Expansion of 1961
The Expansion of 1961 was the first expansion undertaken by Major League Baseball since the National Agreement brought peace between the American League and the National League in 1903. There were no franchise moves for 50 years after the agreement was signed, and the structure of Major League Baseball became further and further mis-aligned with the demographic realities of the United States. Three of the weaker franchises - the Boston Braves, Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Browns - moved to greener pastures in the early 1950s, then baseball was dealt a huge shock when two of its stronger and more glamorous franchises - the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants - took advantage of recent advances in air travel and got out of the New York, NY area because of ballpark issues and headed for California in 1958. The city of New York, miffed by the decision, put together a mayor's committee headed by William Shea to look at bringing another franchise to the city.
Before talk of expansion began, the most serious plan had been to start a third major league, the Continental League, which would rival the two existing leagues by tapping into vacant or under-served markets, including New York, Houston, TX, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, CO, Toronto, ON and others. With Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey on board, the fledgling league lined up a number of impressive ownership groups in those cities and was on the verge of putting actual teams together. Seeing that the threat of a third league was all too real, the National League turned around and announced that it was ready to expand into some of the proposed new markets. It put together an expansion committee headed by two of its most powerful owners - Walter O'Malley of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philip Wrigley of the Chicago Cubs. In August 1960, the Committee announced it was prepared to absorb up to four of the proposed Continental League teams; on October 17th, National League President Warren Giles announced that it had accepted the cities of New York and Houston to begin play in 1962.
To say that the stodgy American League was caught flat-footed would be an understatement. Its own expansion committee had never done any serious work, and before it could figure out what to do next, it was placed before another event it had failed to anticipate: Washington Senators owner Calvin Griffith's decision to move his team to Minnesota. To avoid being left in the dust, Del Webb, the owner of the AL's flagship franchise, the New York Yankees, announced that the American League would expand as well, and in a case of profoundly stupid one-upmanship, that it would do so for 1961 ! The league owners had decided that they absolutely had to get a team into the Los Angeles area in order not to forfeit the west coast market entirely to its rival league, and that it should also replace the Senators in Washington, lest the absence of a team stoke the wrath of politicians in the nation's capital. Of course, none of the prospective Continental League ownership groups were based in those two cities, so it had to scramble to put two teams together with spring training only four months away.
Owners in Washington were found relatively quickly, and the team was able to draft a couple of players on November 28th in the 1960 Rule V draft (Ray Semproch and John Gabler), but the Los Angeles team had to pass, as it did not exist yet. On December 6th, the League finally managed to come to an agreement on territorial rights in Southern California with Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, and to put together an ownership group around film star Gene Autry. The expansion draft was only days away at that point, but Autry had the good sense of hiring two veterans to help him put together a squad, General Manager Fred Haney and Manager Bill Rigney. The Washington team had had just a few weeks longer to prepare, around GM Ed Doherty, Manager Mickey Vernon and farm director Hal Keller.
On December 14, 1960, an expansion draft was held in Boston, MA for the newly-named Los Angeles Angels and the "new" Washington Senators, expansion clubs that would begin play in the American League in 1961.
Each existing American League club had to make available for the draft seven players who had been on their active roster as of August 31, 1960, and eight others from their forty-man roster. The expansion clubs paid $75,000 for each of the 28 players they drafted, with a maximum of seven players drafted from each existing club, and with no more than four going to one club (not including minor league selections; these cost $25,000 each and were limited to one player taken from each existing team). The two new teams were required to take at least ten pitchers, two catchers, six infielders, and four outfielders, in that order, and then pick the six additional players from the ranks of whoever was still available. An immediate problem was that, in order to guarantee the secrecy of the proceedings (in particular, so that players who had been left unprotected would not be aware of that fact), only American League President Joe Cronin was in the room with the five executives from the two expansion teams; he was supposed to ensure the rules were enforced, but did a terrible job of this, creating another mess. In particular, he had failed to inform teams that they could not draft more than four players from a single organization.
The Angels picked New York Yankees pitcher Eli Grba with their first pick, and the Senators replied with Bobby Shantz, another Yankees hurler. The third pick, Duke Maas, was also a Yankees pitcher, a sign of the imbalance of talent in the AL at the time. As the draft proceeded, Cronin lost count of how many players had been taken from each team, and of the rule that one team could not select more than four players from any one of the existing teams. By the time the draft was over, realizing his mistakes, the AL President had to force the two new teams to change one of their selections each, to respect the maximum of 7 players drafted from each team, and to proceed with a number of trades to balance things a bit better; in the end, even with those patches, there was no way that the rule about no more than four players coming from one team could be applied without scrapping the whole draft and starting over. Cronin elected not to do that, so Washington, for example, ended up with six of the seven players picked from the Kansas City Athletics.
By some miracle, the two teams did manage to get assembled by spring training and to be ready for Opening Day in 1961. The Angels somehow managed to survive those chaotic beginnings to do relatively well on and off the field, but the "new" Washington Senators were doomed from the start, it appears. They would become perennial losers and move out of Washington, DC by the end of the 1971 season.
Los Angeles Angels
In order to respect the draft rules that he had not properly enforced, Joe Cronin ordered the following moves before the selections were announced:
- Pete Daley C KC replaced Red Wilson, as Cleveland had lost 8 players
- Faye Throneberry OF MIN replaced Neil Chrisley, as Detroit had lost 8 players
- Washington traded Bob Davis to Los Angeles for Jim Mahoney
- Washington traded Ken Aspromonte to Los Angeles for Coot Veal
- Washington traded Ken Hamlin to Los Angeles for Bud Zipfel
- Washington traded Dean Chance to Los Angeles for Joe Hicks
Also after the draft, Los Angeles exchanged its pick of Ted Bowsfield for Red Wilson (both from Cleveland)
- Andy McCue and Eric Thompson: "Mis-Management 101: The American League Expansion of 1961", in Jean Hastings Ardell and Andy McCue, ed.: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 41, 2011, pp. 42-45.
- Frank Zimniuch: Baseball's New Frontier: A History of Expansion, 1961-1998, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2013. ISBN 978-0803239944