This article was written by Jason Myers
This article was published in the Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016
On August 29, 1966, the Beatles played what would be their final live concert ever at Candlestick Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. The event provided much enjoyment for the concertgoers as the band, still wearing matching suits and their mop-top hairstyles, played a setlist of hits and other music they had recorded over the previous four years. In reality, if the fans had actually heard the music over their own screaming, they might have realized that the concert did not offer as much enjoyment as it seemed at the time. With the hindsight of history, though, we can see that signs of the pending change of the Beatles were present at the time. When the Fab Four would emerge the next year with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” they signaled that they, their music, and the world around them had changed.1
In some ways, the Beatles’ final concert in 1966 offers a useful analogy for examining Organized Baseball’s Winter Meetings a few months later. At the time, it was an event that The Sporting News described in glowing terms: “Few meetings in the nearly 100-year history of Organized Baseball have brought smiles of satisfaction to the faces of as many persons as did the majors’ December 1-2 confabs.”2 But in retrospect, the sessions offered only a little entertainment in the form of player transactions, which drew heavily from some of baseball’s greatest hits (i.e., players) from 1962 to 1964. The 1966 Winter Meetings were perhaps most meaningful on the business side, where some developments would help lay the groundwork for how baseball and the business around it would change.
“I Still Believe in Yesterday”: Player Transactions During the 1966 Winter Meetings
The most significant player transaction after the 1966 World Series was the unexpected retirement of Sandy Koufax, the dominant southpaw who had won three Cy Young Awards and an MVP trophy in four years. He was not, however, the only retiring player whose career traced back to baseball’s Golden Age. Infielder Junior Gilliam also retired from the Dodgers; he, along with Koufax, had played continuously with the team since their days in Brooklyn. Robin Roberts, the hard-throwing right-hander who had won 20 or more games for six consecutive seasons (1950-55) and one of the last remaining active players from the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies’ famed Whiz Kids, also called it a career.
Despite being the reigning National League champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers started reshaping their roster in the wake of Koufax’s retirement, so that by the end of the Winter Meetings, the Dodgers’ roster contained only 27 players who had been with the team during spring training.3 The most notable trade during the Winter Meetings involved the Dodgers, who moved shortstop and team captain Maury Wills, the 1962 National League Most Valuable Player and a five-time All-Star (including in 1966), in an attempt to get younger. Although some observers speculated that Wills was traded in retaliation for his prematurely leaving a postseason exhibition trip by the Dodgers to Japan, LA officials proclaimed that they saw an opportunity to move the 34-year-old Wills, coming off a season with knee issues, to the Pirates to get two younger infielders — Bob Bailey (age 24) and Gene Michael (27).4 Despite the Dodgers’ hopes at the time, neither Bailey nor Michael ended up doing much while in a Dodgers uniform, nor did either stay in LA for long; Michael was sold to the Yankees after the 1967 season and Bailey was purchased by the brand-new Montreal Expos after the 1968 campaign.
For the Pirates, trading for Wills represented an “all-in” movement as Pittsburgh’s general manager Joe Brown proclaimed, “We’re shooting for the pennant in 1967 and decided not to worry about the future as much as the present.”5 Having won 92 games in 1966, just three games behind the Dodgers, Pittsburgh was seen as the early favorite for 1967. But unfortunately for the Pirates and their fans, they fell well short of those expectations, finishing 1967 in sixth place with an 81-81 record. Wills, for his part, performed respectably in his two seasons with Pittsburgh, accumulating WAR scores of 4.3 and 3.5 in 1967 and 1968 respectively.6 Before the 1969 season, though, Pittsburgh lost Wills to the Expos in the expansion draft, where he became a teammate of none other than Bob Bailey.7
The Dodgers also reshaped their roster in a trade involving a pair of two-time All-Stars. They sent outfielder Tommy Davis and utilityman Derrell Griffith (who would not play in another major-league game after the trade), to the New York Mets for second baseman Ron Hunt and outfielder Jim Hickman. Although Davis was only 27 years old, he had not played at a high level since his All-Star 1962-1963 seasons, when he led the league in hitting (both years) and in RBIs (1962). Hunt, on the other hand, was two years younger than Davis and had just come off an All-Star season in 1966, after previously appearing in the 1964 All-Star Game. Davis (2.7 WAR) and Hunt (2.0 WAR) performed serviceably for the Mets and Dodgers respectively in 1967. However, neither would return to All-Star levels in their career. That distinction belonged to the 29-year-old Jim Hickman, though not with LA. After appearing in only 65 games for the Dodgers in 1967, Hickman was traded to the Cubs the next offseason and subsequently delivered the game-winning hit in the 1970 All-Star Game, a play more famously known for Pete Rose steamrolling Ray Fosse at home plate to score the winning run.
