1975 Winter Meetings: The Threat of Free Agency and the Return of the Master Showman

This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf

This article was published in the


Baseball's Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016In an atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety, more than 1,400 officials, representatives, and executives of the major and minor leagues held their annual Winter Meetings in Hollywood, Florida, about a half-hour north of Miami, from December 8 to 12, 1975. Prepared to conduct business, entertain trades, and deliberate possible rule changes, many attendees wondered whether there would even be major-league baseball when big-league ballplayers were scheduled to report to their respective spring camps in three months. Arbitrator Peter Seitz’s decision on the legality of the reserve clause was expected soon after the meetings were scheduled to conclude. Baseball executives feared that a nullification of the clause, which had limited player movement for almost a century, would cast baseball into perpetual chaos. In addition, the Basic Agreement (the collective-bargaining agreement) between the major-league owners and the Players Association expired at the end of December.

Big-league baseball was coming off one of the most exciting World Series in history. The Boston Red Sox, who had captured their first AL pennant since the “Impossible Dream” team of 1967, faced the overwhelming favorite Cincinnati Reds. The Big Red Machine, winners of 108 games (a new NL record in the “live ball” era) and in its third fall classic in six years, seemed invincible with former MVPs Johnny Bench and Pete Rose as well as 1975 MVP recipient Joe Morgan leading the club. But when Boston’s Carlton Fisk blasted a dramatic 12th-inning walk-off home run to win Game Six and tie the Series, Game Seven at Fenway Park was assured. In that deciding contest, which according to some accounts was the most-watched baseball game in history with more than 51.5 million viewers, the Reds emerged victorious, 4-3.

Notwithstanding an exciting World Series, the 1975 season unfolded in what Robert F. Burk, in his groundbreaking biography Marvin Miller, Baseball Revolutionary called a “prelude to a reserve-clause showdown.”1 That previous December, Peter Seitz, who had had a 40-year career in arbitrating labor disputes, granted Oakland’s Catfish Hunter free agency, the first in baseball history, in light of team owner Charley Finley’s violation of the contract terms. Miller, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, recognized the perfect opportunity to challenge baseball’s revered reserve clause and paragraph 10(a) of the Uniform Player’s Contract, which gave baseball clubs the right to re-sign an unsigned player “for a period of one year on the same terms.” Pitcher Andy Messersmith of the Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to play the entire 1975 season without a contract; veteran hurler Dave McNally of the Montreal Expos, who had decided to retire after the 1975 season, also joined the litigation. The end of the reserve clause would signal the rise of free agency; questions about who could become a free agent, and when, would soon follow. Roger I. Abrams, in his essay “Arbitrator Seitz Sets the Players Free” in SABR’s Fall 2009 Baseball Research Journal, recounted that the players union filed a grievance on October 1, 1975, and hearings were held on November 21 and 25 and December 1.2 Seitz’s eventual ruling loomed as baseball’s 74th annual Winter Meetings got under way in Florida.

 

Rule 5 Draft: Dwindling Importance

Baseball executives began arriving at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood as early as December 4 for a light schedule of meetings on December 5 through 7 before the meetings got underway officially on December 8 with the Rule 5 draft of unprotected players in Triple A. After a high of 27 players were chosen in the 1967 draft at the Winter Meetings in Mexico City, the number of drafted players had dwindled to an all-time low of three at the meetings in New Orleans, in 1974. Business wasn’t much better in 1975, as only five players were taken, with a fee of $25,000 each, in a selection process that lasted just 10 minutes. Sportswriter Stan Isle suggested that the winter draft had lost its importance due to a “dearth of talent” in baseball and more “stringent economic policies” since the late 1960s.3 New York Timescorrespondent Joseph Durso noted that, a generation ago, one out of 22 professional ballplayers was in the majors; that number was one in six in 1975.4 Harry Dalton, GM of the Angels, offered a grim analysis. “There are no minor leagues to speak of and there aren’t enough good players,” he said. “Teams just don’t have enough money these days to operate farm systems.”5

 

Minor-League Draft: Another Record Low

Two days after the Rule 5 draft, the minor-league draft of Double-A and Triple-A players reached an all-time low of seven players. Only three big-league teams made selections. Hank Peters, president of the minor leagues (formally called the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues) noted that the number of players in Organized Baseball had declined sharply, with 800 fewer players expected to be under contract for the coming 1976 season than there were in 1970. “The lack of participation in the draft,” he suggested, “is related to the great reduction of free agent talent.6

