1927 Winter Meetings: A Little on the Drafty Side

This article was written by Marshall Adesman

This article was published in the


Introduction

Deep in the heart of Texas, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (better known as the minor leagues) huffed and puffed at their major-league brethren and tried to … well … not blow the house down but remodel it into something they could live with more comfortably.  But from New York, the majors basically told them the house was fine the way it was and if they didn’t like it, they were free to move out and find their own place. It was a dispute that could have only one ending, but it was allowed to percolate for more than a year before becoming a major issue at the 1928 conventions.

 

The Eyes of Baseball Are Upon You

The minor leagues kicked off the annual series of winter baseball meetings when they gathered at the Baker Hotel in Dallas, Texas, on December 6. Not quite three years old, the hotel was looking for a position of prominence in a city experiencing a population explosion,[1] and was happy to play host to delegates from two dozen leagues, spread out from coast to coast.

The meetings began with a bang. Mike Sexton, president of the NAPBL, gave his annual State of the Minors address and went right after what he termed the big-league teams’ indiscriminate signing of young players. This may sound strange to many twenty-first-century readers, but at that time players were generally signed by minor-league clubs, which would eventually sell them to teams in higher classifications, including the major leagues; this money often proved to be the difference between a profitable minor-league season and the need to find funds to make it through the winter. But big-league owners were beginning to think about cutting out the middleman – namely the minors – and Sexton decried the “mad scramble” for talent that made it “almost impossible for minors to recruit talent.”[2]  Sexton went on to say that the majors signed the bulk of these players at “inflated” salaries, more for trading purposes than for replacing aging stars, even though the young athletes were under the “gross misconception that professional baseball is the easy money route to prosperity.”[3] He noted that these players were rarely placed on a major-league club’s reserve list. Rather than call for an outright ban on the signing of young talent by the majors, Sexton proposed a rule that required an athlete to play at least one year with a minor-league team; in other words, he would be signed off the sandlots or the college campuses and first play in the minors before his contract could be purchased by any team in a higher classification.[4] It was, simply, a call to make a rule out of what had been heretofore the standard procedure.

But that wasn’t the only thing Sexton had on his mind, or that was of concern to at least some of his constituents. More and more major-league or high-level minor-league teams were buying up control of lower NAPBL clubs, which was causing some rumblings of discontent from among the brethren. Sexton suggested that before it “leads to an open rupture,”[5] the majors and minors work out an arrangement to eliminate “some objectionable features,”[6] which he did not specify. 

And this led directly to another point. The Major-Minor Agreement between the American, National, and minor leagues, which remains to this day as the governing contract that delineates exactly what is expected of all parties (now known as the Basic Agreement), was originally drawn up and signed in 1920. But how long was it supposed to last? One part of the document mentioned seven years, another 25 years, and still another seemed to indicate that it was to be law throughout the life of the commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Landis.[7] Having reached the seven-year benchmark, many minor-league clubs were hoping, for one reason or another, that a new agreement could be legally negotiated, and thus formally charged their Committee on Constitutional Changes to draw up a recommendation that would then be carried to the majors.[8]

Sexton also proposed setting new population limits for minor leagues, to go into effect prior to the 1930 US census. His thought was that operation costs could be held down if the aggregate population requirements for all classifications (that is, adding together the number of people in each Double-A city, in each A-ball city, etc.) were raised, and those populations “confined to the corporate limits of (each) city, as determined by the Federal census.”[9] His suggested numbers were 80,000-199,999 for Class D, 200,000-399,999 for Class C, 400,000-999,999 for Class B, one million to two million for Class A, and over two million for Class AA. He also recommended the establishment of a new Class E, which would total less than 80,000 and which, if adopted, might see the inclusion of some cities currently listed as Class D.[10] It is worth noting that a Class E never became a reality (except for the Twin Ports League, a four-team league in the Duluth, Minnesota-Superior, Wisconsin, area that began in 1943 and folded after six weeks).

John Farrell was officially the secretary-treasurer of the NAPBL (nowadays we would classify him as the chief operating officer), and every year he gave a report to the assembled executives on the season that had just ended. For 1927, Secretary Farrell announced that the minors began the year with 24 leagues and closed with the same 24, representing 174 cities. A total of 410 disputed cases were formally adjudicated by his office. Farrell also stated that in November he had journeyed to Washington to argue before the US House Ways and Means Committee against keeping the war tax on admissions, which had been in effect for a decade already, even though the fighting in Europe had ended nine years ago;[11] it must be noted that Congress officially ended this tax a few months later, in June of 1928.

