1909 Winter Meetings: If It Takes All Winter

This article was written by Marshall Adesman

This article was published in the Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1901-1957


Moving into 1909, change was in the wind. All ballparks had been, up to that point, made of wood, but Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, and St. Louis’ rebuilt Sportsman’s Park opened that year as baseball’s first steel-and-concrete facilities.1 More umpires were hired so that the majority of big-league games would now feature two arbiters, the better for keeping the peace as well as making it more likely that the correct call would be made.2 And the Reds experimented with night games, allowing a semipro team to use lights to play a game in its park after dark.3

But the 1909 season will always be remembered by one shattering event.

Harry Pulliam was a Kentucky native with an eclectic background. He was a law school graduate who chose to write for a newspaper in Louisville rather than practice law, and he also served for a time in the Kentucky Assembly.4 Somewhere along the way he made the acquaintance of Barney Dreyfuss and joined his organization, first as secretary of the Louisville Colonels (then in the National League), and later as president of the team, which moved to Pittsburgh and became the Pirates. Pulliam has been described as an idealist, a dreamer, a lover of solitude and nature.5 He was known to be sensitive and a gentleman in a sport where being rough and tough was a hallmark.

Pulliam’s health suffered in February of 1909, and he decided to take a leave of absence. Pulliam was back at his desk by late June of 1909, but he “lacked his usual effervescence.”6 One month later he left the office early, saying he wasn’t feeling well, went back to his apartment, and put a bullet in his head. He was just 40 years old, and baseball canceled all games on August 2 as a tribute to him.7 They also made Heydler – who filled in during Pulliam’s leave of absence – the interim president, and scheduled a new election for the winter meetings.

The Calm Before the Storm

The minor leagues were relatively unaffected by these events, and proceeded with their Winter Meetings, which began on November 8 in Memphis, Tennessee, the first time that the NAPBL had held their annual convention in the South.8 Of the 37 leagues that made up the organization, 19 were present.9

Business was brisk in Memphis from the very first day. Mike Sexton, the minor leagues’ president, appointed a committee to revise their bylaws. John Farrell, secretary of the organization, gave a report that included a lot of numbers: there were now 257 member cities; the American League had drafted 86 players in 1909, 9 more than the National League; 484 players had been suspended and another 11 declared ineligible, while 161 men were reinstated. And the owners of the Wichita team in the (Class A) Western League won a judgment in a case involving a pitcher named Hunt, who had been purchased by the Boston Doves (the name used for a time by the National League club as a paean to owner Dovey).10

The next day the executives got down to serious business, foremost of which was admitting the California State League into the NAPBL. This league had been considered an “outlaw,” operating outside the purview of Organized Baseball; today we would simply call it an independent. The agreement that brought them into the fold allowed each team in the league to keep all of their players, even those who had violated their previous reserve clause contracts. Most players were bound to play in the league for two seasons, but a few of them were tied to the newly-assigned Class-D association for four full years. Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Stockton were admitted as member cities, and one other town (which would prove to be San Jose) would be named later.11

The Class-B Northwestern League was also heard from on this day. Officially they argued that, because of their unique Pacific Northwest location, they ought to lose only one player to each Class-A league and no more than two to the major leagues, but in reality they were angling to be “re-zoned” as an A league, which at the time was the highest level in the minors. Their request was referred to committee and – no doubt to their regret – they never did get to advance.12

Drafting of players was a topic at a great many conventions during the early part of the twentieth century, and the 1909 meetings were no exception. The President of the Class-B Central League, Dr. Frank Carson, stumped to have major-league teams pay the same price for any players they drafted, regardless of classification. At the time a player from a higher level cost more, but Dr. Carson argued that if a Class-C athlete, for instance, was considered to be draft-worthy by a big-league general manager, then that elevated his status and the price ought to go up accordingly.

This idea was also referred to committee;13 it is unlikely that the majors ultimately looked very favorably upon this suggestion. Meanwhile, the Class-C and D leagues petitioned the minors to allow them to keep drafted players until their seasons had concluded, as opposed to the rule in effect at the time, which required those players to be delivered on August 23. This also went to committee, as did Dr. Carson’s idea that if a player had not returned his signed contract by a to-be-determined period of time, he would incur a fine.14

Dr. Carson was also involved in one more piece of business, which had to do with possible re-districting. The Presidents of the Central, Ohio-Pennsylvania (Class C), Ohio State, and Pennsylvania-West Virginia Leagues (the latter two were in Class D) were to get together to see if, perhaps, there were too many teams in too close proximity to one another.15 Those discussions would bring about the demise of the Pennsylvania-West Virginia, the move of Mansfield from the Ohio State to the Ohio-Pennsylvania, and the addition of three new towns into the Ohio State.

Day Two ended with a birth and a re-birth. The Virginia Valley League was admitted to the Class-D ranks, with teams in Charleston, Huntington, and Parkersburg, West Virginia, plus Ashland, Kentucky.16 An interesting side note about this league was that the 1910 pennant was won by the Huntington club, managed by Cy Young, who was still able to find the time to get into 21 games, and throw 163 innings, for Cleveland.

