1997 Winter Meetings: Minor-League Changes, Major-League Impact

This article was written by Jessica Frank

This article was published in the


Baseball's Business: The Winter Meetings: 1958-2016On the afternoon of Saturday, December 14, 1996, a 700-foot, 70,000-ton bulk cargo ship, fully loaded with grain, lost engine power and glided ominously toward a shopping mall along New Orleans’ Mississippi River. Acting quickly, the cool-headed pilot dropped his anchors in an attempt to slow the massive vessel and blasted the emergency horn. As people on shore scrambled frantically, he managed to veer around two docked cruise ships and a floating casino before smacking into a busy section of the mall. Shops and restaurants were demolished by the crushing impact. The Riverside Hilton evacuated 180 of its 460 rooms, reporting major harm to 20. Rescue workers combed the 200-foot swath of mangled steel beams and rubble, prepared for tragedy. But while as many as 140 people needed treatment, most of the injuries were surprisingly minor and there were no deaths. Financial casualties were another story, with damage to the ship listed at over $1.8 million, and reconstruction of the Riverwalk estimated at over $15 million.

 

OPENING SESSION FIREBRAND

One year later, Will Lingo of Baseball America sat in Grand Salon A at the repaired Riverside Hilton and couldn’t resist making a comparison. The Opening General Session of the 96th annual Baseball Winter Meetings was underway and, like the ship’s pilot, National Association Vice President Stan Brand was sounding his own alarm, trying to alert minor-league executives to impending financial disaster. [1]

Baseball’s longstanding antitrust exemption was under attack, he reminded them, and the possibility of repeal was perilously close.

With little going on at this year’s meetings, Brand, a Washington-based lawyer who had made the antitrust exemption his primary focus, had an unusually large audience. In an ardent, fiery address, he laid out the danger, and called on the National Association members for a full-throated defense.[2] A brief clause inserted in the December 1996 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) had sparked this most recent threat. In an unanticipated stipulation, owners and the union had committed to petition Congress for a partial repeal that would permit major-league players to file antitrust lawsuits but leave the exemption otherwise intact.[3]

Congress had jumped on the invitation.

In an article evaluating the eventual legislation, Gary R. Roberts explained that since the mid-1950s, various congressmen and senators had regularly proposed bills to undo the Supreme Court’s precedent-setting 1922 Federal Baseball decision.[4] Normally, such bills failed quickly. But this time, with the pre-approved support of the players union and major-league owners, Congress saw a chance at easy bipartisan success.[5] As soon as the new CBA was in effect, Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and co-sponsoring Senators Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont), Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina), and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-New York) worked swiftly to formulate S.53, the Curt Flood Act of 1997. By October 29, 1997 the bill had advanced out of committee and was headed toward a floor vote.[6]

But the minor leagues, who had not been involved in drafting the CBA, were fiercely opposed.[7] The major and minor leagues were a complex, intertwined network, and the minors depended on subsidies from their major-league affiliates. The NAPBL had no tolerance for any change that might weaken the system.[8]

At the opening session, Brand questioned the motives behind the bill and challenged its objective, discounting the right to sue as “an empty threat.” Only a year earlier, the Supreme Court had ruled against NFL players in a similar case, he said, establishing that as long as a collective bargaining agreement was in effect, players would be required to take the “radical and disruptive step” of decertifying as a labor union before filing an antitrust lawsuit.[9]

Meanwhile, he was acutely concerned about a likely assault on the amateur draft and reserve clause – the cornerstone for the multimillion-dollar player-development system.[10] Union leader Donald Fehr and the Players Association had a secret strategy, Brand claimed, “to break the amateur draft and redirect the money allocated to the minor leagues to those players and the agents representing them.”[11] He feared the current bill was a “Trojan horse” for just such a maneuver, despite language specifically included to shield the minors.[12]

After meeting with Brand in June, Major League Baseball’s Executive Council had pledged to pull its support for the bill unless the minor leagues were satisfactorily protected.[13] It was in their interest to stay on friendly terms. If Brand was successful, either the antitrust exemption  would be upheld completely, or its most important elements would be preserved, including issues of franchise relocation, control over the minor leagues, and broadcasting and licensing rights.[14] Unfortunately, Brand recounted, when he asked Senator Hatch to postpone a June 17 hearing in order to give the National Association time to draft additional protections, the request had been “summarily denied.”[15] Fighting further in committee would be fruitless, he said, describing the members’ attitude as stonewalling and noninclusive.[16]