An annual topic of concern was the drafting of players, and the Dallas meetings were no exception. Minor-league executives were basically opposed to any sort of draft, desiring, as mentioned, to sign their own talent and then freely sell them in an open market for the best possible price. Judge Landis and major-league moguls, however, favored an unlimited selection of players.[12] This dispute was not new and had, in fact, caused a rupture back in 1918,[13] but in 1925 a compromise was worked out that allowed players on the rosters of lower-level teams to be drafted by clubs in higher classifications.  There was – of course! – an exception: the three Double-A organizations (the highest classification at this time), in addition to the Class-A Western League and the Class-B Three-I League, had raised enough of a fuss that they were allowed to operate under a “modified draft” system, in which players could be drafted only if they had already been sent down by a major-league team.[14] And now these five “renegade” loops hoped the other leagues would push the Committee on Constitutional Changes to recommend the modified system to the majors.

But the majority of NAPBL executives knew how the powerful and autocratic Judge Landis felt about this matter and were wary about antagonizing him; he already believed that some Double-A teams were using the draft to implement their own version of a farm system, which he vigorously and vociferously opposed.[15] They therefore voted to recommend to the majors a “standard” draft system, and furthermore ordered the five renegade leagues to fall into line,[16] which led to bitterness and the possibility of “war within the ranks of the National Association.”[17] 

Bitter feelings were also present on at least one other front. Two teams in the Class A Western League, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, were seeking to move into the Class A Texas League, a change prompted by geography and, no doubt, economics.  In a classic “who said what?” the two clubs claimed that league officials had told them earlier in the year that they could depart as long as they found two other franchises ready to take their places, and St. Joseph, Missouri, and Pueblo, Colorado, were being offered as possibilities.[18] But now the Western League decided it would rather keep the two Oklahoma cities, which prompted outrage and a formal petition before the minor leagues’ Board of Arbitration.  Set up in 1902, this body primarily ruled on disputes between players and owners and had the power to hand out suspensions. Every year it seemed to have one major case thrown in its lap, and in 1927 it was this Western League conflict.  The board’s decision was that territorial rights were “one of the pillar principles of Organized Baseball,” and thus Tulsa and Oklahoma City did not have the right to move into another league just because they wanted to do so.[19] 

With all these internal battles being fought, it was still necessary to take care of the normal business of baseball. Fresh from its victory in the boardroom, the Western League looked toward the diamond and announced it would play a 168-game split-season schedule, beginning on April 12 and ending on September 23, followed by a best-of-five postseason featuring the champions of each half.[20] The Western was not the only league to opt for a split season, as the Pacific Coast (Class AA) and Southern Association and Texas League (both Class A) also went that route.  In 1927, 10 of the 24 leagues had used that format, but in 1928 more than half chose to break up their seasons – 16 leagues out of 29.[21]

The Central League had a legacy in the Midwest that stretched back to 1903, but it had been dormant for the previous five years, except for a few weeks in 1926.[22] But the announcement was made that it would be back in 1928 as a Class-B loop, featuring four Ohio cities – Akron, Canton, Dayton, and Springfield – plus Erie, Pennsylvania, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. The president of the (Class B) Three-I League, L.J. Wylie, would also helm the Central.[23]

There was speculation that the (Class B) Virginia League might go out of business, but that proved to be erroneous. While they did lose two North Carolina clubs – Kinston moved to the (Class D) Eastern Carolina League and Wilson dropped out of baseball – the four teams based in Virginia decided to operate as a compact, four-team league.[24] Meanwhile, the proposed Bright Belt League became the aforementioned (and more appropriately named) Eastern Carolina League, and featured the North Carolina towns of Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Greenville, Rocky Mount, and Wilmington, in addition to Kinston. William Bramham, already the president of the South Atlantic Association and the Virginia League in Class B and the Piedmont League in Class C, added the Eastern Carolina to his Durham-based portfolio[25] and, as we shall see, was about to begin exercising his growing influence.

Taking a page from Mike Sexton’s address that opened the convention, the Louisville club of the American Association introduced a resolution that would prohibit any team in the Double-A loop from being owned by a major-league club. (The Cincinnati Reds’ recent purchase of the Columbus franchise was specifically grandfathered in.) The motion was defeated, but a milder resolution was approved, which required a team to notify the league president 20 days in advance if a sale was pending. It was felt this would be enough time for the league to investigate the purchaser and, if deemed undesirable, to find a new buyer for the franchise.[26] In this way, the American Association felt it could keep itself free from big-league domination.

While the convention buzzed with activity, the city of Charleston, South Carolina, was simply trying to get its foot in the door. Representatives were quite visible in Dallas, telling everyone about the new 10,000-seat ballpark just built in the hopes the city could either become a major-league spring-training site or join the NAPBL. Despite being “hungry for baseball” with “interest now at a peak,”[27] the city, out of Organized Baseball since 1923, would not get back in until 1940.

