1926 Winter Meetings: Changing of the Guard

This article was written by Abigail Miskowiec

This article was published in the


National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues

The citizens of Asheville, North Carolina, rolled out the red carpet for the minor-league meetings in 1926. The 25th annual meeting of the National Association was held December 7 to 9, with a record number of executives from both the big leagues and the NAPBL descending upon the Southern city in the Blue Ridge Mountains. With several committees formed by Asheville locals, visiting delegates were offered tours of the Biltmore mansion, a trip to Chimney Rock mountain, and a day on the golf links, among other recreations.

But a dark cloud hung over the meetings: NAPBL President Mike Sexton’s son, Leo J. Sexton, had died just a few days before the assembly.

Rule Changes and Reelections

For years, the NAPBL had been looking to shut down winter baseball. The owners wanted players to rest during the offseason rather than risk injury in the winter leagues. In order to combat the issue, the NAPBL considered signing players to year-round contracts, but in the end, executives simply banned the practice outright. The ruling ended winter baseball in the Pacific Coast League and by several Eastern League clubs.

The next order of business was the re-election of several executives. Thomas J. Hickey was re-elected president of the American Association and given a pay raise of $2,000 annually for the life of his three-year contract. Association Secretary J.H. Farrell also reaped the benefits of the record-breaking year, earning a $5,000 raise. Herman J. Weisman replaced interim President D.J. Haylon as the head of the Eastern League.

Both major- and minor-league scouts attempted to organize during the NABPL meetings. They went so far as to nominate a president, longtime scout Eddie Herr, who declined the position by saying he was “too dumb.”[1]

The Chicago Cubs used the meetings as an opportunity to announce major organizational changes. John Seys was promoted from secretary to vice president and, most notably, the name of Cubs Park was changed to Wrigley Field, in honor of owner William Wrigley Jr.

Major Moves Spurred by Aging Players

Several big-league managers attended the minor-league meetings in hopes of picking up the next star. Brooklyn Robins manager Wilbert Robinson made the trip to Asheville, as did Cubs manager Joe McCarthy. Robinson was rumored to be interested in infielder Billy Rhiel of Greenville (South Atlantic League), but no deals were made.

The St. Louis Browns raised doubts as to the future of star George Sisler by acquiring first baseman Guy Sturdy from the Tulsa Oilers. Sturdy would replace the future Hall of Famer in the final five games of 1927, ending Sisler’s 12-year career with the Browns. The Philadelphia Athletics signed Dud Branom, the first baseman of the Kansas City Blues. However, Branom floundered in his one season with the A’s before being sent back to the minors.

 

National League

Little was accomplished when the National League executives met at the Hotel Astor in New York. The bigwigs convened on December 14-15. The NL executives voted to re-elect Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the commissioner, setting up a battle between Landis and American League founder and President Ban Johnson when the two leagues met in Chicago. The senior circuit also tried to set a $20,000 limit on the amount that major-league teams had to pay for minor-league players, but this proposal was shot down in the joint meetings.

Rogers Hornsby Causes Trouble for World Champs

St. Louis Cardinals player-manager Rogers Hornsby and team president Sam Breadon were locked in a bitter feud during the 1926 NL meetings. Hornsby, who had just led the Cardinals to their first World Series championship, demanded a pay raise, despite collapsing statistically and physically down the stretch. He claimed he had received $33,000 on his player contract and no extra money as manager. Breadon refused Hornsby the three-year, $45,000-$50,000 contract he wanted. The bad blood between the two was so great that league President John Heydler threatened to get involved. Breadon found a cheaper deal when he hired catcher Bob O’Farrell as player-manager for $20,000.

A few days after the NL meetings wrapped up, Breadon traded Hornsby to the New York Giants for infielder Frankie Frisch and pitcher Jimmy Ring. Hornsby got his pay raise, and the Giants got a star to compete with the Babe. Unfortunately, the Cardinals weren’t clear of Hornsby yet. The Rajah owned 12.5 percent of the franchise, having been a part of the group that purchased the club in 1925, and this posed a conflict of interest now that he was a Giant. Commissioner Landis stepped in and worked out a deal that saw Hornsby relinquish his stake in the team in return for a hefty sum.[2] Hornsby had the last laugh, too, when he finished 1927 as the league leader in runs and came in third in the MVP voting.