He told the minor-league officials that by working together they still had a chance to protect their industry.[17] Composed of 175 teams scattered throughout the country, most with well-established ties to their communities, the National Association had the ear of hundreds of congressmen.[18] Brand pressed them to make their case. Small towns across America benefited from minor-league baseball, and the antitrust exemption resulted in “increased baseball product at cheaper prices,” he argued, cautioning they would need to “stand fast.”[19] “This won’t be an easy fight,” he said. “Defeating a committee recommendation is not an everyday occurrence. It will require a well-organized, sustained and unrelenting effort, and I will be calling on each and every one of you to participate.”[20]

Over the next year, in what was described by Gary Roberts as “a long, rancorous, and difficult process,”[21] Brand and the NAPBL battled to ensure that the burgeoning legislation would not ruin their business. Their wide-reaching influence proved to be a powerful weapon. “[T]here was virtually no chance of any bill affecting baseball’s antitrust exclusion ever getting to the House floor without the support of the NAPBL,” Roberts wrote.[22]

On October 27, 1998, amended with multiple minor-league protections, the Curt Flood Act of 1998 was signed by President William J. Clinton.

Roberts assessed the effect of the amendments in his conclusion:

“[T]he ensuing protections for baseball, and especially the minor leagues, that were put into the Act … actually expand the scope and strength of the antitrust immunity in most respects and leave it largely unaffected in the major league player-labor market. Thus, legislation that started out to apply antitrust more broadly to baseball has probably caused exactly the opposite effect.”[23]

 

BOOM OR BUST

National Association president Mike Moore also used his opening session platform to issue a warning. If the minor leagues wanted to avoid an economic collapse when the boom ended, he said, they would need to develop a “vision.”[24]It was time to take a serious look at their industry and figure out where they wanted to go.[25] For the past 10 years, the financial worth of many teams had been swelling faster than their operating profits. With fewer and fewer buyers willing to pay inflated prices, franchise values were bound to drop.[26] And while some clubs were thriving, others were barely keeping up.

Anxious to come up with solutions before the likely slowdown in three to four years, Moore asked for a committee of league officials and presidents to review the records and capital expenses of all the clubs and identify those that might be in danger of facing financial trouble.

And he implored the clubs to shed their greedy tendencies and develop some answers at the league level. “You are not operators of isolated competitive businesses,” he reminded them, “You are partners in a joint venture. Those of you operating highly profitable clubs can’t make a dime if the other clubs in your league fold.”[27]

Earlier in the day, the National Association’s vice president of administration, Pat O’Conner, had also expressed concern at the profit disparity. Overall numbers were strong, he said, with attendance and gross revenues at near-record levels, but 60 to 70 percent of the operating income was being generated by 10 percent of the clubs.[28] The 10-year term of the newly adopted Professional Baseball Agreement, with a commitment guaranteeing every club an affiliation through the length of the agreement, would provide minor-league teams with stability, but further increase their financial burden. Moderately optimistic, he praised the National Association’s hallmark characteristics of innovation and efficiency, saying it would be up to each team to make the deal as expensive, or inexpensive, as it wished.[29] To help control the costs, he urged NA members to drop their old gripes and join forces with their major-league partner. “The time has come for all of baseball to bury the hatchets of the past and proactively plan for the future,” he said.[30]

 

MAJOR SHUFFLE

Despite being absent at the Winter Meetings, some significant developments kept the major leagues in the news throughout the 1997-1998 offseason. Two new franchises, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks, had been created, and the expansion affected the majors in a number of ways.

First, there was the discussion of radical realignment.

At the start of November, the executive council voted unanimously to have the Milwaukee Brewers move from the AL to the NL, making them the first team in the history of major-league baseball to change leagues.[31]

In a November 6 article announcing the Brewers’ move, Murray Chass summarized the realignment discussion.[32]Adding a new team to each league would have caused both leagues to have 15 teams, and would have necessitated scattering the interleague games throughout the schedule, instead of grouping them in short bunches, an arrangement favored by owners.

Originally, major-league baseball hoped to place the expansion Devil Rays in the AL East, shifting the Detroit Tigers from the East to the Central and the Kansas City Royals from the Central to the West. But when the Royals refused to change divisions, the Devil Rays were dropped in the AL West instead. Royals Chairman David Glass then proposed a complete overhaul based on geographic location. In his bold restructuring, 15 teams would be bumped from one league to the other; the Royals would migrate to the NL Central, generating a rivalry with the St. Louis Cardinals; and all eight Western teams would wind up in the new NL West.

