This article was written by Mark Armour
This article was published in the
The 1967-68 offseason was launched in October when Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley was granted permission to move his team to Oakland, California. When Kansas City officials threatened legal action, the American League hastily announced plans on October 18 to add new teams in 1969 in both Kansas City and Seattle. The National League was caught off guard, having believed that the two sides had an agreement to work together on any future expansion or relocation plans. Instead, the American League planned to place a team just across the Bay from the National League’s San Francisco franchise, and also in Seattle, considered a plum baseball city.
After holding an emergency meeting at Chicago’s Executive House on November 13, the NL agreed to allow the AL plans to stand without further protest. The league owners put off expansion plans of their own, but change was inevitable. “The question,” said New York Mets Chairman Donald Grant, “is no longer whether we’ll expand — but when.”1 The league agreed to discuss this further at the coming winter meetings.
The 1967 major-league winter meetings were held in Mexico City from Sunday, November 26, through Saturday, December 2. During his opening remarks, Commissioner William Eckert said he was delighted to be in Mexico, to “further the friendship and good relations between our two countries.”2 He stressed the importance of the minor leagues to the health of baseball, and particularly noted that the minor leagues would play a large role in the coming expansion.3
The managers and general managers came to Mexico with proposals for several new rules changes to speed up the game. In addition, the usual frenzy of trading was expected — the interleague trading period was limited to November 20 to December 15.
Rule 5 Draft
On November 28 the 20 teams held their annual Rule 5 draft. The first choice, by the Oakland Athletics, was 22-year-old right-handed pitcher Ed Sprague, who had played for Class-A Modesto in the Cardinals farm system.
The most familiar chosen names were infielder Chuck Hiller, drafted by the Pirates from the Phillies, and outfielder Sandy Valdespino, drafted by the Braves from the Twins. Ultimately, though, the most important choice was catcher Elrod Hendricks, taken by the Orioles from the Angels. In the minor-league phase of the draft, the Senators chose infielder Toby Harrah from the Phillies, a choice that would pay big dividends for many years.
One of the biggest stories in baseball in this period was a rampant use of the spitball. It was believed that dozens of pitchers used the pitch, and in September 1967 Mets right-hander Cal Koonce had publicly admitted to doing so. The spitball had been deemed illegal since 1920, but umpires had little means of enforcement. “The publicity over the spitball has always been bad,” said White Sox GM Ed Short. “There was that feeling of cheating about it. We certainly didn’t think it did the game any good.”4 The clubs felt they had to either give the umpires more authority or legalize the pitch.
On November 27 the team owners unanimously recommended to the Rules Committee support for a rule to penalize pitchers for putting their hands to their mouth. Later that very day, the committee announced that a first violation would cause the umpire to warn the pitcher, and the second would result in his ejection. “The new rule will help baseball 100 percent,” said Mets manager Gil Hodges. “It’s a great step forward and I’m all in favor of strict enforcement. Pitchers should not be allowed to go to their mouths. That’s where the trouble comes in.”5
Other Rules Changes
Teams also agreed to a number of measures to speed up the game. Umpires were asked to ensure that mound conferences between the pitcher and catcher be curtailed, that batters run back to the plate after a fouled bunt attempt, and that pinch-hitters be already on the bench when the previous batter completed his time at bat, which would eliminate a pinch-hitter from running in from the bullpen. More interestingly, teams were asked to use golf carts to bring relievers in from the bullpen. The Yankees had long refused to use them, but said they would now comply. A committee of general managers and managers was formed to look into and suggest other rules to speed up the game.6
After some debate, the owners outlawed deals involving “players to be named later” during the season. If such a deal was made in the offseason, all players must be identified prior to the start of the subsequent season. Because the National League supported the new rule and the American League did not, Commissioner Eckert cast the deciding vote and sided with the NL.7 As an illustration of what the new rules would prevent, the Baltimore Orioles were still owed players from the Yankees for lefty Steve Barber (dealt during the 1967 season) and the Phillies for right-hander Dick Hall (traded in December 1966, a full year before).
The major leagues agreed to reduce Opening Day rosters to 25 men. Previously teams could carry three additional players until May 15. Many GMs argued that these three players just sat on the bench when they could be playing in the minor leagues. The minor leagues also supported this new rule.