Managerial Changes for Pennsylvania Clubs

The Pittsburgh Pirates, one year removed from a World Series title, fired manager Bill McKechnie. In August 1926, Pirates players had attempted to oust vice president and assistant manager Fred Clarke. The coup resulted in team captain Max Carey being traded to Brooklyn. Veterans Babe Adams and Carson Bigbee were unconditionally released. The team’s midseason collapse and further internal strife seemed to be the cause of McKechnie’s firing. President Barney Dreyfuss signed Donie Bush, a veteran manager and player, to one-year contract to helm the team. Fred Clarke announced his resignation from the team the same week.

In Philadelphia, Stuffy McInnis signed on as manager of the flailing Phillies, replacing Art Fletcher. The two-year contract marked a homecoming of sorts for McInnis, who first rose to stardom as a member of the Athletics’ “$100,000 infield.”

 

American League

A potential baseball war was looming over Chicago when the AL met on December 14-15, on the same days the National League magnates were meeting in New York. Landis’s contract would end after the 1927 season, and Ban Johnson was angling for one last shot at power. However, the junior circuit followed the NL’s lead and nominated Landis for another term. Johnson was thrown a bone and granted a position on the advisory board.

Original AL Stars Fade

Four future Hall of Famers from the early days of the American League found themselves in new positions heading into the winter meetings. After the 1926 season, the Chicago White Sox released 39-year-old player-manager Eddie Collins after a sharp decline in his speed on the basepaths. Collins had piloted the club for three seasons and was one of the few White Sox players to come out of the Black Sox scandal clean. On Christmas Eve Collins elected to return to where he had started his career and signed with the Philadelphia A’s. Catcher Ray Schalk replaced Collins as player-manager.

On November 9 Ty Cobb resigned after six years as player-manager of the Detroit Tigers. Rumors that team president Frank Navin planned to fire Cobb prompted the retirement.[3] Cobb didn’t stay retired for long. In February 1927 the 40-year-old signed a one-year, $60,000 contract, the largest in baseball history at the time, to join Collins on the Athletics.[4]The Tigers hired George Moriarty, an umpire and former player, to run the team.

The St. Louis Browns felt that their player-manager, George Sisler, was showing signs of decline. In 1926, at the age of 43, he batted under .300 for the first time since his rookie season. The Browns finished the season with a 62-92 record and fired Sisler as manager, although he was kept on as the starting first baseman. Dan Howley became the new manager.

Despite finishing second in the AL behind the New York Yankees, the Cleveland Indians released player-manager Tris Speaker. The former MVP, who had led the Tribe to the World Series title in 1920, signed as a free agent with the Washington Senators before the 1927 season and then joined Cobb and Collins on the A’s in 1928 for what would be his final season as an active player. The Indians replaced Speaker with veteran scout and coach Jack McCallister. A once-promising prospect, McCallister started scouting for Cleveland after splitting his kneecap sliding into home in a benefit game. McCallister managed the Indians for one season (66-87) before Roger Peckinpaugh, the 1925 American League MVP and future general manager, stepped in.

The Boston Red Sox, mired in the worst decade in their history, accepted manager Lee Fohl’s resignation at the close of the 1926 season. In his two years as manager, the Red Sox lost more than 200 games. Fohl cited rumors of changes in management as his reasons for leaving. Fohl’s assistant manager, Lefty Leifield, also jumped ship, joining Moriarty in Detroit. Fohl replaced Dan Howley (the new manager of the Browns), as skipper of the defending International League champion Toronto Maple Leafs. The Red Sox summoned legendary manager Bill Carrigan out of retirement to pilot the 1927 club.

More Scandal Rocks Baseball

The national pastime is no stranger to controversy; the Black Sox Scandal is still remembered nearly a century later. Other transgressions have not achieved that level of fame. In December 1926 pitcher Dutch Leonard, whom the Detroit Tigers had released before the 1926 season, declared that he and Indians outfielder Smoky Joe Wood had conspired to fix a late-season game in 1919. Leonard bet $600 on the match while Wood bet $250, Leonard said.[5]

Leonard handed correspondence with Wood and Ty Cobb over to AL President Ban Johnson, who passed it up the chain to Commissioner Landis. Leonard said that Wood, Cobb, and Tris Speaker colluded to fix the results of the game so that Detroit would clinch third place in the pennant race (first and second being locked up by Chicago and Cleveland). According to Wood’s letter, though Cobb had knowledge of the fix, he refused to put down money on the game. Cobb’s letter denied all knowledge and involvement. Gossip tied the recent departures of Cobb and Speaker from their managing jobs to the allegations. Landis cleared both Cobb and Speaker of the charges.