 

Labor Disputes: Two Sides of the Basic Agreement and Pension Plan

The first collective-bargaining agreement between the Players Association and the major leagues was signed in February 1968, and others followed in 1970 and 1973. With their perceived loss in the Catfish Hunter free-agency ruling, the owners took a hard stance in negotiating a new Basic Agreement (which included language about minimum salaries, expenses, scheduling rules, and salary arbitration) to replace the one expiring on December 31, 1975. The two sides also had to agree on a new pension and benefit plan, set to expire on March 31, 1976.

While members of the Major League Player Relations Committee met in Hollywood to summarize negotiations already held and plan for the next rounds scheduled over the following weeks, player representatives from all 24 major-league teams met with union director Marvin Miller at the Americana Hotel in nearby Bal Harbour to clarify their positions and labor demands, and develop an effective strategy to achieve their goals. Few people, if anyone, expected a new Basic Agreement to be in place by December 31.

New York Times sportswriter Leonard Koppett reported that there was widespread speculation that owners would delay spring training and lock out players if no agreement was reached by the end of February, when camps were scheduled to open.7 Such a move would prevent players from striking when the regular season started. “I can’t tell what will happen, or what the clubs might do,” said Miller. “It is much too early to talk about something like that. Most of our meetings here will be devoted to bringing the players up to date in what has been proposed.”8

The players and owners both kept the deliberations of the meetings from the press as much as possible, save for sound bites. “We recognize the possibility that the clubs might decide on a lockout,” said Miller. “We’re proceeding on the basis that sincere bargaining will be carried out.”9 Players and owners alike recognized that Seitz’s decision in the Messersmith-McNally reserve-clause case would play a major role in how the two sides ultimately crafted the new CBA and pension contract. “Losing the case,” said an anonymous member of the Player Relations Committee, “would be a bigger defeat than winning it would be a victory.”10 No one knew how free agency would affect baseball, though some baseball owners viewed it as economic death. As Burk pointed out in his critically acclaimed biography of Marvin Miller, the players association and major-league owners were charged with the monumental task of determining “the optimal service threshold for free agency” of the new Basic Agreement.11

 

Bill Veeck Buys the White Sox … Again

“For the man with the mahogany leg, the tireless energy, and friends both well-heeled and needy,” wrote Richard Dozer of the Chicago Tribune about Bill Veeck, “it was a week of personal triumph.”12 Veeck, who had lost his leg during World War II, accomplished what seemed like a long shot just three months earlier by purchasing the Chicago White Sox — for the second time.

Veeck was no stranger to the major leagues. As SABR member Warren Corbett noted in his biography of the innovative owner, Veeck once said, “I am the only human being ever raised in a ballpark.”13 He got his start as a vendor with the Chicago Cubs, for whom his father, Bill Veeck Sr., served as president until he died in 1933. Veeck Jr. was eventually named treasurer before venturing on his own storied career as an executive who challenged the status quo. He owned the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association (1941-45), the Cleveland Indians (1946-1949), St. Louis Browns (1951-1953), and Chicago White Sox (1959-1961).

As the 1975 major-league season came to a conclusion, Veeck emerged as the leader of a group of approximately 40 investors interested in acquiring the 80 percent of the White Sox from majority owner John Allyn that Veeck had sold him in 1961. According to the Tribune, AL owners met with Veeck on December 3 in Cleveland, shortly before the winter meetings were to begin in Florida, to scrutinize the offer of approximately $8 million. Determining that Veeck’s original proposal was underfinanced and too debt-laden, owners gave him a seven-day grace period to obtain additional capital and restructure his financing, setting up a dramatic scene in Hollywood, Florida. Jerome Holtzman reported in The Sporting News that Veeck “barely” made the December 10 deadline.14 Technically Veeck did not fulfill the owners’ requirements. Instead of $6 million in cash reserves, Veeck had approximately $3.4 million in bank deposits, with the remainder in subscriptions for preferred stock. Owners voted 8 to 3 with one abstention in favor of the sale. Lacking one vote for the required three-fourths majority to purchase the club, Veeck, whose showmanship and carnival-like promotions had angered conservative owners during his three earlier stints as a big-league owner, seemed doomed.