The Winter Meetings also saw 1964 Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance move from the Angels to the Twins. The right-hander’s 1966 performance had dropped off significantly from his award-winning season (12-17 in ’66 with a league-high 114 walks, albeit with a solid 3.08 ERA and 2.2 WAR). In what turned out to be the largest trade of the meetings in terms of the number of players moved, Chance and a player to be named later (infielder Jackie Hernandez) went to Minnesota in exchange for right-hander Pete Cimino, outfielder Jimmie Hall, and first baseman Don Mincher. Chance benefited from the change of scenery and had two strong seasons for Minnesota before starting to decline. In 1967, in fact, Chance was named an All-Star, won 20 games, and was the AL’s premier workhorse, leading the league in games started, complete games, and innings pitched. He followed up his 5.8 WAR 1967 season with a 6.1 WAR in 1968.
The Angels may have hoped that Jimmie Hall would similarly benefit by donning a new uniform. Third in the 1963 Rookie of the Year balloting, Hall had been an All-Star in 1964 and 1965, but his production dropped in 1966 as reflected in his WAR score of 1.0 for the season. Hall’s performance did not improve in 1967 (WAR = 1.4), though, and partway through the 1968 season the Angels traded him to Cleveland. Don Mincher, on the other hand, rewarded the Angels with the best year of his career with 25 home runs, 76 RBIs, and a 4.3 WAR. Mincher’s production fell off the next season and the Angels lost him in the expansion draft before the 1969 season to the Seattle Pilots, for whom Mincher is the answer to a trivia question: Who is the only Pilot to ever appear in the All-Star Game?8
One other more prominent trade completed during the Winter Meetings saw the Yankees send longtime infielder Clete Boyer to the Braves for outfielder Bill Robinson and right-hander Chi Chi Olivo, although the then-38-year-old Olivo did not appear in a major-league game after the trade. Boyer had been manning the left side of the Yankees infield as their primary third baseman since 1960 and had just completed his age-29 season. He put together a solid 26-homer, 96-RBI season for the Braves in 1967 and would finish his career with the team in 1971, including winning his only career Gold Glove in 1969. Robinson was five years younger than Boyer and was able to play all three outfield positions, but as a Yankee he had three undistinguished seasons; he finally blossomed as a hitter with the Phillies and Pirates.
Other trades during the 1966 Winter Meetings were more limited in scope and impact. After receiving the knuckleballing left-hander Wilbur Wood earlier in the offseason, the Chicago White Sox sent Juan Pizarro, an All-Star in 1963 and 1964, to the Pirates to complete the trade, which added to the Pirates’ dreams of a 1967 pennant. Pizarro did not recapture his past level of success, and he lasted just a season and a half in Pittsburgh. Washington sent center fielder Don Lock to the Philadelphia Phillies for left-hander Darold Knowles, who served as the Senators’ All-Star Game representative in 1969 and later became a key member of the Oakland A’s powerful bullpen. Washington also sent 34-year-old right-handed reliever Ron Kline, coming off a 23-save season after leading the American League with 29 saves in 1965, to Minnesota for five-time All-Star right-handed pitcher Camilo Pascual and infielder Bernie Allen. Finally, the Cubs traded catcher Chris Krug and right-hander Wayne Schurr for to the Angels for two utilitymen, Mike White and Donald Furnald, with only Krug seeing any major-league action after the trade (eight games with the Padres in 1969).
Ted Abernathy, who led the National League in saves in 1965, also changed teams during the 1966 Winter Meetings. Abernathy, however, was picked up by the Reds in the Rule 5 draft. Abernathy certainly was not the typical draftee found in the Rule 5 process, which is usually filled with minor-league or low-level major-league talent. By the end of the 1966 season, Abernathy was a 33-year-old, eight-year veteran coming off a -0.9 WAR year split between the Cubs and Braves. He rebounded nicely for Cincinnati in 1967, once again leading the league in saves (28) and compiling a 6.2 WAR score.