Despite a rumor to the contrary prior to the start of this gathering in Memphis, Mike Sexton was re-elected as president of the NAPBL. It was a position he held for the next 24 years.17

The final day saw a flurry of activity. The minors leagues in effect renewed themselves as an organization for another 10 years, and they passed a rule requiring players to formally be under contract before they could play in a game; while this may seem obvious to us today, at that time different leagues had different rules that basically gave ballclubs the ability to “test-drive” players for a week or two.18 In another contractual matter, it was decided that any player who broke the signed agreement with his team would be suspended for five years.19

Several more new leagues sprang into existence. Based in Santa Ana, the uniquely-named Southern California Trolley League became part of the NAPBL’s Class-D level, but despite fielding two teams in Los Angeles and four others nearby, they only wound up playing a handful of games before disbanding.20 The Southwest Texas League was also admitted as a D-level loop, and they lasted for two full seasons.21 Other attempts, however, never fulfilled their promise. Despite receiving NAPBL approval that included applications from six towns, an Iowa league did not get off the ground, and the same fate met would-be entrepreneurs in both Pennsylvania and Mississippi.22

Charles Murphy, owner of the Chicago Cubs, came to Memphis to arrange for spring training for his team, and he announced that they, along with Cleveland, would spend most of their time working the kinks out in New Orleans before barnstorming their way north.23 And the final order of business was choosing a site for the minor leagues’ 1910 Winter Meetings, and the lucky winner proved to be Chicago, which out-polled Louisville.24

There Are Battle Lines Being Drawn

As was the custom of the day, both major leagues met separately, with the National League convening in New York on December 14 and the American League gathering at the Hotel Wolcott, also in New York, the next day. With no major issues on the docket, Ban Johnson’s group expected to take care of all its business in a single day.25

The Senior Circuit, however, could not make that statement. Since Pulliam’s suicide, a triumvirate of NL owners had banded together to try and make sure the “right man” would be selected as the new president. What parameters were being considered? Just one — according to the New York Times, all this trio wanted was a leader who did not back his umpires, as Pulliam had done and as Heydler had done in his short time in office.

Ebbets of the Dodgers, Brush of the Giants, and the Cubs’ Murphy wanted someone “they can influence on this umpire question as in the old days…when it was possible for certain umpires to be barred from working in some baseball parks by the President of the League at the request of managers.”26

Curiously, the person they had chosen to carry their flag was someone who had been a thorn in the side of ownership just 20 years before – John Montgomery Ward. The former infielder and pitcher had helped to organize perhaps the first union in professional sports, the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, and also the Players League, which had been formed as a challenge to the National League and its salary cap.27 The league, however, only lasted for one season (1890), and after his retirement Ward became a practicing attorney who at times represented players in their lawsuits against baseball.28 Despite this track record, however, Messrs Ebbets, Brush, and Murphy apparently felt he would be a malleable leader.

Barney Dreyfuss of the Pirates and Herrmann of the Reds were the primary owners stumping for Heydler’s election, with Herrmann by far the most outspoken. Arriving in New York several days ahead of the Winter Meetings, he said that Heydler’s consistent backing of his umpires had given the public great faith in his administration and had therefore lifted baseball to “a high standard.”29 He thought that the objections raised against Heydler were “silly,” and went on to say that “it looks … as if some of the managers wanted to go on the diamond and umpire their own games … (e)ven then some of them would not be satisfied.”30

Dovey and Stanley Robison, owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, aligned themselves with Dreyfuss and Herrmann, which meant that Heydler needed just one more vote to be elected, and that vote resided in Philadelphia. Which is exactly what Murphy wanted.

Even to this day no one can be quite sure if, and why, the Cubs’ owner hated Heydler. When asked point-blank why he was opposed to retaining the league president, Murphy “rose to heights of indignation…and said that it was none of the public’s business.”31

This was a typical statement by the often blunt and obstinate Murphy, whose teams were perhaps the best in the history of the franchise but whose actions, machinations and words earned him numerous enemies throughout the game and made him (along with John McGraw), “the most hated man in baseball.”32

He was, however, also very well connected. He had begun his professional career as a sportswriter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, which was owned by Charles Taft, the older half-brother of William Howard Taft, the future 27th President of the United States and 10th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.33 Murphy and Taft struck up a lifelong friendship, which led to his becoming sports editor of the newspaper, which led to a rapport with New York Giants owner Brush and his eventual purchase of the Cubs in 1905, made possible by a $100,000 loan from Taft.34 And when the Phillies franchise became available, Murphy and Taft made sure that it was bought by a group headed by another former sportswriter, Horace Fogel.35

A Pennsylvania native, Fogel worked for newspapers in Baltimore and Philadelphia, as well as Sporting Life, a weekly publication that was a competitor to The Sporting News for more than 30 years. Fogel also briefly managed two major-league teams, including the New York Giants, but his career mark of 38-72 attests to his skill on the bench. He was not much of an evaluator of talent, either, as he auditioned 21-year-old Christy Mathewson at both first base and the outfield.36 After Fogel’s dismissal, Mathewson went back to the mound for good.

Back in the newspaper business, Fogel was described as “a loudmouth front-runner with little-to-no credibility…and (who) often feuded with players in print,”37 yet somehow he was able to come up with the $500,000 necessary to purchase a major-league ballclub. Despite repeated denials, speculation quickly focused on Murphy and Taft being the true source of the money,38 and their reasoning became apparent when Fogel aligned himself with the anti-Heydler, pro-Ward faction, which deadlocked the vote.

Despite the fact that this matter had nothing whatsoever to do with his teams, American League president Johnson decided to throw gasoline on the already-smoldering fire. He told reporters that he and all eight AL owners were firmly opposed to Ward, citing the 1903 case involving infielder George Davis, who had jumped from the Giants to the White Sox when the fledgling AL was offering lucrative contracts to NL players.

Davis went to court, where his legal counsel was none other than Ward.39 Even though the American League won the case and Davis wound up concluding his career in Chicago, Johnson had not forgotten the incident and was obviously holding a grudge.