As reported by The Sporting News, Veeck had a stroke of luck. John Fetzer, owner of the Detroit Tigers, concerned that the failure to sell the White Sox to Veeck might result in the franchise’s relocation to Seattle, made what Holzman called a “fiery speech.”15 Despite the validity of the first vote, the AL owners decided to vote again. Apparently moved by Fetzer’s cautionary words, they voted 10 to 2 in favor of Veeck’s proposal. “It’s gonna be a lot of fun,” said Veeck soon after learning about the positive vote, and then in a not-so-subtle reminder that the White Sox’ last pennant (1959) was on his watch, added. “Yes, even more fun that it was for us the last time.”16 Veeck wasted little time in remaking the White Sox front office. Assuming the title of president, Veeck named Bill DeWitt, one of the investors in the club, as chairman of the board. Veeck trusted his old pal and mentor, the 73-year-old DeWitt, who had sold the Browns to Veeck in 1951 and remained in the club’s front office. Veeck also corralled the highly respected Paul Richards, former GM of the Orioles, Colt 45’s/Astros, and Braves, as well as one-time White Sox skipper (1951-1954), into the management team, though his exact title was yet unknown. Many speculated that he might replace manager Chuck Tanner (which in fact he did). The Tribune reported that Veeck might have given Charley Finley, owner of the Oakland A’s, permission to speak with Tanner, and he eventually became the A’s skipper for the 1976 season.17

 

The Seattle Giants? The Toronto Giants? The Giants Remain in San Francisco for Now

Major-league baseball’s franchise committee had its work cut out in Hollywood. Its members — headed by Donald Grant, chairman of the New York Mets; John McHale, GM of the Montreal Expos; Bud Selig, president of the Milwaukee Brewers; Ewing Kauffman, president of the Kansas City Royals; AL President Lee McPhail, NL President Chub Feeney, and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn — were charged with finding a solution to the continued economic woes of the San Francisco Giants. Majority owner Horace Stoneham, who had moved the Giants from New York to what seemed like guaranteed prosperity in San Francisco in 1958, was on the verge of financial insolvency and was actively trying to sell the club. For the second consecutive season, and third in the last four, the Giants had finished last in the NL in attendance while playing in Candlestick Park, widely derided as the worst ballpark in baseball. “We’re still here,” quipped the septuagenarian Stoneham. “We’re broke. No sale is imminent, but something will have to happen soon. We have bids we are studying. We’re in motion.”18

The National League had infused the Giants with cash during the 1975 season to meet basic expenditures and salary obligations. At the Winter Meetings, the NL voted to continue its financial support of the club through December, and perhaps beyond. “We could carry San Francisco for many years,” bragged Dodgers GM Walter O’Malley, whose view seemed to reflect the sentiments of the franchise committee, which was committed to helping Stoneham sell the tradition-laden club, but only under certain circumstances.19 Labatt’s Brewery in Toronto offered $12 million for the club, believed to be at or above the asking price; however, the NL declined the offer when the Canadian concern stipulated that it would relocate the club to Toronto. There were at least three other potential buyers, including a group led by San Jose-based banker Merle Jones, who presented his proposal of a $10 million offer to owners at the Winter Meetings; Bob Lurie, whose group seemed to lack sufficient funds; and an offer from a syndicate based in the state of Washington.

The Giants weren’t the only team in the Bay Area experiencing financial duress. Charles O. Finley, majority owner of the Oakland A’s, had made it clear that rapidly rising salaries had made operating his club increasingly tenuous. Since relocating the A’s from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968, Finley had not enjoyed the financial success or the fan support he had predicted, despite three consecutive World Series championships (1972-1974).

Commissioner Kuhn, keenly aware of the critical financial predicament of these two Bay Area clubs playing in stadiums about 21 miles apart, thought Seattle could be a possible relocation destination for one of them. “In my judgment,” said Kuhn, “one must go. And I think that is the view of nearly all of us in baseball.”20 A relocation to Seattle would require either the Giants or A’s to initiate expensive litigation to break their lease with the owners of their ballparks.

