The farm system as we know it today didn’t always exist in professional baseball. This system, in which a major league ball club retains far more than its 25 active players under contract, but keeps most of them playing for either directly-owned or exclusively-affiliated minor league teams until/unless it deems them ready to be promoted to the majors, was more or less invented by Branch Rickey when he was running the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1920s and 1930s. Before then, minor league teams were independent operations; big league teams would typically keep a handful of extra players on a “loaned” or optional-purchase contract deal with minor league teams, but the minor league teams didn’t exist for the primary purpose of developing young talent. Just like their major league counterparts, minor league ball clubs were fundamentally concerned with winning games and selling tickets, although it must be acknowledged that a significant portion of minor league teams’ revenue was also derived from selling star players, either directly to major league teams or to higher-level minor league teams.
Rickey’s innovation was to place the major league team in a far more direct and commanding posture with regard to the development of young talent, changing the character of minor league teams from independent local ball clubs to talent “farms” for the big leagues. This was, to be sure, a very expensive proposition, requiring the major league club to outright buy a collection of minor league teams, or at least enter into heavy-subsidy affiliation agreements with them, and thus assume responsiblity not only for a large number of minor league player contracts, but also for minor league managers, coaches, trainers, and so forth, creating the major-minor league “organization” to which we’ve become accustomed.
This ambitious and complex model wasn’t something that all other major league teams considered practically feasible or economically sensible, and moreover the concept was bitterly opposed by many who feared (not at all without justification) that it would destroy the vibrant character of what had been a prosperous and growing network of minor leagues. So into the 1930s the farm system remained the non-typical manner of major league player development and acquisition. But the Cardinals’ success through the period as a consistent contender and five-time champion (along with, to be sure, Rickey’s special talent for articulate, persuasive boastfulness) eventually made believers out of the rest of the major league owners. By the late 1930s, the General Manager Ed Barrow’s New York Yankees were actively putting together a chain of farm teams to rival that of Rickey’s Cardinals: thus, the competitive imperative for other teams to follow suit became overwhelming, and the voices of those who objected to the farm system on philosophical grounds were drowned out.
Thus by the 1940s, every one of the sixteen major league teams had some form of farm system in place. Some were quite rudimentary, consisting of only a few affiliates, while the most elaborate (that of the Cardinals and Yankees, in particular), were enormous, incorporating hundreds of minor leaguers on as many as a couple of dozen teams. Therefore the volume and quality of young talent produced by each major league organization was anything but equal.
But just how unequal were they, and have they remained since? Can we put some kind of quantification on the vague “good” and “great” and “terrible” sort of terms we customarily use regarding the relative quality of farm system talent production? Today we’re launching a multi-chapter series in which we’ll attempt to provide some answers, through the creation of each season’s Value Production Standings.
First, we identify every player in the major leagues each season with a total of at least five career Win Shares. Then we identify which major league organization was responsible for originally signing and developing that player (or perhaps not originally signing him, but clearly being the organization most responsible for developing him), and then we credit every season’s production of major league Win Shares by that player to that organization, regardless of whether he actually played that season for that organization.
Sometimes it’s impossible to clearly assign a player to one organization: there are lots of players who were signed by one team, but then acquired by another organization while still a young minor leaguer. For such players, we assign half-credit to each of the two organizations (and in a few rare cases, we even assign one-third-credit to each of three organizations).
And, particularly in the period of the 1940s, quite often it’s impossible to assign a player to any organization. Even into the 1950s, more than a few major leaguers weren’t the products of any major league team’s farm system: they were acquired via purchase or trade by a major league team directly from one of the remaining independent minor league operations. Prominent examples include Joe DiMaggio (acquired by the Yankees from the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals in a massive deal that included the stipulation that the Seals would be allowed to retain the the young superstar for another full season), Larry Jansen (purchased by the Giants from the Seals), Ferris Fain (drafted by the Athletics from the Seals), and Jackie Jensen (purchased by the Yankees from the PCL’s Oakland Oaks). The Win Shares of such players aren’t counted in this analysis.