Perhaps overwhelmed by the contentiousness of the Western League case, the Board of Arbitration decided to formally petition Secretary Farrell to move its annual assemblage to September, rather than during the Winter Meetings. They felt they had too much to do and too many cases to decide, and this may have subconsciously affected some decisions while also preventing the board members from missing some of the other business, as well as much of the fun, of the convention.[28]

Some player personnel moves did take place in Dallas, with perhaps the most prominent name being Francis “Lefty” O’Doul. A star pitcher in the minors, he injured his arm in a throwing contest held during his first spring training (1919) with the Yankees, which ultimately altered the course of his career. Always a good hitter, he took his chronically sore arm back to the Pacific Coast League after he was found wanting as a pitcher by both the Yankees and Red Sox and remade himself as a mediocre (at best) outfielder but one of the best hitters of his generation. He batted .375 for Salt Lake City in 1925, .338 for Hollywood in 1926, and .378 for San Francisco in 1927, with 33 home runs and 278 hits in 196 games,[29]winning the first Most Valuable Player Award ever given in the PCL.[30] Those gaudy numbers led to his being acquired by the New York Giants where, it was predicted, “he will become the ace pinch-hitter” if he did not become an outfield regular.[31] O’Doul went on to win two National League batting titles and fashion a career mark of .349, and in 1929 he collected 254 hits, still the single-season record in the senior circuit.

Another player with an interesting backstory was Harry “Socks” Seibold, a diminutive right-handed pitcher. First appearing in the majors with the Philadelphia Athletics, Seibold won just seven games over parts of three seasons and was eventually farmed out. Over the next few years he played in the minors (Pacific Coast League and Western League, to name just two), but he also played independent and semipro ball because, in his own words, “I made more money … and I enjoyed it, too.”[32] He may also have battled arm problems as well as authority as he bounced from coast to coast. Formally suspended by Organized Baseball for refusing to be sent to Nashville in 1924, Seibold continued to play independently until he was reinstated in the winter of 1927 and signed at these Dallas meetings by Reading of the (Class AA) International League.[33] He would have a tremendous season in 1928, going 22-8 before being one of five players sent by the Chicago Cubs to the Boston Braves for Rogers Hornsby.  Pitching for the Braves in 1929 meant Seibold was making his first major-league appearance in a decade.

Determined to improve on their fourth-place finish, the Cubs had already picked up slugging outfielder Hazen “Kiki” Cuyler from Pittsburgh. They now struck a deal with Minneapolis for the American Association’s strikeout leader, right-hander Pat Malone, a deal that included southpaw Jim Brillheart.[34] Malone immediately became the ace of the Cubs staff, winning 18 games in his rookie year, followed by back-to-back 20-win campaigns.

Several teams also hired new managers. Ray Kennedy, who had been the skipper at Charlotte of the (Class B) South Atlantic Association for the previous four years, went up the road to the league’s Asheville team, and to replace him the Hornets brought in Heinie Groh.[35] The former New York Giants infielder, however, did not last the season in Asheville. Howard Gregory was another manager who moved to a different team in the same league, going from Wichita to Oklahoma City in the Western League.[36] William “Wild Bill” Rodgers moved up a level, leaving Peoria in the Three-I League for Little Rock of the Southern Association.[37] Like Groh, however, Rodgers would be fired before the 1928 season concluded.

For 16 years Frank Snyder was a major-league catcher, splitting his time almost evenly between the Cardinals and Giants; he was, in fact, the regular backstop when New York won back-to-back World Series in 1921 and 1922. But for each of the past two seasons he had collected fewer than 200 at-bats, so when the Cardinals, for whom he played in 1927, asked him if he wanted to pilot the Houston team in the Texas League, he jumped at the chance.[38] This proved to be a good move, as the Buffaloes won both the regular-season title and the postseason playoff. Snyder replaced Joe Mathes, who seems to have been fired by St. Louis but who landed on his feet by becoming the skipper of the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association.[39]

Like his Cardinals teammate Frank Snyder, outfielder Billy Southworth saw his playing time diminished in 1927, and at the age of 34 (a year older than Snyder), must have also begun thinking about life beyond his playing days, so he accepted the post of player-manager for Syracuse of the International League. Then a game of musical chairs began, with the Rochester franchise relocating to Montreal, which then enabled St. Louis to move its Syracuse farm team to Rochester.[40] Southworth simply went about his business and led the Red Wings to the pennant as a rookie skipper. It may have been his first taste of success but not his last, as he fashioned a long career that included four National League pennants, two World Series triumphs, and posthumous induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Not all older players were able to land on their feet like Snyder and Southworth, and it was for them that the Association of Professional Ball Players of America was founded in 1924. Designed to help former players (both major and minor leaguers), umpires, coaches, scouts, even clubhouse men, who had fallen on hard times, the organization sought formal recognition from the NAPBL at the Dallas meetings. And the minors responded with a pledge of $5,000, made up of $750 from each Double-A league, $400 from the Class-A leagues and $300 from every Class-B league.[41] Written into the agreement was a clause stating that if the organization ever had $50,000 in the bank, the minor leagues would be relieved of their annual pledges unless it once again became necessary. The money would be controlled by Judge Landis, but Mike Sexton was appointed to serve as the minor leagues’ official representative.[42]

