1970 Winter Meetings: Kuhn Thwarted

This article was written by Mark Armour

This article was published in the


Baseball's Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016Background

Unlike the turmoil of the previous few winters, baseball in December 1970 was relatively calm. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was secure in his job for at least the next five years, and the owners and players had agreed to a new CBA in May.

The 1970 baseball Winter Meetings were held in Los Angeles, from Sunday, November 29, through Saturday, December 4. The minor-league meetings were in the Biltmore Hotel, while the majors met at the Hilton.

 

Organizational Matters

One of the significant proposals at the meetings was an attempt by the American and National Leagues to force the National Association (the minor leagues) to relocate its offices from Columbus, Ohio, to New York City, where it would report directly to the commissioner. Phil Piton, who had served as National Association president since 1964 and was set to retire in another year, was opposed, as were both of the league presidents. “Although the majors and minors are engaged in the same primary activity,” said Piton, “they differ importantly in that the minor leagues — still comprised largely of independently owned clubs — have the secondary responsibility of furnishing the principal development ground for the players destined to appear on major league diamonds.”1

Commissioner Kuhn urged the minor leagues to support the move, which was passed by the major leagues. Piton openly asked how the league owners had so freely voted to move the minor-league offices when they had resisted moving the two league offices to New York, as their own planning committee had recommended.2 In the end, no agreement was reached to move either the National Association offices or the two league offices. Although restructuring had been trumpeted when Commissioner Eckert had been fired at the 1968 meetings, the ensuing two years had brought no significant changes in the organization of the game.3

The owners did agree that, beginning in 1971, some weekday World Series and League Championship Series games could be played at night. “The networks are intrigued,” said Kuhn, “in terms of potential ratings, with the possibility of telecasting … in prime time. We’re also exploring the possibility of blacking out the home city in the championship series.”4

Although plans to combine the two leagues’ umpire staffs into one group were tabled, the leagues did agree to reduce some of the differences between the two groups. “It has been agreed that there will be effort to achieve uniformity in technique and field position as soon as possible,” said Commissioner Kuhn.5

 

Rule 5 Draft

On November 30, the major leagues held their annual Rule 5 draft, and it took just 18 minutes for seven clubs to make eight selections. “Frankly, there’s very little on the draft list,” admitted Yankees general manager Lee MacPhail.6

Of the eight players selected, the best known was Joe Foy, selected by the Senators from the Mets. Foy had enjoyed three good seasons as the third baseman for the Red Sox (1966-68), including as a starter on their pennant-winning 1967 team. Lost in the 1968 expansion draft to the Royals, he was traded at the 1969 Winter Meetings to the Mets for outfielder Amos Otis and right-handed pitcher Bob Johnson. The acquisition of Foy had been considered a key one for the Mets, but just one year later they took him off their 40-man roster.

The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Cecil Cooper, a 20-year-old Single-A first baseman, from the Red Sox. After he failed to make the Cardinals the next spring, he was returned to the Red Sox organization.

 

Rule Changes

Several proposals for rule changes were rejected at the Playing Rules Committee meetings. During the 1970 season a few rule changes were tried out in the minor leagues, including the designated hitter (Eastern League), an intentional walk without needing to throw four balls (New York-Penn League), and expanded foul lines (Gulf Coast League). In the latter experiment, the foul lines bent outward 3 degrees once they crossed the bases. All three experiments were deemed unsuccessful and were terminated. However, the committee did approve experimentation with wild-card runners in the minor leagues for the coming season.7

Charlie Finley, owner of the Oakland Athletics, submitted proposals for colored bases, colored foul lines, and a 20-second clock used to limit time between pitches. All three suggestions were rejected.8

On the positive side, the committee passed a rule to require the use of batting helmets, beginning with the 1971 season. Players who had worn a cap liner (the previous requirement) in 1970 would be allowed to continue to do so. Further, Class-A and Rookie League players would have to wear helmets with an earflap.9

A rule regarding players interacting with fans was relaxed. Previously, players could not talk with fans or give autographs once batting practice started, but now they could do so up to 30 minutes before the start of the game. This was part of Kuhn’s initiative to bring the fans closer to the game.10

Rule 5.09B was amended to prohibit baserunners from advancing if the home-plate umpire interfered with a catcher. In Game One of the most recent World Series, umpire Ken Burkhart had become entangled with Baltimore catcher Elrod Hendricks in a controversial play.11