The handling of players arriving in the majors in this period from the Negro Leagues is a bit of a tricky question: I decided to consider veteran Negro Leaguers (at least 30 years old when signed by the major league organization) as equivalent to those acquired directly from the independent minors. Thus the Win Shares of Satchel Paige, Luke Easter, and Monte Irvin aren’t included here. However, those Negro Leaguers who were under 30 (or at least believed at the time to be under 30, such as Sam Jethroe) are credited to the major league team who signed them, even if they were brought directly to the majors (such as Larry Doby). For Hank Thompson, a young Negro Leaguer signed by the Browns, then released the next year and subsequently signed by the Giants, I’ve given half-credit to both organizations.
The 1946 Value Production Standings
We’ll begin our journey with the 1946 season, the first year following the disruption of World War II, and the beginning of the modern farm system era. We’ll take our look in five-season segments, working our way up to the current day.
Here’s the key to the figures we’ll be examining:
WSP = Win Shares Produced: the total of major league Win Shares produced that season by all players credited to the organization
Lg WSP = League Win Shares Produced: the percentage of the league total of WSP credited to the organization
MLB WSP = Major League Baseball Win Shares Produced: the percentage of the MLB-wide total of WSP credited to the organization
W = Wins: the actual win total of the team that season
Lg W = League Wins: the percentage of the league Win total won by the team
W% – WSP% = League Wins minus League Win Shares Produced: a measure of how much better or worse a team actually performed than the league-wide value produced by their organization
AL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Yankees 386 21.7% 12.3% 87 14.1% - 7.6% Tigers 312 17.6% 9.9% 92 14.9% - 2.6% Red Sox 273 15.4% 8.7% 104 16.9% + 1.5% Indians 244 13.7% 7.8% 68 11.0% - 2.7% Athletics 203 11.4% 6.5% 49 8.0% - 3.5% Senators 144 8.1% 4.6% 76 12.3% + 4.2% Browns 109 6.1% 3.5% 66 10.7% + 4.6% White Sox 105 5.9% 3.3% 74 12.0% + 6.1% AL Total 1776 100.0% 56.5% 616 100.0% 0.0% NL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Cardinals 509 37.2% 16.2% 98 15.9% - 21.4% Dodgers 213 15.6% 6.8% 96 15.6% 0.0% Cubs 209 15.3% 6.6% 82 13.3% - 2.0% Reds 125 9.1% 4.0% 67 10.9% + 1.7% Phillies 84 6.1% 2.7% 69 11.2% + 5.0% Pirates 83 6.1% 2.6% 63 10.2% + 4.1% Braves 75 5.5% 2.4% 81 13.1% + 7.6% Giants 69 5.0% 2.2% 61 9.9% + 4.8% NL Total 1367 100.0% 43.5% 617 100.0% 0.0% MLB Total 3143 n/a 100.0% 1233 n/a n/a
Even though Rickey had moved along to Brooklyn following the 1942 season, in 1946 the evidence was still overwhelming regarding the stupendous magnitude of the farm system he’d constructed for the St. Louis Cardinals. Players signed and developed by the Cardinals accounted for 509 Win Shares that year; the Cardinals’ organization led the National League in Win Shares Produced by a whopping 21.6%, more than the total created by any other team in the league.
In the American League, the Yankees were the top producer, but their proportion of 12.3% of the major league WSP was signficantly behind the Cards’ 16.2%. However, the AL did boast three additional organizations (the Tigers, Red Sox, and Indians) that were more productive than any NL club except St. Louis. Thus American League organizations as a whole generated considerably more WSP than their National League counterparts, by a margin of 56.5% to 43.5%.
The Tiger organization that was second in the AL in WSP (as well as second in actual wins) had produced a terrific core that had kept Detroit as a serious contender for many years, including Hank Greenberg, Hal Newhouser, and Dizzy Trout, as well as several younger talents who would soon make a big impact, including Fred Hutchinson, Virgil Trucks, Hoot Evers, and Vic Wertz. One outstanding product of their system whom they’d let slip away was Braves’ ace Johnny Sain.
