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A Brief History of Spring Training:
The War Years and Beyond

In this three-part series, Paul Dickson looks at the development, evolution, and history of spring training. In this second installment, Dickson discusses the restrictions of spring training during the war years and the establishment of modern spring training.

By Paul Dickson, March 2, 2018
Kenesaw Mountain Landis was the first Commissioner of Baseball. His tenure started in 1920 and lasted until his death in 1944.

As the Second World War intensified, baseball faced strict travel restrictions, especially when it came to spring training. This was a cost of keeping baseball alive while the nation fought on two fronts. During wartime, American trains were filled with supplies and troops, so transporting baseball players and their fans seemed to be a frivolous use of precious resources.

The agreement worked out between Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Joseph B. Eastman, director of the federal Office of Defense Transportation, was that beginning in 1943 spring training had to be held close to the teams’ home bases, north of the Potomac and Ohio rivers and east of the Mississippi. (The Cardinals, White Sox, and Cubs were limited to training in Missouri, Indiana, or Illinois.)

This area became known as the Landis-Eastman Line, or the Potomac Line. The New York Yankees ended up training in Asbury Park, N.J.; the Brooklyn Dodgers hiked up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain, the location of the United States Military Academy at West Point; the Washington Senators prepared for the season in College Park, Maryland; while the Red Sox trained at Tufts College in nearby Medford, Massachusetts. The ball fields in many of these locations were covered with snow when the teams arrived so that the teams played their exhibition games in field houses they shared with college teams.

The Cubs’ Catalina Island facility was closed for the duration, and both the Cubs and the White Sox moved their spring training to French Lick, Indiana. “The first workout was held in two areas in the vast French Lick Spring hotel,” a March 20, 1943, Chicago Tribune story on the White Sox reported. “The infielders and outfielders did their stuff in the auditorium and the battery men worked in an adjoining room. In this latter enclosure a dirt stage has been rigged up to supply natural footing for the bespiked pitchers. For the catcher’s backstop there was a line of mattresses.”

Minor league clubs fell under the same restrictions, which made for great newspaper copy when a showman like Bill Veeck was involved. Veeck then owned the Milwaukee Brewers, and accordingly the Brewers staged spring training in 1943 close to home. Veeck decided his preseason would open on April 6 in Wisconsin at Waukesha’s Frame Field, the home for Waukesha’s entry in the industrial Land O’ Lakes League.

In early February, Veeck, General Manager Rudie Schaffer, Manager Charlie Grimm, and another team official went to Waukesha to meet with local officials and make final arrangements for the venue. As the group left a luncheon meeting for an inspection of the frozen, snow-covered field, Veeck, who had circled around them with an armload of well-packed snowballs, attacked.

Charlie Grimm was not only manager but part owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Under his management the Brewers won the pennant in 1943.

Retaliation ensued, and once the snowball fight was over, a photographer from the Milwaukee Journal asked the Brewers officials to pose for a picture on the snow-covered field. They obliged by creating an impromptu baseball scene, with a stick for a bat and a snowball for the ball.

Just as the shot was about to be taken, Veeck yelled, “Wait a minute—who ever heard of playing baseball in overcoats?” All but Grimm shed theirs overcoats. He said, “I just got up from Missouri—do you want me to get pneumonia?” Schaffer at this point had removed his clothes and was standing in his underwear in the snow, prepared to play umpire for the staged show. R. G. Lynch of the Milwaukee Journal had called Schaffer smart and pleasant but “mousey withal”; now he said the accountant had been transformed: “The metamorphosis was complete; the mouse had become a shameless exhibitionist just like his boss.” [1]

Like the photos of Veeck and company in their underwear, the newspapers were filled with photos of players throwing snowballs and reporters and columnists lamenting the days before the war when spring training was staged beneath palm trees. Dan Daniel of the New York World-Telegram penned these eloquent words in March 1943: “There is no Florida sun. There are no bathing beauties. There are fewer steaks and it is tougher to get up a perspiration. There are more aches and muscles that never hurt before, squawks against calisthenics. There are dull hours. But there are good beds and long nights in which to rest in them. And God is with us!”

With the end of the war, in 1946 players began to demand new financial considerations, including expense money for spring training, which was not paid to this point. This had been a sore point for many years. Addressing this issue was a player’s union known as the American Baseball Guild, organized in 1946 by Robert Murphy, a Boston lawyer with the National Labor Relations Board. The guild was a means of airing the players’ grievances, which primarily concerned the lack of financial security. The guild sought salary arbitration, a $6,500 minimum salary, and a requirement that players sold to another team receive 50 percent of the purchase price. Murphy called for a players’ strike before a Pittsburgh–New York night game on June 7, 1946. With the stands full of fans, the players on the Pirates voted 20 to 16 in favor of the strike, but since a two-thirds vote was required, Murphy’s strike request was turned down. The union quickly fell apart, but the owners were eager to block any further efforts by Murphy (and defections by players to the Mexican League) and made several concessions that included payment of spring training expenses and money for players on the road, the first player pension plan, a minimum annual salary of $5,000, and a 25 percent limit on annual salary reductions. For years the expense money paid for spring training was known as Murphy money. The weekly stipend was small but appreciated: “The clubhouse boy hands Ted [Williams] an envelope containing his Murphy money—that $25 weekly expense allotment each player receives in spring training” [2]

In the postwar years, teams realized that new facilities were needed to accommodate their own needs as well as the increasing interest in fans who saw spring exhibition games as part of a spring family vacation.

Increasingly, fans created a demand for good seats and good stadiums, and the spring exhibition season became a solid revenue source for both the teams and the towns where they set up camp.

The most ambitious of these was a 450-acre complex in Vero Beach, Florida, called Dodgertown where the Brooklyn Dodgers trained beginning in 1948. President and General Manager Branch Rickey converted a former naval air base into the most progressive and well-equipped of the spring camps. Arthur Daley of the New York Times described facility: “It is a factory that rolls ball players off an assembly line with the steady surge of Fords popping out of the River Rouge plant.” It features two golf courses, tennis courts, a conference center, and villas for the players. Streets are named for former players. Roofless dugouts at Holman Stadium allowed fans to feel closer to the players.[3]

Dodgertown served the Dodgers from 1948 to 2008.

As the years passed, the lure of spring training increased. In 1971 it got an added boost with the opening of Disney World, which made the notion of a family spring break in Florida even more attractive.

Today, spring training is a major fan attraction, and for good reason. As legendary announcer Harry Caray put it: “It’s the fans that need spring training. You gotta get ’em interested. Wake ’em up. Let ’em know that their season is coming, the good times are gonna roll.”

In 2015 for the first time in history the combined attendance at spring training topped 4 million.

Source: Tom Hagerty on Flickr


[1] Milwaukee Journal, February 3, 1943, 2.
[2] Chicago Daily Tribune, April 2, 1956.
[3] New York Times, March 18, 1956.




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