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The minor league convention that took place in Jacksonville, Fla., last week is not the same thing as the major league "winter meeting" that took place this week in Chicago. The minor league convention is bigger (28 leagues and 213 teams as compared to two leagues and 16 teams) and longer (almost a full week, when you measure from the first drink to the last one, whereas the major league sessions are over in three days or less).
And where the major league meetings create or undo legislation governing The Game—all good baseball men refer to baseball simply as The Game—the minor league convention is, from a cold, technical, legislative point of view, and ignoring for the moment its value as a place to meet old friends and tell old stories and trade old ballplayers, pointless.
This is perhaps a harsh judgment, but consider the facts. Votes taken at the minor league convention on amendments to the existing "major-minor league agreement," which is really the constitution of Organized Baseball, have all the strength of a U.N. vote censuring the Soviet Union. Less, in fact, since the U.N. vote at least can affect public opinion. No one ever really gets to hear how the minor league vote came out, because the principal news emanating from any minor league convention is usually that concerning trades between major league clubs or rumors thereof.
The highly publicized "draft" of minor league players—originally designed to prevent wealthy major league clubs from stockpiling good ballplayers in the minors and to give other good ballplayers held in semibondage by selfish minor league club owners the chance to rise to the majors—is, for all practical purposes, a farce. This year the 16 major league clubs looked over a 53-page listing of more than 5,000 minor league ballplayers and tapped just nine men. The 28 minor leagues drafted only 55 more.
All amendments that the minor leagues do pass affecting the major-minor agreement must be approved by the major leagues at their meeting before they become a part of baseball law. Maybe it isn't precisely veto power, but, if the majors don't choose to accept it, even a unanimous minor-league vote on a question is peremptorily tossed out the window.
The mortifying truth is that the minor leagues have no authority—except what the major leagues allow them. They have no existence—except what the major leagues endow them with. And it has come pretty much to pass that they have no real reason for existence—except as they can serve the major leagues.
This is not to say that this is a bad thing. It is merely inevitable, a product of the times. Ford C. Frick, Commissioner of Baseball, would be quick to deny it and point out the treasured place minor league ball holds in the sporting history and tradition of the nation, but that wouldn't change the facts. Minor league baseball as it is presented in most of its present locations is archaic. Where once it was a focal point of community life in the smaller towns and cities of the country, now it is just another sports item buried in the local sports pages.
Actually, Frick, in the minds of most minor leaguers, is a major league man whose prime loyalty is to the major league club owners, and what he says does not always impress them.
"He talks a lot about the minors," the president of one of the smaller minor leagues said in Jacksonville, "but he don't do a hell of a lot. I don't blame him. It's his job. I'd be the same way if I was in his shoes. Wish I was."
The minor leaguers' man is George M. Trautman, President of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. Trautman is a big, homely man with intelligence, executive ability and a mounting frustration caused by growing recognition of the possibility that he's beating a dead horse in trying to get the minor leagues up on their feet again. Like the captain of a ship in a storm, he's outwardly optimistic and inwardly pessimistic. Occasionally the inward pessimism comes reluctantly forth.