Both the Players Association and the owners said no; San Francisco Giants owner Peter Magowan even threatened legal action. Acting Commissioner Bud Selig and Boston Red Sox CEO John Harrington, who was chairing the realignment committee, suggested a more moderate reshuffling of seven teams. This, too, was rejected.

Owners eventually approved the most minimal realignment possible, having only one team change leagues. The Royals were given the first chance to switch, but turned it down, leading some to question whether they had really been a stalking horse for the Brewers all along.

In the end the Brewers went from the AL Central to the NL Central, becoming the National League’s 16th team and the sixth team in the Central Division; the Tigers moved from the AL East to the AL Central, taking the Brewers’ spot; and the Devil Rays vacated their original expansion placement in the AL West, and settled in the AL East.[33]

 

DESIGNATED DISPUTE

The expansion and resulting realignment kicked up the designated-hitter debate.

An Associated Press article published in November 1997 cited results of a recent poll. Almost 80 percent of fans were in favor of a change, with 45 percent calling for the DH to be eliminated, while 34 percent preferred to have the DH in both leagues.[34]

The same November AP article revealed that baseball owners were using both incentive and strong-arm tactics to have the union agree to get rid of the DH. According to the report, management negotiator Randy Levine had contacted the Players Association on August 29 with a proposal/mild threat. Owners wanted to do away with the DH, he told them, and the collective-bargaining agreement gave them the authority to “unilaterally change playing rules with one year advance notice.”[35] To ameliorate the expected negative reaction, Levine said that owners would increase active rosters from 25 to 26. But the union rejected that offer, saying they would counter with a grievance that the DH was “more than a playing rule,” and that the additional roster spot would likely be filled by a low-priced rookie. “It just aggravates matters,” said union leader Donald Fehr.[36]

The union’s annual salary report, issued on December 2, 1997, made a strong case for the DH. And an equally strong one against it. Designated hitters, almost all of whom were veteran players, had earned an average salary of $3,585,788 in 1997, making the DH the highest paid position in the American League, and the second highest overall. Only first basemen were paid more, with an average salary of $3,717,579.[37] Clearly, the DH was good for veterans’ bank accounts and stressful for owners’ payrolls.

Had major league officials attended the Winter Meetings, the bristling controversy might have made for a juicy war of words. According to Fehr, any attempts to get rid of the DH would be interpreted as a bold sign that owners were prepared to fracture the current labor peace. But by April, the debate was dormant once again.[38]

“There is no specific proposal right now to force the American League to consider elimination of the DH,” Selig said when asked about the issue. “[Last summer] we were talking about a rather significant amount of realignment. I guess I would call that the event in history, the force that would say we need to have one set of playing rules. At least for the time being, we don’t need to do that.”[39]

But while Selig and the owners were willing to back off the elimination idea, they were firm on keeping the National League DH-free. “It became clear in the realignment discussion,” Selig explained, “that the National League clubs were unalterably opposed to the designated hitter. They are inflexible. If anybody thinks ultimately the National League will go to the DH, they’re living in a fairy land. That’s not going to happen.”[40]

 

RULE 5 DRAFT

The 1998 expansion also livened up the offseason transactions. A month before the Winter Meetings, an expansion draft had been held in Phoenix for the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks. The draft itself was unremarkable, with both teams choosing young unknowns over high-salaried veterans.[41] But the instant it concluded, a rash of trades were made, with 31 players exchanged in the course of a single night. Joe Hoppel of The Sporting News termed it a “swap mart,” pointedly criticizing many of the decisions as shamelessly economic.[42]

Rather than working to fortify their rosters, ballclubs were fixated on slashing their budgets, Hoppel asserted, naming the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins as the most blatant offenders.

“Perhaps never in sports history has a team so openly acknowledged that the won-lost ledger … is really secondary to the credits-debits ledger,” he wrote.[43] With a payroll that had surged from $25.2 million to $53.5 million between 1996 and 1997, Marlins owner H. Wayne Huizenga had instructed his GM, Dave Dombrowski, to severely reduce their outlay.[44]Dombrowski complied, dispensing with their best hitter, outfielder Moises Alou, right before a predraft trade freeze, and dealing closer Robb Nen, center fielder Devon White, and first baseman Jeff Conine as soon as the weeklong moratorium ended.[45] One columnist called it a “liquidation.”[46] “[W]e have our marching orders,” Dombrowski said.[47]

And in a separate pair of dollar-driven moves, Montreal Expos GM Jim Beattie swapped Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez for one of Boston’s top prospects, right-handed pitcher Carl Pavano, plus outfielder Tony Armas, and traded second baseman Mike Lansing to the Rockies for outfielder Mark Hamlin and two Class-A pitchers.[48] “We do not intend to win next year,” Beattie said candidly. “We intend to have a championship club when we move into our new stadium in 2001.”[49]