He told reporters that he could not work with Ward, that the “good will between the leagues would be a thing of the past…,” and it could foment a new internal baseball war.40 Charles Comiskey, owner of the White Sox (and Johnson’s hunting buddy) and Charles Somers of Cleveland both agreed with their leader, with Comiskey stating flatly, “I am absolutely for war. I can’t see how we can avoid it…I think a little war now and then helps the game…”41

This, then, was the backdrop as the National League owners arrived at New York’s famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. There was, of course, other business on the docket. The Boston Doves, for instance, signed a new manager by pirating Fred Lake away from the cross-town Red Sox,42 while another manager chose to stay put: in spite of rumors that he would retire, Fred Clarke signed a multi-year contract to remain at the helm of the Pirates, for a salary reported to be $15,000 per year.43 Another personnel matter to be disposed of involved pitcher Bill Torrey, who was being claimed by both the Giants and Reds, as well as the Springfield club of the (Class B) Three-I League and an outfit named the Logan Squares of Chicago.44

There were issues on the agenda that would be debated by both major leagues, headlined by the possibility of lengthening the schedule to 168 games. The Cubs’ Murphy brazenly predicted that both leagues would adopt the longer season, which would open around mid-April and end in mid-October and still leave enough time for the World Series.45 Yet Pittsburgh’s Dreyfuss objected, saying he had no interest in playing 168 games and would, in fact, favor a reduction in the number of contests.46

There was also much talk about banning both the spiked shoe and the spitball. A representative from the Class B Three-I League was scheduled to demonstrate a new device that was said to be blunt and would therefore not cut another player, yet was strong enough to dig into the dirt.47

But Grillo of the Washington Post correctly predicted “it is not at all likely that any change will be made in the rules … (i)t is generally admitted that to do away with the spike will … make the game slower … accidents resulting from the wearing of spikes are really very few … players are spiked simply because they are clumsy.”48

Meanwhile, the spitball was also causing a great deal of discussion. In a poll of more than two dozen sportswriters, nearly 60 percent favored abolishing the pitch, while the rest were evenly divided between those who wanted to keep it and those who really had no strong opinion either way.49 A year earlier Pulliam had advocated against the pitch, and now Frank Chance, the Cubs’ player-manager, came to New York to try and have it banned.50 It would, however, be another decade before the spitter was declared illegal.

The owners also were casting at least furtive glances towards Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The Barons, a (Class-B) New York State League team, had purchased a pitcher, Joseph Pelequin, from the Allentown team,51 paying $300 in cash along with a $200 promissory note. When Allentown did not receive the balance, they went to court, and Wilkes-Barre filed a most unusual defense, saying that “the sale of a baseball player is (in) direct violation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution,” thus not making them liable for the remaining $200.52 The Thirteenth Amendment famously prohibits slavery, so the Barons were, in effect, telling the court that they shouldn’t have to fulfill their financial obligation because they were engaging in an unconstitutional practice. In an editorial, the Washington Post prophesized that “professional players may one day learn definitely what their rights are under the thirteenth amendment.”53 That day, however, would not come for more than six decades.

The Phillies seemed to be everywhere. In addition to all the speculation as to whose money was behind Fogel, another matter occupied the owners in the early phase of the meetings. The Philadelphians had been in New York on October 4 for a doubleheader and, after dropping the opener, a brouhaha occurred in the nightcap. With the score tied at one in the fourth inning, right-hander Lew Moren complained when one of his pitches was called a ball. The argument grew heated and Moren was tossed out of the game, along with his catcher, Red Dooin, and second baseman Otto Knabe. The two position players, however, refused to leave the playing field, which resulted in the game being forfeited to the Giants.54

Not content with the sweep, the Polo Grounders asked the league to extract $1,000 from the Phils, no doubt to make up for lost revenue, since the game was not official at the point of forfeiture. The league took the matter under advisement, but did rule that the three players would be ineligible to play in 1910 unless they paid the fines that had been levied upon them.55 Since all were Phillie regulars in 1910, it is fair to assume the league received their money. Dooin, in fact, became the player-manager after Fogel fired Billy Murray, who actively lobbied for his job in New York by brandishing his contract, which still had two years to run. Despite a winning record and published sympathy from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times56, Murray was not retained and never managed in any league again.

Meanwhile, Just A Couple Of Blocks Away …

The eyes of baseball may have been on the National League and their contentious presidential election, but the American League also had a meeting of their own, which commenced a day after the senior circuit’s festivities began. And while they were anticipating a concise, one-day affair, they were going to have to deal with an important issue during their time at the Hotel Wolcott.

The basic business was relatively easy. A committee consisting of President Johnson and two league owners – Frank Navin of Detroit and T.C. Noyes of Washington – was charged with drawing up a new agreement to perpetuate the league and to revise their constitution.57 A team’s active roster was set at 25 players from May 1 through August 20, and 35 players from August 20 until the following May 1.58 And though more noise was made about a 168-game schedule, the AL voted to continue playing 154 games.59

Johnson also placed his pet peeve – barnstorming – on the docket. A common practice of the time, it consisted of players getting together and playing exhibition games in small towns all around the country once the World Series had concluded. The reason for doing this was simply to earn extra money, since salaries were very low in those pre-union days. Owners hated barnstorming because it just increased the chances for injuries, but rather than pay their players enough money to keep them at home, they sought to end the practice via the rulebook, and Johnson was happy to carry the ball, proposing that players be under contract to their teams for a full 12 months, which would obligate them to receive permission to barnstorm, an OK they were not likely to receive because, as Johnson said, “it cheapens our game.”60

Nothing, however, can be more damaging to the sport than an accusation of cheating. The New York club, then known as the Highlanders, had been a mediocre squad in 1909, finishing fifth with their 74-77 record, 23 ½ games behind Detroit. But they had a terrific September, posting a championship-caliber record of 20-11. Was it simply a salary drive? Not according to Joe Cantillon and Hughie Jennings, managers of the Senators and Tigers, respectively. Cantillon believed that the New Yorkers were involved in a “wigwag scheme” – stealing signs from opposing catchers – and was happy to say so publicly.61

