1965 Winter Meetings: Exit the Sportswriter and Enter the General

This article was written by Andy Bokser

This article was published in the


Baseball's Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016The 1965 Winter Meetings took place in Florida, with meeting venues in both Miami and Fort Lauderdale. It was the finale of an exciting year that marked the first free-agent draft (limited to players who were United States residents); the sudden end of the four-decade New York Yankees dynasty; the opening of baseball’s first indoor ballpark, the air-conditioned Houston Astrodome (frequently called the Eighth Wonder of the World); a thrilling seven-game World Series victory by the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Minnesota Twins; the ongoing court battles involving major-league baseball and the cities of Milwaukee and Atlanta for the location of the Braves franchise; and the beginning of the reign of the fourth commissioner of baseball.

The meetings commenced on November 29 in Fort Lauderdale at the Galt Ocean Mile Hotel, with outgoing Commissioner Ford Frick ending his term. Both the meetings and Frick’s term ended on December 3, 1965, under the leadership of the new commissioner, retired Air Force Lieutenant General William Dale Eckert, at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.1

In August 1964 Frick had announced he would retire at the end of his term on September 21, 1965. Subsequently he agreed to continue through the conclusion of the 1965 Winter Meetings.

Ford Christopher Frick had replaced Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler as baseball’s third commissioner in 1951. He had worked as a sportswriter for the New York American and the Evening Journal. He had also been Babe Ruth’s ghostwriter. In 1934, at the age of 39, he became the National League president, replacing the ailing John A. Heydler.2

During Frick’s tenure, he was credited with helping some teams, among them Brooklyn and Boston, avoid filing for bankruptcy.3 He also was noted for his strong stand on integrating major-league baseball when, as league president, he was advised that many players were contemplating striking in protest against Jackie Robinson when he was brought up to the majors by the Dodgers in 1947. He warned the players, “If you do this … you are through, and I don’t care if it wrecks the league for 10 years. You cannot do this because this is America.”4

In an interview during the Meetings, Frick said he was content with his decision to step down, but sometimes wondered whether he would be happy with that choice.5

After Frick’s retirement announcement, major-league baseball embarked on a search for his successor. Sixteen of the 20 clubs submitted nominations, and baseball initially sifted through 156 candidates (reportedly including former Vice President Richard Nixon, former Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White, New York City Mayor Robert Wagner, American League President Joe Cronin, Baltimore Orioles President and general manager Lee McPhail, and San Francisco Giants owner Chub Feeney).6

Detroit Tigers owner John Fetzer and Pirates owner John Galbreath served as a screening committee.7 The original list was pared to 50, and then to 15 finalists by the team owners, who eventually selected the relatively unknown General William D. Eckert. His selection was a surprise to baseball outsiders and caused sportswriter Larry Fox to quip, “They’ve hired the unknown soldier.”8 Eckert was elected to a seven-year term at an annual salary of $65,000. The owners also added a position of administrative assistant and gave the job to Lee MacPhail (who later became general manager of the Yankees, president of the American League, and eventually an inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame).9 It was reported that Eckert’s appointment was met with second-guessing largely around the proposition that he was not a “baseball man.”10

In an interview before the start of his term, Eckert said that he was “no czar,” but that if he lacked the authority to take a certain action, he “would ask for legislative changes to give it to me.” He said he had no definite plans at that point on how he would address subjects like expansion, interleague play, and franchise relocations, and wanted to take into account the views of other people in major-league baseball. While he expressed satisfaction with having Lee MacPhail as his administrator, the retired three-star general said he was less pleased with baseball’s plan to give him five assistants. He was concerned about having more people than he needed.11 He said he didn’t know who provided his name to baseball’s search committee.

General Eckert was the former commander of the 452nd Bomb Group in Europe and won several medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. He had retired from the Air Force in 1961 after a heart attack. While his term started on November 18, and he attended the Winter Meetings, he considered his start day to be December 15.12 He advised the media that he would not become a puppet, exclaiming, “Nobody tied any strings on me, so there aren’t any to pull.”13 He said he had not even attended a baseball game in the decades before his appointment.