Seattle was determined to land a big-league club, yet business and governmental leaders felt that the city had been continually betrayed. According to Leonard Koppett of the New York Times, Seattle had filled three conditions demanded by major-league baseball in order to be considered for a big-league club.21 They built a state-of-the-art stadium, the Kingdome; they had a financially sound group ready to purchase a club; and they agreed to drop all litigation against major-league baseball. The last point referred to a $20 million lawsuit Washington state Attorney General Slade Gorton had threatened to file against the AL and the Milwaukee Brewers, charging them with conspiracy in the relocation of the expansion Pilots to Wisconsin after just one season (1969) in the Pacific Northwest. Coincidentally, Bud Selig, a member of the franchise committee, had led Milwaukee’s efforts to land the Pilots.

It was a bad week for Seattle in Florida. An ownership group, led by Wes Smith and Danny Kaye, had attended the winter meetings prepared to buy the Chicago White Sox and move them to Seattle, but lost out when Bill Veeck came up with his last-ditch effort to buy them. The franchise committee, as well as the NL, seemed unwilling to let the Giants relocate to Seattle; and Finley apparently lacked the funds to engage in a protracted legal battle to do so. Seattle’s best chance of landing a team, according to most reports, was through expansion; however, major-league owners were reluctant to add teams with the player agreement expiring at the end of the month, impending free agency, and other economic factors. “There are no pledges, no commitments beyond good-faith efforts,” said Kuhn about expansion.22 Frustrated by a lack of transparency, Attorney General Gorton announced that he was prepared to proceed with his original lawsuit against the AL, scheduled to be heard as early as January 20, 1976. The New York Times’s Leonard Koppett summed up the franchise problems by opining that “business turmoil [is] virtually assured for 1976.”23

 

Major League Trades: Veeck Announces His Return

One of the most enduring stories of the 1975 Winter Meetings is Bill Veeck sitting at a desk in the lobby of the Diplomat Hotel. Next to Veeck was White Sox GM Roland Hemond, who famously placed the sign “Open for Business” on the table. Veeck and Hemond, who claimed they slept only four hours a day during the frenzied winter session, went on the trading offensive just hours after Veeck gained control of the club on December 10, making six deals involving 22 players in an attempt to give their club a decidedly youthful composition. The duo was also supported by Paul Richards; Chuck Tanner, who had piloted the club since 1970, left the meetings soon after Veeck was announced as the team’s new owner.

The White Sox sent left-handed pitcher Jim Kaat, coming off successive 20-win seasons, and minor-league infielder Mike Buskey to Philadelphia for right-handed pitchers Dick Ruthven and Roy Thomas and utilityman Alan Bannister. The following day they shipped third baseman Bill Melton, a former AL home-run champ and fan favorite, and right-handed pitcher Steve Dunning to the California Angels for outfielder Morris Nettles and first baseman Jim Spencer, setting up a final day of trading that evoked memories of former White Sox GM Frank “Trader” Lane of the 1950s. The club’s biggest acquisitions were right-handed reliever Clay Carroll from the Reds in exchange for southpaw reliever Rich Hinton and minor leaguer Jeff Sovern; and All-Star outfielder Ralph Garr (the 1974 National League batting champion) from the Braves for outfielder Ken Henderson, right-hander Dan Osborne, and Ruthven, whom the club had acquired less than 48 hours earlier. The White Sox also acquired infielder Larvell “Sugar Bear” Blanks from Atlanta in that trade, and then shipped him to Cleveland in exchange for infielder Jack Brohamer later that day. Roland Hemond, hoping to keep his job under his new owner, seemed to be in awe of Veeck. “His mere presence has changed me,” he said. “I’m basically a conservative person — or at least I thought I was — but being around Bill is a whole different experience. I can’t imagine doing these things a month ago.”24