Baseball passed another new rule that barred a club that released a player after August 31 from re-signing him until May 15 of the following season. This rule was to keep teams from using this tactic to free up a roster spot in the offseason. The Yankees deployed this trick with Whitey Ford after the 1966 season. Usually a veteran player is in on the ruse, but when the Houston Astros released Felix Mantilla in November 1966, they assured the infielder they would have a place for him in the spring; however, he thwarted the plan by signing with the Cubs in February.
Hereafter, any player under contract would be required to pass through irrevocable waivers before he could be released. This rule came about because of a situation involving Kansas City outfielder Ken Harrelson. After a dispute with owner Finley in August 1967, Harrelson was summarily released, making him a free agent in the heat of the pennant race. Three days later the Red Sox signed Harrelson to a $150,000 contract. Had the new rule been in effect, Harrelson would almost certainly have been claimed by another AL team and continued under the terms of his old contract.
The clubs further agreed that any incentive bonuses and college scholarship payments that were part of a player’s contract would be transferred with the contract if the player was traded. Previously these obligations remained with the club that negotiated the terms into the original contract.8
Two new scoring changes were approved. First, a scorer was given the authority to use his discretion if a batter bunts with runners on base — if the scorer believes the batter is trying for a hit but is thrown out, he should not award a sacrifice. Second, if a runner is trapped off base and reaches the next base without an error, the scorer can award a stolen base.9
The American League approved, for spring training only, an early form of what would later become the designated-hitter rule. If a manager “designated” a pinch-hitter before the game, the player would be allowed to pinch-hit twice in the game (but not in the same inning).10
After much internal debate, the National League “unanimously, if grudgingly” voted to expand by two teams by 1971. “We were hoping they would expand at the same time as us,” said AL President Joe Cronin, “and maybe they will yet, but there is nothing we can do about it if they don’t.”11 The American League had previously decided to expand to Seattle and Kansas City in 1969.
The National League received formal applications from representatives of Milwaukee, San Diego, Dallas-Fort Worth, Buffalo, Toronto, and Montreal, and an informal one from Denver. San Diego, considered a strong choice, had already lured longtime Los Angeles executive Buzzie Bavasi to sign on as one of its owners. Bill DeWitt, a longtime executive with several clubs, was working with the Buffalo group.
The AL, meanwhile, awarded its Seattle franchise to Pacific Northwest Sports Inc., a group led by Pacific Coast League President Dewey Soriano, his brother Max, and Bill Daley, former board chairman of the Indians. The group said that Sick’s Stadium, longtime home of the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League, could be temporarily expanded to 30,000 seats and that construction on a new stadium would begin by 1970.12
The American League owners also heard presentations from four groups hoping to land the Kansas City franchise, and promised to decide between them in January. One of the leading contenders was Ewing Kauffman, president of Marion Laboratories, who, unlike the other Kansas City groups, wanted to buy the entire team with his own money.
The AL also established some details of the expansion draft, to be held in October 1968. Each of the new clubs would be able to select three players from each existing team (a total of 30 players for both Kansas City and Seattle) at a cost of $175,000 per player. The clubs were also required to pay $100,000 to join the league, bringing their initial expenditures to $5.35 million each. In addition, the new clubs would also be required to begin contributing to the player pension fund immediately, but would not be allowed to share in the TV deal for three years.13
Although no blockbuster trades were made in Mexico City, there was enough activity to keep the newspapers filled for a few days.
Starting things off, the Mets acquired catcher J.C. Martin from the White Sox, completing a deal that began in August when they sent third baseman Ken Boyer to Chicago. The Mets also sent right-handed pitcher Bill Denehy and $100,000 to Washington to complete their October acquisition of manager Gil Hodges.
The Dodgers traded catcher John Roseboro and relief pitchers Ron Perranoski (a southpaw) and right-hander Bob Miller to the Twins for right-handed pitcher Mudcat Grant and shortstop Zoilo Versalles. Just over two years earlier, all five men had played key roles for their clubs in the 1965 World Series, but now all would be wearing the opposing uniform. The Dodgers had fallen from first place to eighth in 1967, and manager Walter Alston thought they needed a shortstop most of all. His new shortstop, Versalles, was bitter at the deal: “I’ll tell you one thing — they’re going to miss me.”14 Roseboro was more sanguine: “If you have to go, it’s nice to be going to a pennant contender.”15
The Dodgers also sold infielder Gene Michael to the Yankees. New York general manager Lee MacPhail had hoped to land a more established starting infielder and was prepared to trade a frontline starter, but he had to settle for Michael, a 29-year-old utilityman.