In another example of thinking outside the box, the Shreveport team of the Texas League announced it was setting up a “clearing house” and selling subscriptions. Its purpose was to keep tabs on players who were released, and try to match up an athlete looking for work with a team that needed someone at his position. Shreveport was able to say it had already signed up 25 clubs, and hoped that more would join its fledgling effort.[43]

After all this activity, only one bit of business remained: the selection of a site for the 1928 meeting. By a vote of 13 to 10, Toronto defeated Chattanooga, effectively closing the minor-league portion of the 1927 Winter Meetings.[44]

 

A City That Doesn’t Sleep

Far less emotional than the Dallas gathering, the major-league meetings took place in New York City December 13-15. The National League went first, holding its meeting at the Hotel Waldorf, followed the next day by the American League at the Belmont Hotel, and finally wrapping up with a joint session at the Roosevelt Hotel on the 15th.[45]  John Drebinger, a New York Times baseball beat writer, did not expect anything “startling” to develop, and for the most part he proved to be correct.[46]

The Steering Committee of the two leagues met, for instance, and made no formal announcement, just one example of how quiet things were on the administrative front.[47] National League President John Heydler told his owners that a record number of baseballs were used in 1927, almost 52,000, and 86 games were postponed during the year, an all-time high for losing or rescheduling contests because of weather. Along those lines, he suggested that, in the interests of completing the entire 154-game schedule, late-season makeup games be permitted in two-team cities (New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia) even if the team(s) in the other league happened to be at home at the time.[48] Other stop-the-presses moments included the NL decision to continue using three umpires in every game, and the announcement of the dedication of the Mathewson Gateway, a 36-foot-tall structure at the Bucknell University athletic field.[49] Paid for in part by donations from major-league baseball, the NAPBL and even the Baseball Writers Association of America and named in honor of the school’s most famous athletic alumnus, New York Giants great Christy Mathewson, the gate would be formally dedicated in June.[50] But the National League gathering was a veritable Mardi Gras when compared to the American League, whose lone bit of news was that it was the first Winter Meeting not dominated by the presence of Ban Johnson. The league’s founder, once the most powerful executive in the game, had seen his standing and influence decline throughout the decade, and had resigned on October 17. Ernest Bernard, president of the Cleveland Indians, was chosen two weeks later to succeed Johnson and was now presiding over his first formal league-wide gathering.[51]

Things did pick up, however, when it came to player transactions, and then again when the two loops got together on the final day. First, a look at the deals.

The 1927 St. Louis Browns had finished with a 59-94 mark, which placed them seventh in the eight-team American League, 50½ games behind the “Murderer’s Row” New York Yankees. Owner Phil Ball, no doubt embarrassed and frustrated and locked in a struggle with the crosstown Cardinals (World Series winners in 1926) for the region’s entertainment dollar, authorized a series of moves to try to improve the team. Before the Winter Meetings, the Browns sent their best pitcher, Milt Gaston, plus fellow right-hander Sam Jones, to the Washington Senators for righty Dick Coffman and outfielder-first baseman Earl McNeely.[52] Upon arriving in New York, however, the Browns became Ground Zero for trade rumors, and foremost among them was the thought that they might deal their star player, George Sisler.

Sisler, of course, was one of the best players in the game, had batted .400 twice in his career and had set the major-league record (since broken) by collecting 257 hits in a season (1920). But he had been forced to miss the entire 1923 campaign with a severe sinus infection that impaired an optic nerve, which left him with chronic headaches and double vision.[53]Though he did return in 1924, he was never quite as dominant again and, despite his having batted .327 in 1927 with 201 hits and a league-leading 27 stolen bases, the Browns were aware that he would be 35 years old by Opening Day, and let it be known that he was available for the right price, news that dominated the baseball gossip. Nationally syndicated columnist Westbrook Pegler, covering the convention for the Chicago Tribune, hinted that Sisler had been the cause of discontent in the Browns’ clubhouse.[54] The Senators and A’s were rumored to have the edge over the Indians, Red Sox, and White Sox in the Sisler sweepstakes,[55] and ultimately that proved to be correct as he went to Washington. The price, however, surprised all – a straight cash deal for $25,000, with no players coming to St. Louis for a man who eventually entered the Hall of Fame with a .340 lifetime batting average.[56]