During the Rule 5 draft in New Orleans, the one official area of major-league participation at the 1997 Meetings, trading and shuffling continued. Seventy-two players changed teams during the three phases of the draft, though only one, second baseman Jeff Huson, who moved from the Rockies to the Mariners, had any major-league experience.[50]

Under normal policy, teams may not send Rule 5 signees to the minors in the first year without first placing them on waivers or offering them back to the original club at half the $50,000 purchase price. This limitation was lifted for the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks. They were also allowed a “delayed phase” after round two of the major-league phase, in which they had 24 hours to add up to three more players as their rosters permitted.

The Devil Rays, who had signed five free agents since the November 18 expansion draft (southpaw Wilson Alvarez, third baseman Wade Boggs, right-hander Roberto Hernandez, and infielder-outfielders Dave Martinez and Paul Sorrento), arrived in New Orleans with a full roster of 40, unable to select any additional prospects. “Honestly, at the time of the expansion draft, we planned to leave a spot open on our roster for a Rule 5 selection, but with all the free agents we signed that was no longer possible,” Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar said.[51]

Meanwhile, with a roster of only 35, the Diamondbacks had ample space to try out the special draft rules. They chose right-handed pitchers in each of the first two phases, and a righty and lefty in the delayed phase. “The draft was intriguing to us because of the dispensation system in effect this year,” said Diamondbacks GM Joe Garagiola Jr. “We looked at it as a one-time opportunity to acquire talent that would not normally be available to us.”[52]

But even though there was a lot of action, talent was scarce. The November expansion draft had already ravaged the rosters, and many teams held onto players they ordinarily would have let go. “There’s no question there was less quality than normal,” said Phillies scouting director Mike Arbuckle.[53] Of the four Diamondbacks picks, the three right-handers – Martin Sanchez, Ynocencio de la Cruz, and Russell Jacobs – never made it to the majors, while the lefty Stephen Randolph pitched a combined three seasons with Arizona and Houston.

The Florida Marlins, whose left-handed starting pitcher Tony Saunders had been snatched by the Devil Rays as the first expansion-draft pick, lost seven more players during the Rule 5 draft, including southpaw Hector Mercado. Hurling for the Marlins’ Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, Mercado was one of the better prospects, with a team-leading record of 11-3, and a 3.96 ERA.

He was selected by the Phillies as the second pick of the draft, then immediately sent to the Mets for right-handed closer Mike Welch in a prearranged exchange. “He was right there, he was our 41st guy,” Marlins farm director John Boles lamented. “But you can’t protect everyone.”[54]

A year and a half later, after missing all of the 1998 season due to injury, Mercado was released by the Mets on August 4, 1999. He signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds that December, and made his major-league debut on April 4, 2000, giving up one earned run in a ninth-inning relief appearance. Over a total of four years between the Reds and the Phillies, he would pitch 124⅔ innings in 112 games, with a 5-4 record and a 4.55 ERA.

The number-one draft choice, right-handed pitcher Javier Martinez, was plucked from the Cubs’ farm system by the Athletics, then traded to the Pirates for cash. He had a losing record and a less-than-stunning ERA with two of the Cubs’ Class-A teams in 1997, but had caught the attention of some scouts, going 5-2, 2.13 in Puerto Rico over the winter.[55]Martinez lasted only one season in the majors, posting mediocre stats: 41 innings in 37 games, with an ERA of 4.83. Released by the Pirates in December 1999, he remained in baseball for a while, spending two and a half years in the Reds organization and five months signed to the Orioles, but did not pitch in another major-league game.

 

LUXURY TAX

Players’ salaries had soared to an 18.7 percent increase in 1997, totaling over $1 billion for the first time,[56] and shortly after the Winter Meetings, the five major-league teams with the biggest payrolls received official notice about the sport’s very first luxury tax. Added to the 1996 Collective Bargaining Agreement after the 1994 labor dispute and season-ending strike, the tax was an attempt to place limits on ever-increasing payrolls without the imposed harshness of a salary cap, opposed by players.[57] It had been the main sticking point during negotiations.[58]

In a formula approved for three years, an annual threshold would be calculated by averaging the fifth- and sixth-highest payrolls, and the top five teams would be taxed on every dollar exceeding the threshold. The tax rate would stand at 35 percent for the first two seasons, then be skimmed to 34 percent for 1999. [59]

All five teams penalized in the first year had made the 1997 playoffs. The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles owed the most, over $4 million apiece, on rivaling $68 and $67 million-dollar payrolls. The American League champion Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves had also been handed significant bills, slightly above $2 million and $1.3 million respectively. And while the World Series-winning Florida Marlins owed just a fraction of the total $12 million due, the $153,046 charge was a result of a paysheet that had more than doubled from 1996 to 1997.

