With the trade deadline looming in the future it’s only proper that some might wonder why, and how there ever became a trade deadline. It’s hard to find the exact moment in time that the rule was instituted, but we know it occurred in 1923 and we know it occurred following the trades in late 1921 and 1922. Of course we also know that 1921 was a watermark year in the sport, it was the first season that the power of that Ruth brought to the game began to show up throughout the league. It was the first season of Judge Landis’ long tenure and it was the first time the Giants and the Yankees would meet in the last nine game series what would become a regular battle for the world’s championship and the heart of New Yorkers. This battle would rage on for 36 more years and finally the original New York team, the Giants would be the team that fled the town in search of a loving fan base as the Yankees would become loved… and hated all across America.
However in 1921 the Yankees weren’t the team of the city, it was the Giants and their crafty, popular manager John McGraw, who was in his 20th season as the Giants manager and looking for his 7th NL Championship. What transpired that season was the sign of a new guiding hand in the game and the attempt it would take to usher John McGraw into the new era with his Giants.
In 1920 the New York Giants finished behind the 1st place Dodgers by eight games, a feat that occurred only twice before in McGraw’s tenure as manager, a feat that rankled the competitive McGraw, a man who took defeat lightly and also could see that the Yankees and Ruth (who were tenets of his team at the Polo Grounds) were stealing his teams thunder, 1920 was perhaps the first time that the Giants were the redheaded stepchild of the Big Apple. To remedy that McGraw saw that he would have to strengthen his team, and often for McGraw that meant infield defense, with the retirement of long time Giant Larry Doyle the first move McGraw hoped to make was sliding, young Frank Frisch from 3rd to 2nd base. To replace the hole at 3rd McGraw set his sights west and targeted Reds infielder Heine Groh, the premier third baseman in the National League and currently like fellow Reds Ray Fischer and Edd Roush was holding out for more money, a task that was not looked at fondly by the Reds brass who felt the pain of the post 1919 success in the team coffers.
The prior winter McGraw had spent a considerable amount of time trying to obtain Larry Kopf and Edd Roush from the Reds for Ross Youngs, refusing to pull the trigger was Reds chairman Garry Herrmann, who found himself trying to sign the three wayward Reds. At the time Judge Landis had been in office for 6 months and had already ruled on several cases involving players and owners, among them were several involving McGraw, including the order that he and Giants owner Charles Stoneham divest from horse track ownership in Havana and the institution of a lifetime ban to his starting leftfielder Benny Kauff. As far as McGraw was concerned the game had always been run a certain way and in his 20th year as Giants manager he didn’t expect that to change much. Thus when he offered Herrmann 100 grand and 3 players for the unsigned Groh he didn’t expect anything other then the Giants to get what they wanted, it was the way it always had been in McGraw’s National League.
However the National Commission was gone and the leader wasn’t seeing it that way, he refused to allow the Giants deal with the Reds to go through, demanding that Groh play the year in Cincinnati and then allowing the trade.
In the meantime the furious McGraw had a problem, the Pirates were controlling the league and the Giants were short a second baseman AND an outfielder. On July 1st the team addressed the second base problem when they obtained Johnny Rawlings from the Phillies, selling players was the usual way the Phils made rent and therefore was seen as nothing out of the ordinary, luckily for the Giants the move wasn’t questioned and their 4.5 game deficit was at 3 games on the morning of July 25th, when the Giants addressed their outfield issue, turning to the south and the hapless Phillies who had just suspended Irish Meusel for insubordination. Meusel had traveled with McGraw the prior winter on a Caribbean barnstorming journey, obviously his big bat was something that McGraw longed for and a couple of players and $30,000 later he had his man.
Once again the move was not questioned, not by the commissioner or any other official in the game. Pirate’s owner Barney Dreyfuss must have felt like the air was being let out of the first season since 1909 that the Pirates had really competed. Like many of the western clubs he didn’t have the same revenue as the eastern teams, nor could he play ball on Sunday, a day that was thought by most in the league of being the most profitable day to have a game. Despite all of this the Pirates held a commanding lead of 7.5 games on August 23rd, Dreyfuss was ecstatic, he received permission from the league to begin building extra stands to accommodate the fans that would be rushing to attend the first World Series in Pittsburgh since 1909. Pirate’s third sacker Charlie Grimm acted relaxed in the dugout playing his banjo as the Pirates came to the Polo Grounds to face the Giants.
A week later the Giants were a game and a half back, on the 14th of September the Giants were in first with a game and a half lead. The end of the season they found themselves alone and in first with a four game lead. The Pirates found themselves with a large bill for lumber and a section of stands designed for an event that would never occur.
After the World Series Dreyfuss leveled charges that the Dodgers were offered “incentive” money by McGraw to play the Pirates extra hard, this was never substantiated, but leads one to believe that Dreyfuss was fed up with the boys from New York and their cocky manner and most of all their deep pockets. That coupled with Irish Meusels incredible September run of .418/.442/.560 and 21 RBI’s led to complaints that went unheard that winter amongst the new rulers of the game.
The following July the New York teams were once again leading the league when each pulled off a late July trade to cement the lead (Hugh McMillan to the Giants, Joe Dugan to Yankees). Unfortunately for the New York team Branch Rickey was in the town that had not one, but two teams chasing the New York boys. Always the reformer Rickey initiated the City Council and the Rotary Club into action, and each club peppered the MLB office with complaints about the “big city” boys buying the pennant. This time the cries were heard and when the start of the 1923 season was underway there was a new deadline for deals during the season. This deadline was to fall on June 15th every year, after that time no deals could be made. This was an attempt to keep the richer teams from stocking up on the bottom division teams riches in moments of weakness. The dateline stood until 1985 when it was moved from mid June to the end of July, where it stands today.