In 1953, things started to look better when players got together to develop the Major League Baseball Players Association, which was unable to get anything done til 13 years later. The MLBPA hired Marvin Miller (part of the United Steel Workers of America Union) in 1966. In 1968, Miller negotiated the first CBA which raised the minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000.
To mark the 119th anniversary of Labor Day, I decided to explain the history of the labor movement in baseball.
In 1919, eight players for the Chicago White Sox got together, and decided to intentionally lose the World Series. The reason partially stemmed from their hate of owner Charles Comiskey, who was known to underpay players. Comiskey was allowed to do this because of the power that the Reserve Clause gave him.
The Reserve Clause stated that the players had to accept the salary offered to them, or not play Major League Baseball at all (no other team was allowed to sign them without the player sitting out one year). The Reserve Clause also did not allow long term contracts, however players could be traded and released. The only reason that the Reserve Clause could be enforced was the Supreme Court ruling that baseball was exempt from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act which did not allow interstate monopolies. In 1922, they ruled that the act did not apply to baseball, because baseball was for fun, and scheduling games between clubs in different states did not constitute interstate commerce. Without anything to stop the league, they had complete control over where the players could play and how much they could make.
(for more on the interstate commerce clause see http://constitution.laws.com/american-history/constitution/interstate-commerce-clause)h
In 1969, Curt Foold was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, but he refused to go to the Phillies. Under the Reserve Clause, Flood was forced to go to the Phillies, however Union President Miller told Flood he had legal options. Flood was unsuccessful in his lawsuit against Major League baseball, and the rule remained intact.
Four years later arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that after a year of playing with one team without a contract, a player was free to sign with any team. Major League Baseball challenged Seitz’s ruling in court but was unsuccessful. Major League Baseball after continually failing to overturn the decision, negotiated a rule where any player with 6 years of experience could enter free agency.
Baseball has continued to change rules on free agency, trades, waivers, drafts, and many other labor related events. In the next article, I will highlight events after 1975, which include the 1994 baseball strike.
For more on Curt Flood and the Reserve Clause here is a SportsCenter video on it.