Similarly, the use of the disabled list was expanded. Previously a team could have as many as three players disabled at a time — two for 21 days and one for 60. Now a team could also disable a nonpitcher for 15 days, making it permissible to have a total of four at a time.12

 

Player Dealing

On the first day of the meetings the California Angels made a six-player deal with the White Sox. For the Angels, fresh off an 86-win season and hoping to compete, the key acquisition was center fielder Ken Berry, a fair hitter but a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder whom the Angels would play between batting champion Alex Johnson and the newly acquired Tony Conigliaro. “As far as I’m concerned,” said Angels general manager Dick Walsh, “we now have a player of record at every position.”13 The White Sox, winners of just 56 games, were rebuilding, and landed catcher Tom Egan, right-handed pitcher Tom Bradley, and outfielder Jay Johnstone.

The Boston Red Sox traded infielders Mike Andrews and Luis Alvarado to the White Sox for veteran shortstop Luis Aparicio. Andrews had become expendable with the October pick-up of Doug Griffin from the Angels. With the acquisition of Aparicio, the Red Sox planned to move Rico Petrocelli to third base, George Scott back to his natural first base, and Carl Yastrzemski back to left field. “We believe these deals give us a chance at the pennant next season,” said general manager Dick O’Connell.14

In a six-player deal, the World Series champion Baltimore Orioles acquired right-handed pitcher Pat Dobson from the San Diego Padres. The Orioles boasted three 20-game winners — Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, and Jim Palmer — in 1970, and planned to use Dobson as their fourth starter. The Orioles brass loved Dobson. “He never got a chance to pitch regularly before,” said Baltimore general manager Harry Dalton. “That was his problem.”15

One of the more significant player transactions involved star relief pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm, who was traded from the Cubs to the Braves for minor-league first baseman Hal Breeden. The right-handed Wilhelm, a future Hall of Famer, had been sold from the Braves to the Cubs on September 21 to help in the division race — the Cubs were two games behind the Pirates in the NL East, while the Braves had long been eliminated in the West. Wilhelm pitched just three games for Chicago before being sold back in December. The situation was suspicious enough that the commissioner investigated. “I’ve satisfied myself that Wilhelm was traded unconditionally by Atlanta to Chicago with no side agreements,” reported Kuhn.16

 

Awards Banquet

On Friday evening, December 3, baseball held a huge banquet at the Beverly Hills Hotel, an event much like the Academy Awards show.17 The 1,200 attendees paid $50 apiece.18 The event was filmed for a 90-minute special edition of the Merv Griffin Show that aired on December 9. Griffin hosted the event as a replacement for an ailing Bob Hope. Hall of Famers present included Carl Hubbell, Joe Cronin, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Casey Stengel, and Roy Campanella. Award winners included:

  • Johnny Bench, player of the year
  • Bob Gibson, pitcher of the year
  • Brooks Robinson, defensive player of the year
  • Willie Mays, for best typifying the game on and off the field
  • Danny Murtaugh, manager of the year
  • Harry Dalton, executive of the year
  • Roger Freed (Rochester), minor-league player of the year

The World Series trophy was presented to Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger. Special awards were given to Charley Segar, retiring secretary-treasurer of baseball, and Phil Piton, president of the National Association. Astronaut James Lovell, representing the President’s Council on Health and Physical Fitness, recognized Sadaharu Oh, and Tokyo Giants President Toru Shoriki. 19

 

Miscellaneous

Faced with a growing concern about drug use in baseball, the owners created the Association of Professional Baseball Physicians. The group, made up of team doctors, was to share information about the care and upkeep of their players, in particular the use of medicine and the distribution of drugs. “Frankly, we don’t condone the use of drugs as stimulants,” said Dr. Leonard Wallenstein of the Orioles, who was named as the group’s president. “In general practice, our trainers are provided with non-addictives that are relatively harmless.”20

Robert Short, owner of the Washington Senators, informed the American League that he might have to move the Senators if he could not get some relief with his ballpark lease. AL President Joe Cronin said the league would work with Short and local officials on the problem.21

Emmett Ashford, the first African-American to serve as a major-league umpire, announced his retirement at the meetings. He had umpired the recent World Series, and thought that a fine way to go out. “Now there are some black umpires in the programs below the majors,” he said, “and I’m proud I was the first.” His one regret was that it took him so long to get to the majors (age 51) that he got to umpire for only five years. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said he had talked with Ashford about a public-relations role with the commissioner’s office.22

