Mark Armour is the director of SABR's Baseball Biography Project. He was the recipient of SABR's highest honor, the Bob Davids Award, in 2008 and the Henry Chadwick Award, honoring baseball's greatest researchers, in 2014. His most recent book, written with Dan Levitt, is In Pursit of Pennants—Baseball Operations from Deadball to Moneyball (Nebraska, 2015). He has written or co-written several other books and many articles for publication. For more information, visit his website mark-armour.net.
In April 1987 Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis appeared on the television show Nightline, on an episode intending to mark the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers. Campanis appeared live and made some incendiary remarks about African-Americans and their suitability to hold management positions in the game.
When New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died in 2010, having presided over the franchise for 37 years and seven championships, his obituary in the New York Times credited him for taking over a “declining Yankees team” and building it into a powerhouse. Most Yankee fans would agree, just as they might shudder at the mention of the “CBS Years,” the eight seasons (1965–1972) when the Yankees were owned by Steinbrenner’s predecessor, the Columbia Broadcasting System.
Although the main purpose of baseball’s Winter Meetings, for more than a century, has been to allow baseball management to meet on important issues of the game—franchise problems, television deals, labor issues, rules proposals—most of the media coverage, and most of the fans’ attention, is focused on trades (or, in recent years, free-agent signings). Teams have always been able to trade throughout the offseason, but something about being in the same hotel has led to both increased fan expectation, and more actual trading.
When compared with the previous few off-seasons, baseball’s 1970 Winter Meetings were relatively calm. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn seemed secure in his job, and the players and owners had agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in May. The Curt Flood case was winding its way through the courts, meaning that the process was out of baseball’s hands. Baseball’s attempts to consolidate its two leagues and place more authority in the hands of the commissioner had made no progress, and would make no more this time.
As the 1969 baseball Winter Meetings approached, the central issues on the minds of most owners were the recommendations of a Restructuring Committee that had been created a year ago. At the previous year’s meeting in San Francisco the owners had fired William Eckert as commissioner, and had formed a group to examine ways to restructure the management of the game in an attempt to reduce the league squabbles that had been plaguing baseball over the past decade.
Like the rest of the country, baseball was sailing through troubling waters in 1968. In the view of many observers, baseball had been overtaken by professional football as the national sport, especially among young people. It was the now sport of their grandfathers, but lacked the excitement and violence offered up on fall afternoons in the NFL.
Fifty years ago baseball used its annual multiday Winter Meetings as a place to get things done. In the days before email and cell phones, and in the very early days of primitive “conference calls,” these meetings were the best opportunity for all of baseball’s owners and general managers to meet face to face, to make decisions on their business, to debate rules changes, to consider franchise moves, or to negotiate trades.
Twenty-five Octobers ago, baseball’s World Series finally made it north of the border, when the Toronto Blue Jays took on the Atlanta Braves. Canadian teams had been knocking at the door for many years—the Montreal Expos got to the final game of the NLCS in 1981 and competed for a string of division titles, while the Blue Jays had lost three ALCS’s (1985, 1989, and 1991). But until 1992 the World Series had always been an all-USA affair.
At the 1964 baseball trading deadline (June 15 in those days), the St. Louis Cardinals made a six-player deal with the Cubs, a trade that really boiled down to swapping pitcher Ernie Broglio for outfielder Lou Brock. This deal remains famous as one of baseball’s all-time great swindles even as modern analysts have chipped away at Brock’s claim to greatness (He was not a very good defensive player, he did not walk much for a leadoff man, etc.).