To replace Sisler, the Browns engineered a deal with Detroit, swapping outfielder Harry Rice, right-hander Elam Vangilder, and infielder Chick Galloway (who was joining his fourth team in less than a month!) to the Tigers in exchange for their first baseman, Lu Blue, and hard-hitting outfielder Henry “Heinie” Manush, the 1926 American League batting champion and a future Hall of Famer.[57] Then, to complete their makeover, the Browns sold aging slugger Ken Williams to the Red Sox for $10,000, and traded another outfielder, Edmund “Bing” Miller, to the A’s for right-handed pitcher Sam Gray.[58] This meant that manager Dan Howley’s starting 1927 outfield of Rice, Miller, and Williams would all be elsewhere in 1928, to be replaced by Manush, McNeely, and young Fred Schulte. It would also help catapult the Browns into third place with an 82-72 mark. Gray would win 20 games, a career best, and Blue and Manush would lead the offensive charge, especially the latter, who topped the AL with 241 hits and finished just two points behind Mickey Cochrane in the MVP balloting.

With Sisler headed for Washington, speculation began as to the fate of Joe Judge, who had been manning first base for the Senators since 1916. A year younger than Sisler, Judge wound up meeting the challenge – he batted .306 with 93 RBIs and finished right behind Manush in the final MVP tally.  Well, what did that mean for Sisler? He played just 20 games in a Washington uniform before he was sold (for just $7,500) to the Boston Braves, where he turned in three good seasons before retiring.[59]

A couple of other future Hall of Famers were packing their bags. Though center fielder Tris Speaker had batted.327 for Washington, Senators owner Clark Griffith said he would be happy to release Speaker to any club that wanted his services.[60] While age may have been a factor – Speaker would be 40 by Opening Day – the fact that the penurious Griffith didn’t try to at least make a sale is rather curious. Connie Mack signed Speaker and the Grey Eagle served as a backup outfielder for the A’s before announcing his retirement. Meanwhile, young Red Sox right-hander Charley “Red” Ruffing was being pursued by the Yankees. Boston president Bob Quinn said he was willing to listen to offers but was not interested in making a deal “for a lot of bench-warmers that aren’t any use to the Yankees.”[61] He wanted at least one regular from New York, which probably shied away from paying too steep a price for a hurler with a career record of 20-46. After another 50 losses, the Red Sox finally swapped the enigmatic righty to the Yankees early in 1930 for cash and utility player Cedric Durst, and Ruffing blossomed in New York, being a member of six World Series champions and winning 231 games over the next 15 seasons on his way to Cooperstown.[62]

In the National League, the Cardinals must have felt they needed to make a little noise to counteract all the Browns’ activity. Right-hander Jimmy Ring and catcher John Schulte went to the Phillies for infielder Jimmy Cooney, outfielder Johnny Mokan, and catcher Clarence “Bubber” Jonnard.[63] They also bought catcher Frank Gibson from the Braves, but interestingly, none of these men saw any playing time in St. Louis in 1928. Having finished just two games behind Pittsburgh in 1927, the Cards already had one of the best teams in the league, and they would ride their great pitching staff to a second pennant in three years. Meanwhile, the Phillies – losers of 103 games in 1927 – caused a bit of a ripple when owner Will Baker supposedly gave his new manager, Burt Shotton, $500 and told him to see what he could get in the open market.[64] Pegler reported that this “aroused an outcry … that Mr. Baker was trying to buy a pennant … contrary to the true competitive spirit of the great national game.”[65] Pegler was no doubt writing tongue-in-cheek, because even in this pre-free-agency era, $500 would not buy very much, and the Phillies truly did get what they paid for as their 1928 loss total soared to 109.

There was one significant managerial change.  After seven-plus years at Cleveland’s helm and a World Series triumph in 1920, Tris Speaker was forced to resign under a cloud of suspicion after the 1926 season.[66] He was replaced by Jack McCallister, who had been what we would today term the team’s bench coach throughout Speaker’s reign, but the Indians finished a disappointing sixth with a 66-87 record, and McCallister was dismissed. There was a recurring rumor that Yankees coach Art Fletcher was the Indians’ top choice, with one report stating that the Yankees simply needed to release Fletcher from his contract for this to become a fact.[67] But Cleveland general manager Billy Evans, a former major-league umpire, denied this report and Fletcher himself supposedly hinted to friends that he was not really interested in the position.[68] Evans ultimately went local and hired Roger Peckinpaugh, the veteran shortstop who had been the American League’s MVP in 1925. Having made a name for himself as a youth on the Cleveland sandlots, Peckinpaugh became the regular shortstop in the Bronx at age 22, served briefly as Yankees manager late in the 1923 season, and helped the Washington Senators to back-to-back American League pennants and their only World Series triumph in 1924.[69]