All told, there were 23 deals involving 64 players at the winter meetings, and all but five teams (Brewers, Cubs, Dodgers, Orioles, and Twins) made at least one trade. The two New York teams were involved in arguably the three biggest trades of the meetings. The Yankees, whose principal owner, George Steinbrenner, was still serving a two-year suspension handed down by Commissioner Kuhn for illegal political campaign contributions, shocked the baseball world by sending All-Star outfielder Bobby Bonds, who had been acquired just a year earlier and had posted a record third season with at least 30 home run and 30 stolen bases,25 to California in exchange for right-handed pitcher Ed Figueroa and outfielder Mickey Rivers. The trade was widely panned by Yankee supporters and some members of the media; the Associated Press wondered if the Yankees “got their money’s worth.”26 Later that day, the Yankees shipped right-hander Doc Medich, winner of 49 games over the three previous seasons, to the Pittsburgh Pirates for second baseman Willie Randolph and pitchers Ken Brett (a lefty) and Doc Ellis (a righty). The Yankees were hoping to revamp a team scheduled to return to Yankee Stadium in 1976 after playing at the Mets’ Shea Stadium the previous two seasons while the venerable “House That Ruth Built” underwent extensive renovation, and they succeeded — Randolph and Rivers strengthened the team up the middle, Figueroa and Ellis won 36 games between them, and the team made the first of three consecutive trips to the World Series. The Mets, who had outdrawn the Yankees every year since 1964, sent fan favorite and dependable right fielder Rusty Staub and southpaw pitcher Bill Laxton to the Tigers for rubber-armed left-hander Mickey Lolich and outfielder Billy Baldwin.

 

The DH Rule: From Experimental to Optional

Prior to the Winter Meetings, sportswriter Bill Fleishman had predicted a “major battle” over the designated-hitter rule, which had been adopted as experimental three years earlier and had been used by the American League since 1973, and also by 13 of 16 minor leagues in the United States in 1975.27 The future of the DH rule was entrusted to the 10-member Official Playing Rules committee, which consisted of three members from the AL (Cal Griffith, owner and president of the Minnesota Twins; Rick Ferrell, vice president of the Detroit Tigers; and John Allyn, owner and president of the Chicago White Sox), three from the National League (Chub Feeney, league president; Joe Brown, GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates; and John McHale, president of the Montreal Expos), and well as three from the minor leagues (Bobby Bragan, president of the Texas League; George Sisler Jr., president of the International League; and Vince McNamara, president of the New York-Pennsylvania League). The committee was chaired by nonvoting member John Johnson, deputy to the commissioner. By a vote of 6 to 3, with all three dissenting votes cast by the NL committee members, the status of the designated-hitter rule was changed from experimental to optional. Furthermore, any league (including the NL) could implement the DH by a simple majority vote by its member teams, a change from the previous requirement of a three-quarters majority.28 Whereas Feeney, Brown, and McHale remained committed to prohibiting the use of the DH even in the minors, their AL counterparts sought to expand the use of the DH to include All-Star games and, importantly, the World Series. However, no action was taken on those points at the Winter Meetings. [At a subsequent meeting of the Rules Committee in 1976, a convoluted compromise was found. The DH was expanded to all games of the World Series, however, it would be used only in alternating years beginning in 1976. The DH was still prohibited in All-Star Games, and was not used in the midsummer game until 1989.

 

New Playing Rules: Avoiding Conflicts

The Sporting News correspondent Stan Isle reported that the Official Playing Rules Committee created a panel to study consolidating and standardizing rules of interpretation for major-league umpires.29 Members of the panel included the AL supervisor of umpires, Dick Butler; his NL counterpart, Fred Feig; and a representative from the minors to be named before the panel was scheduled to meet in January 1976. Reform was prompted by a controversial call in Game Three of the 1975 World Series. In the 10th inning, Cincinnati’s Ed Armbrister executed a sacrifice bunt and then collided with Boston’s catcher Carlton Fisk in his attempt to field the ball. Armbrister was safe at first on Fisk’s throwing error, and ultimately scored the winning run. Home-plate umpire Larry Barnett, who was then in the seventh season of a 31-year career as an AL umpire, did not call interference.30 Though the call was widely criticized, Barnett’s call was correct according to rule 7.06 (a). During the Playing Rules Committee’s session at the Winter Meetings, Dick Butler pointed out a glaring discrepancy. The scenario of a collision between catcher and batter was covered in the NL rule interpretation book but not in the AL’s book.31 Butler also noted a few other discrepancies between leagues that needed to be consolidated, such as how long NL and AL umpires must wait before they call games due to inclement weather. Another unusual difference between how leagues interpret rules could have come into play in Game Six of the World Series had Carlton Fisk been mobbed with fans as he ran the bases after his game-winning home run. According to AL rules, a batter must touch all bases; however, NL umpires are permitted to use their judgment if it becomes physically impossible for a player to touch all of the bases.

