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General History

The History & Function of Minor League Baseball

Jackie Robinson played for the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers farm team, before he integrated the Major Leagues. (AP)

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, now known as Minor League Baseball, was formed on September 5, 1901, from a meeting of Minor League executives at the Leland Hotel in Chicago. The President of the Eastern League, Patrick T. Powers, was elected as the first President of the NAPBL. Fourteen leagues and 96 clubs were members during the first season in 1902. The first NA office was established in Auburn, N.Y., under President Powers and successfully run by Secretary-Treasurer John H. Farrell. By the time Powers left office in 1909, there were 35 leagues and 246 clubs.

In 1910, Michael Sexton became President. In his first few years, wars between the Major Leagues and the outlaw Federal League hurt the Minors. The Federal League raided top Minor League teams, as well as National and American League teams, for players and territory. Sexton led a fight at the 1914 Winter Meetings to ward off a bid from radicals for the Minor Leagues to desert the Major Leagues and back the Federal League. For 22 years, Sexton presided over the Minor Leagues, leaving at the height of the Depression in 1932. But during his time, peace was restored and the Minor Leagues began to flourish.

At the Winter Meetings of 1932, Judge William G. Bramham was elected President. He served for 15 years. Bramham, who moved the NAPBL office to Durham, N.C., inherited 14 leagues and 102 clubs, but turned over 52 leagues and 388 clubs to George M. Trautman in 1947. During the height of World War II in 1943, the National Association had only 66 clubs and drew less than six million fans, an all-time low. But the end of the war would see fans again crowding into the ballparks in record numbers.

Trautman moved the office to Columbus, Ohio, as he began a 16-year reign as President. The year 1949 saw 59 leagues and 448 clubs, both all-time highs, attract 39,640,443 fans, a record that stood for 54 years. However, the advent of television and, in Trautman's last two years, Major League expansion, would begin to cut into attendance. Following Trautman's death in March 1963, Frank Shaughnessy served as interim president until Trautman's assistant, Phillip Piton, was elected in December 1963. There were 20 leagues and 132 clubs in 1964 and attendance was only 10 million. By the time Piton left office in 1971, membership was back to 155 clubs.

With the election of Henry J. Peters as President in December 1971, the NA was headed for another move. In September 1973, the office found its fourth home on Fourth Street South in St. Petersburg, Fla. Peters left in 1975 to become General Manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Robert R. "Bobby" Bragan became President in January 1976, and by 1978 there were 158 clubs. On March 28, 1978, the office moved five blocks to Bayshore Drive into the old clubhouse beside Al Lang Stadium, which was renovated and turned into an office building.

In January 1979, John H. Johnson took office. While the number of clubs stayed near 160-170, attendance skyrocketed. In 1987, more than 20 million fans attended games, a figure not matched since 1953. Franchise values also went up dramatically during Johnson's time.

The Splendid Splinter Ted Williams first honed his unique batting skills as a Minor Leaguer with the San Diego Padres in 1935. (Pacific Coast League)

Johnson died on January 12, 1988, and Sal B. Artiaga was elected in April as the 9th President. His first year in office saw the Minor Leagues climb to over 21,659,000 in attendance with 188 clubs.

Mike Moore, who had been Chief Administrative Officer of the NA, was elected President during the 1991 Baseball Winter Meetings. One of his first moves after taking over in January 1992 was to convene a constitutional convention that would rewrite the National Association Agreement, the by-laws that spell out the relationship between the NA and its member leagues. It was an agreement that had not materially changed in nearly a century of existence.

One of the more important changes was converting the National Association to more of a "corporate" structure than a "political" one. The governing authority of the NA is vested in the President, working closely on policy and direction with the 17-member Board of Trustees (consisting of one club owner from each of the various leagues) and the Council of League Presidents (consisting of the presidents of the various leagues.) The President is elected at an annual meeting of the Minor League Baseball membership for a four-year term.

The NA had phenomenal growth under the leadership of Moore, who retired in December 2007, after 16 years as President. In 1991, prior to becoming President, he established an agency agreement partnership between the Professional Baseball Promotion Corporation, a NAPBL subsidiary, and Major League Baseball Properties to authorize licensed merchandise.

From a humble beginning in the early 1990s, annual merchandise sales now average $50 million. The Promo Corp. branched out into national marketing in 1993, providing a central office that allows national sponsors to work with any number of Minor League teams on a local level or in any combination up to a national program. This, too, has had great success, starting from scratch and paying more than $34 million in sponsorships to member clubs, since its inception.

There were several major accomplishments during the 1998 season, including the realignment of Triple-A baseball from three leagues into two and establishing the Triple-A World Series, which was played in Las Vegas (1998-2000). Since 2006, the Triple-A champion has been determined by the winner of a game between the International League and Pacific Coast League champions, hosted by a Triple-A club. Another subsidiary, Professional Baseball Umpire Corp., was formed in 1998 to operate and maintain the umpire program for the 16 domestic leagues, under terms of the historic 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement that was negotiated with Major League Baseball.

Joe DiMaggio, who debuted as shortstop with the 1932 San Francisco Seals, had a career average of .398 in the Minor Leagues. (Pacific Coast League)

Minor League Baseball celebrated its centennial season in 2001 by attracting 38,808,339 fans, its third highest total in history at the time.

Minor League Baseball has been a continuing success story at the box office. The 2008 regular season attendance total of 43,263,740 established a new all-time record for the fifth straight year. Total regular season attendance has increased in 25 of the last 32 seasons and has surpassed 33-million for 19 straight years, a level not attained since the late 1940s when membership consisted of more than 50 leagues and more than 400 teams. In 2012, there were 15 leagues with 176 teams that charged admission.

An important function of the National Association office is the running of the annual Baseball Winter Meetings™, the convention of professional baseball, in conjunction with the Commissioner's Office. At the Baseball Winter Meetings, the Promo Corp. conducts the annual Baseball Trade Show™, where merchandisers and manufacturers display the goods that will fill stadium novelty stands and souvenir shops in the year ahead, and conducts business seminars for member teams. The Promo Corp. also runs Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities™ (PBEO), which assists candidates seeking jobs in pro baseball.

Willie Mays first played Minor League ball in Trenton, N.J., and then Minneapolis before getting called up by the Giants in 1951. (International League)

Pat O'Conner took over as Minor League Baseball's 11th President in January 2008. He was elected to a four-year term, after serving as Chief Operating Officer, Moore's top aide, for 15 years. O'Conner was re-elected to a second term in December 2011.

Highlights of O'Conner's first term in office include the extension of the Professional Baseball Agreement with Major League Baseball through the 2020 season; a five-year collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU) through 2016; realignment of two Class A leagues; the organization-wide bundling of internet rights; a first-ever diversity initiative; an industry-wide health care program; a "Green Team" initiative to make Minor League Baseball teams and stadiums more eco-friendly and cost effective; and the location of new office space comprised of three buildings, totaling 14,000 square feet, on 16th Street North in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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National Association Presidents 1901-present

Patrick T. Powers, 1901-1909

Michael H. Sexton, 1909-1933

William G. Bramham, 1933-1946

George M. Trautman, 1946-1963

Phillip Piton, 1964-1972

Henry J. Peters, 1972-1976

Robert R. Bragan, 1976-1979

John H. Johnson, 1979-1988

Sal B. Artiaga, 1988-1991

Mike Moore, 1992-2007

Pat O'Conner, 2008-