Payrolls had increased so much that the 1997 threshold, set roughly at $51 million in the CBA, was boosted to $55,606,921 once the final figures were in.[60] At the time of the assessment, eight other teams were spending over $50 million, and only one team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, was under $20 million.[61]

As per the agreement, $10 million of the collected funds went toward paying off the revenue-sharing shortfall, and the remaining $2 million-plus was distributed to the five teams with the lowest net revenue from the prior season.[62]

 

LAW AND ORDER

Also percolating during the offseason was the question of who would finally assume the duties of full-time commissioner.

A December 1997 article by Murray Chass of the New York Times gave some insight into the search process.[63] Chass wrote that Bud Selig, who had been maintaining the role on an interim basis for over five years, was helping to lead the search. Selig and search committee chairman Jerry McMorris, owner of the Colorado Rockies, had been conducting interviews, and an unnamed source said the candidates had been narrowed to three. But the process had been so secretive that there were rumblings as to whether a serious search was occurring at all.

McMorris assured reporters that they were getting close. “We have told the Executive Council we would be in with our recommendations at our next meeting,” he said. “That meeting will be before the owners’ quarterly meetings the middle of next month. I could be very comfortable with several of the candidates. I haven’t tried to rank them.”[64]

At least one person was pressuring Selig to take the job himself. Paul Beeston, who only months before had resigned as Blue Jays president to become major-league baseball’s chief operating officer, reportedly told Selig he might quit his new position if anyone other than Selig was chosen.

“My whole feeling has been that if I could influence Bud to stay by doing my job properly and making it easier for him, then I’ve done my job,” Beeston offered on the record. “I would love for him to stay. I have a great relationship with him. I work well with him. I have no hesitation in telling him what I think or what I think we should be doing.” Good friends with Selig, Beeston said he often prodded him playfully, asking “When are we going to end this charade?” [65]

McMorris admitted that some of the owners might also prefer Selig over a new choice, but believed Selig would turn down such a request. “I think there’s always a chance of a draft movement,” McMorris said. “I don’t honestly believe Bud will accept even if the draft was strong enough to give it to him. He’s made it clear he’s not desirous of doing it. I know what I’m saying defies conventional wisdom and in baseball anything can happen.”[66]

Seven months later, on July 9, 1998, Chass filed another report. On his 2,130th day of serving in a provisional capacity, Selig had been elected “quickly and unanimously” as major-league baseball’s ninth commissioner.[67] Despite his resistance, the owners had been able to wear him down. “We’ve been working on him as long as I can remember,” disclosed Twins owner Carl Pohlad.[68]

Selig told reporters he had made up his mind rather suddenly one day, while driving his car. “You’re going to do this,” he had realized. He pointed to his strong working relationship with Beeston as pivotal in his decision, explaining that Beeston’s capability of handling the “day-to-day, operational things” would free him to tackle the more “global” issues. Developing an equitable method of revenue-sharing and securing the labor peace were both at the top of his list.[69]

“We need to reduce the acrimony from this equation once and for all. …We’ve had eight work stoppages. We have to make sure that the next generation doesn’t have to endure any more work stoppages,” Selig vowed. [70]

 

MAKING THE WINTER MEETINGS WHOLE AGAIN

Besides the lively opening session, journalists found little to report on. Without major-league participation, news was scarce. Will Lingo described attendees “roam[ing] the lobbies … ask[ing] baseball friends … ‘Is anything going on?’”[71]And in this fifth consecutive year of major-league absence, much of the chatter was about having the big leagues rejoin the party.[72]

The December get-together had been disrupted in 1990, when a nasty quarrel over the Professional Baseball Agreement provoked an initial split. Rather than attend the Los Angeles meetings planned by the National Association that year, Major League Baseball organized its own gathering in Chicago, drawing away the press and overshadowing the NA.[73]

Majors and minors reconvened in 1991, but after two years back together, major-league owners decided they’d had enough of players and their aggressive agents dominating the activity and pushing prices sky-high.

