Minor League Presidents
When Robert R. (Bobby) Bragan became the seventh president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) in 1976, making him the chief executive of Minor League Baseball, it was about the only job in baseball that he had not already held.
In a career dating back to 1937, Bragan had been a player at both the Major League and Minor League levels, a manager in both the Major and Minor Leagues, a Major League coach, a front office executive with two Major League teams and had served seven years as president of the Texas League.
When Henry (Hank) Peters cut short his term in office as the sixth president of the NAPBL to become general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, friends and fellow baseball executives began urging Bragan to run for the job. It seemed like a natural thing to do.
Bragan was elected to a three-year term (1976-1978) at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Hollywood, Fla., in December 1975. While his tenure in the office was the shortest of any of the 10 Presidents to date, Bragan left some legacies behind. But he did not get off to a good start.
“My first goal as president was to move the offices to Texas,” recalled Bragan, who worked well into his 80s, remaining very active in public relations work for the Texas Rangers. “I went to the executive committee about that and was turned down flat.”
Bragan had an alternative plan to get out of the tiny offices that the NAPBL occupied in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. The city was building a modern new ball park, Al Lang Field, along the Tampa Bay waterfront, replacing a small ancient facility that had served as the Spring Training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and New York -- first the Yankees, and later the Mets.
A one-story building that sat alongside the old ballpark had served as the clubhouse and offices for the Cardinals, but was no longer needed with such facilities being incorporated into the new stadium.
“I went to see the lady who was the Mayor of St. Petersburg at that time and told her that we would like to take over the building, pay for all the renovations and make it the headquarters for all of Minor League Baseball,” said Bragan.
Now, a quarter of a century later, the building has been greatly enlarged and still serves as the home of Minor League Baseball.
Bragan had other things in mind for the Winter Meetings that have lingered and flourished. He brought in John Dittrick and Dick King as his top assistants. Dittrick’s role was to start a “job-seekers bureau” to help people seeking employment in baseball get interviews with various teams that had job openings. King was to organize a trade show.
“Back in those days,” Bragan said, “the different companies would show up at the Winter Meetings and set up displays in their hotel rooms. Everybody had to go find them. We wanted to set up some kind of exhibit hall where everybody could go see all the suppliers and exhibitors in one place.”
The trade show has become a major part of the Baseball Winter Meetings and grown into one of the largest gatherings of its type anywhere. More than 250 companies and individuals now regularly have booths to display their wares and ideas.
Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities (PBEO) is now a subsidiary company of Minor League Baseball, and has helped hundreds and hundreds of job seekers find employment in baseball and other allied fields, including many general managers of current Minor League teams.
Life in the NAPBL office in those days was one of maintaining the gains that had been made from the “down” days of the 1960s. “Major League expansion had taken many of our cities, and it was up to us to find new cities for our teams,” said Bragan. “It was a matter of holding our own, not expanding ourselves.”
Bragan decided that three years in the job were plenty for him.
“Having spent seven years as president of the Texas League, I was very aware of the problems that the clubs and leagues were having,” he said. “I really enjoyed the responsibility of working with the umpires, keeping discipline and traveling to see the league presidents and talking about their problems. But I didn’t like all the administrative work. All that paperwork just didn’t appeal to me. So when my three years were up, I was ready to go back to Texas and turn this over to somebody else.”
He knew who he thought that somebody should be. “I called [then Baseball Commissioner] Bowie Kuhn and told him I was resigning and that the man I had in mind to replace me was sitting in his office. I told him I could deliver 19 of our 20 leagues to vote for the man.”
That man was Johnny Johnson, who had been the commissioner’s top aide for eight years. Johnson was elected at the 1978 Winter Meetings, virtually without opposition.
Bragan moved back to Texas, working in a dual capacity for the commissioner’s office and for the Texas Rangers, a job that soon became totally for the Rangers. Bragan made upwards of 150 appearances annually to schools and organizations on behalf of the team. He became the oldest man to ever manage a professional baseball game when he skippered the Fort Worth Cats for one day in 2005.
He also established the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation, which awards $2,500 scholarships to eighth graders, encouraging them to continue their education. The kicker is that they have to go to college to collect the money. Every winner so far has done so. As of 2010, the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships to eighth-graders.
Bragan, 92, died on Jan. 21, 2010 at his home in Fort Worth, Texas.