It’s not often you come across a handwritten letter signed by Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. But that’s just what happened recently during the processing of the President’s Office papers of Dr. Harry C. “Curley” Byrd.
In 1951, Dr. Byrd was asked to chair a panel for the federal government’s Salary Stabilization Board, examining the ways in which professional athlete’s salaries were structured. The Salary Stabilization Board had been established by President Truman the previous year to control the pace of wage increases as the country plunged into the Korean War. While professional athletes made up only a small percentage of the population, it was feared that large increases in their salaries would have a damaging effect on the psyche of the working public.
The panel seems to have been chosen as much for its notoriety as its expertise. Dr. Byrd was known nationally as a leading supporter of intercollegiate athletics. John Kieran was both a syndicated sportswriter and a regular guest on the long-running NBC radio quiz show “Information Please!” The third member of the panel was Tyrus “Ty” Cobb, baseball’s all-time leader in hits, who was known as much for his irascible personality and contract holdouts as his bat. Whatever the reason they were brought together, the panel worked diligently, soliciting opinions from athletes, team owners, and league commissioners across the athletic spectrum. Dr. Byrd’s file includes letters from the heads of professional baseball, the NFL, NHL and NBA, as well as the All-American Girls Baseball League, the Jockey Club and the National Lawn Tennis Association. There are letters from well-known figures such as Pittsburgh Pirate Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner, Washington Redskins Owner George Preston Marshall and John “Jack” Mara, the President of the New York Football Giants. John P. Joy, the head of the Negro Leagues, took the opportunity to voice his concern about major league baseball teams refusing to rent their ballparks, making it impossible for him to schedule a new season. His complaint seems to have fallen on deaf ears, however.
Dr. Byrd’s panel held a public hearing at the end of August, 1951 and finished its report not long thereafter. The letter from Ty Cobb seen above is the cover letter he wrote to go along with his signed report. He apologizes for taking so long to return the report, as he was on a hunting trip in Idaho.
The final report of the panel, an unsigned copy of which is in the Byrd series of our President’s Office records, recommends that athlete’s salaries not be allowed to be higher than that of the highest paid player in their league during the 1950 season, temporarily capping them. Payments made to free agents, as well as prize winnings in sports such as golf and boxing would not be made subject to regulation.
The panel chaired by Dr. Byrd did not meet again, and the Salary Stabilization Board was abolished by President Eisenhower in 1953. The files in Dr. Byrd’s records are a fascinating education into the structure of professional sports immediately following World War II. They also show Dr. Byrd in the national spotlight, serving his country as prominently as he served the University of Maryland.