We now have as tough a one-two-three punch as any club in the league.” Stuart did hit 28 home runs for the Phillies in 1965, but they shipped him to the New York Mets before the 1966 season and the poor-fielding “Dr. Strangeglove” played only two more seasons in the majors. Bennett also did not live up to expectations. He won only 13 games in 2½ seasons in Boston, spent three months with the Mets in 1967 and two months with the Angels in 1968 before calling it a career.14

There were several other deals of some note. The Cincinnati Reds traded infielder Cesar Tovar to the Minnesota Twins for left-hander Gerry Arrigo. Tovar went on to make a name for himself as a supersub, picking up MVP votes in five consecutive seasons. The Los Angeles Angels traded catcher Jack Hiatt to the San Francisco Giants for Jose Cardenal, who proved to be a valuable outfielder for eight teams over the next 18 seasons. The Chicago White Sox traded pitcher Ray Herbert, a 20-game winner in 1962, and outfielder-first baseman Jeoff Long to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder Danny Cater and shortstop Lee Elia, who later managed the Cubs and Phillies. The New York Mets traded pitcher Tracy Stallard — the man who gave up Roger Maris’s 61st home run — and infielder Elio Chacon to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Johnny Lewis and left-hander Gordie Richardson. The Cardinals also swapped pitcher Roger Craig, who had just helped them win the World Series, plus outfielder Charlie James to Cincinnati for pitcher Bob Purkey. The Cubs and White Sox participated in an all-Chicago trade. The Cubs swapped catcher Jimmie Schaffer, who had batted .205 in 1964 with two home runs and nine runs batted in, to the White Sox for left-hander Frank Baumann, who had led the league in ERA in 1960 but had only a 0-3 record in 1964 with a 6.19 ERA.15

Several players were also purchased outright at the meetings; most notably the New York Mets picked up Warren Spahn from the Milwaukee Braves. The winningest left-hander in history, Spahn was almost 44 and would win only seven more games in his Hall of Fame career. The St. Louis Cardinals purchased outfielder-first baseman John “Tito” Francona from the Cleveland Indians. Francona’s son, Terry, was later manager of two World Series champions in Boston. And there was one other transaction featuring a name that would become familiar in future years. In the minor-league draft, the Cubs picked up third baseman Bobby Cox from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Double-A team in Albuquerque. Cox played only two seasons in the majors, with the Yankees, but as a manager he won 2,504 games, five pennants, and the 1995 World Series on his way to the Hall of Fame.16

Summary

Baseball’s 1964 Winter Meetings were active as well as relevant. In particular, the commissioner’s powers were restored, effective immediately. As a result, the commissioner’s ability to deal effectively with complex issues was improved dramatically. An amateur free-agent draft and the umpire development program were implemented. All-Star Game voting was discussed and a committee was selected to study the issues. The commissioner discussed expansion as well as the purchase of the New York Yankees by a corporate entity.

Notes

1 Joseph Durso, “Big Leagues Vote Free-Agent Draft, Restoration of Commissioner’s Power,” New York Times, December 4, 1964: 48; Clifford Kachline, “Club Owners Vote Absolute Power to Baseball’s Boss,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1964: 6; “Majors’ Official Vote Restores Commissioner’s Broad Powers,” New York Times, December 5, 1964: 36.

2 Clifford Kachline, “All-Star Vote May Be Given Back to Fans,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1964: 7; “Return of All-Star Vote to Fans to Be Studied,” New York Times, December 3, 1964: 64.

3 “Majors’ Official Vote Restores Commissioner’s Broad Powers.”

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Joseph Durso, “Baseball’s Minors Follow Pro Football Pattern in Backing Free-Agent Draft,” New York Times, December 3, 1964: 64; Joseph Durso, “Big Leagues Vote Free-Agent Draft, Restoration of Commissioner’s Power,” New York Times, December 4, 1964: 48; Clifford Kachline, “First Free-Agent Draft Scheduled for June 1: Selections Held 3 Times Per Year,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1964: 2; Clifford Kachline, “Frick Lauds ‘Great Progress Program’: Free-Agent Draft Approval Applauded as Key Decision,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1964: 2; Clifford Kachline, “Minors Given Added Benefits; Vote ‘Yes’ on Free-Agent Draft,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1974: 9; Clifford Kachline, “Path Cleared for Draft of Free Agents,” The Sporting News, November 21, 1964: 4; C.C. Johnson Spink, “Free-Agent Draft Legal — Antitrust Expert,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1964: 4; “Suddenly the Future Looks Brighter” (editorial), The Sporting News, November 21, 1964: 16.

7 “Majors’ Official Vote Restores Commissioner’s Broad Powers.”

8 Clifford Kachline, “Majors Veto Aid Pitch for Expansion Clubs,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1964: 7.

9 “Majors’ Official Vote.”

10 Joseph Durso, “Washington Gives Osteen, Kennedy,” New York Times, December 5, 1964: 36; Edgar Munzel, “Hurlers, Catchers Hot Interloop Swap Items,” The Sporting News, December 26, 1964: 2.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Joseph Durso, “Minor Leagues to Vote Today on Changes in Baseball Draft,” New York Times, December 2, 1964: 61.

14 Joseph Durso, “Red Sox Send Stuart to Phils for Bennett, a Left-Hander,” New York Times November 30, 1964: 46; “Hurlers, Catchers Hot Interloop Swap Items.”

15 “Hurlers, Catchers Hot Interloop Swap Items”; “Convention Transactions,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1964: 8.

16 Oscar Kahan, “Majors Run Up $572,000 Tab to Draft 63,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1964: 5-6; “Hurlers, Catchers Hot Interloop Swap Items”; Dick Young, “Casey Once Told Spahn He Didn’t Have It,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1964: 14.

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