 

Signing Collegians: The First Change Since 1967

After meetings between the College Committee, headed by California Angels GM Harry Dalton, and an ad hoc group of the College Coaches Committee, chaired by Rod Dedeaux, head baseball coach at the University of Southern California, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced an amended rule permitting college baseball players to sign professional contracts between the end of their junior year and the beginning of their senior year. According to sportswriter Stan Isle, this was the first amendment to the college rule since1967, when college players were prohibited from signing.32 All 21-year-old collegians, and those who had completed their junior year, would now be eligible to be drafted in the June amateur draft. The rule banning Organized Baseball from signing collegians, including seniors, during the school year remained in effect.

 

Trading Deadline

Pending approval from the players association, the major leagues passed an amendment to establish a second interleague trading period, running from March 16 until 10 days prior to the opening of the regular season. A similar proposal was passed at the 1974 Winter Meetings, but it was vetoed by the players. The traditional interleague trading period, which began five days after the conclusion of the World Series and extended through the last day of the Winter Meetings, was not affected.

 

Public Relations Directors: Improving Fan Experience

On Sunday, December 7, public relation and promotion directors met to discuss issues ranging from All-Star Game balloting to televised broadcasts of games. Commissioner Kuhn hailed the All-Star balloting program as a “super-successful promotion” with more than 7.3 million votes cast in 1975.33 In 1970 fans regained the right to vote for the game’s starting lineups for the first time since 1957, but occasionally a bug was found. To eliminate confusion caused by player trades or position changes, the commissioner’s office decided to have the ballots printed at a later date in 1976. The public-relations directors for the AL (Bob Fishel) and NL (Blake Cullen) announced plans to publish fan versions of the leagues’ Red Book and Green Book, responding to an ever-growing demand for easier accessibility to printed matter about baseball statistics and history. Representatives from the ABC and NBC television networks also gave presentations about their baseball coverage for the coming season.

 

Minor League Baseball: Attendance and Leagues

At the opening session of the Winter Meetings, outgoing National Association President Hank Peters spoke at length about the state of the minor leagues. He noted that attendance rose by more than 575,000 from the previous year to 11,607,190, its highest mark since 1959, and the fourth consecutive season that attendance had passed the 11 million mark. In 1975 there were 18 leagues, including two in Mexico, with teams in 137 cities. Peters announced the addition of a 19th league, the eight-team Class-A Mexican Pacific League, for 1976. Only two minor-league teams disbanded (Salinas and Visalia of the Class-A California League) and one team moved (Cleveland transferred its affiliate from the Gulf Coast League to the New York-Penn League). Despite the positive news, Peters offered a stark warning: “There’s an alarming drop in talent flow coming into baseball, and for the first time, the National Association office found class AAA and AA clubs complaining because major leagues were not providing players.”34

 

National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues Banquet: Awards and Recognition

The National Association, established in 1902 as the umbrella organization of the minor leagues, hosted it 74th annual banquet, on December 9 at the Diplomat Hotel.35 Master of ceremonies Bobby Bragan, president of the Double-A Texas League and newly elected National Association president, greeted 1,200 guests for an evening of festivities, awards, recognition, and fun. Commissioner Kuhn, one of many featured speakers, called the National Association “the heart and soul of professional baseball.”36 The outgoing National Association president, and new Baltimore Orioles GM, Hank Peters, presided over an awards ceremony during which the Tacoma (Washington) Twins, Minnesota’s affiliate in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, were the big winners. Sportswriter Art Voellinger reported that the club received the two most prestigious awards presented by the minor leagues, the National Association Larry MacPhail memorial promotional trophy, and the National Association president’s trophy for its “overall operation and contributions to baseball.”37 Praised as a model club, Tacoma drew almost 200,000 fans to its games despite a population of about 156,000.38 Its GM, Stan Naccarato, received The Sporting News Triple-A Executive of the Year Award. In addition, each of the 18 minor leagues presented its executive of the year award. Former big-league pitcher and blues musician Jim “Mudcat” Grant and the Rhodes Brothers provided the entertainment.

 

Support for Amateur Baseball

The Sporting News reported that the Executive Council of the major leagues appropriated approximately $360,000 to support amateur baseball programs throughout the United States.39 Included among the 17 recipients were the American Legion, nine boys programs (such as Little League, Babe Ruth baseball, and the American Amateur Baseball Congress), college baseball leagues, and five college summer leagues.