Acting Commissioner Bud Selig and the Executive Council deliberated, and announced an official boycott, prohibiting GMs from attending future sessions. And with only minor-league news to cover, most reporters went elsewhere.[74]

But by 1997, the majors realized that restricting signing activity at the Winter Meetings wasn’t doing anything to control costs.[75] And relations between the major and minor leagues had improved.

Over the previous seven years, the National Association had added staff, modernized operations, and developed a regular working relationship with the major leagues. VP Stanley Brand’s antitrust preservation efforts, and the economic success of many of the minor-league franchises further strengthened their position. The majors now viewed the minors as an asset, and as a result, a rumor that Major League Baseball would place a five-affiliate limit on its teams, eliminating many Class-A clubs and thereby reducing money spent on player development, never materialized.[76] Instead, the PBA was settled easily, and was already approved when the Winter Meetings commenced. All that remained to be done in New Orleans was finalize the financial and operational details. Changes included an adjustment in the ticket tax, resulting in some teams having to pay more, and a shift in the distribution of equipment costs.[77] Minor-league teams would share the expense of bats and balls, and pay for their own uniforms.[78] The most notable agreement was to have the minor leagues be responsible for funding umpire development, a program that cost the major leagues $4.8 million in 1997, but that the NA hoped to knock down to $3.5 million.[79]

The smooth dealings left the majors and minors in an amicable, accommodating spirit. Plus, there were signs that Major League Baseball was already reconsidering its voluntary absence. A year earlier, at the 1996 Winter Meetings in Boston, the Red Sox had organized a coinciding fanfest at the same convention center, scheduled appearances by some of their players and coaches, and invited the participation of other major-league executives.[80] Acting Commissioner Selig issued a casual reversal of the ban, allowing GMs to attend the weekend’s meetings “merely if they want to.”[81]

And the raucous atmosphere at the November 1997 expansion draft reminded some baseball officials of the fun they were missing. “This is the kind of activity we used to have at the old Winter Meetings that the fans love,” said Joe Garagiola.[82] Even Selig was beginning to soften. “I thought we got a lot of positive publicity,” he said. “Having a day like that makes you rethink things.”[83] National Association President Mike Moore confirmed Selig’s renewed affection: “There’s a lot of interest in (bringing the meetings together). Bud has indicated to me all along that he would like the meetings to be together again. We just haven’t figured out what will work for both sides.”[84]

The only remaining obstacle seemed to be one of scheduling. Since the breakup, the major leagues had begun holding owners’ meetings in January, with the minors keeping the traditional mid-December time. Both groups had their reasons to stay put.[85]

But around the hotel, people seemed willing to change, with some minor-league officials agreeable to shifting to January and others suggesting November as a possibility. The National Association announced that a committee had been formed to resolve the issue and bring the meetings together once again.[86] And at the annual awards luncheon, Maryland Baseball Chairman Peter Kirk added an extra nudge, saying that he had been “taking the postcards in his hotel room and mailing them to major-league officials with a simple greeting: ‘Wish you were here.’ “[87]

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to: Michael Teevan, VP Communications, Major League Baseball, & Jeff Lantz, Senior Director, Communications, Minor League Baseball, for research assistance; and SABR member Mike Hanks, for so generously digging into his personal Baseball America archive.

 

Sources

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

Associated Press. “Barge Hits Riverwalk Mall in New Orleans, Scores Injured,” Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle, December 15, 1996. chronicle.augusta.com/stories/1996/12/15/met_201330.shtml.

Bragg, Rick. “Freighter Hits Riverfront Mall in New Orleans,” New York Times, December 15, 1996. nytimes.com/1996/12/15/us/freighter-hits-riverfront-mall-in-new-orleans.html.

Bragg, Rick. “A Nightmare Along the Mississippi,” New York Times, December 16, 1996.

nytimes.com/1996/12/16/us/a-nightmare-along-the-mississippi.html.

 

Notes

[1] Will Lingo. “Brand Warns of Looming Antitrust Threat,” Baseball America, January 5-18, 1998: 20.

[2] Ibid. See also Stan Brand, Address at the Opening General Session of the Baseball Winter Meetings on Friday, December 12, 1997 in New Orleans, NAPBL News Release, officially released remarks.

[3] Gary R. Roberts, “A Brief Appraisal of the Curt Flood Act of 1998 From the Minor League Perspective,” Marquette Sports Law Review, Volume 9, Issue 2, Spring, Article 13 (1999): 416.

scholarship.law.marquette.edu/sportslaw/vol9/iss2/13. See:

“ARTICLE XXVIII – Antitrust

The Clubs and the Association will jointly request and cooperate in lobbying Congress to pass a law that will clarify that Major League Baseball Players are covered under the antitrust laws (i.e., that Major League Players will have the same rights under the antitrust laws as do other professional athletes, e.g., football and basketball players), along with a provision that makes it clear that the passage of that bill does not change the application of the antitrust laws in any other context or with respect to any other person or entity. ….” (Basic Agreement between the American League of Professional Baseball clubs and the National League of Professional Clubs and Major League Baseball Players Association, effective January 1, 1997, Art. XXVIII: 107).