Another high-profile Rule 5 pick was southpaw Bo Belinsky. In 1962 Belinsky threw the first no-hitter in Los Angeles/California Angels history in just the fourth decision of his career, and instantly became a highly recognized Southern California playboy. Thereafter, Belinsky’s on-the-field performance varied between slightly above average to below average, but his off-the-field notoriety would continue, to the point of leading to what may have been the best quotation to come out of the Winter Meetings after the Astros selected him in the Rule 5 draft. As reported by Dick Young in The Sporting News, “Somebody mentioned that Houston isn’t exactly the swingingest city in baseball, and that Bo Belinsky might have trouble finding romance there. ‘Don’t worry,’ said Bob Lemon. ‘He’d find it in a monastery.’”9
The Kansas City Athletics selected left-hander Dave Roberts from the Pittsburgh organization after he led the Southern League in ERA, complete games, and shutouts while compiling a 14-5 record for the Pirates’ affiliate in Asheville, North Carolina. This pick is notable for two reasons. First, Kansas City returned Roberts to the Pirates before the 1967 season started. Second, although Roberts did not make his major-league debut until 1969, he went on to have a 13-year career with a career WAR of 22.2, the highest for any player selected in the Rule 5 draft at the 1966 meetings. In fact, Roberts and Abernathy were the only Rule 5 draftees that year whose career WAR, accrued after the draft, reached double digits.
The story was similar for the minor-league draft. Of the 53 players selected, only one turned in a notable major-league career. The Mets picked up a 19-year-old infielder out of the Red Sox organization. He would switch to the outfield but, after just 67 games in New York, was traded to the Kansas City Royals. Starting in 1970, though, Amos Otis blossomed into a five-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and one of the finest defensive center fielders of his generation who would finish with a career WAR of 42.6.
Looking at the set list for that final Beatles concert, one sees that only one song was recorded, released and reached number-one hit in 1966, “Paperback Writer.” The rest of the songs they performed drew from the band’s successes between 1963 and 1965, with the most appropriate song to describe the players who switched teams during the 1966 Winter Meetings being “Yesterday.” Like that final concert set list, the key players moved during the meetings had their greatest successes between 1962 and 1965 — an MVP, a Cy Young Award winner, league leaders in notable statistical categories, and multiple All-Star Game appearances — although 1966 All-Star Ron Hunt may be comparable to “Paperback Writer.” These players’ performance all had declined since their top seasons a few years earlier, with the acquiring teams hoping to recapture at least some of the players’ former stellar play.
Another aspect of the Beatles’ Candlestick Park concert was the absence of songs that hinted at the greatness of their future music. As Rolling Stone magazine highlighted,
“Much of their recent work was enhanced by backing musicians and innovative studio techniques, making it simply too challenging to perform given the technical limitations of a live setting. In fact, the Beatles would never play a single track off of their latest album, Revolver, released just days before they kicked off their dates.”10
The player transactions, too, did not reflect any future greatness. Any forthcoming successes would occur either several years after the 1966 Winter Meetings (e.g., Amos Otis’s career or Jim Hickman’s 1970 season) or were relatively short-lived (the 1967 seasons of Dean Chance and Ted Abernathy). In sum, the player transactions were not particularly forward-looking in purpose, but instead geared to Joe Brown’s approach of worrying about the present and not the future.
“Let me tell you how it will be. There’s one for you, nineteen for me.”
The Business of Baseball During the 1966 Winter Meetings
The 1966 Winter Meetings were in many ways more memorable for their business decisions, which made more of an impact on what happens on the field than most of the player transactions.
One of the most significant matters addressed during the meeting was the adoption of what was referred to as the “four-year college rule.” Prior to the rule, college-age players could be drafted and signed during the summers after their sophomore and junior seasons. The four-year college rule, made effective as of January 1, 1967, prohibited the drafting or signing of any college baseball player until after the final game of his senior year, subject to four exceptions involving players who (a) turned 21 before August 1 of their senior year, (b) completed their athletic eligibility, (c) had their school drop them due to scholastic reasons, or (d) quit school and remained out for 120 days.11 These exceptions left open the possibility that a player, most notably a 21-year-old, could still be drafted after his junior year.