Future Hall of Famer Jennings decided to investigate when his team went east in late September, and he sent a couple of people to check out all the nooks and crannies of their upper Manhattan ballpark. One of those “detectives” was trainer Harry Tuthill, and he noticed that “the crossbar in the ‘H’ of a Young’s Hats sign in center field was changing colors.”62 A closer look produced the reason: a man, outfitted with a pair of binoculars, was sitting up there and, using a lever and a mirror, was letting New York batters know if the next pitch would be a fastball or not.63

Highlander manager George Stallings and Johnson had been enemies for almost a decade, and now it appeared as if the AL prexy could drop the hammer on his foe. Instead, when the season ended, it was Cantillon who lost his job. Now, in truth, that was primarily on merit: the Senators had a record of 158-297 in Cantillon’s three seasons, including a 110-loss campaign in 1909. But the official reason given for his dismissal was disloyalty to the (Washington) organization, a charge which upset him enough that he demanded complete vindication or else he would go to court.64

Unlike the civil war taking place over at the Waldorf, however, Johnson was able to contain this potential stink. Unwilling to butt heads against two of his stronger franchises (New York and Detroit), Stallings and the Highlanders were allowed to skate,65 and Cantillon received his complete exoneration.66 A former minor-league infielder and major-league umpire, Cantillon remained in baseball as a minor-league owner and manager, though he never did return to the big leagues.

One thing these meetings lacked was player movement. Only two deals of any note were made, both by New York. The Highlanders acquired journeyman catcher Lou Criger from the St. Louis Browns in exchange for outfielder Ray Demmitt and right-hander Joe Lake, who was the only one from this trio to have any semblance of success in 1910, winning 11 games with a 2.20 ERA, though he did also lose 17 times. The New Yorkers also sold infielder and former manager Norman “Kid” Elberfeld to Washington for $5,000.67 This was rumored to be the precursor to a much larger deal, one in which 22-year-old right-hander Walter Johnson – a 25-game loser in 1909 despite a 2.22 ERA – plus catcher Charles “Gabby” Street, would move to the Big Apple.68 Nothing came of it, however, and Johnson would turn around and win 25 in 1910, the first of 10 straight 20-game seasons for the Big Train.

However, as always, there were some good rumors going around. One of them had outfielder George Stone, the 1906 American League batting champion, plus an unnamed Browns teammate, heading to the White Sox for right-hander Frank Smith, a 25-game winner in 1909.69 Another had infielder/outfielder Freddy Parent moving from the White Sox to Cleveland in exchange for infielder George Stovall;70 both proved to be unfounded. There were, however, a few deals made with minor league clubs, with perhaps the most notable being Pittsburgh’s acquisition of first baseman Jack Flynn from St. Paul of the (Class-A) American Association.71 Flynn would take over for Bill Abstein, who was waived to the St. Louis Browns and who was out of the majors by 1911.

Minor League Interlude

The minors made a bit of news while these major-league meetings were being held. Henry Berry, president of the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League, was hoping to force the resignation of Danny Long as league secretary. Berry was upset with the shoddy way in which the PCL’s final statistics were distributed to newspapers in league cities, as well as with the league utilizing the field manager of the San Francisco Seals in an administrative capacity, and was hoping to push Long out the door, but he was not successful at this time.72

Also in the PCL, former major-league infielder Harry Wolverton was hired to manage the Oakland Oaks.73 This would be the first of eight seasons in which Wolverton would lead clubs out on the west coast, though he would have less success when he went east in 1912, losing 100 games as the skipper of the Highlanders.

A couple of other minor league clubs brought in new field leaders. Ed Ashenbach, who had managed Altoona in the Tri-State League, was tapped to take over Syracuse in the New York State League, while another Tri-State man, George Heckert, simply moved from Harrisburg to Trenton.74 Meanwhile, back in the New York State, Scranton owner E.J. Coleman reportedly offered his managerial job to three people – Sam Strang, Monte Cross, and Hugh Hearne, with former big-league shortstop Cross accepting the position.75 And there was talk that the American Association would be bringing back Joseph O’Brien as its president after a one-year hiatus, but that proved to be nothing more than talk.76

The Ghost Of Merkle

Dennis Pajot has already thoroughly described the charge that the two umpires who worked the October 8, 1908 “playoff” game (the Merkle follow-up), had both been offered a bribe. (See the chapter on the 1908 Winter Meetings.) The matter threatened to explode again at the 1909 meetings.

While the public had been told about the bribe attempt, the official conclusions were kept secret until the spring of 1909, when Harvey Woodruff of the Chicago Tribune broke the story.77 But unlike today, when a cable media volcano would have erupted, the matter just withered and died. And Dr. Creamer, after threatening to sue everyone for defamation of character, quietly accepted his banishment and retreated from the spotlight and returned to his medical practice.78

But then Ban Johnson told reporters that he had “considerable new evidence” in the case, information that included different names and proved that Dr. Creamer was “merely a scapegoat for others.”79 And then … nothing more was ever said!

So was there really new evidence and, if so, what was it? Assuming Johnson, arguably the most powerful man in the game at the time, really knew the truth, why would he issue a teaser like that and then stay quiet? Was he, perhaps, using his knowledge to try and influence the National League’s choice of a new president, as intimated in a Chicago Tribune article?80 We shall never know.