The business of baseball was taken care of when the two leagues got together at the Roosevelt Hotel, with the draft dispute with the minors taking center stage. Knowing they had the upper hand, the majors told the NAPBL that they had no problem allowing the Major-Minor Agreement to expire as of January 14, 1928, which would mean both organizations would operate independently of one another and be in direct competition for talent. If that came to fruition, the majors would undoubtedly then set up their own minor-league network, making it completely unnecessary for them to buy players from NAPBL clubs. Answering the question as to the length of the agreement, the majors bluntly told the minors that the Major-Minor Agreement was in effect for “as long as Mr. Landis is Commissioner.”[70]

While no one really expected this possible rupture to become a fact, the minors quickly responded. A three-man committee, consisting of NAPBL Secretary John Farrell, multi-league president William Bramham and (Class A) Eastern League President Herman Weisman, was quickly able to meet with major-league leaders and a small extension, to February 1, was agreed upon.[71] It was also decided that the two organizations would meet in early February to discuss the draft and the signing of new talent,[72] and it was later learned by Jack Ryder of the Cincinnati Enquirer that Judge Bramham was the primary voice of reason and the person most directly responsible for “smoothing matters over.”[73]

Two of the more prominent major-league managers took opposite views on the flap with the minor leagues. John McGraw of the New York Giants supported the majors’ hard-line approach, feeling that the minors had it pretty good and “haven’t got a kick coming.” But Yankees skipper Miller Huggins countered that he thought relations between the two entities needed to be reorganized, and that major-league ownership of minor-league franchises was “inevitable.”[74] Huggins compared baseball to the automobile industry, pointing out that Henry Ford produced cars cheaply because he owned the raw materials, and that baseball ought to follow that example and own the players and the minor-league teams for which they played. The influential voice of The Sporting News disagreed, however, saying such a plan would be “disastrous” and “would sound the death-knell for many minor leagues.”[75] With the hindsight of almost nine decades, we can see that both sides were right – the NAPBL did shrink in size and has been totally dependent on the majors for more than half a century. On the other hand, the farm system has proved to be an excellent way to steadily and systematically develop talent.

At the 1926 Winter Meetings, the Cardinals had traded Rogers Hornsby to the Giants for Frankie Frisch (and the aforementioned Jimmy Ring), which opened up an unusual can of worms. It turned out that Hornsby also had a financial stake in the Cardinals, which meant that his loyalties could be divided when New York was playing St. Louis. The owners sought to remedy that by passing a rule expressly prohibiting any player from having a monetary interest in a club if he was not playing for that club. It also prohibited any nonuniformed baseball employee from having any financial involvement whatsoever in any major-league team, and prohibited any club or member of that club (player or nonplayer) from lending money or underwriting a loan to an umpire or any player on another team.[76] It was also resolved that if any player attempted to bribe another to “bear down” against a third team, he was to be suspended for three years, and the same would hold true for the man accepting such a bribe. A related resolution was passed that still reverberates today: If a player was caught betting on a game in which he and his team were not involved, he would be suspended for one year; if it concerned a game in which he and/or his team was playing, he would be banned for life.[77] 

Several teams announced their spring-training sites for 1928: The White Sox, for instance, chose Shreveport, Louisiana, while the Indians opted to go a little farther south, to New Orleans.[78] After four years in Sarasota, Florida, the Giants decided to move their headquarters to Augusta, Georgia, because manager John McGraw was of the opinion that Florida was just too darned hot in March, and the change from those temperatures to the much cooler spring air found in New York could be the cause for many early-season injuries.[79] The Sporting News tended to agree, suggesting that even Georgia would be too warm and advocating that teams train in climates more akin to “that they would have to face in the first month or so of the regular season.”[80] (One wonders what they would make of the modern Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues.) One person who would not be terribly concerned about spring-training sites was Hank O’Day.  Having been a player, manager, and umpire for more than 40 years (including the previous three decades as one of the game’s premier arbiters), O’Day retired but was hired for a newly created position in which he would scour the country in search of new umpiring talent.[81] The regular-season schedule was also made public, with Opening Day set for April 11 and the final game listed for September 30. This was the first time baseball released its playing dates before the new calendar year had actually begun.[82] The Senators, meanwhile, stated their intention to invite President Calvin Coolidge to throw out the first ball.[83]

Two small items are worthy of mention. When the major leagues met in joint session at the Roosevelt Hotel on December 15, one resolution they failed to pass was a recommendation from their Advisory Council for the establishment of a disabled list.[84] While modern fans take the lists, of various lengths, for granted, the disabled list would not be established until 1941.[85] 

And while we have seen that John McGraw’s feelings about Florida training sites have not been shared by succeeding generations of baseball people, he did hit the nail on the head when it came to getting clubs from city to city. At these 1927 meetings, he predicted that before too long, all major-league teams would do all of their traveling by air, saying “(i)t is the safest method of travel there is. … I shall be perfectly willing to transport my team by airplane as soon as they perfect ships with four or more motors.”[86] 

 

Summary

The minor leagues attempted to flex their muscles when it came to the Major-Minor Agreement in general and the draft in particular, but ultimately they lost out as the majors showed who was the dominant partner in this relationship. Longtime stars like George Sisler and Tris Speaker were coming to the end of the line, while new stars like Red Ruffing and Lefty O’Doul were ascending. And no one could predict that, in just two years, the Roaring Twenties would come crashing down, altering the minor-league landscape and, despite Judge Landis’s strong objections, making the farm system a fiscal necessity.

