A brief history of MLB’s lockouts

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The history of strikes in Major League Baseball gets a lot of play in historical look backs, but lockouts? Not nearly as much. Baseball Reference’s comprehensive encyclopedia Bullpen doesn’t even have a page just for lockouts: it just lumped them in with the “Strikes (labor)” page instead. Part of this lack of attention is because there has never been an MLB game canceled because of a lockout: even the one that dragged into the start of the season just pushed back when games were played. They tend to be a thing that occurs during spring training, with the owners balking at some demand the players are making, and then, the lockout ends shortly after.

So, with a lockout potentially on the horizon this winter or next spring, let’s take a look back at the previous times the owners locked all the doors to keep the players out.

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Round-up: Athletes as workers, rediscovering America’s pastime, and the NWSL

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I’ve been pretty lax of late pointing y’all toward things I’ve been reading that I also think you should read, which was kind of the fault of a whole bunch of factors, but hey. Let’s change that up, and dedicate this whole newsletter entry to stuff I’ve been reading that I think you should read.

First up is Britni de la Cretaz and the return of Mic. Their first feature for the relaunched publication is on the fact we’re not used to seeing athletes as workers, even though they have to deal with management, even though they are not in control of capital within their own leagues, even though there are plenty of professional athletes out there who are making less money each year than some of the folks reading this right now. The topic is not only one that is close to me, but de la Cretaz spoke to me a bit about the subject, and I’m quoted in there a few times.

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(Curt) Flood the Hall

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Marvin Miller is now officially in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and your mileage may vary on how happy his extremely — extremely — belated induction to that institution made you. One thing I think we could all agree on, though, is that Curt Flood deserves to be in Cooperstown, too: and yet, he is not. Flood, who fought against Major League Baseball’s reserve clause to the detriment of his own career, was a labor pioneer for the sport, and his role in helping to establish free agency in MLB cannot be overstated even if he didn’t get to experience its benefits for himself. Continue reading “(Curt) Flood the Hall”

Marvin Miller is finally being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

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It’s happening decades after it should have, but Marvin Miller will finally be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on September 8, 2021. Honestly, I’m torn about the whole thing, and have been since before he was even elected back in late-2019 — if you’ll recall, inductions for the 2020 class were delayed until 2021, thanks to that whole coronavirus pandemic thing; so, Miller is being inducted alongside the 2021 class, as well.

Marvin Miller deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, of course: he’s easily one of the most influential and towering figures in the history of the sport, and you could certainly make an argument that he’s at the very top of that list, too. Look no further than the current state of the seemingly powerless, union-less Minor League Baseball for evidence of what a modern-day MLB without the influence of one Marvin Miller might look like. And yet, the man himself did not want to be enshrined in Cooperstown. And it feels like we’ve all kind of just glossed over that part more than we should have, amid the celebrations for his election and induction.

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On trading cards, player likenesses, and the funding of the MLBPA

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The news that MLB, the NFL, the NBA, and their three respective player unions all got together with Fanatics to completely rearrange the sports trading card world seems to have shaken that world. I’ll leave the concerns about quality control and that Fanatics hasn’t ever made cards before to those who know trading cards, but this news still presented an opportunity for me to dive into something labor-related from the past.

The history of baseball cards and the Major League Baseball Players Association is tightly interwoven. There is even an entire chapter dedicated to the business of baseball cards in the memoir of the PA’s legendary former Executive Director, Marvin Miller. And that’s because it was through baseball cards that the Players Association was initially able to fund itself and its actions — a necessity for a group set to challenge those with pockets as deep as even the owners of Miller’s day:

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Better Know a Commissioner: William Eckert

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Before Rob Manfred, before Bud Selig, there were lots of other aggravating, power-hungry men leading up Major League Baseball. This series exists to discuss the history of every commissioner MLB has had, with particular focus, where applicable, on their interactions and relationship with labor, the players. The rest of the series can be found through this link.

Ford Frick was not pushed out of office like his predecessor, Happy Chandler, but when he retired in 1965, Major League Baseball’s team owners were still unsure of exactly what direction they should go in for their next commissioner. Frick, the former National League president, had come from within the game itself, whereas Chandler and the first-ever commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, came from outside of it.