[4] Gary R. Roberts, 413-414. See Federal Base Ball Club of Baltimore, Inc. v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, Inc., 259 U.S. 200 (1922). In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals ruling that the Sherman Antitrust Act did not apply to the business of baseball. In the opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. reasoned that exhibitions of baseball were strictly state affairs, and therefore did not constitute interstate commerce. “(T)ransport is a mere incident,” he wrote, “not the essential thing.”

[5] Gary R. Roberts, 416.

[6] Gary R. Roberts, 416-417.  See also Congress.Gov congress.gov/bill/105th-congress/senate-bill/53.

[7] Gary R. Roberts, 417-418.

[8] Jerold J. Duquette, Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1999), 122.

[9] Stan Brand. Brand referenced Brown v. Pro Football, Inc. (95-388), U.S. 231 (1996), where the Supreme Court, in an 8-to-1 ruling, held that a “non-statutory” exemption, implied from federal labor laws, protected NFL owners from antitrust liability, even after they imposed unilateral terms when negotiations with the NFL Players Association over development squad salaries reached an impasse.

“To permit antitrust liability here threatens to introduce instability and uncertainty into the collective bargaining process,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote in the majority opinion, “for antitrust law often forbids or discourages the kinds of joint discussions and behavior that the collective bargaining process invites or requires.” Jerold J. Duquette argued that Brown, along with Powell v. National Football League, 678 F. Supp. 777 (D. Minn. 1988) and National Basketball Association v. L Williams, 45 F.3D 684 (2D Cir. 1995), “essentially made baseball’s antitrust exemption in labor negotiations irrelevant. By ruling that the nonstatutory labor exemption applies so widely,” he wrote, “the courts diminished Major League Baseball’s need for its exemption in labor matters, allowing them to offer it up in labor negotiations and thereby co-opt the most potent foe of the exemption, the players.” Jerold J. Duquette, 119.  

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “(b) Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect – (1) the applicability or nonapplicability of the antitrust laws to the amateur draft of professional baseball, the minor league reserve clause, the agreement between professional major league baseball teams and teams of the National Association of Baseball, commonly known as the ‘Professional Baseball Agreement,’ or any other matter relating to the minor leagues.” (Excerpted from “Curt Flood Act of 1997” Section 2. Application of the Antitrust Laws to Professional Major League Baseball.)

[13] Stan Brand.

[14] Jerold J. Duquette.

[15] Stan Brand.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Gary R. Roberts, 418.

[19] Stan Brand.

[20] Will Lingo.

[21] Gary R. Roberts, 419.

[22] Gary R. Roberts, 418.

[23] Gary R. Roberts, 437.

[24] Lacy Lusk, “Minors Make Plans for Slower Times,” Minor League Notebook, Baseball America, January 5-18, 1998: 21.

[25] Mike Moore, Address at the Opening General Session of the Baseball Winter Meetings on Friday, December 12, 1997, in New Orleans, NAPBL News Release, officially released remarks.

[26] Will Lingo.

[27] Mike Moore.

[28] Pat O’Conner, Address at the Opening General Session of the Baseball Winter Meetings on Friday, December 12, 1997, in New Orleans, NAPBL News Release, officially released remarks.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Murray Chass, “Brewers Cleared to Shift to N.L. Central in ’98,” New York Times, November 6, 1997.

nytimes.com/1997/11/06/sports/baseball-brewers-cleared-to-shift-to-nl-central-in-98.html.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Associated Press, “DH Ban Hot Topic to Owners,” Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle, November 30, 1997.

chronicle.augusta.com/stories/1997/11/30/oth_218326.shtml.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Murray Chass, “Sultans Who Swat: D.H.’s Are Well Paid,” New York Times, December 3, 1997.

nytimes.com/1997/12/03/sports/baseball-sultans-who-swat-dh-s-are-well-paid.html.

[38] Murray Chass, “The D.H. Is 25 Years Old, but Now the Question Is Whether It Will Get to 30,” New York Times, April 5, 1998. nytimes.com/1998/04/05/sports/baseball-notebook-dh-25-years-old-but-now-question-whether-it-will-get-30.html.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Murray Chass. “Unknowns Are Drafted as the Famous Are Traded,” New York Times, November 19, 1997.

nytimes.com/1997/11/19/sports/baseball-unknowns-are-drafted-as-the-famous-are-traded.html.

