Minor League Presidents
Minor League Baseball was ready to explode when George M. Trautman was elected as the fourth president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues at the 1946 Winter Meetings in Los Angeles. He was a strong leader with a strong baseball background, who was ready to help the industry take advantage of the coming boom years.
It was a time of peace and prosperity in America that followed the end of World War II. The troops had come home from Europe and the Pacific. Jobs and money were plentiful. Americans were looking for relaxation and entertainment. It was a time in baseball in which seemingly every city and town in the country had its own Minor League Baseball team. There were players and fans in abundance.
The seasons of 1947, 1948 and 1949 produced all-time record attendance totals for the industry. There were 388 teams operating in 52 leagues in 1947, drawing 37.1 million fans. A year later, those numbers were up to 438 teams in 58 leagues, luring 38.4 million through the turnstiles. And then, the high-water mark of 1949, when not quite 40 million fans (39,782,717) supported the playing efforts of 448 teams in 59 leagues.
Trautman, who served until his death in June 1963, was the first National Association president who came directly from Major League Baseball. He had been executive vice president of the Detroit Tigers. But he had a solid background in Minor League Baseball.
A three-sport varsity athlete at Ohio State University, where he was later an assistant athletic director, Trautmanís first involvement with the Minor Leagues came when Columbus hosted the 1932 Winter Meetings. He was with the Chamber of Commerce, which had been instrumental in getting the baseball convention for the city.
Soon after, Trautman was in baseball for good. He became president of the Columbus team in the American Association in 1933, then president of the league itself from 1935 to 1944. After two years in Detroit, he was ready to return to the Minor Leagues.
Before Trautmanís election, however, baseball executives of the day had to deal with a possible uprising. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who had ruled baseball with an iron fist as the first commissioner of Major League Baseball, had died a few days before the Winter Meetings, and the possibility of major changes loomed.
Frank Lawrence, president of the Portsmouth (Va.) team of the Piedmont League, led a movement to dissolve the National Association and put all of baseball under the commissionerís office. That proposal went nowhere, and Trautman was soon elected unanimously to a five-year term. He moved the office from Durham, its home under previous president William Bramham, to Columbus, where it was to remain until 1971, through the tenure of two presidents.
During Trautmanís early years, a new relationship was forged between the Major Leagues and the Minor Leagues. Territorial rights, which had been in dispute, were established, so that if the Major Leagues took over a National Association city, compensation would be due to both the existing team and its league. That was to be an important issue in the years that followed.
Trautman was strong believer in league rights, and having strong leagues able to determine their own fate. He also believed in strengthening management at the club level. He held conferences in Columbus in 1948 and 1949 for business managers and other executives, with more than 350 clubs represented at what amounted to a college of baseball knowledge. He tried to get Ohio State to establish a course of study on office management and promotions. Finally, a School for Baseball Administration was established at Florida Southern College in Lakeland.
Trautman pushed to update and improve ballparks, helped establish an Umpire Advisory Bureau to improve working conditions for umpires, and took a strong stand to assure the financial stability of anyone coming into the game.
But there was trouble brewing that would eventually dampen the boom times. Television came in for a big share of the blame. Major League games were becoming available all over the country, even if only on a Game of the Week basis. And television itself had become a prime competitor for entertainment time.
Movement of Major League teams may have had an even more significant impact, as new Major League franchises took over some of the biggest and best Minor League markets. During the 1950's, Minor League Baseball lost such strongholds as Milwaukee, Baltimore, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Hollywood and San Francisco.
Minneapolis-St. Paul and Houston would join that list, as well, before Trautmanís death in office in 1963. Minor League membership would fall to fewer than 150 teams as total attendance dipped into the doldrums, drawing as few as nine million fans annually. And recovery would be a long time coming.