And Now For The Main Event

As if he were firmly perched in the eye of a hurricane, Heydler began the second day of his league’s meetings with a “State of the League” report. He told the assembled executives that attendance and gate receipts had virtually doubled since the war with the American League had been settled back in 1903, and the league was debt-free for the first time in the 20th century.81 Heydler did make it a point to mention that six games had been protested in 1909, which he felt were six too many, and he urged team owners to forgo this practice and support the decisions made by the umpires.82

The moguls took care of one piece of old business. A proposal had been made to put up a monument to their fallen leader, Pulliam, but it turned out that one had already been erected on the family plot in Louisville, so instead it was decided to pay Mr. Pulliam’s sister “a sum of money” as well as money which may have been equal to a portion of his $5,000 salary.83

But the main event was the election of a president. Heydler told reporters that he was in the fight to stay, but that he thought too much importance was being given to the matter. “If I am not elected,” he said, “I shall continue to exist, and probably will be much happier ….”84

In a move which caught everyone by surprise, Heydler’s name was not formally put forward in nomination. After some five hours of discussion and debate behind closed doors, National League owners finally decided to call for a vote. Ward was nominated, as expected, and then Cincinnati’s Herrmann told his colleagues that he had been “authorized to withdraw the name of. Heydler if it was presented in nomination.”85

At this point Stanley Robison of the Cardinals nominated Robert Brown, a Louisville newspaperman and friend of Herrmann’s who was, no doubt, serving as a “stalking horse” for Heydler.86 No matter, the vote ended up in a tie, with Brooklyn, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia supporting Ward, while Boston, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis were lined up for Brown/Heydler. Two more ballots did not change anyone’s minds, and with that the moguls adjourned for the day.87

Immediately there was speculation that a compromise candidate would have to be found, and one did not need the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes to know who was hoping to be tapped. The name of Edward “Ned” Hanlon, who had managed pennant winners in both Baltimore and Brooklyn in the previous decade, was being tossed about freely, and Adrian “Cap” Anson, one of the game’s early stars and the first man in history to collect 3,000 hits, had deliberately made the trip into New York so he would be available to take the position should it be offered.

Meanwhile, O’Brien, the one-time American Association president who was seeking the office again, may have also dropped hints that he could be persuaded to lead the NL before stating publicly that his only interest was in the minor-league job.88

Johnson’s supposed “new evidence” in the 1908 umpire bribery case was not the only attempt at exercising political pressure. A story began making the rounds that two of the four clubs supporting Brown or Heydler, the Pirates and Reds, were ready to bolt over to the American League if Ward became the new National League president.

Attributed to an “unnamed friend” of Reds’ owner Herrmann, it stated that the AL would operate for one year as a 10-team circuit and then “Detroit and some other city (would be) handed over to the American association.”89 More ridiculousness came from Brush of the Giants, who told his fellow owners that since New York and Chicago were the “biggest money-making clubs in the circuit” and they wanted Ward as their leader, then “their demands should be granted.”90

All this hogwash emanating from the Waldorf-Astoria, as well as the entire tenor of the proceedings, caused the New York Times to, first, tacitly come out in support of Heydler — “whose administration of the office seems to be satisfactory to every one except Murphy, Brush, and Ebbets” — and then lambast that trio by stating that their “objections to Mr. Heydler have caused the baseball world to sneer at their absurdity.”91

And the Times reminded readers that the owners had been in a similar spot in 1902, when Nicholas Young, the NL President since 1885, was challenged by Albert Spalding. Each candidate received support from four teams, with the deadlock eventually being broken by the selection of a compromise candidate, who turned out to be none other than Pulliam.92

With the stalemate continuing, Johnson once again inserted himself into the proceedings. He sent a telegram to his friend Herrmann, informing the National League owners that their American League counterparts had concluded their business and departed from New York, which “should indicate forcibly to you…that we do not wish to influence…to the slightest degree your organization in the election of an officer.”93 Johnson’s words shocked the assemblage and were seen as a retreat from his previous position, in which he said he would never be able to co-exist with Ward. It strengthened the resolve of the Ward faction, with Brush indicating he could wait it out all winter, if it came to that.94

And what if it did, what would happen then? Three possible scenarios emerged:

  • Heydler would remain in office indefinitely until a successor could be named;
  • A “regency” would be named, a commission made up of three owners;
  • One owner would be named to the post, probably on an interim basis.

The first option was not seen as likely because it was assumed, probably correctly, that this would simply strengthen Heydler’s position and his ultimate hold on the presidency. The other two were not probable because, according to Ebbets, owners’ responsibilities with their own teams precluded anyone finding the time to devote themselves to league-wide duties.95

So now the back-room machinations began in earnest. Brush was given the opportunity to name a compromise candidate, but he fatefully declined because he still held out hope for a Ward victory.96 He countered with a unique, though convoluted idea: each side would select an attorney and then those two would name a third, presumably neutral, lawyer.

The 1903 George Davis case (described earlier) would then be brought out of mothballs and re-examined by this new three-man panel. Why? As explained by the Washington Post: “If these lawyers decided that Ward, as attorney for Davis, had acted illegally or unprofessionally, Ward would agree to withdraw as a candidate, but if the lawyers decided in Ward’s favor Herrmann and his friends would have to vote for his election.”97

This strange brew apparently was discussed but then, mercifully, rejected. The Ward faction then may have turned to an old-fashioned remedy, bribery. Rumors were rampant that both the Giants’ Brush and the Cubs’ Murphy had approached Stanley Robison of the Cardinals and assured him that he “can obtain sufficient players to make an almost pennant winning club…” if he came over to the Ward side.98 (It should be noted that the Cards had not had a winning season since 1901.)

Perhaps these intrigues got to be too much for the other owners, because Herrmann met privately with Robert Hedges, the owner of the St. Louis Browns. One of the premier baseball reporters of the era, Sanborn, realized that Hedges was the only AL owner still hanging around and concluded that he had not remained in New York “to do some … early Christmas shopping … but for the purpose of being consulted as to the acceptability to the American League of numerous compromise candidates for the National League presidency.”99

Shortly thereafter, a subcommittee of Herrmann, Murphy, and William Locke, an official with the Pirates who was “trusted implicitly by members of both factions,”100 was put together; while their mission was not made public, it was widely presumed that they were charged with identifying compromise candidates.