[42] Joe Hoppel, “Upstaging the Expansion Draft,” The Sporting News, December 1, 1997: 38.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Murray Chass. “Everybody Must Go! Marlins Are Liquidating,” New York Times, November 12, 1997.

nytimes.com/1997/11/12/sports/baseball-everybody-must-go-marlins-are-liquidating.html.

[45] Alou was sent to the Astros for a trio of right-handed pitchers – Manuel Barrios, Oscar Henriquez and Mark Johnson. Nen went to the Giants for righty Joe Fontenot and two minor-league right-handers, Mick Pageler and Mike Villano. White was shipped to the new Diamondbacks for a minor-league left-hander, Jesus Martinez, while Conine headed to Kansas City for minor-league right-hander Blaine Mull.

[46] Murray Chass, “Everybody Must Go.”.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Jeff Blair, “Montreal Expos Report,” The Sporting News, December 1, 1997: 41.

[49] Joe Hoppel.

[50] Allan Simpson, “Rule 5 Keeps Teams Busy,” Baseball America, January 5-18, 1998: 22.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Murray Chass, “Players’ Salaries Passed $1 Billion Mark,” New York Times, November 14, 1997.

nytimes.com/1997/11/14/sports/baseball-players-salaries-passed-1-billion-mark.html.

[57] Nathaniel Grow, “MLB’s Evolving Luxury Tax,” Fangraphs.com, May 1, 2015.

fangraphs.com/blogs/mlbs-evolving-luxury-tax/.

[58] Associated Press, “Baseball Nails 5 Playoff Teams With Luxury-Tax Assessments,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City), December 26, 1997. deseretnews.com/article/602807/Baseball-nails-5-playoff-teams-with-luxury-tax-assessments.html.

[59] Paul D. Staudohar, “The Baseball Strike of 1994-95,” Monthly Labor Review, March 1997: 27.

[60] Associated Press, “Baseball Nails 5 Playoff Teams With Luxury-Tax Assessments.”

[61] Murray Chass, “Yankees to Pay $4.4 Million as Lion’s Share of Teams’ 1997 Luxury Tax,” New York Times, December 25, 1997. nytimes.com/1997/12/25/sports/baseball-yankees-to-pay-4.4-million-as-lion-s-share-of-teams-1997-luxury-tax.html.

[62] Ibid. Also see Associated Press, “Baseball Nails 5 Playoff Teams With Luxury-tax Assessments,” Deseret News, December 26, 1997.

[63] Murray Chass, “All Quiet on Some Fronts: Selig Is Silent on Big Question,” New York Times, December 14, 1997.

nytimes.com/1997/12/14/sports/baseball-notebook-all-quiet-on-some-fronts-selig-is-silent-on-big-question.html.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Murray Chass, “Take Away the ‘Acting’ Label: Selig Is Baseball’s Commissioner,” New York Times, July 10, 1998. nytimes.com/1998/07/10/sports/baseball-take-away-the-acting-label-selig-is-baseball-s-commissioner.html.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Will Lingo.

[72] Will Lingo.

[73] Will Lingo, “Minors, Majors Should Get Meetings Back Together,” Baseball America, December 22, 1997-January 4, 1998: 12.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Jerold J. Duquette, 122-3.

[77] Lacy Lusk, “Winter Meetings Should Be Peaceful,” Minor League Notebook, Baseball America, December 22, 1997-January 4, 1998: 13.

[78] Pat O’Conner.

[79] Lacy Lusk, “Minors Make Plans for Slower Times,” Minor League Notebook, Baseball America, January 5-18, 1998.

[80] Will Lingo, “Minors, Majors Should Get Meetings Back Together.”

[81] Ronald Blum, Associated Press, “Most GMs to Avoid Winter Meetings,” Salina (Kansas) Journal, December 3, 1996: 13.

[82] Joe Hoppel.

[83] Associated Press, “DH Ban Hot Topic to Owners,” Augusta Chronicle, November 30, 1997.

chronicle.augusta.com/stories/1997/11/30/oth_218326.shtml.

[84] Will Lingo, “Minors, Majors Should Get Meetings Back Together.”

[85] Ibid.

[86] Will Lingo, “Brand Warns of Looming Antitrust Threat,” Baseball America, January 5-18, 1998: 20.

[87] Ibid.

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