Electing a baseball outsider like Eckert was attributed to the owners’ wish to redefine the role of the commissioner. He would be less a czar-like figure like Kenesaw Mountain Landis and more of a coordinator, overseeing a committee of executives with deputies for public relations, broadcasting, player affairs, and amateur baseball. It was thought that having a “baseball man” was not a priority.14 Not all of the opinions on Eckert expressed by the media or others were negative. He did make a favorable first impression on some people.15 It was hoped that Eckert would be able to maintain and grow baseball’s share of the entertainment dollar in an increasingly competitive market with football, stock-car racing, and other sports.16

Eckert’s time at the helm proved to be far shorter than the seven years he was given in 1965. Many of the owners who were not looking for a baseball man in 1965 apparently changed their minds, and after a meeting with the owners at the 1968 Winter Meetings, he announced that he had submitted his resignation. His last official day as baseball’s fourth commissioner was February 4, 1969.17

The 1965 meetings also signaled the last year of the Milwaukee Braves who, after moving from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953, announced that they would be moving again, to Atlanta. The issue quickly moved onto the legal playing field, and while the drama of the Braves’ future city was being played out in the courts, a group of businessmen from Milwaukee, led by a car dealer named Bud Selig, tried to lobby baseball for an expansion team in Milwaukee. The Braves’ move to Atlanta would be the first time in more than 60 years that baseball abandoned a city for greener pastures — when teams left Boston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New York in the 1950s, each city still had another major-league franchise in town. The Milwaukee group had petitioned both leagues for a new team. While they fought for an expansion team, the group was reported to have believed that a refusal would bolster their claim that baseball was violating the nation’s antitrust laws by improperly operating as a monopoly.18

While the battle in the courts and in Milwaukee and Atlanta raged, the American League listened to lobbying groups — one trying to keep the team in Wisconsin, the other working on getting an expansion franchise. Although the American League “listened informally” to groups seeking to keep the Braves in Milwaukee, to avoid accusations of collusion, no one mentioned the topic during the leagues’ joint meeting.19 The Selig group claimed that their push for a team was not related to the pending litigation.20

The National League rejected the proposals by Milwaukee County and the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, Inc. for an expansion team in Milwaukee, as well as a request by the North Texas Baseball Club for a team in Dallas/Fort Worth. Among the reasons offered for rejecting the requests were that the applicants had no farm systems, players, or radio/TV contracts, and could not be ready to field a team in 1966.21 The NL estimated that expansion was about five years away. Among the cities seeking franchises were San Diego, Toronto, Seattle, and Oakland,22 all of which were eventually awarded major-league franchises.

One of the first orders of business of the Winter Meetings was the major-league Rule 5 draft, on November 29. The major-league teams drafted 17 players for the $25,000 fee; the Orioles choice of right-handed pitcher Moe Drabowsky paid off in their 1966 World Series win with his historic relief pitching against the Dodgers.

The major-league teams selected only six minor leaguers for the reduced pricetag of $8,000. In addition to Drabowsky, other players of some note who were selected included the Cardinals’ drafting of left-handed pitcher Joe Hoerner, and the Pirates’ selection of former Mets catcher Jesse Gonder. The Astros drafted a future star in first baseman Nate Colbert.23

Hopes that a flurry of big-name players would be involved in trades were perhaps whetted by the Cardinals’ two pre-meetings swaps. Just days after the Dodgers won Game Seven of the World Series, St. Louis sent third baseman Ken Boyer, a seven-time All-Star and the National League’s Most Valuable Player just the year before, to the Mets for third baseman Charlie Smith and left-handed pitcher Al Jackson. A week later, they sent five-time All-Star first baseman Bill White, five-time All-Star shortstop Dick Groat (the 1960 MVP in the National League), and catcher Bob Uecker to the Phillies for outfielder Alex Johnson, two-time All-Star right-hander Art Mahaffey, and catcher Pat Corrales.24 Rumors abounded of yet another blockbuster deal. The Cincinnati Reds were reportedly looking to trade star outfielder Frank Robinson. This did not come to pass during the Winter Meetings,25 but shortly after the meetings ended, the 1961 National League MVP was shipped to the Baltimore Orioles for right-hander Milt Pappas, right-handed relief pitcher Jack Baldschun, and outfielder Dick Simpson.                 

Nevertheless, no major deals were completed during the meetings,26 though some smaller swaps were announced. The Mets sent outfielder Joe Christopher to the Red Sox for shortstop Eddie Bressoud. The Phillies and Yankees swapped infielders, with Ruben Amaro moving to New York in exchange for Phil Linz.

The Giants were involved in a pair of deals that had future significance. They obtained right-handed relief pitcher Lindy McDaniel and outfielder Don Landrum from the Cubs for right-handed starting pitcher Bill Hands and catcher Randy Hundley. They also swapped outfielder  Matty Alou and a player to be named later to the Pirates for utilityman Ossie Virgil and left-handed pitcher Joe Gibbon.27 Hands and Hundley would become cornerstones in the resurgence of the Cubs, while Alou would become a consistent .300 hitter, a two-time All-Star, and the 1966 NL batting champion.