The next day the impasse came to an end with the selection of Thomas Lynch as the new National League president. A minor- and major-league umpire, primarily in the 1880s, Lynch had built up a reputation for honesty and integrity before going home to New Britain, Connecticut to manage a theater, disenchanted by the treatment he had received from those in uniform and the lack of support he had received from those in business suits.101

Brush put his name forward and, because of his reputation and availability, he proved to be acceptable to all parties. Lynch insisted that Heydler return to his old position as secretary-treasurer and the owners agreed, electing him to a three-year term102which, according to Sanborn, was a clear victory for Dreyfuss and Herrmann and “a practical vindication of Heydler” because it kept “the details of handling the National League’s affairs in the hands of John Heydler.”103

There was no doubt, however, that the whole matter left a bad taste in the mouths of many, and their feelings were summed up by. Grillo. In what we would now call an op-ed piece, written just prior to Lynch’s election, Grillo said the game was in “deplorable condition,” which he blamed on the owners, “men who… have enjoyed too much prosperity and are determined to tear down what it has taken years to build up.”104

Presaging sentiments that continue to be expressed more than a century later, he decried the lack of “true sportsmen” among the moguls, calling them “a mercenary lot whose interest ceases with the box office…”105 But there was no shortage of other materialistic types seeking membership into this exclusive club. An anonymous executive thought that a third major league was likely to be formed within two or three years, because the “immense profits…have opened…eyes, and…they are now casting about for a favorable opportunity…”106

While there would be at least three attempts over the years to form a third major league, none of them would prove to be successful; however, those “favorable opportunities” did translate into expansion, with the first growth spurt taking place after the 1960 season. For half a century, major-league baseball was played by the same 16 franchises, housed in the same 11 cities, but today the big-league landscape has practically been doubled, with 30 teams located in all regions of the country.

Tying Up Loose Ends

With the league’s leadership question now settled, the final bits of business could be dealt with speedily. With the exception of the Boston Doves, all spring training sites were finalized. Arkansas proved to be the most popular state, with the Pirates and Reds opting to join the Red Sox in Hot Springs, while the Cardinals chose to be in Little Rock. Three teams went to Texas – Marlin Springs would host the Giants, San Antonio got the Tigers while Houston welcomed the Browns. The Cubs and Indians chose New Orleans, while the Yankees (Athens) and the A’s (Atlanta) both planned to camp out in Georgia. The Dodgers selected Columbia, South Carolina while the Phillies went to Southern Pines, North Carolina, and the Senators chose to be relatively close to home with their Norfolk, Virginia locale. The White Sox were the most daring, splitting their squad between Los Angeles and San Francisco.107

The NL adopted a roster rule similar to that of their Junior Circuit counterparts. Just like the American League, they set the active roster at 25 players, but their dates were May 10 through August 10, unlike the AL’s May 1 through August 20. The waiver rule was also changed back to its former wording, so that if a player were to be claimed on waivers, his team could withdraw him and not send him to the claiming club.108

And with that, the very eventful 1909 Winter Meetings came to a close.

Summary

The contentious battle for the National League presidency was easily the highlight of the Winter Meetings of 1909, with both intransigent sides standing firm for their candidates until it became apparent that neither could win and a compromise would have to be effected. While Lynch was elected to the office, the battle in reality demonstrated the power and influence of American League President Johnson, whose outspoken opposition to Ward’s candidacy helped to keep the former infielder/pitcher out of power. It also showed the esteem in which Heydler was held in most circles. While he did not remain in the President’s chair, he was given a three-year contract to return to his former position as secretary-treasurer, which today we might call the Chief Operating Officer. And nine years later he did, in fact, become the NL’s chief executive, a position he would hold for 16 years.

The 1909 meetings also gave glimpses into the future. Interest in the profitability of franchises forecast baseball’s eventual expansion. There was a challenge to the reserve clause, there was a look at the possibility of night games and, perhaps most importantly, the influence and pervasiveness of betting was glossed over, further empowering the gamblers. Over the next decade their shadow would loom larger over the game until the scandal of the 1919 World Series exploded, causing public outrage, threatening the very fabric of the National Pastime, and finally forcing baseball’s leadership to change their structure in order to confront the problem head-on.

 

Sources

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

“Baseball Meetings Here This Week,” New York Times, December 11, 1909: S1.

“Baseball Warclouds Vanish,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 19, 1909: C1.

“Big Series in Doubt,” Washington Post, December 21, 1909: 8.

“Elect Tom Lynch,” Washington Post, December 19, 1909: S1.

“Fogel on the Grill,” Washington Post, December 12, 1909: S1.

“Full Salary for President Lynch,” New York Times, December 20, 1909: 10.

“John Heydler is Dubious,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 12, 1909: C1.

Lowry, Philip J. Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of Major League and Negro League Ballparks (New York, NY: Walker Publishing Company, 2006).

Murnane, T.H. “Ward? Heydler? Base Ball Fight Area Spreading,” Boston Globe, December 13, 1909: 5.

Simpkins, Terry, “Kid Elberfeld,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/f51f274d, undated, accessed March 31, 2014.

“Still Opposed to Ward,” New York Times, December 13, 1909: 7.

Stout, Glenn. Yankees Century, 100 Years of New York Yankees Baseball (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002).

Thorn, John; Pete Palmer; Michael Gershman; and David Pietrusza, editors. Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball, Fifth Edition (New York: Viking Penguin, 1997).

