1972 Winter Meetings: Calm Between Storms

This article was written by Mark Armour

This article was published in the


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

The 1972 baseball Winter Meetings played host to over 1,300 people at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii, from Saturday, November 25, through Friday, December 1. “It looms as the largest in history,” said Jack Quinn, general manager of the Pacific Coast League’s Hawaii Islanders, “and it marks the first time that all convention activities will be held at the same hotel.” Quinn also noted that there were more wives in attendance than usual. “After all, who wants to miss out on a trip to Hawaii?”1

At the annual midweek National Association banquet, 1,300 guests feasted on a nine-course Chinese dinner. Several of the speakers pitched Honolulu as a big-league city by 1975. “We in baseball are mindful of the success here in Hawaii,” said Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. “We have watched this success with interest, and will continue to do so.”2

In his annual state of the game speech, Kuhn lamented the past year, which included the first-ever player strike. “There is very little place in baseball for that kind of activity, and every effort is being made to insure that such a catastrophe will not occur again,” the commissioner said.3

 

Rule 5 Draft

In the annual major-league draft, big-league clubs claimed a record low of six players, five of them pitchers, for the $25,000 price. The first choice went to the Philadelphia Phillies, who took 21-year-old right-handed pitcher Mike Bruhert, who had won five games in Single A for the New York Mets in 1972.

Infielder Bob Gallagher, whom the Red Sox selected from the Dodgers the previous December and had gone 0-for-5 in limited action in 1972, was left unprotected again and went to the Astros.4

 

Rule Changes

The Playing Rules Committee rejected an American League proposal to use a designated pinch-hitter in 1973. The AL had voted 12 to 0 to make the proposal and Commissioner Kuhn backed the plan, intended to combat baseball’s decreasing run scoring. However, Kuhn decided not to use his tiebreaking power on such a significant rule change. The committee did allow the AL to use the DH in spring-training games.

But the DH rule was approved for all three Triple-A leagues. In addition, the Double-A Texas League was given permission to use an eight-man batting order (removing the pitcher). “Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has expressed serious concern with the decline in hitting and urged the committee to study the problem and not confine experimentation to a few lower-classification leagues,” said John Johnson, rules committee chairman.5

(Postscript: In early January the American League requested another joint meeting, this time to request permission to use the DH rule in the AL only. The NL voted no, but this time Kuhn supported the AL. “I hope it works,” he said after breaking the stalemate. “I would have preferred that both leagues did it. But if it’s successful in one, then I hope the National follows suit.”6)

The Cardinals made a request for adoption of an unspecified tiebreaking procedure that would decide games knotted after 12 innings. This request was tabled.7

 

Player Relations

Having endured a two-week player strike in April, the owners and players since October had been negotiating a new collective-bargaining agreement, designed to replace the one that would expire at the end of December, as well as a new pension agreement to replace the one that would expire on March 31. On November 29, Commissioner Kuhn publicly announced the owners’ proposals.8 (The players were meeting separately in the Bahamas that week.)

  • A player with five years of service would become a free agent unless offered a contract of at least $30,000. A player with eight years of service would require $40,000. This was the first time the owners had offered any sort of free agency, as limited as it was.
  • Players with 10 years of service, including five with their current club, could not be traded without the player’s consent.
  • At the end of every year, each club would make three players from its active roster available to be drafted for $35,000. This would give a player a chance to move to a team that would play him more.
  • A reduction in the active roster, from 25 to 23, and a corresponding reduction in the list of players under each team’s control, from 40 to 38.
  • A continuation of the owners’ $6 million contribution to the benefit and pension plan (the root of the conflict this past April). Original members of the pension plan (those inactive since 1956) would receive an increase in benefits.
  • The minimum salary would be raised from $13,500 to $15,000. Cost-of-living increases would be made to all player allowances, and the size of the World Series pool would be boosted.

