This article was written by Paul D. Brown
This article was published in Baseball’s Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016
The baseball Winter Meetings are usually a time when teams reflect on the past season and plan for the next season. However, 1995 was in the middle of a five-year stretch when major-league baseball did not attend the winter meetings. Instead, the majors held general managers’ meetings in November in Scottsdale, Arizona, and owners meetings in November and January. Additionally, the general managers were invited to attend the January 1996 owners meeting held in Los Angeles. This was the first time the GMs and owners met at the same site since the majors stopped attending the annual Winter Meetings.1 The minor leagues conducted their meeting in December, also in Los Angeles.
The 1995 major-league season was unique in that it consisted of only 144 games because of the players strike, which had begun on August 12, 1994, and lasted until April 2, 1995, when the strike was suspended. The work stoppage resulted in the cancellation of the final months of the 1994 season and the World Series. The 1995 season began on April 25, and it was the first season of expanded playoffs which added a first-round Division Series in each league. In 1994, both the American and National Leagues divided into three divisions instead of two and would have added a wild-card team to the playoffs had the postseason not been canceled due to the strike. In 1995, the Braves, Reds, and Dodgers were divisional champions in the NL and were joined by the Rockies as the wild card, while the AL saw the Red Sox, Indians, and Mariners win their divisions while the Yankees joined them as the wild card.
The Atlanta Braves won the 1995 World Series, defeating the Cleveland Indians in six games. To reach the Series, the Braves swept the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series. The Braves were in the midst of a 14-year playoff run that began in 1991 and ended in 2006.2 However, 1995 was their only World Series championship. Cleveland, meanwhile, defeated the Seattle Mariners in six games in the American League Championship Series. For the Indians, this was the first of five consecutive seasons in which they qualified for the playoffs.
Barry Larkin of the Reds was the National League Most Valuable Player and Mo Vaughn of the Red Sox was the American League MVP. Greg Maddux of the Braves and Randy Johnson of the Mariners were the Cy Young Award winners. Don Baylor of the Rockies and Lou Piniella of the Mariners were named Managers of the Year. The Rookies of the Year were Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers and Marty Cordova of the Twins.
The meeting season, beginning with the gathering of general managers in November and ending with the owners’ meeting in January, can be considered the apex of the “Hot Stove League.” It is during this time that top free agents are signed, trades are made, and rosters begin to be finalized for the coming season. Between November 1, 1995, and January 31, 1996, 272 players signed contracts, either to return to their current team or with a new club. In that same period, 142 players were granted free agency. (It should be noted that 210 players had already been granted free agency in October.) Of the 272 free agents signed during the meeting season, 39 were recent (1993 and 1994), current, or future All-Stars. Seven were future Hall of Famers: Wade Boggs re-signed with the Yankees; Paul Molitor signed with the Twins; Eddie Murray re-signed with the Indians; Craig Biggio re-signed with the Astros; Roberto Alomar was signed by the Orioles; Rickey Henderson signed with the Padres; and Andre Dawson re-signed with the Marlins.
The meeting season can also witness several trades and 1995 was no different. From November 1, 1995, through January 31, 1996, there were 29 deals involving 24 teams and 89 players. Of the 89 players involved, 11 were recent, current or future All-Stars. The most significant name was that of Hall of Fame outfielder Tim Raines, who was traded from the White Sox to the Yankees for a player who never made the major leagues, right-handed pitcher and third baseman Blaise Kozeniewski. At age 37, Raines was no longer the game-changing player he had been, but he continued to be a part-time player for six more seasons (he did not play in 2000). Raines’s last game was in 2002 with the Marlins.
Although the major leagues did not attend the December winter meetings in Los Angeles, the Rule 5 draft was held on December 4, and 17 players were drafted by 15 teams, with both the Tigers and Rangers selecting two players each.3 Of the 17 players drafted, eight made the majors at some point in their careers. Only two of those players, however, appeared in more than 200 games, and one other pitched only one inning in his major-league career.4
During the GM meetings, held in November, The Sporting News presented the Major League Baseball Executive of the Year Award for the second year in a row to John Hart, general manager of the Cleveland Indians.5
During the Minor League meetings, held in December, Baseball America announced its awards for the previous season. The awards and winners were:
- Major League Organization of Year: New York Mets
- Major League Rookie of Year: Hideo Nomo, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Minor League Player of Year: Andruw Jones, Macon Braves
- Minor League Organization of Year: Norfolk, International League (Mets)
- Minor League Manager of Year: Marc Bombard, Indianapolis (Reds)
- Bob Freitas Award: Albuquerque, Pacific Coast, AAA; Midland, Texas, AA; Kane County, Midwest, A.6
Baseball America also named Todd Helton of the University of Tennessee as the 1995 College Player of the Year.7 Helton was the eighth overall pick in the amateur draft, selected by the Rockies. He played in the majors for 17 years and was an All-Star five times.
In addition to the Baseball America awards, the minor leagues also give out their own annual honors in Los Angeles:
- John H. Johnson President’s Award: Columbus Clippers (International)
- Larry MacPhail Trophy: Kane County (Midwest)
- Warren Giles Award: John Hopkins, Carolina League
- Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year: Mary Cain, Portland (Northwest)
- King of Baseball: Gene DaCosse, Los Angeles
While the free-agent signings, trades, Rule 5 draft, and awards occur every year at the Winter Meetings, the 1995 meeting season proved to be unique and historic because, at the January owners’ meeting in Los Angeles, the executive committee recommended a fundamental change to major-league baseball and its scheduling. The committee approved a proposal for interleague play to begin with the 1997 season.
“The plan initially calls for a National League club to play three or four games against each American League club in its corresponding division, bunching them around the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays,” The Sporting News reported. “Division matchups would rotate year by year, so that once every three years, for instance, the Rockies would play the Mariners.”8
As owner of the Brewers, Bud Selig had also supported the concept back in the 1970s.9
Standing in the way of full implementation, however, was one little thing — the lack of a basic agreement between the owners and players. This was the problem that caused the cancellation of the end of the 1994 regular season and the postseason, and also shortened the 1995 season. However, Donald Fehr, executive director of the players union, was not opposed to the idea. The designated-hitter rule was also seen as a possible obstacle to interleague play, although it had not been a problem in the World Series.10
Thus the 1995 series of Winter Meetings, culminating with the gathering of the owners in January, would ultimately have a profound effect on baseball. Indeed, one could argue that it ushered in the biggest change in the game since the American League adopted the designated-hitter rule. No more would a champion in either league be decided solely by games played within that league. No more would the World Series be quite as singular as it had been among American sports — previous participants had not faced each other during the regular season; that now could change. For better or worse, baseball had dramatically changed.
1 Murray Chass, “Baseball; Majors’ G.M.’s Meet, Greet and Then Retreat,” New York Times, January 17, 2006. nytimes.com/1996/01/17/sports/baseball-majors-gm-s-meet-greet-and-then-retreat.html, accessed November 12, 2015.
2 It might have been 15 straight years, but the postseason was canceled in 1994 due to the strike.
4 baseball-reference.com/players/, accessed January 20, 2016. The two players with over 200 games were Kim Batiste and Kimera Bartee. The pitcher was John Ratliff, who pitched one perfect inning for the A’s in 2000.
8 Steve Marantz, “The Americanational League,” The Sporting News, January 29, 1996: 38.
10 Steve Marantz, “The Americanational League,” The Sporting News, January 29, 1996: 39.