“Ward Cannot Be President,” Los Angeles Times, December 12, 1909: 16.

 

Notes

1 Gary Gillette and Eric Enders with Stuart Shea and Matthew Silverman, Big League Ballparks: The Complete Illustrated History (New York: Metro Books, 2009), 38.

2 Ibid., xxv.

3 Ibid., xxiii and 155.

4 Bill Lamberty, “Harry Pulliam,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, (http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/6e05b19c), undated, accessed January 28, 2014.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 “Baseball Men to Meet,” New York Times, November 7, 1909: S-2.

9 “Minors to Admit ‘Outlaws’,” Chicago Tribune, November 10, 1909: 12.

10 “Boom in the Minors,” Washington Post, November 10, 1909: 8.

11 “Sexton is Reelected,” Washington Post, November 11, 1909: 8.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 By opening day, two other franchises would be added – one in Montgomery, West Virginia, and one that split its home games between Gallipolis, Ohio and Point Pleasant, West Virginia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Valley_League, accessed March 17, 2014.

17 http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Michael_Sexton

18 “National Agreement: Extended by Baseball Clubs Until 1921,” Hartford Courant, November 12, 1909: 14.

19 Ibid.

20 “Minor Magnates Plan for Future,” Chicago Tribune, November 12, 1909: 14; The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd edition. W. Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, editors. (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc.), 1997.

21 “New Life for Ball Leaders,” Los Angeles Times, November 12, 1909: 16.

22 “Minor Magnates Plan for Future,” Chicago Tribune, November 12, 1909: 14; “Baseball Men Adjourn,” New York Times, November 12, 1909: 16; “Minors Renew Pact,” Washington Post, November 12, 1909: 8.

23 “Minors Renew Pact,” Washington Post, November 12, 1909: 8.

24 Ibid.

25 “Baseball Magnates Ready to Tackle Big Problems,” Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1909: 14.

26 “Baseball Magnates Coming to New York,” New York Times, December 9, 1909: 12.

27 Jessica Tully, “Meet John Montgomery Ward, Penn State’s Only Baseball Hall of Fame Player,” Onward State, http://onwardstate.com/2014/01/21/meet-john-montgomery-ward-penn-states-only-baseball-hall-of-famer, undated, accessed March 21, 2014.

28 Ibid.

29 “Herrmann is Here to Elect Heydler,” New York Times, December 10, 1909: 12.

30 Ibid.

31 “C.W. Murphy’s Plans for Baseball Meet,” New York Times, December 11, 1909: 9.

32 Lenny Jacobsen, “Charles Murphy,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e707728f, undated, accessed March 22, 2014.

33 Ibid. The Taft family, by the way, has been one of this country’s most prominent political families for many years and have included Senators, Congressmen, governors and cabinet officers.

34 Ibid.

35 “Philadelphia Club Changes Ownership,” New York Times, November 27, 1909.

36 Michael Lalli, “Horace Fogel: The Strangest Owner in Phillies History,” Philly Sports History, phillysportshistory.com/2011/07/06/horace-fogel-the strangest-owner in-phillies-history, undated, accessed January 27, 2014.

37 Ibid.

38 I. E. Sanborn, “Baseball Fireworks at New York,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 14, 1909: 14.

39 “Ban B. Johnson Booms Heydler,” Hartford Courant, December 14, 1909: 14.

40 “Back Ban Johnson,” Washington Post, December 12, 1909: S1.

41 T. H. Murnane, “Eager for War,” Boston Globe, December 16, 1909: 4.

42 “Lake to Lead Doves,” Washington Post, December 10, 1909: 8.

43 I. E. Sanborn, “Baseball Fireworks at New York,” Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1909: 14.

44 “Baseball Rumors in Air at Waldorf,” New York Times, December 14, 1909: 9. The Logan Squares are an interesting little part of baseball’s early history. They were founded by a man named Jimmy Callahan, who was both a pitcher (99 career wins) and infielder (901 career hits) for the Cubs and White Sox, but who retired after the 1905 season to form his own semipro team in Chicago. He purchased and renovated an old ballpark in the Logan Square neighborhood and made money playing a slate of games, including victorious October exhibitions against his former major league employers. Callahan had no compunction about signing professional players who had been suspended or were, for whatever reason, currently not in uniform, which spurred the majors to adopt a rule in 1908 that prohibited players from appearing in any games in which anyone – players, managers or even owners – had previously been declared ineligible. And then in 1909 Callahan got involved in that four-way dispute over Bill Torrey, which saw the National Commission (a three-man panel made up of the two league presidents and Cincinnati’s Herrmann) rule in favor of the Reds.

45 “C.W. Murphy’s Plans for Baseball Meet,” New York Times, December 11, 1909: 9.

46 “Dreyfuss Believes Heydler Will Win,” New York Times, December 13, 1909: 7.

47 I. E. Sanborn, “Baseball Fireworks at New York,” Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1909: 14.

48 J. Ed. Grillo., “Men in Control of Baseball are Injuring the Sport,” Washington Post, December 19, 1909: S1.

49 Anderson, 123-125.

50 Anderson, 125.

51 There is no listing for an Allentown team in The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, so it is likely that it was either a semipro or independent ballclub.

52 “Baseball is Slavery,” Washington Post, December 19, 1909: S1.

53 “Baseball and Slavery,” Washington Post, December 21, 1909: 6.

54 1909 Philadelphia Phillies Season, http://melaman2.com/phillies/1909/1909-september.html, accessed March 29, 2014.

55 I. E. Sanborn, “Magnates Postpone Election for Banquet,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1909: 16.

56 “Baseball Men Adjourn,” New York Times, November 12, 1909, p. 16; “Ball Magnates Still Talking,” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1909: 16.