George MacDonald Sr., longtime president of the Gulf Coast League and the Florida State League, was crowned the “King of Baseball” at the annual National Association awards banquet. Also on the dais were several entertainers, including singer Dinah Shore and comedian Phil Silvers.23

In the annual meeting of publications directors, the All-Star voting procedure was discussed. Baseball had returned the vote to the fans in 1970 and had used computerized ballots. The group agreed to change the number of players on the ballot at each position from six to eight (per league), and also agreed to further discuss allowing fans to vote on the starting pitchers. Joe Reichler, the major leagues’ PR director based in the commissioner’s office, reported on the success of the Pitch, Hit, and Throw competition, held for the first time in 1970, and said that it would be held again in 1971. Five clubs reported that they would discontinue “bat day” because the bats were being used to hurt people and property.24

In the PR directors meeting, Lee Walburn of the Braves reported on his club’s use of a computerized statistics program in 1970. He claimed great efficiency at a lower cost, and said it would be expanded in 1971. All clubs were welcome to use the system.25

David Dixon, the executive director of the (under construction) New Orleans Superdome, was on hand to make the case for New Orleans as a big-league city, hosting a large cocktail party for Kuhn and the owners, attended by notables like Ernie Banks and Stan Musial. Dixon was open to an existing team moving there, but he also pitched the idea of sharing a team, envisioning the Baltimore-New Orleans Orioles or the Minnesota-New Orleans Twins. His proposal called for New Orleans to host the spring-training season, and then hold up to 40 regular-season games, especially in the cold-weather bookends of the season. “The New Orleans domed stadium,” said Louisiana Governor John J. McKeithen, “is going to be the greatest building in the world.”26

 

Conclusion

As the winter meetings closed, the biggest news might have been the failure of Commissioner Kuhn to accumulate more power. The umpires remained under the league presidents, and both the league offices and the minor-league offices would remain outside New York City.

The biggest news out of the meetings was Bob Short’s news that he might have to move the Senators. Having just gone through a trying ordeal with the Seattle Pilots in 1970, it looked like the American League had more internal discord ahead.

 

Notes

1 Stan Isle, “Piton Sounding Battle Call Against Moving Minors’ HQ,” The Sporting News, December 5, 1970: 32.

2 Ibid.

3 Stan Isle, “Majors Balking at Unifying Proposals,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 33.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Stan Isle, “Short and Sweet: An 18-minute Draft,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1970: 47.

7 Stan Isle, “Wild-Card Hitter Experiment Junked,” The Sporting News, December 12, 1970: 48.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ben Henkey, “Majors Ease Up on Ban — Fan-Player Chats Okayed,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 35.

11 Associated Press, “Proposals Rejected,” Hartford Courant, December 2, 1970: 33.

12 Ibid.

13 Ross Newhan, “Berry Fits Into Angel Pennant Scheme,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 37. The Angels also received infielder Syd O’Brien and right-handed pitcher Billy Wynne.

14 Larry Claflin, “Big-Dealing Bosox Counting on Griffin,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 41.

15 Phil Jackman, “Pat Dobson Acquired to Fill No. 4 Spot on Oriole Staff,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 38. The Orioles sent three right-handed pitchers — Tom Phoebus, Fred Beene, and Al Severinsen — plus promising young shortstop Enzo Hernandez to the Padres. Right-handed pitcher Tom Dukes accompanied Dobson to Baltimore.

16 Jerome Holtzman, “Wilhelm Deals Were on Up-and-Up, Kuhn Says,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 37.

17 Stan Isle, “Bench, Gibson Share Top Laurels at Plush Party,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 33.

18 Stan Isle, “Fans May Pick the All-Star Pitchers,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 34.

19 Ibid.

20 Stan Isle, “Team Medics Examining Drug Usage,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 32.

21 Isle, “Majors Balking at Unifying Proposals.”

22 Stan Isle, “Kuhn May Hire Ex-Umpire Ashford,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 32.

23 Ben Henkey, “MacDonald Crowned ‘King of Baseball,’” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 33.

24 Stan Isle, “Fans May Pick the All-Star Pitchers.”

25 Ibid.

26 Stan Isle, “Big League Team in New Orleans,” The Sporting News, December 19, 1970: 35.

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