This article was written by Aimee Gonzalez
This article was published in the Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1901-1957
Introduction and Context
Once again the American and National Leagues met in New York City, December 7 to 9, 1925. The stormy drama that engulfed the winter meeting proceedings in 1924 gave way to clear skies this winter, and it was expected to be business as usual based on last year’s understood agreements. Hence the NL was taken completely by surprise when the same people from last year’s AL emerged from their session at the Belmont Hotel on December 8 and announced that President Ban Johnson’s contract had been thrown out and a new one drawn up that extended his term by five years, to 1935, with a $10,000 pay increase. AL magnates demonstrated regret after their 1924 decision to remove Johnson from the Advisory Board, which had effectively rendered him powerless in any matter not directly related to his role as president, and now made up for it with these actions.
Besides this seeming snub to the National League, the American League also drafted a change to the regular-season schedule that would have it end a week earlier in September than it had. The NL had also drafted a changed schedule and presented it for discussion at their session at the Waldorf Hotel on December 7, but it had games scheduled through the first week of October instead. This became another point of contention that caused Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to intervene at the joint session on the last of the three scheduled days of meetings, December 9.
Members of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues were busy in anticipation of their meeting at the St. Catherine hotel on Catalina Island, off the coast of California January 12 to 14, 1926 this was a far cry from the Hartford, Connecticut, scene of the prior year’s meetings. In preparation for Cataline, the Pacific Coast League made extensive preparations so that the trek for the rest of the member leagues would be worthwhile. The PCL appropriated $3,500 for meeting expenses and it got cooperation from various chambers of commerce. Boating trips, golf, and souvenirs were planned to top off the lavish affair.1 As a final touch, William Wrigley Jr., owner of the island as well as the PCL’s Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago Cubs, staged the first-ever radio broadcast of baseball meetings.2 The turnout was excellent and included Commissioner Landis, who made his first trip to California for this session.
Although there were a few trades between minor- and major-league teams, the majority of deals were among the minor leagues themselves, with at least 100 players changing places. The San Antonio Bears of the Texas League were the busiest, purchasing third baseman Tibbie Serre and outfielder George Bliss from Syracuse, pitcher William Ward from Fort Smith, pitcher Leon Drake from Hartford, pitcher Guilford Paulson from the St. Louis Cardinals, and second baseman John Henzes from Bridgeport. San Antonio sold outfielder Leslie Meyers to New Orleans and pitcher Earl Collard to Evansville. The Nashville Volunteers were also active, obtaining pitcher Charley Brown from Salisbury for pitcher Cliff Ross. Nashville also purchased second baseman Carrol Butler from Topeka and first baseman Otto Pahlmann from Danville. Nashville sold outfielder Yank Davis to Beaumont and infielder Frank Parkinson to Shreveport. A fan of the limelight, Houston’s manager Joe Mathes began talking trades on the train out to Los Angeles. By the time he arrived he had managed to obtain pitchers Claude Davenport and Harold Haid from St. Joseph (Missouri) of the Western League for pitcher Lefty Schwartz, a player to be named later, and cash. Manager Mathes continued dealing on the island, acquiring pitcher Ken Penner from Wichita for outfielder Pete Compton, an optional release of pitcher John Berly, and a cash consideration.3
American and National Leagues
Money talks, and everyone was listening to what Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr.’s one million dollars might have to say when he sent President William Veeck Sr. to New York with a blank check and — as a result of having publicly declared his intention to spend4 — Cubs fans’ hopes in his suitcase. Unfortunately if a player is not for sale he cannot be bought, so Veeck did not walk away with the pitchers the Cubs needed. He did not leave completely empty-handed, though, re-signing infielder Clark Pittenger and closing deals for outfielder Joe Kelly, second baseman Clyde Beck and infielder Maurice “Red” Shannon from the minors. He also traded right-handed pitcher Vic Keen for Cardinals shortstop Jimmy Cooney. Although the value of these acquisitions did not come near the $1 million available to spend, the Cubs accomplished more than other teams. The Cardinals fared well, obtaining Keen, whom manager Rogers Hornsby had recommended strongly to club president Sam Breadon.
The Detroit Tigers also had a busy time of it with the minors, as they needed to square away an obligation to the Fort Worth Panthers, who had supplied Detroit with third baseman Billy Mullen. Owner Frank Navin, in response to Fort Worth’s adamant request for an infielder and outfielder, first swapped third baseman Fred Haney to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Ernie Vache and third baseman Homer Ezzell, and then sent the two to the Panthers. The Philadelphia Athletics transferred third baseman Francis Sigafoos and first baseman Jim Keesey to the International League Reading Keystones, while the Cincinnati Reds sold right-handed pitcher Neal Brady to another International League team, the Buffalo Bisons. Cincinnati manager Jack Hendricks made it known that he wanted to do what he could to help out Bill Clymer, his former sidekick on the Reds coaching staff, who was now the manager in Buffalo.