57 T. H. Murnane, “Eager for War,” Boston Globe, December 16, 1909: 4.

58 “American League For 154-Game Season,” New York Times, December 16, 1909: 10. This contrasts with the present day, when rosters are set at 25 on Opening Day and remain at that level until September 1, when they can then be expanded to 40.

59 R. W. Lardner, “Johnson Courts War With Rivals,” Chicago Tribune, December 12, 1909: C1; “American League For 154-Game Season,” New York Times, December 16, 1909: 10. Except for the World War I season of 1918, the 154-game schedule would remain in effect until the AL expanded by two clubs, and eight games, for the 1961 season; the NL followed suit in 1962.

60 Lardner, “Johnson Courts War With Rivals.”

61 Mike Lynch, “The Great Wigwag Scheme of 1909,” http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/great-wigwag-scheme-1909, accessed March 3, 2014.

62 Ibid.

63 Ibid.

64 J. Ed. Grillo, “Many Important Matters Up To Baseball Magnates,” Washington Post, December 12, 1909: S1; J. Ed. Grillo, “Heydler is Doomed,” Washington Post, December 14, 1909: 8.

65 In an official statement, “the New York club is free from all complicity in such a tipping affair…”; Lynch, op. cit.

66 An official league resolution expressed “confidence in the loyalty to the American League of Joe Cantillon during the time he acted as manager of the Washington Baseball Club, and expresses to him its best wishes for his future prosperity.”; “American League For 154-Game Season,” New York Times, December 16, 1909: 10.

67 “Ball Magnates Still Talking,” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1909: 16.

68 “American League For 154-Game Season,” New York Times, December 16, 1909: 10.

69 “Baseball Notes From Big League Meetings,” Washington Post, December 15, 1909: 8.

70 I. E. Sanborn, “Magnates Postpone Election for Banquet,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1909: 16.

71 “Banner Year for Baseball in 1909,” New York Times, December 16, 1909: 10.

72 He would, however, succeed a year later, when the league elected a new president. “Ball Magnates Still Talking,” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1909: 16; personal e-mail from Dick Beverage, April 9, 2014.

73 “Baseball Notes From Big League Meetings,” Washington Post, December 15, 1909: 8.

74 I. E. Sanborn, “Magnates Postpone Election for Banquet,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1909: 16.

75 “Magnates Deadlock,” Washington Post, December 17, 1909: 8.

76 “O’Brien’s Chances Improve,” Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1909: C2.

77 Charles C. Alexander, John McGraw (New York: Viking Press, 1988), 140.

78David W. Anderson, David W. More Than Merkle: A History of the Best and Most Exciting Baseball Season in Human History, 217.

79 “Back Ban Johnson,” Washington Post, December 12, 1909: S1.

80 “Baseball Magnates Ready to Tackle Big Problems,” Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1909: 14.

81 “Banner Year for Baseball in 1909,” New York Times, December 16, 1909: 10.

82 Ibid.

83 Ibid.

84 I. E. Sanborn, “Magnates Postpone Election for Banquet,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1909: 16.

85 “Heydler Drops Out of Baseball Fight,” New York Times, December 17, 1909: 13.

86 I. E. Sanborn, “National League Magnates in Deadlock Over Election of President,” Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1909: 17.

87 “Heydler Drops Out of Baseball Fight,” New York Times, December 17, 1909: 13.

88 I. E. Sanborn, “National League Magnates in Deadlock Over Election of President,” Chicago Tribune, December 17, 1909: 17; “Ball Magnates Still Talking,” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1909: 16; “Baseball Rumors Fly Thick and Fast,” New York Times, December 15, 1909: 12. Ironically, O’Brien wound up being passed over by both the National League and the American Association.

89 “Baseball Magnates Ready to Tackle Big Problems,” Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1909: 14.

90 “Magnates Deadlock,” Washington Post, December 17, 1909: 8.

91 “Baseball Rumors Fly Thick and Fast,” New York Times, December 15, 1909: 12.

92 Ibid.

93 “Baseball Deadlock Remains Unbroken,” New York Times, December 18, 1909: 11.

94 I. E. Sanborn, “Deadlock Balloting in National League Ends Ward’s Chance of Victory,” Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1909: 10.

95 Ibid.

96 Ibid.

97 “Deadlock is Still On,” Washington Post, December 18, 1909: 8.

98 “Big Leaguers’ Horns Locked,” Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1909: 17.

99 I. E. Sanborn, I.E., “Deadlock Balloting in National League Ends Ward’s Chance of Victory,” Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1909: 10.

100 Ibid.

101 I. E. Sanborn, “National League Elects T.J. Lynch,” Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1909: C1.

102 Jon Daly, “Tom Lynch,” SABR Baseball Biography Project (http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/c633b89f), undated, accessed January 27, 2014. Heydler remained the league’s secretary-treasurer until 1918, when he was, finally, elected the National League’s president, a position he would hold until 1934. Among his accomplishments, he hired the Elias brothers to keep official statistics, he pushed for the selection of Judge Landis to serve as Commissioner, he helped to establish the Hall of Fame, and in 1929 he suggested something akin to the modern designated hitter. Amazingly, he has never been enshrined in Cooperstown. (Biography of John Arnold Heydler, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Heydler, accessed February 27, 2014.)

103 I. E. Sanborn, “National League Elects T.J. Lynch,” Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1909: C1.

104 J. Ed. Grillo, “Men in Control of Baseball are Injuring the Sport,” Washington Post, December 19, 1909: S1.

105 Ibid.

106 “O’Brien’s Chances Improve,” Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1909: C2.

107 “Heydler Drops Out of Baseball Fight,” New York Times, December 17, 1909: 13.

108 “Rumors of War are Silenced,” Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1909: 17.

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