 

Sources

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

Surdam, David G. Wins, Losses, and Empty Seats: How Baseball Outlasted the Great Depression (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).

apbpa.org/.

“League Scouts Under Fire at Baseball Meet,” St. Petersburg Times, December 8, 1927. 

Obenshain, Earl. “Majors Spend Vast Sum for Minor Talent,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 5.

O’Phelan, J.E. “New St. Paul Pilot? You Never Can Tell,” The Sporting News, December 8, 1927: 1.

“Peck Emerges From Cover,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 1.

“Scribbled By Scribes,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1927: 4.

 

Notes

[1] According to the 1920 US Census, there were, officially, 158,976 people in Dallas; by 1930, that figure would shoot up to 260,475, an increase of 64.4 percent. Jackie McElhaney and Michael V. Hazel, “DALLAS, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hdd01), published by the Texas State Historical Association, accessed January 10, 2015.

[2] “Sexton Tells of Rookie Signing,” Boston Globe, December 7, 1927: 26; “Minors Urge Curb on Scouting Evil,” New York Times, December 7, 1927: 35.

[3] “Minors Seek to Curb Scouts,” Washington Post, December 7, 1927: 15.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Minors Urge Curb on Scouting Evil,” New York Times, December 7, 1927: 35.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Minors in Doubt on Baseball Pact,” New York Times, December 8, 1927: 37.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Minors Seek to Curb Scouts.”

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Secretary Farrell Reports to Minors,” The Sporting News, December 8, 1927: 1.

[12] Jerold J. Duquette, Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 1999), 32.

[13] Thomas A. Pendleton, “The 1919 Orioles,” The National Pastime: A Review of Baseball History 21 (2001), 83-84.

[14] Robert L. Finch, L.H. Addington, and Ben H. Morgan, eds., The Story of Minor League Baseball (Columbus, Ohio: The Stoneman Press, 1952), 27. The Double-A leagues were the American Association, the International League, and the Pacific Coast League.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “Five Circuits to Discontinue Draft System,” St. Petersburg Times, December 9, 1927.

[17] “National Association Nullifies Modified Draft System,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 3. It should be noted that it was not until 1931 that the minor leagues finally capitulated to Landis and the major leaguers (Duquette, 33).

[18] Fred Turbyville, “Tulsa-Oklahoma City Must Remain in Western League,” The Sporting News, December 8, 1927: 1.

[19] “’Headliners’ of Dallas Meeting,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 3. The Western League did bring Pueblo into the fold for the 1928 season, replacing the franchise in Lincoln, Nebraska, which dropped down to the Class-D Nebraska State League. And by 1933 both Tulsa and Oklahoma City were finally able to migrate to the Texas League.

[20] “Minors Urge Curb on Scouting Evil.”

[21] “Casual Comment by the Observer,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 4.

[22] An attempt was made to revive it in 1926, but by mid-June its four teams were absorbed by the (Class B) Michigan State League. W. Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds., The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd edition (Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc., 1997), 244.

[23] “Minors in Doubt on Baseball Pact.”; “Central League Comes Back,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 4.

[24] Turbyville; The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, 2nd edition.

[25] “Piedmont Meeting This Week,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 5.

[26] “Scribbled By Scribes,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 4; “Minor League Split on Ownership Rule,” New York Times, December 5, 1927: 31; Turbyville.

[27] “Charleston Runs a Temperature,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 5.

[28] “Board Seeks Early Date,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 5.

[29] Due to the good California weather, the PCL played extended schedules in those years.

[30] Brian McKenna, “Lefty O’Doul,” sabr.org/bioproj/person/b820a06c, undated, accessed February 13, 2015.

[31] “Turns Around – Comes Back,” The Sporting News, December 8, 1927: 1.

[32] Terry Bohn, “Socks Seibold,” SABR Baseball Biography Project sabr.org/bioproj/person/0dae01bf, undated, accessed December 1, 2014, and February 13, 2015.

[33] “War Cloud Looms Up As Big Leagues Meet,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 1.

[34] “Minor Leagues Fight Present Draft System,” St. Petersburg Times, December 8, 1927.

[35] Ibid.

[36] “Secretary Farrell Reports to Minors,” The Sporting News, December 8, 1927: 1.

[37] Ibid.

[38] “Managers For Two Card Sub-Stations,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 1.