Pittsburgh, on the other end of the spectrum, acquired no new players through either trade or deal with other major-league clubs. Given their prevailing status as World Series champions, owner Barney Dreyfuss was not surprised — the common sentiment was that no one wanted to trade with the champions, fearing the prices would be too high and/or that the Pirates would not want to move anyone. They did, however, sell second baseman Lafayette Thomas to Buffalo. The Washington Senators also anticipated shedding a player — shortstop Everett Scott, who left baseball to pursue the bowling and billiards business in Indiana. Scott came back to baseball in 1926, spending time with the White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds before leaving the majors again, this time permanently.5
The Business Side
Some individual league meetings yielded decisions that would resonate with the Association as a whole when it assembled in California. The International League re-elected president John Conway Toole with a bit of drama, as Sam Robertson of Buffalo, the lone dissident, tried unsuccessfully to overturn the decision. The Eastern League decided to continue with a 154-game schedule and to restore the player limit to 16 after trying out a 15-player limit for the 1925 season.
Once all of the member leagues convened on Catalina Island, everything ran smoothly. Commissioner Landis gave a short speech on the way the baseball meetings used to be run, noting the improved relationship between himself and the Association, and between the member leagues themselves. And despite the long trip for some attendees, the eeting was one of the best-attended sessions ever.6
Although fanfare took center stage, a few key business items were addressed. President Michael Sexton was unanimously re-elected for a five-year term but discussion stopped there; no pay raise was discussed. The Association rejected the major leagues’ proposal to extend the period during which a player could be optioned from two to three years. The Association maintained that two years was sufficient, and furthermore viewed an extension as an infringement on their ability to develop and sell their own players — in other words, it was another move by the majors to extend control, which the minors would not tolerate. The Association had also blocked a proposal the previous year that would have raised from 8 to 15 the number of 15 players a major-league team could send out on option. The delegates grappled with other matters of major-league/minor-league relations. Major-league clubs’ selections were capped at 40 unless written notice was given of intention to release or reassign players (meaning that the limit stayed at 40). Payment to major-league clubs for players optioned to Class AA or A was to be maintained at $300, with a minimum of $100 for all other classifications. The meetings concluded with the dedication of the new tower at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field in memory of those who killed in the Great War.
American and National Leagues
After the previous year, the individual and joint sessions of the major leagues were fairly quiet, aside from the buzz of the multiple trades and sales going on between the majors and minors. The two big issues facing the major leagues were the calendar changes and the fallout from the contract extension and raise for Ban Johnson. This meant that Landis’s term would be up for renewal before Johnson’s, giving the latter a bit of a power edge. The uncertainty of what he might do with that leverage worried the commissioner. The AL also wanted to end the regular season a week earlier, thereby starting the World Series earlier. Bad weather was their primary consideration. The NL also proposed a change in the schedule, but wanted the season to end a week later, in the beginning of October, due to the laws against Sunday baseball prevalent at the time, as well as the weather in league cities. Although football had expanded beyond college campuses and walked into the baseball diamond — teams like the Cubs and the Giants were lending their space and some financial assets to the nascent gridiron teams, the Bears and (football) Giants, respectively — the pro football season and potential conflicts with the baseball season were not a consideration. The major-league magnates had no reason (yet) to believe that football was a threat to baseball despite speculation from some sportswriters that fans’ attention would be stolen in the offseason by this newly emerging version of the college pastime.
Another big agenda item, which was ultimately sent to the Joint Rules Committee for resolution, was the use of rosin in pitching. The National League proposed that this be permitted again, and the American League flatly opposed it.7 The NL believed that it would improve the game and reduce the number of balls used. In conjunction with this conversation was discussion of the new baseball structure. The primary manufacturer for the major leagues had changed the composition of the ball’s core, which was supposed to reduce home runs. (It did not.) It was made clear that this was done without league approval.
Another issue that ended up going to the Joint Rules Committee was a proposal from Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss that games halted by rain before the fifth inning be replayed from the point of interruption, rather than resumed.
Commissioner Landis had recently barred players from playing in offseason games after October 31. Intended largely for Single-A and Double-A player, a number of them would be prevented a number of them from playing in a Miami Winter League. (Player-managers such as George Sisler, Bucky Harris, and Frankie Frisch could get around the ban by only carrying out managerial duties for their Miami teams.)
The other extra-curricular venture that ballplayers were into at the time — guest writing for the press –was less of a problem for Landis, but did trouble the sportswriters, who felt it was an infringement on their role.
In Summary/Looking to the Future
The skies cleared for the 1925 winter gatherings. While the AL and NL returned to New York with no battle cries to be heard, the National Association went west to Catalina Island and William Wrigley’s lavish hospitality. It was astounding, for the NL especially, to be in the same city exactly one year later with the AL owners, who, now regretting how they had treated Ban Johnson, changed their tune entirely. Choosing to recall last year’s sequence of events to defuse the showdown between Landis and Johnson as a force of hand by the NL (and conveniently downplaying their role), the AL now pushed back by rejecting the proposals for both the season calendar changes and pitching rules that the NL had put forth. It had to have stung, to say the least, when Landis ultimately sided with the AL on the calendar face-off after the NL had provided him with unwavering support the previous year in his battle against Johnson. The pitching issue was sent to the Joint Rules Committee for further debate; eventually it passed with a majority vote, and rosin bags started appearing in 1926.