A Win Share is equal to three actual team wins, so the 509 credited to the Cardinals equates to just about 170 wins—which isn’t bad over a 154-game schedule. Of course, in reality no single team can accomodate that much value; the annual Rule V draft process alone helped ensure that at least some of the Cardinal-original talent got spread around. Still, St. Louis did win the NL pennant in 1946, but their 98 wins, at 15.9% of the league win total, was 21.4% lower than their league WSP. No other organization in the majors had a league W% that was more or less than 7.6% different than their league WSP%.
The 1947 Value Production Standings
AL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Yankees 388 21.7% 12.0% 97 15.7% - 6.0% Tigers 288 16.1% 8.9% 85 13.8% - 2.3% Indians 279 15.6% 8.6% 80 13.0% - 2.6% Red Sox 228 12.8% 7.1% 83 13.5% + 0.7% Athletics 208 11.6% 6.4% 78 12.7% + 1.0% Senators 153 8.6% 4.7% 64 10.4% + 1.8% White Sox 122 6.8% 3.8% 70 11.4% + 4.5% Browns 120 6.7% 3.7% 59 9.6% + 2.9% AL Total 1786 100.0% 55.3% 616 100.0% 0.0% NL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Cardinals 421 29.1% 13.0% 89 14.4% - 14.7% Dodgers 255 17.6% 7.9% 94 15.3% - 2.4% Reds 202 14.0% 6.3% 73 11.9% - 2.1% Cubs 178 12.3% 5.5% 69 11.2% - 1.1% Giants 125 8.7% 3.9% 81 13.1% + 4.5% Pirates 114 7.9% 3.5% 62 10.1% + 2.2% Phillies 75 5.2% 2.3% 62 10.1% + 4.9% Braves 75 5.2% 2.3% 86 14.0% + 8.8% NL Total 1445 100.0% 44.7% 616 100.0% 0.0% MLB Total 3231 n/a 100.0% 1232 n/a n/a
The Dodgers’ farm system, under Rickey’s direction for the past several years, was emerging as a power, also closing the gap on the Cardinals, and moving up from sixth to fifth among all major league organizations. Brooklyn won the National League pennant with a roster that featured home-grown young talents such as Ralph Branca, Carl Furillo, Bruce Edwards, and Vic Lombardi, and gave bit parts to rookies Duke Snider and Gil Hodges. And, of course, the arrival of the rookie sensation Jackie Robinson was not only significant in its own right (21 1947 Win Shares), but was a harbinger, as the Dodgers demonstrated an early lead in acquisition and development of the huge pool of black talent.
The Boston Braves had led the majors in 1946 by winning games at a proportion 7.6% greater than that of their organizational value production. They increased that ML-leading amount to 8.8% in ’47, finishing third in the NL with 86 wins despite tying the Phillies for dead last in the majors with 75 WSP. They accomplished this feat not only by having purchased 21-game winner Johnny Sain (the former Tiger farmhand) from an independent Southern Association team, as well as the outstanding young first baseman Earl Torgeson from one of the independent Pacific Coast League teams, but also by virtue of having made several shrewd acquistions from other major league organizations, netting NL MVP Bob Elliott, and stalwart regulars Tommy Holmes, Phil Masi, Connie Ryan, and Johnny Hopp. Among their key players, only the brilliant young southpaw Warren Spahn was home-grown.
The 1948 Value Production Standings
AL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Yankees 410 22.5% 12.5% 94 15.3% - 7.3% Indians 338 18.6% 10.3% 97 15.8% - 2.8% Tigers 281 15.4% 8.6% 78 12.7% - 2.8% Red Sox 245 13.5% 7.5% 96 15.6% + 2.1% Athletics 186 10.2% 5.7% 84 13.7% + 3.4% Browns 158 8.7% 4.8% 59 9.6% + 0.9% Senators 129 7.1% 3.9% 56 9.1% + 2.0% White Sox 72 4.0% 2.2% 51 8.3% + 4.3% AL Total 1819 100.0% 55.6% 615 100.0% 0.0% NL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Cardinals 409 28.1% 12.5% 85 13.8% - 14.3% Dodgers 289 19.9% 8.8% 84 13.7% - 6.2% Cubs 200 13.8% 6.1% 64 10.4% - 3.3% Reds 156 10.7% 4.8% 64 10.4% - 0.3% Giants 127 8.7% 3.9% 78 12.7% + 3.9% Phillies 112 7.7% 3.4% 66 10.7% + 3.0% Pirates 100 6.9% 3.1% 83 13.5% + 6.6% Braves 61 4.2% 1.9% 91 14.8% + 10.6% NL Total 1454 100.0% 44.4% 615 100.0% 0.0% MLB Total 3273 n/a 100.0% 1230 n/a n/a
While the Cardinal organization was still highly productive, again leading the NL, the Yankee farm system the had been initiated by Barrow and completed by George Weiss (now in his first year as GM after having been Farm Director) nipped the St. Louis juggernaut for the highest WSP in the majors, 410 to 409. However, neither ball club was able to leverage its bounty of talent into a 1948 pennant.