The Baltimore Orioles traded shortstop Luis Aparicio and outfielders Russ Snyder and John Matias to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Don Buford and right-handed pitchers Bruce Howard and Roger Nelson. Aparicio, who had become expendable with the emergence of Mark Belanger, was thrilled to be returning to Chicago.
The Red Sox, in search of pitching help to back Jim Lonborg, traded minor-league outfielder Bill Schlesinger to the Cubs for veteran righty Ray Culp. Manager Dick Williams said he would put Culp right behind Jim Lonborg in the rotation.
The Cleveland Indians dealt Chuck Hinton to the Angels for Jose Cardenal, in a swap of veteran outfielders looking for a fresh start.
The Major League Players Association held their annual meetings in Mexico City as well, with player representatives of all 20 teams present. Drama ensued when the union was told that the owners’ Player Relations Committee would not have time to meet with them. The union had made numerous proposals to the owners several months earlier and negotiations had been, in the view of Executive Director Marvin Miller, needlessly slow. “We were told further discussion would be needed in Mexico City,” said Miller. “The only reason the players are here is to conclude the negotiation.”16
The players responded by holding a press conference to lay out the state of the negotiations. The owners claimed to be surprised at the misunderstanding, and said that they never believed there would be time to meet with the players. Most of them claimed that it was much ado about nothing. Atlanta general manager Paul Richards, on the other hand, was more pointed: “Somebody’s lying. And I don’t think it’s the owners. If this guy continues these kinds of antics we might just have to get in the gutter with him.”17
At their press conference, the players announced that Miller had been given a new contract, through 1970, signaling that the owners could not avoid dealing with the controversial leader. The owners agreed to meet with the players in a couple of weeks in New York.18
The National Association (the minor leagues) also held their annual meeting, and crowned Mexico City Tigers owner Alejo Peralta, who led the effort to bring the Mexican League into Organized Baseball, as the “King of Baseball.” The group also awarded the Larry MacPhail Trophy, as club of the year, to Rochester of the International League.
At the annual meeting of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the group rejected a proposal from Hal Middlesworth of Detroit to rename the Most Valuable Player Award the Player of the Year Award. It was believed by many that the name of the award created confusion every year.
At the annual meeting of team public-relations directors, a committee was formed to plan for an expanded film bureau. All clubs were asked to put together film packages of great moments in their histories.
Paul Richards, the Braves’ general manager and a former catcher, proposed moving the pitchers mound back five feet, to 65 feet 6 inches, to help the batter. This was in response to offensive levels being at their lowest since before World War I.
In the National League meeting, Astros President Bill Giles suggested that each club select a candidate for a “Miss Baseball” beauty contest.
C.C. Johnson Spink, publisher of The Sporting News, proposed that baseball begin to keep a Game Winning RBI statistic, with a formula to be determined.
The two most pressing issues facing baseball at the end of the 1967 Winter Meetings were the need to finalize expansion plans in each league, and the need to continue and complete negotiations with the players union on what would be the first-ever Basic Agreement. Both issues seemed likely to conclude soon.
1 Jerome Holtzman, “N.L. Owners Unload Weapons, Vote Against a Fight for Seattle,” The Sporting News, November 25, 1967: 30.
2 Stan Isle, “Eckert Cites Key Role for Minors,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1967: 33.
4 Milton Richman, “Majors Start Speed-Up, Clean-Up Campaign,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1967: 33.
7 The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide — 1968, 203.
8 Dick Kaegel, “ ‘Mystery Player’ Trades Outlawed,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1967: 30.
9 The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide — 1968, 204.
11 Stan Isle, “Foot-Dragging N.L. Agrees to Expand,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1967: 29.
13 The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide — 1968, 180-81.
14 Bob Hunter, “Can Zoilo Instill Go-Go in Dodgers?” The Sporting News, December 16, 1967: 36.
15 Arno Goethel, “Ermer Engineer of Trade, Says Shook-Up Zoilo,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1967: 36.
16 Charles Green, “ ‘Somebody’s Lying,’ Charges Richards,” Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia), December 1, 1967.
18 Dick Kaegel, “Player-Owner Friction Mounting Rapidly,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1967: 31.