The rule was the product of a working committee of major-league representatives (Chub Feeney of the Giants, John Quinn of the Phillies, Ed Short of the White Sox, and Dan Topping Jr. of the Yankees) and college athletic interests (including the NCAA president, the Big Ten commissioner, and representatives of smaller athletic conferences, college baseball coaches, and athletic directors). Danny Litwhiler, Michigan State University coach, noted, “College coaches owe a vote of thanks to the college-pro committee for work on the rule. College ball will become a much better training and screening facility for professional baseball.”12 Not all in Organized Baseball shared such an assessment, however. For example, the Orioles’ Harry Dalton believed that players who do not “enter O.B. until they are 22 seldom make good in the majors.”13 Nevertheless, the measure passed the National League by a 9-1 vote and was approved 6-3 in the American League. In the end, Commissioner William Eckert summed up the measure by citing the benefits to Organized Baseball “of working with the educational institutions and developing players in the summer college programs.”14
In an effort to bolster the economic well-being of the minor leagues, the major leagues adopted a proposal raised by Walter O’Malley, owner of the Dodgers, under which each major-league team would pay a $5,000 cash subsidy to its Triple-A affiliate, $3,000 to its Double-A affiliate, and $1,500 to its Single-A affiliate at the end of the 1967 season. The most notable aspect of the measure, though, was the manner of its passage. The National League approved the proposal unanimously, but the American League voted it down 6-4. Commissioner Eckert, reversing his position on a similar vote the year before, broke the tie between the leagues by supporting the proposal.
Organized Baseball took a number of steps during the Winter Meetings to support player development and baseball generally. For example, major-league owners approved a series of payments to college baseball summer leagues ($80,000), American Legion ($60,000), boys’ baseball programs ($50,000), Association of Professional Ball Players ($50,000), Mexican Youth Clinics ($8,000), American Baseball Congress ($7,500), Hall of Fame ($5,000), National Junior College Athletic Association ($5,000), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics ($5,000), and a study of high-school baseball ($25,000). This $295,500 in 1966 dollars would be the equivalent of a $2.2 million investment in the future of the game a half-century later. Similarly, the leagues approved continuation of their umpire development program. The leagues also tentatively approved Mexico City to host the 1967 winter meetings, following an appeal to do so by National Association President Phil Piton. Mexico City beat out Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Jacksonville, and San Diego as possible sites, and the drive behind the bid was, in the words of Mexican League President Antonio Ramirez, “to show what baseball means to another country.”15
The Winter Meetings also saw some rules and other changes affecting or reflecting what happens on the field. The National and American Leagues standardized two rules that had previously been different in the two loops. In one, pitchers were required to have their foot touching the rubber when receiving signals from the catcher, while in the other, managers would be permitted to make a second visit to a pitcher in an inning before being required to remove the pitcher from the game.16 In terms of roster moves, the required minimum time on the disabled list was extended from 15 to 21 days.17 The rules for determining a batting champion were changed as well: A player who did not have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting championship could become eligible by adding sufficient at-bats to allow the batter to reach the minimum number of plate appearances.18 And in the matter of designating awards, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America decided to honor a pitcher in each league with a Cy Young Award, changing the previous system under which a single award was granted for both leagues.19
The owners created a new business venture by forming the Major League Baseball Promotions Corp. (MLBPC). Following the lead of football’s National Football League Properties, MLBPC was designed to promote the nationwide distribution of baseball novelties. From this seemingly small-scale origin, MLBPC would later become Major League Baseball Properties, Inc. and, “with limited exceptions, the exclusive worldwide agent for licensing the use of all names, logos, trademarks, service marks, trade dress, and other intellectual property owned or controlled by the MLB Clubs, MLB’s Office of the Commissioner, and MLBP, on retail products.”20
But perhaps the most significant action taken in Pittsburgh regarding the business of baseball — as seen both at the time and in historical perspective — was the agreement between major-league owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association regarding the players’ pension system. The prior system, which was set to expire March 31, 1967, was funded by a combination of players, coaches, managers, and trainers, each of whom paid in $2 for every day he was in the majors ($344 annual maximum), and owners, who contributed 60 percent of the World Series radio and television receipts and 95 percent of the total revenue from the All-Star Game. The owners’ contribution had been averaging between $2.6 million and $2.7 million annually over the previous five years.
The new agreement reached in 1966, which extended the term to 1969, increased the owners’ contribution to $4.1 million annually. The availability of these additional funds stemmed from a new radio and television broadcasting contract signed with NBC and Gillette, covering the 1967 and 1968 World Series and All-Star Games. The new pension plan would produce a very tangible result for pension recipients, with benefits expected to double for retirees starting at the age of 50. In addition, the new plan called for a slate of additional benefits to players, managers, coaches, and trainers, including increased life-insurance coverage; increased aid to widows; increased assistance to permanently disabled recipients; and additional health-care benefits. The required player contribution to the pension plan ceased as part of the agreement, and instead, players were given the right to make an optional contribution that would be used to fund the expenses of the Players Association.21 With a 99 percent contribution rate among players, coupled with the hiring of Dick Moss as the union’s general counsel (announced during the Winter Meetings) and the establishment of permanent offices, the Players Association was now demonstrating its institutional stability.