In some of the financial decisions made during the meetings, the American and National Leagues increased their umpires’ minimum salaries from $7,000 to $9,500 a year, and increased the league contributions to the pension for their men in blue, while limiting the umpires’ contribution to the pension to $350 per year. The minimum age for the arbiters’ retirement was reduced from 60 to 55. In an effort to curb on-the-field fraternization between players, the leagues increased the fines for a first offense from $5 to $50, and for a second offense from $10 to $100.28

The major leagues also increased their contribution to the minor leagues for their expenses, committing to paying all costs above $600 per month for each player as well as all salaries and expenses for training, transportation, and the manager. Previously the minor leagues were responsible for the first $700 of costs for each player.29 In another policy change, the American League voted to pay each visiting team 20 percent of the gross receipts from ticket sales and other admissions including service and exchange charges (less taxes). This was an increase over the prior practice of paying the visiting teams 20 cents for each bleacher and special admission and 30 cents for other admissions.30

At a meeting of the teams’ player representatives and the owners, the players asked that night games be limited during spring training for health reasons and the owners consented. The players also asked that all player fines be turned over to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Fund, which was in memory of the late Reds manager, instead of having them go to leagues’ coffers.31 Subsequent articles mentioning the fund do not indicate that the players’ proposal was adopted by the owners.32

The retirement of longtime manager Casey Stengel was prominent in the news during the Winter Meetings. After the 75-year-old Stengel broke his hip and was forced to quit managing the New York Mets, there was a movement to make him eligible for the Hall of Fame during the next voting cycle. The Baseball Writers Association of America petitioned the Hall of Fame to waive the requirement that a player or manager be retired for five years before becoming eligible for selection to the Hall. George M. Weiss, who worked with Stengel with the Mets and Yankees, said, “Let him smell the flowers now.” Lee McPhail, the new assistant to Commissioner Eckert, said, “I am for it 100 percent.”33

While there was resistance to the suggestion of waiving the waiting period, it had been permitted in the cases of Connie Mack and Lou Gehrig.34 While Stengel was not elected to the Hall of Fame along with Ted Williams by the baseball writers, he was voted in a few weeks later by the Committee on Veterans as a result of a rule change that permitted executives, umpires and managers over 65 to be elected six months after they retired. Stengel’s election came exactly six months after his retirement.35

The major leagues awarded the 1967 All-Star Game to the California Angels, whose new Anaheim Stadium was to open in 1966. The National League gave its president, Warren Giles, a two-year extension to 1968, the relatively short term given with the assumption that the 69-year-old might be contemplating retirement.36 The American League re-elected Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey vice president of the league and named Gabe Paul, president and general manager of the Cleveland Indians, to the Major League Executive Council. Commissioner Eckert decided to retain Charley Segar as the secretary-treasurer of baseball, a position he had held since Ford Frick became commissioner in 1951.37

On December 3, the major leagues ended their meeting with a 40-minute joint meeting at which they reduced the minimum time a player needed to remain on the disabled list from 30 days to 15 days. The rehabbing player would be permitted to work out with his team. The changes were urged by Yankees general manager Ralph Houk, among others. Houk cited Roger Maris as a player who had benefited from improved modern medical treatments, and said that in such cases the longer period of forced inactivity was unnecessary. The leagues decided to hold their 1966 winter meetings in Pittsburgh; the 1966 minor-league winter meetings would take place in Columbus, Ohio.

A rule change aimed at speeding up games, permitted a manager or coach to come to the mound to speak to their pitcher only once per batter. Two trips to the mound would still be permitted during an inning, but they would have to be for different hitters.38

One idea that did not garner much press notice at the meetings but may have contributed to the major leagues’ decision to split into two divisions in each league in 1969 was discussed. Lee MacPhail and Gabe Paul thought that splitting the American League into two divisions could be implemented within three years, and they advocated only one additional team making the playoffs. (Both frowned on the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association system of multiple teams participating in the postseason.) But the National League was not interested in the concept, since it had a brighter financial outlook than the American League and therefore not the same motivation to increase fan interest.39

The Winter Meetings of 1965 ended with a new baseball commissioner, some minor tinkering, and an apparently optimistic outlook for the 1966 season.

Atlanta or Milwaukee? Newly or Outdated National?

Shortly after the 1965 winter meetings, the hearings surrounding the move of the Braves from Milwaukee to Atlanta continued, with the state of Wisconsin asking that the Braves make preliminary arrangements to play in Milwaukee if later ordered to do so by the court. Here were some statements made during the hearings.

“We were mindful, your honor, that in all the southeast area of this land there has been no major league baseball and we have taken it there. We’re mindful that there has been sadness in Milwaukee about that. We think we have performed the greatest duty for our land. We think we have created a truly National League.”