Remember that the Yankees’ total doesn’t include Joe DiMaggio, who was developed independently; the volume and quality of production from their system was astounding. The ’48 Yankees’ roster included home-grown standouts Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Snuffy Stirnweiss, Vic Raschi, Joe Page, and Billy Johnson, and Yankee products working elsewhere included Jerry Priddy (Browns), Tommy Holmes (Braves), Dixie Walker (Pirates), Hank Sauer (Reds), Bill Wight (White Sox), and Pete Suder (Athletics).
The Dodger organization continued its ascent, but an even stronger producer on the way up was the Cleveland Indians: fourth in AL in WSP in 1946, to third in ’47, and now second in both the AL and the majors with 338 WSP. Career years from Indian veterans Lou Boudreau and Ken Keltner led the way, but their contributions were joined by a solid year from Cleveland-developed Bob Feller, as well as emerging farm products Bob Lemon, Dale Mitchell, Larry Doby, and Jim Hegan. The Indians won the ’48 pennant with the help of great years from imported Yankee products Joe Gordon and Gene Bearden, offsetting the fact that several of the Cleveland organization’s most accomplished products were now delivering their value for other organizations: Tommy Henrich and Allie Reynolds (Yankees), Joe Dobson (Red Sox), and Jeff Heath (Braves).
Speaking of the Braves, their acquisition of Heath was yet another example of their skill at leveraging other organizations’ talent: they pulled off the remarkable feat of winning the NL pennant despite home-grown production of just 61 Win Shares, 45 of them between Spahn, Rookie of the Year shortstop Alvin Dark, and impressive rookie pitcher Vern Bickford.
The 1949 Value Production Standings
AL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Yankees 355 20.8% 10.8% 97 15.7% - 5.0% Indians 318 18.6% 9.7% 89 14.4% - 4.2% Tigers 244 14.3% 7.4% 87 14.1% - 0.2% Red Sox 244 14.3% 7.4% 96 15.6% + 1.3% Athletics 184 10.8% 5.6% 81 13.1% + 2.4% Browns 135 7.9% 4.1% 53 8.6% + 0.7% Senators 120 7.0% 3.6% 50 8.1% + 1.1% White Sox 108 6.3% 3.3% 63 10.2% + 3.9% AL Total 1708 100.0% 51.9% 616 100.0% 0.0% NL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Cardinals 429 27.1% 13.0% 96 15.6% - 11.5% Dodgers 292 18.5% 8.9% 97 15.7% - 2.7% Cubs 191 12.1% 5.8% 61 9.9% - 2.2% Reds 179 11.3% 5.4% 62 10.1% - 1.2% Phillies 153 9.7% 4.7% 81 13.1% + 3.5% Giants 135 8.5% 4.1% 73 11.9% + 3.3% Pirates 115 7.3% 3.5% 71 11.5% + 4.3% Braves 88 5.6% 2.7% 75 12.2% + 6.6% NL Total 1582 100.0% 48.1% 616 100.0% 0.0% MLB Total 3290 n/a 100.0% 1232 n/a n/a
Both the Yankees and the Cardinals four-peated as WSP league champions, but the Cards re-established their MLB-wide superiority. To their frustration, in the actual standings St. Louis finished second for the third straight year, this time nipped by the Dodgers by the aggravating margin of a single game.