This was not a decision that the owners took lightly: there were more than 150 candidate names on the list the owners compiled of potential replacements for Frick. One of these people is one you’ve seen written about — and derisively! — in these digital pages again and again: Robert Cannon. Cannon was a judge who was advising the fledgling Players Association, mostly by telling them to be happy about what crumbs the owners left them with and to not rock the proverbial boat. Cannon wasn’t just some rando on that list of 150, as he came within a single vote of becoming MLB commissioner, but he lost that race to retired United States Army general William Eckert.

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Curt Schilling, regrettably, will not be removed from his final Cooperstown ballot

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​In what I hope is not even a little bit surprising at all to you, I have no love for Curt Schilling, for a number of reasons. You could just pick one of them and it would be understandable — that he basically defrauded Rhode Island taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars while lying to his own employees about their healthcare status, that he has a collection of Nazi memorabilia for “historical” purposes but also aligns himself politically with white supremacists making the entire “historical” thing even more questionable, that he’s especially racist toward Muslims, that he’s a disgusting transphobe, etc. — but the point is that there is a whole spectrum of reasons to think he sucks, and we shouldn’t forget that he stacks them on top of each other like this just because picking one would be disqualifying enough.

That being said, despite my right and true dislike of him and everything he stands for and believes in, I was hoping he would have his request to be removed from his 10th and final Baseball Hall of Fame ballot granted. Sure, he wanted off for extremely childish reasons, and asked for it in a tantrum of a statement following his failure to be elected to Cooperstown once again last year, but we could speed up this whole process by removing him from the Baseball Writers Association of America’s version of the election process, and gain a year of silence on the matter for our troubles, too.

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Better Know a Commissioner: Ford Frick

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​Before Rob Manfred, before Bud Selig, there were lots of other aggravating, power-hungry men leading up Major League Baseball. This series exists to discuss the history of every commissioner MLB has had, with particular focus, where applicable, on their interactions and relationship with labor, the players. The rest of the series can be found through this link.

Following Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ habit of terrifying everyone around him and doing whatever he wanted to, and Happy Chandler doing what the players and fans — but not the owners — wanted him to do, Major League Baseball’s owners went in a different direction for the third commissioner. Ford Frick spent 14 years as MLB commish, starting in late-1951, and his bio at Society for American Baseball Research gets right to the point of his appeal:

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The MLB All-Star Game’s ties to player pensions

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Major League Baseball players might have the best pension in American sports these days, but that wasn’t always the case. For one, they didn’t always have a pension at all, and secondly, MLB’s owners wanted nothing more than to never pay into the thing again immediately after creating one. The first strike in MLB history came in 1972, and due to disagreements over how to pay into the pension, which MLB’s owners were not giving cost of living adjustments to even though there was a way to do so that wouldn’t even cost them a dime of their own money.* Even before then, though, the pension was a point of contention.

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Curt Flood should be in the Hall of Fame, and at least one member of Congress agrees

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​Curt Flood is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, which might be somewhat confounding if you’ve already forgotten that Marvin Miller was only just elected to partake in Cooperstown’s brand of immortality. Flood, though, deserves the recognition that enshrinement brings as well: he was a fine player, better than plenty of others who are in the Hall, but even if that weren’t true, he merits entry into Cooperstown’s halls for his role in bringing down MLB’s reserve clause.

It’s fair to argue, solely for Flood’s on-field, penciled-into-the-lineup contributions, that he didn’t have a Hall of Fame career, for the same reasons you’d say that, I don’t know, J.D. Drew didn’t have a Hall of Famer career*. It is far less fair, though, to say that Flood doesn’t deserve enshrinement in a place with “Fame” in its name. He refused a trade, writing a letter to then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn to explain his reasoning for the refusal, and then challenged the reserve clause in the form of Curt Flood v. Bowie Kuhn. While Flood’s case against Kuhn ended in defeat, it still brought the reserve clause and its problems into the public consciousness, and the subsequent challenge of the clause and success of Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally doesn’t happen without Flood opening the fl… well, you know.

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