Bowie Kuhn, attorney for the National League (and successor to Eckert as commissioner).1

“I don’t consider his theories of operations the best. He hasn’t kept up with the times.”

 Bill Veeck, the former major league owner, testifying about his acquaintance with

 National League President Warren Giles.2

1 “Says Braves’ Transfer Created ‘A Truly NL,’” Appleton (Wisconsin) Post-Crescent, December 23, 1965: 11.

2 “Milwaukee Could Field Team for Three Million,” Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Daily Telegram, December 23, 1965: 9.

Notes

1 “The Time and Place,” The Sporting News, December 4, 1965.

2 “Eckert, Astrodome, Braves in ’65 Spotlight,” Sporting News Official Baseball Guide for 1966.

3 Mlb.com/mlb/history/mlb_history_people.jsp?.story=com_bio_.

4 Red Smith, “Views of Sport,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 22, 1951.

5 Milton Richman, “Last Hurrah for Frick,” Daily World (Opelousas, Louisiana), December 5, 1965.

6 “Eckert, Astrodome, Braves in ’65 Spotlight,”  

7  Ibid.

8 Jack Zanger, Major League Baseball — 1966 (New York: Pocket Books, 1966), 214.

9 Richard Goldstein, “Lee MacPhail, Executive Who Led American League, Dies at 95,” New York Times, November 9, 2012.

10 Leonard Koppett, “The New Commissioner,” New York Times, December 5, 1965.

11 Barney Kremenko, “New Boss Says He’ll Get View of Others, Then Act,” The Sporting News, December 4, 1965.

12 Ibid.

13Associated Press, “Will Not Become Puppet, Declares New Baseball Boss,” Wilmington (Delaware) News Journal, December 1, 1965. 

14 Brian McKenna, “William Eckert,” sabr.org/bioproj/person/4691515d.

15  United Press International, “Baseball World in Look at New Boss,” Odessa (Texas) American, December 5, 1965.

16 Chester L. Smith, “Baseball Gets Different Type in Gen. Eckert,” Pittsburgh Press, December 2, 1965.

17 McKenna, “William Eckert.”

18 Joe McGuff, “N.L. Shuns Milwaukee,” Kansas City Times, December 3, 1965.

19 Leonard Koppett, “Frick Steps Down as Baseball Head,” New York Times, December 4, 1965.

20 “American League Rejects Milwaukee Bid,” Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Daily Telegram, December 4, 1965.

21 Associated Press, “N.L. Rejects Milwaukee’s Bid for 1966,” Chicago Tribune December 3, 1965.

22  McGuff, “N.L. Shuns Milwaukee.”

23 Dick Kaegel, “Majors Pass Up First Year Players in Draft,” The Sporting News, December 11, 1965.

24 Sporting News Official Baseball Guide for 1966.

25 James Enright, “Why Reds Traded Robinson,” Baseball Digest, February 1966.

26 Associated Press, “Business Is Slow at Trade Mart as Baseball Convention Comes to End,” San Antonio Express and News, December 4, 1965.

27 Sporting News Official Baseball Guide for 1966. Other sources, including Baseball-Reference.com and the Sporting News Baseball Register, do not identify the “player to be named later.” They report only that Alou went from the Giants to the Pirates.

28David M. Moffit, Associated Press, “Umps Get Pay Raise,” Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Daily Telegram, December 4, 1965.

29 Leonard Koppett, “Frick Steps Down as Baseball Head.”

30 United Press International, “Giles to Head NL Three More Years,” Pittsburgh Press, December 2, 1965.

31 Joseph Durso, “Coast Team Ends Pitching Search,” New York Times, December 2, 1965.

32 C.C. Johnson Spink, “We Believe,” The Sporting News, February 1, 1969.

33 Joseph Durso, “Stengel Is Backed for Hall of Fame,” New York Times, December 3, 1965.

34 Ibid.

35 “Williams, Stengel Named to Hall of Fame,” Sporting News Official Baseball Guide for 1966.

36 Associated Press, “N.L. Rejects Milwaukee’s Bid for 1966,” Chicago Tribune, December 3, 1965; United Press International, “Giles to Head NL Three More Years,” Pittsburgh Press December 2, 1965

37Associated Press, “N.L. Rejects Milwaukee’s Bid for 1966”; “Eckert, Astrodome, Braves in “65 Spotlight.”

38 Associated Press, “Umps Get $$ Increase,” Orlando Sentinel, December 3, 1965.

39 Bob August, “A.L. Studies Two-Division Alignment,” Baseball Digest, February 1966.

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