“I can’t anticipate the reaction of the Players Association,” said Kuhn, “but early indications are that they consider it not adequate.”9

On December 1, in a telephone interview, Miller claimed that Kuhn’s press conference went against an agreement Miller had made with chief negotiator John Gaherin not to disclose bargaining details in public. “I consider Kuhn’s action misleading, very destructive and mischievous,” said Miller.”10

Kuhn announced that joint talks would continue in New York in a week’s time.

 

Player Dealing

By the end of the Winter Meetings, 21 clubs had made 19 deals involving 68 players. Only the Red Sox, Expos, and Brewers failed to make a deal.11 Although the trades generally lacked the star power of the previous December, several well-known players did change uniforms.

The New York Yankees went into the offseason hoping to land a hitter. “[Manager] Ralph [Houk] and I honestly believed that we were one good hitter away from being a contending ballclub,” said general manager Lee MacPhail.12 After trying and failing to land Frank Robinson from the Dodgers, the Yankees acquired outfielder Matty Alou from the Athletics for infielder Rich McKinney and left-handed pitcher Rob Gardner. Matty would be joining brother Felipe in pinstripes.

A few days later MacPhail struck again, dealing catcher John Ellis, infielder Jerry Kenney, and outfielders Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres to the Indians for star third baseman Graig Nettles and catcher Jerry Moses. Spikes was the big loss, a coveted prospect and the jewel of the Yankee system. “I’m not worried about youth,” said Houk. “I’m going out to get (the pennant) this season.”13

The California Angels traded infielder Ken McMullen and ace right-handed pitcher Andy Messersmith to the Los Angeles Dodgers for veteran outfielder Frank Robinson, infielders Billy Grabarkewitz and Bobby Valentine, and right-handed pitchers Bill Singer and Mike Strahler. “I’ve been close to Robinson a long time,” said California general manager Harry Dalton, who had the All-Star in Baltimore. “Any time a man takes you to four World Series, you’ve got to be close to him. Sure, he’s 37 years old and he’s not the same player he was five years ago. But he’s still a superstar.”14

The Chicago White Sox traded right-handed pitcher Tom Bradley to San Francisco for outfielder Ken Henderson and right-handed pitcher Steve Stone. White Sox manager Chuck Tanner was ecstatic about getting Henderson, who could play center field and hit. “With Henderson out there, our pitching is going to look even better than it did before,” he said.15

The Reds traded outfielder Hal McRae and righty pitcher Wayne Simpson for outfielder Richie Scheinblum and right-handed pitcher Roger Nelson. An unusual aspect of this deal was that Scheinblum was coming off an All-Star season in which he finished sixth in the AL in batting, but would now be a reserve outfielder. “Richie isn’t walking into a regular job with us,” Reds manager Sparky Anderson admitted. “We’re simply going to wait and see how Scheinblum fits in.”16

The Atlanta Braves traded 24-year-old catcher Earl Williams, the 1971 National League Rookie of the Year, and minor-league infielder Taylor Duncan to the Baltimore Orioles for right-handed pitchers Pat Dobson and Roric Harrison, second baseman Davey Johnson, and catcher Johnny Oates. Williams had hit 61 home runs in his two seasons of play, which is why he commanded such a huge outlay. “We weren’t jumping over barrels to get rid of him,” said Braves general manager Eddie Robinson. “Williams is a fellow who could hit a lot of home runs in his career, and he is a leader type.” But Robinson wanted a catcher who was better with pitchers, and he believed Oates fit that bill.

As for the Orioles, the deal reflected significant team needs — a catcher, and power — and their surplus pitching and infield talent. Their best young player, Bobby Grich, would finally have the second-base position all to himself.