Other than that, it was business as usual, with the minors especially experiencing a high volume of trade and dealing, and the majors spawning a high volume of gossip about what William Wrigley Jr.’s $1 million could buy.
Although the heart and soul of the winter meetings is the business among baseball clubs, this was the first year that football appeared on the scene, emerging as a professional market and gaining more media and fan attention going into 1926. The Chicago Cubs and New York Giants had embraced football in 1925, even making money from it, and if more clubs were not paying attention then, they would be soon enough.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted:
Addington, L.H. “Minor Meeting Runs Smoothly; Sexton Unanimously Re-Elected,” The Sporting News, January 21, 1926.
Bray, E.D. “Speaking of Ill Luck, Prize Goes to Augusta,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1925.
Chester, Carl W. “Bill Clymer Already at Work on His Bisons,” The Sporting News, December 3, 1925.
Coates, Les. “Bill Lane Puts It Up to Yankee Officials,” The Sporting News, December 10, 1925.
Davis, Ralph S. “Clarke Not Likely to Desert Pirates,” The Sporting News, November 12, 1925.
–. “Clarke to Return as M’Kechnie’s Aid,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1925.
–. “Dreyfuss Leaves Door Trifle Ajar,” The Sporting News, December 3, 1925.
–. “Pittsburg Cheers Our All-Star Team,” The Sporting News, November 26, 1925.
Eaton, Paul W. “Clark Griffith Has Best Foot in Front,” The Sporting News, January 14, 1926.
Gallagher, Matt. “Big Turn-Over Begun on Los Angeles Team,” The Sporting News, December 24, 1925.
— “Los Angeles Dealing in Futures With Cubs,” The Sporting News, November 12, 1925.
Greene, Sam. “One Thousand Stolen Bases? It Isn’t Likely, Even For Cobb,” The Sporting News, November 12, 1925.
–. “Tigers Make Deal But Get Nothing,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1925.
Hale, C.E. “Providence Shift Completed,” The Sporting News, November 26, 1925.
Harrison, James B. “Baseball Leagues Convene This Week,” New York Times, December 6, 1925.
Isaminger, James C. “Philadelphia Fans Proud of Two A’s,” The Sporting News, November 26, 1925.
Jowers, Francis J. “All Not So Selfish in Game After All,” The Sporting News, December 10, 1925.
Kennedy, Lou M. “Ernie Johnson Slated to Manage Portland,” The Sporting News, December 3, 1925.
Loose, S.R. “Tulsa Oilers Will Give Backyard Another Try,” The Sporting News, January 14, 1926.
M.A.C. “Virginia May Go Back to East Club Circuit,” The Sporting News, December 10, 1925.
McBride, C.E. “Toole’s Retention Victory For Dunn,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1925.
O’Phelan, J.E. “Association Sent 22 Players to Big League Clubs in 1925,” The Sporting News, November 26, 1925.
Pollan, H.L. “Breadon and Rickey In Control at Houston,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1925.
— “Gainer Steers Clear of Managerial Cares,” The Sporting News, November 12, 1925.
Powers, Francis J. “Fewster’s Going Has Tragic Touch,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1925.
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Riley, Don. “Jack Dunn Sells One, Asks Waivers on Four,” The Sporting News, November 26, 1925.
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Vila, Joe. “Huggins Is Wearing His Spurs Although It’s Only December,” The Sporting News, December 10, 1925.
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1 Matt Gallagher, “Royal Entertainment for Minor Delegates,” The Sporting News, November 26, 1925.
2 Oscar C. Reichow, “Minors’ Meet to be Broadcast,” The Sporting News, December 17, 1925.
3 “Caught in the Trade Winds Off Catalina,” The Sporting News, January 21, 1926.
4 Irving Vaughan, “Cub Fans Anxious Over That Million,” The Sporting News, December 3, 1925.
5 Scott was only able to go to White Sox because he was able to secure his unconditional release from Washington. Washington couldn’t send him to the minors because he was a 10-year tenured player. So, effectively, Scott forced their hand. Scott played more than 100 games in the minors in 1927 and 1928.
6 “Minor Meeting Runs Smoothly; Sexton Unanimously Re-elected,” The Sporting News, January 21, 1926.
7 Rosin had been banned as part of the foreign-substance rule passed in 1920. The argument to allow rosin again focused on the idea that it made it easier for a pitcher to grip the curveball, avoiding slippage from sweat. Rosin received approval in January 1926, though the two leagues continued to disagree over usage through the 1926 season. See, for, example, “Big Leagues Will Permit Use of Resin,” Atlanta Constitution, January 30, 1926.