The Red Sox also won 96 games and finished in second place by a single game, but for them it was for the second season in a row. They achieved these near-pennants despite farm production that was far behind that of the Yankees or Indians, and generally behind that of the Tigers as well. The core of those terrific Bosox teams was home-grown (Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Mel Parnell), but several other major cogs had been acquired via trade (Vern Stephens, Ellis Kinder, and Joe Dobson), and one standout (Dom DiMaggio) had been purchased from the San Francisco Seals.
In the National League, a rising new organization in talent production was the Phillies. Their farm system that had been built, pretty much from scratch, by GM Herb Pennock in the mid-1940s. Despite his untimely death in early 1948, Pennock’s labor was now beginning to bear fruit, as the organization doubled the meager production they’d managed two years earlier, featuring impressive young talents in Del Ennis, Richie Ashburn, Andy Seminick, Robin Roberts, Granny Hamner, Willie Jones, and Curt Simmons. Overall, the NL was closing the gap in WSP, with the difference between the leagues now 51.9% to 48.1% in the AL’s favor.
The 1950 Value Production Standings
AL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Yankees 349 20.8% 10.5% 98 15.9% - 4.9% Indians 332 19.8% 10.0% 92 14.9% - 4.8% Tigers 268 16.0% 8.0% 95 15.4% - 0.5% Red Sox 247 14.7% 7.4% 94 15.3% + 0.5% Browns 148 8.8% 4.4% 58 9.4% + 0.6% Senators 126 7.5% 3.8% 67 10.9% + 3.4% Athletics 112 6.7% 3.4% 52 8.4% + 1.8% White Sox 97 5.8% 2.9% 60 9.7% + 4.0% AL Total 1679 100.0% 50.4% 616 100.0% 0.0% NL Organization WSP Lg WSP MLB WSP W Lg W W% - WSP% Cardinals 378 22.9% 11.3% 78 12.7% - 10.2% Dodgers 336 20.3% 10.1% 89 14.5% - 5.8% Giants 213 12.9% 6.4% 86 14.0% + 1.1% Phillies 198 12.0% 5.9% 91 14.8% + 2.8% Cubs 185 11.2% 5.6% 64 10.4% - 0.8% Reds 179 10.8% 5.4% 66 10.7% - 0.1% Pirates 98 5.9% 2.9% 57 9.3% + 3.4% Braves 67 4.1% 2.0% 83 13.5% + 9.5% NL Total 1654 100.0% 49.6% 614 100.0% 0.0% MLB Total 3333 n/a 100.0% 1230 n/a n/a
The Yankees and Cardinals made it a clean five-year sweep as top value producers for each league. However, while Yankees won the 1950 pennant for their trouble, making it three Bronx flags in the five-season span, the Cardinals were still left only with that ring from back in 1946.
In 1950 St. Louis encountered the very frustrating circumstance of generating the most WSP in the major leagues, but winning just 78 games and finishing fifth. The Redbirds were enjoying the contributions of their home-grown superstar Stan Musial, along with excellent farm products Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst, Howie Pollet, and Harry Brecheen, but far too great a proportion of the better former Cardinal farmhands were providing their value elsewhere, including Preacher Roe (Dodgers), Walker Cooper (Braves), Johnny Mize (Yankees), Murry Dickson and Johnny Hopp (Pirates), Ken Raffensberger and Johnny Wyrostek (Reds), Dick Sisler (Phillies), and Jim Hearn (Giants).
That Giants team that plucked Hearn off the Cardinals’ roster as a waiver claim in June of 1950 (just in time for him to suddenly blossom at the age of 29) had been a late adopter to the farm system movement: well into the 1940s, the Giants were still acquiring many of their key players via purchase from other organizations, including independent minor league teams. But by the late ’40s, owner Horace Stoneham was putting a serious farm system in place, and was entrusting its operation to former pitching great Carl Hubbell as Farm Director. By 1950, the Giants’ system had produced such standouts as Bobby Thomson, Sal Maglie, Sid Gordon, Wes Westrum, and Whitey Lockman, and the Giants jumped up to third in the National League in WSP.
The growing productivity of the Giants’ system, as well as that of the Dodgers and the Whiz Kid Phillies, helped the National League to virtually catch up to the American in overall WSP: the margin of difference between the leagues in 1950 was just 50.4% to 49.6%.
We’ll examine the Value Production Standings from 1951 through 1955.