 

Conclusion

With the Basic Agreement and players pension plan soon to expire, and the prospect of the end of the reserve clause and the rise of free agency, the Winter Meetings concluded with most of the pressing issues facing baseball still unresolved. The sale of the Chicago White Sox to showman Bill Veeck stabilized one club, but franchise situations in San Francisco and Seattle remained muddled and guaranteed that baseball executives would need to address those issues at the beginning of the new calendar year. The DH rule lost its “experimental” designation, but no long-term decision was reached, and its use in the 1976 World Series was still unclear.

Less than two weeks after the Winter Meetings concluded, an old order came crashing down when, on December 23, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that clubs could reserve a player for only one year, thereby granting free-agency status to Messersmith and McNally. Commissioner Kuhn immediately filed an appeal. Judge Watkins Oliver of the US District Court in Kansas City upheld Seitz’s ruling on February 4, 1976, and a month later, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals did the same. A new era had now dawned.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources listed in the notes, the author also consulted the following:

Isle, Stan. “Chisox Top Traders; Made Six Deals,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 34.

Isle, Stan. “Fans Skip Old-Timers in ‘Most Memorable’ Vote,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 36.

Voellinger, Art. “Majors Nix Hike in Minor TV Take,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 33.

 

Notes

1 Robert F. Burk, Marvin Miller. Baseball Revolutionary (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 176.

2 Roger I. Abrams, “Arbitrator Seitz Sets Players Free,” Baseball Research Journal, Fall 2009. sabr.org/research/arbitrator-seitz-sets-players-free.

3 Stan Isle, “Major Draft Reels In Only 5 Players,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 38.

4 Joseph Durso, “Only 5 Players Are Drafted as Baseball Meetings Begin,” New York Times, December 9, 1975: 55.

5 Ibid.

6 Art Voellinger, “‘Minors’ Draft Reflects Talent Shortage’ — Peters,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 38.

7 Leonard Koppett, “Players to Set Contract Plans,” New York Times, December 10, 1975: 35.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Burk, 183.

12 Richard Dozer, “Week of Triumph for Veeck,” Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1975: B1.

13 Warren Corbett, “Bill Veeck,” SABR BioProject. sabr.org/bioproj/person/7b0b5f10.

14 Jerome Holtzman, “Deluge of Sox Deals Signals Return of Veeck,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 41.

15 Ibid.

16 Dozer, “Week of Triumph for Veeck.”

17 Ibid.

18 Art Spander, “N.L. Will Call Pitches for Giants Until Sale,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 41.

19 Ibid.

20 Stan Isle, “Majors Still Grappling With Financial Problems,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 33.

21 Leonard Koppett, “Baseball Meetings End With Problems Unsettled,” New York Times, December 12, 1975: 50.

22 Isle, “Majors Still Grappling With Financial Problems.”

23 Koppett, “Baseball Meetings End With Problems Unsettled.”

24 Rick Talley, “Hemond, Peden, in crash course,” Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1975: B3.

25 Bonds posted two more 30-30 seasons before he retired.

26 Associated Press,“Bobby Bonds Shaken by His Trade to Angels, but Experts Say Yankees Are Improved,” Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Times, December 11, 1975: 13.

27 Bill Fleishman, “Majors on Collision Course Over DH Rule,” The Sporting News, November 22, 1975: 42.

28 Ibid.

29 Stan Isle, “Majors Continue Separate Paths on Use of DH,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 40.

30 Barnett received death threats for his failure to call interference.

31 Isle, “Major Continue Separate Paths on Use of DH.”

32 Stan Isle, “Kuhn Announces Okay of New College Rule,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 40.

33 Stan Isle, “Majors to Alter All-Star Nominating Setup,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 35.

34 Art Voellinger, “Mexican Pacific Loop to Hike Minors’ 1976 Total,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 34.

35 The name of the organization was changed to Minor League Baseball in 1999.

36 Art Voellinger, “Tacoma Twins Rendered Dual Honors at Banquet,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 40.

37 Ibid.

38 According to Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds., The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd ed. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, 1997), Tacoma’s attendance was 197,583.

39 “Majors Boost Allotment To 17 Amateur Groups,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1975: 34.

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