The pension plan represented the first major concession by major-league owners to the Players Association under the leadership of Marvin Miller, who had been hired as its executive director earlier in the year. As a sign of matters to come, Miller’s focus in his comments to the media at the time were not on what they had accomplished, but rather what still needed to be done from the players’ perspective. Acknowledging that he did not “know of any comparable plan with comparable benefits,” Miller added, “But that does not mean there aren’t some areas for improvement.”22 Specifically, the players called for an increase of the minimum salary from $7,000 per year to $12,000. The proposal met with expected opposition by owners and no formal action was taken other than the formation of a committee consisting of Harry Dalton of the Orioles, George Selkirk of the Senators, Buzzie Bavazi of the Dodgers, and Bing Devine of the Mets to study the proposal.23
The songs that the Beatles produced in 1966, such as “Eleanor Rigby,” “Taxman,” and “Yellow Submarine,” were significant in their own right and reflected a maturing and diverging sense of musical exploration. Yet, their music that year did not indicate at the time what the group would produce next. Similarly, the business decisions made at the 1966 Winter Meetings were recognized as being important at the time and reflect, at least in hindsight, a maturing sense of the business of Organized Baseball. Yet, the effects of the decisions made in 1966 could not have been accurately predicted at the time.
Who knew at the time, for instance, that by establishing the four-year college rule, Organized Baseball was increasing standout high-school players’ leverage in negotiations? If a team could not sign a high-school player it drafted and he went to college instead, that player would usually not be eligible to be drafted again for at least three more years.
Who knew at the time that by trying to sell more novelties, major-league owners were creating an economic engine that could derive additional revenue and would market baseball at levels never previously attained?
And who knew at the time that by gaining concessions from the owners and institutionalizing the Players Association, Marvin Miller would be leading a change in how the game and business of baseball was played, managed, viewed by the public, and ultimately, in many ways, defined?
With the benefit of hindsight, one can see how these decisions laid the foundation for baseball’s future. In terms of who knew at the time, though, the title to one of the Beatles’ other songs from 1966 provides the answer … “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
1 For a review of the Beatles’ final concert in historical perspective, see Jordan Runtagh, “Remembering Beatles’ Final Concert,” Rolling Stone, August 29, 2016 (available at rollingstone.com/music/features/remembering-beatles-final-concert-w436179).
2 Clifford Kachline, “Everybody Happy After Majors’ Meeting: Pension Lift, New College Rule Hailed,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1966: 19. The Major League Winter Meetings were held in Pittsburgh while the Minor League Winter Meetings were held in Columbus, Ohio.
3 Bob Hunter, “Only 27 Remain of Dodger 1966 Training Roster,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1966: 25.
4 Les Biederman, “The O’Malley Denies Maury Had to Leave,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1966: 25.
5 Quoted in Les Biederman, “Wills Trade Triggered by Quail-Hunting Chatter,” The Sporting News, December 25, 1966: 25.
6 All WAR scores used herein are from Baseball-reference.com. The statistic was developed in the first decade of the twenty-first century, and scores cited here were determined retrospectively.
7 Bailey was sold by the Dodgers to the Expos on October 21, 1968. See “Transaction Information” at retrosheet.org/boxesetc/B/Pbailb103.htm.
8 Mincher actually replaced fellow Pilot Mike Hegan, who was originally selected as Seattle’s representative but could not play due to injury.
9 Dick Young, “Young Ideas,” The Sporting News, December 10, 1966: 14.
10 Runtagh. Rolling Stone ranked Revolver as the number-3 greatest album of all time.
11 Clifford Kachline, “Everybody Happy After Majors’ Meeting: Pension Lift, New College Rule Hailed,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1966: 19.
12 “Ree, Litwhiler Pleased With New College Ruling,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1966: 19.
13 “Everybody Happy After Majors’ Meeting.”
15 “Mexico City Tentative Site of ’67 Major-Minor Confabs,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1966: 19. Even though Mexico City was initially named as the “tentative” site, the 1967 winter meetings were in fact held there.
16 “Everybody Happy After Majors’ Meeting.”
18 “Spitball Proof Lacking, Says Rules Group,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1966: 24.
19 Dick Kaegel, “Dual Cy Young Prizes Okayed in Writer Vote,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1966: 21.
21 For a summary of the pension deal, see Clifford Kachline, “Players Land a Real Bonanza — 10-Year Men Pension Doubled,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1966: 20.