[39] H.L. Pollan, “Houston Is Surprised, But Well Pleased With New Deal,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 5.

[40] “Managers For Two Card Sub-Stations.”

[41] “Minor Leaguers Behind Plan to Aid Sick-Aged,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 3.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] “Rebounds From the Baker Lobby,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 3.

[45] John Drebinger, “Major Leaguers Meet This Week,” New York Times, December 11, 1927: S1-2.

[46] Ibid.

[47] James R. Harrison, “Trade Winds Blow as Magnates Meet,” New York Times, December 13, 1927: 35.

[48] James R. Harrison, “Manush and Blue Sent To Browns,” New York Times, December 14, 1927: 36.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] John Drebinger, “Major Leaguers Meet This Week”; Mark Armour, “Will Harridge,” SABR Baseball Biography Project sabr.org/bioproj/person/111c653a, undated, accessed November 29, 2014, and February 15, 2015.

[52] “Genuine Bravery, Believe It or Not,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1927: 4.

[53] Bill Lamberty, “George Sisler,” SABR Baseball Biography Project sabr.org/bioproj/person/f67a9d5c, undated, accessed February 17, 2015.

[54] Westbrook Pegler, “Cards and Phils, Browns And Tigers Trade 10 Men” Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1927: 25.

[55] James R. Harrison, “Manush and Blue Sent to Browns,” New York Times, December 14, 1927: 36.

[56] “Genuine Bravery, Believe It Or Not.”

[57] Ibid. Galloway had spent his entire major-league career with the Philadelphia A’s until the beginning of December, when he was traded to Milwaukee of the American Association. Three weeks later the Double-A team sent him to St. Louis, where the Browns then used him to land Blue and Manush.

[58] Ibid.

[59] baseball-reference.com.

[60] Frank H. Young, “Player Market at New York Is Closed,” Washington Post, December 16, 1927: 17.

[61] James R. Harrison, “Trade Winds Blow as Magnates Meet.”

[62] baseball-reference.com.

[63] “Majors Agree With Minors That New Deal Is Fair Enough,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1927: 3.

[64] Westbrook Pegler, “Cards and Phils, Browns And Tigers Trade 10 Men.”

[65] Ibid.

[66] Speaker and Ty Cobb were accused of conspiring to fix a game back in 1919. While officially exonerated, both men were “persuaded” by Ban Johnson to give up their player-manager posts. Don Jensen, “Tris Speaker,” SABR Baseball Biography Project sabr.org/bioproj/person/6d9f34bd, undated, accessed February 17, 2015. Also see Gerald C. Wood, Smoky Joe Wood: The Biography of a Baseball Legend (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014), 249-254, and 288-291.

[67] “Minor Leagues Fight Present Draft System.”

[68] “Fletcher Not Tribe Manager,” St. Petersburg Times, December 9, 1927.

[69] As of 2016 Peckinpaugh was still the youngest manager in major-league history, having compiled a 10-10 mark at age 23. “Roger Peckinpaugh, American League’s Veteran Shortstop, Indian Manager,” Hartford Courant, December 11, 1927: C-1; Peter M. Gordon, “Roger Peckinpaugh, SABR Baseball Biography Project sabr.org/bioproj/person/829dbefb, undated, accessed February 17, 2015.

[70] James R. Harrison, “Majors Would End Pact With Minors,” New York Times, December 16, 1927: 10.

[71] Ibid.

[72] “Majors Agree With Minors That New Deal Is Fair Enough.”

[73] “Tactful Bramham Stilled the Storm,” The Sporting News, December 22, 1927: 1.

[74] John Drebinger, “Major Leaguers Meet This Week.”

[75] “Scribbled By Scribes.”

[76] “Majors Agree With Minors That New Deal Is Fair Enough”; Westbrook Pegler, “Magnates Close Confab In Blaze of Resolutions” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1927: 27.

[77] James R. Harrison, “Majors Would End Pact With Minors.”

[78] Irving Vaughan, “Only One Nick Put in Commy’s Wallet,” The Sporting News, December 15, 1927: 1; “Secretary Farrell Reports to Minors,” The Sporting News, December 8, 1927: 1.

[79] “Casual Comment by the Observer.”

[80] Ibid.

[81] Westbrook Pegler, “Cards and Phils, Browns And Tigers Trade 10 Men.”

[82] “Major League Schedule Out,” Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1927: B-1.

[83] “Majors Agree With Minors That New Deal Is Fair Enough.”

[84] John Drebinger, “Major Leaguers Meet This Week.”

[85] Corey Dawkins and Rebecca Glass, “Collateral Damage – The Disabled List: A History,” Baseball Prospectus, baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15967, February 3, 2012, accessed February 18, 2015.

[86] “McGraw Predicts Travel by Plane,” St. Petersburg Times, December 9, 1927.

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