The Mets sent veteran outfielder Tommie Agee to the Astros for outfielder Rich Chiles and pitcher Buddy Harris. Agee had been New York’s regular center fielder for five years but had balked at sharing playing time with Willie Mays, acquired in May, and had asked to be traded.17

 

Miscellaneous

Both New Orleans and Seattle, with domed stadiums due to open in 1974, sent delegations to Honolulu in support of gaining a major-league team. However, Commissioner Kuhn said there was “no discussion whatsoever of further expansion.”18 Along the same lines, Kuhn said that no progress had been made regarding the prospects for Washington, which had lost its team a year earlier.

Three proposals to increase the pool of playoff teams were offered. All three were withdrawn before voting.19

  1. Each league’s playoffs would include the first- and second-place finisher in each division. The first-place team would play the second-place team in the league’s other division, and the winners would face each other in the League Championship Series.
  2. The playoffs would consist of the division winners plus the two best remaining teams regardless of division.
  3. Leagues would be restructured into three four-team divisions, with the three division winners and best second-place team advancing to the playoffs.

The National League approved a joint proposal, made by Houston, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, to modify their artificial playing surfaces to include the basepaths, as was already in place in Cincinnati and San Francisco. The NL also recommended that white lines be painted on the surface to delineate the separation between “infield” and “outfield” in all parks. This proposal was discussed but not voted on.20

The Triple-A leagues announced a few affiliation changes, the most significant involving the Red Sox. Their Louisville affiliate (International League) was informed late in the season that its expired lease for Fairgrounds Stadium would not be renewed for 1973, so that the park could be reconfigured for University of Louisville football. The Red Sox instead awarded their International League affiliation to the Rhode Island city of Pawtucket, population 70,000, which would become the smallest city in Triple-A baseball, but was part of a metropolitan area of well over a million population and was less than 50 miles from Fenway Park.21

The Major League Executive Council approved a budget of $337,500, an increase of $18,000, for the promotion of amateur baseball. About half of that would go directly to boys programs, like the American Legion, and much of the rest to college tournaments. The group also decided to produce a movie with a “Baseball Wants You” theme, to be shown to high schools and colleges.22

 

Conclusion

The biggest story of the 1972 winter meetings was not technically part of the agenda. Kuhn’s public announcement of the state of the labor negotiations brought this issue back before a public still reeling from the April strike. And the comments from the players suggested that another strike could be in store for 1973.

 

Notes

1 Fred Borsch, “Hawaii Lures Record Turnout,” The Sporting News, December 2, 1972: 34.

2 Ben Henkey, “Hawaii Makes Pitch for Major Status,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 42.

3 Ibid.

4 Stan Isle, “A New Low — Majors Draft Only Six Players,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 45.

5 Stan Isle, “New Designated-Hitter Test Asked in Triple-A,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 43.

6 Joseph Durso, “American League to Let Pitcher Have a Pinch-Hitter and Stay In,” New York Times, January 12, 1973: 25.

7 Ibid.

8 Stan Isle, “Kuhn Spells Out the Terms of Owner Offer to Players,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 41.

9 Ibid.

10 Ralph Ray, “Miller Calls Kuhn’s Action ‘Disruptive,’ ” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 41.

11 Richard Dozer, “Only Three Fail to Make Trades,” Chicago Tribune, December 3, 1972: E9.

12 Jim Ogle, “Yanks Look for One Good Hitter — and Get Two,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1972: 42.

13 Ibid.

14 Dick Miller, “Angel Deal Leaves Winkles With Jigsaw Puzzle,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 47.

15 Edgar Munzel, “Now Chisox Have Thunder, Plus Lightning,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 48.

16 Earl Lawson, “Scheinblum Likely Red Bench Rider,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 51.

17 Jack Lang, “Mets Dissolve ‘Mobile Unit’ in Favor of Question Mark, The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 56.

18 Stan Isle, “Record Swapping Spree at Honolulu,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 42.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Ben Henkey, “Pawtucket New I.L. City; Division Play Considered,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 44.

22 “Majors Will Contribute $337,500 to Amateurs,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1972: 46.

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