Minor League Presidents
When Patrick Powers resigned as president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) in 1909, it was an easy move to elect Michael Sexton to replace him. Powers and Sexton were considered the “fathers” of Minor League Baseball. They thought alike and acted alike, and were in agreement on the path that the National Association should take.
Powers was president of the Eastern League (forerunner of the International) as well as the National Association. When his league, along with the American Association, threatened to withdraw from the NA over control issues, Powers did not agree, but was caught in the middle and resigned as NA president in mid-term.
Sexton was chosen to replace him. At the Winter Meetings in 1909, the future of the NA was re-affirmed with legislation extending its life for 10 years. The dispute with the Eastern League and American Association was settled, and Sexton was elected to continue as president.
But there were more “wars” ahead for Sexton to confront. The first occurred in 1914, when the “outlaw” Federal League challenged the established National and American Leagues by raiding their rosters and territories in a bid to become a third Major league. The raids took their toll on the top Minor Leagues, as well.
When some radical delegates at the Winter Meetings in 1914 tried to push the National Association to desert Major League Baseball and align with the Federal League, Sexton led the group to take a stand, and passed a strong resolution backing the existing agreements with the National and American Leagues.
It was a critical time in Sexton’s presidency, and established his firm command of the organization, leading to an unprecedented five-year contract a year later. The Federal League collapsed in 1916, but by then there was another war facing Sexton and the National Association -- a real one.
When ballplayers, along with other large segments of the population, went marching off to World War I, it put a tremendous strain on Sexton and the National Association. The 1917 season opened with 21 leagues, but 10 of them were no longer active by July. It was even worse in 1918, when just 10 leagues opened the season. The International League was the only one to finish. The others closed down early.
World peace returned in 1919, and leagues began to re-emerge, but Sexton and the National Association had yet another battle to fight. At the Winter Meetings in 1919, members voted to abort the National Agreement -- their pact of cooperation with the Major Leagues -- over issues including territorial rights, player limits and salary structure.
The appointment in 1920 of Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis as baseball’s first commissioner has been described as the turning point for Major League Baseball, but it had a profound impact on the National Association, as well. By January 1921, Judge Landis had the two sides back together with a new National Agreement, and the Minor Leagues were on their way to a period of peace, growth and prosperity throughout the 1920s. The organization completed its 25th season in 1926 as a sound, stable, well-organized group with 28 leagues and nearly 200 teams.
It remained that way until the Great Depression hit the country after the 1929 stock market crash. As leagues and teams began to dwindle, it became obvious that drastic revitalization was necessary, and that new leaders were needed. An executive committee was put in charge at the 1931 Winter Meetings.
The committee established a promotional department to organize new leagues and new business, including the advocacy of night baseball, and it created a press bureau to organize records and promote the game.
Sexton realized that he had served his time, and agreed to retire at the Winter Meetings in 1932. He had been president for 24 years, the longest tenure of any National Association president to this day. Judge William G. Bramham was elected as his replacement.