As the investigation wrapped up, a new accusation roped Eddie Collins into the mix of the accused. Swede Risberg, one of the Black Sox, alleged that the White Sox paid $1,100 to members of the Detroit Tigers to throw a four-game series in 1917. Collins survived the Black Sox Scandal in 1919, but Risberg accused him of funding this fix.

Eventually, Landis exonerated all players and managers, but in the light of the rampant accusations, he suggested new rules to curb fixing of games.[6] He proposed a statute of limitations in line with federal and state laws to prevent decades-old accusations from surfacing. Landis also suggested one-year bans for players and managers found to have fixed games or to have bet on games in which the player or manager was not directly involved. Finally, Landis proposed a lifetime ban for anyone who bet on a game in which he was directly involved.[7] All of these proposals were adopted and they still exist.

Joint Meeting of AL and NL

The two major leagues met at the Congress Hotel in Chicago to settle the matter of the commissioner’s tenure. Although both sides had earlier agreed to support Landis, the official announcement was reserved until the joint meeting. Landis’s contract was renewed for a seven-year term, and he earned a raise to $65,000 per year.

The only other buzz from the meeting came when former Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan returned to the team after 10 years. Carrigan, Babe Ruth’s first major-league skipper, had managed Boston’s World Series winners in 1915 and 1916.

 

Conclusion

Despite rumors of tension between Kenesaw Landis and Ban Johnson, the 1926 winter meetings enjoyed a pleasant, peaceful atmosphere. The eight managerial changes set a record but caused few issues within clubs. The passing of the torch from the first American League stars to the next generation worried some, who thought the league would be overshadowed by the NL. However, the 1927 Yankees Murderers’ Row lineup, and Connie Mack’s great Philadelphia team from 1928 through 1933, would buoy the AL for years to come.

 

Sources

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

“Charges Cobb-Speaker Bet on a ‘Fixed’ Game,” Boston Globe, December 22, 1926: 1.

“McCallister Chosen to Pilot Indians,” Boston Globe, December 12, 1926: B24.

“Fohl Resigns as Manager of Red Sox,” Boston Globe, October 24, 1924: B23.

“Cobb Quits Tigers, Moriarity Manager,” Boston Globe, November 4, 1926: 1.

“M’Kechnie Let Out as Pirate Manager,” New York Times, October 19, 1926: 32.

“Dreyfuss Signs Donie Bush to Succeed McKechnie as Pirate Manager,” New York Times, October 26, 1926: 32.

“Clarke Severs All Ties With Pirates,” Boston Globe, October 29, 1926: 31.

“O’Farrell Agrees to Manage Cards,” New York Times, December 28, 1926: 14.

“Deposing of 8 Major League Managers This Year Sets New Record in Baseball,” New York Times, December 26, 1926: S4.

“Winter Baseball Banned By Minors,” New York Times, December 10, 1926: 32.

“Minor Leagues Act to Curb Draft Law,” New York Times, December 9, 1926: 35.

“Baseball Scandal Told in Nutshell,” Leatherneck, February 1927: 47.

“M’Innis is Named Manager of Phils,” New York Times, October 22, 1926: 25.

“White Sox Bought Four Detroit Games in 1917, New Charge,” New York Times, January 2, 1927: 1.

 

Notes

[1] “Just Notes,” The Sporting News, December 16, 1926: 3.

[2] “Rogers Hornsby-Management Problems.” sports.jrank.org/pages/2134/Hornsby-Rogers-Management-Problems.html.

[3] “I owe a great debt to Cobb, but I am not willing to pay it by keeping Detroit in the baseball ruck.” New York Times, October 25, 1926: 25.

[4] The 1927 A’s team would also feature Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, and Lefty Grove, who helped lead the next generation of American League stars.

[5] “Baseball Scandal Up Again, With Cobb and Speaker Named,” New York Times, December 22, 1926: 1.

[6] There is a lot more information available regarding the alleged bribe incidents, but they go beyond the scope of the winter meetings.

[7] “Landis Exonerates Accused Players,” New York Times, January 13, 1927: 30.

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