The History of Baseball Unionization: The MLBPA before it was the MLBPA

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Major League Baseball players had few rights before the signing of the first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports in 1968. They didn’t get all of their current rights all at once, either: the battle was, and is, an ongoing one. Before the Players Association, before Marvin Miller, there were other attempts to organize baseball players against the bosses. In this series, we’ll investigate each of those attempts, and suss out what went wrong. Here’s part 1part 2part 3, and part 4

You would think the formation of what we know now as the Major League Baseball Players Association would be something to celebrate without the caveats of the previous entries in this series, but that proto-MLBPA was a mess. Obviously, things improved — thanks, Marvin Miller — but that all took time. The initial version of the MLBPA formed back in 1953, and it wasn’t actually officially recognized as a union for another 13 years after that. And it wouldn’t have its first collective bargaining agreement for another two years, right before the 1968 season began.

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The History of Baseball Unionization: Where Murphy Money came from

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Major League Baseball players had few rights before the signing of the first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports in 1968. They didn’t get all of their current rights all at once, either: the battle was, and is, an ongoing one. Before the Players Association, before Marvin Miller, there were other attempts to organize baseball players against the bosses. In this series, we’ll investigate each of those attempts, and suss out what went wrong. Here’s part 1part 2, and part 3

It would be some time after the defeat of the Fraternity of Professional Baseball Players before any more serious unionization efforts occurred in Major League Baseball. And the next one was extremely localized, too: rather than an entire union and then league sprouting up from it, or a union that briefly benefited from the attempt of a third league to form, the American Baseball Guild’s most notable moment existed with just one (1) team: the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The year 1946 was a massive one for labor in America: post-war, with soldiers returning home from Europe and the Pacific to their old lives and old jobs, there was basically no way there would not be some kind of labor strife. Because of the sudden influx of workers from this return, wages fell — Major League Baseball was not immune to this, as they, an industry that continued on through the Second World War, had replacement players that had become regulars in the mix with players returning to their old roster spots, necessitating an expansion of rosters from 25 to 36. To keep payrolls level, teams reduced individual pay.

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The History of Baseball Unionization: When vaudeville ended a baseball strike

Major League Baseball players had few rights before the signing of the first collective bargaining agreement in professional sports in 1968. They didn’t get all of their current rights all at once, either: the battle was, and is, an ongoing one. Before the Players Association, before Marvin Miller, there were other attempts to organize baseball players against the bosses. In this series, we’ll investigate each of those attempts, and suss out what went wrong. Here’s part 1 and part 2

The Players Protective Association had a promising start when the budding American League used its desires for better wages and protections to steal players from the reigning National League, but it didn’t end up working out in the long run. That’s because the AL, like the capitalists investing in the Players League before it, ended up partnering with the NL and eliminating themselves as competition in the process.

A little less than a decade later, in 1912, the Fraternity of Professional Baseball Players of America formed, with former player Dave Fultz at the head. Fultz, like John Ward of the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players, had a background in law thanks to an education at Colombia, and was a practicing lawyer at the time of the formation of the Fraternity. He also kept in close contact with active players and their concerns, and those conversations — some about their continued gripes about the reserve clause, which no one had been able to permanently get rid of to that point — helped lead to the formation of the Fraternity.

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That time the Padres nearly became San Diego’s forever

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The NBA’s players might not want NBA approval anymore

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Earlier this month, I published a piece in this space that discussed, in part, how NBA players had missed an opportunity to wield their collective power by giving in to the league and resuming the season amid a pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. Nathaniel Friedman and Jesse Einhorn, at The New Republic, went much further and deeper on that particular angle in a feature titled, “The Dismal Politics of the Sports World’s “Wokest” League.”

Within that piece, Friedman and Einhorn explained how there were two opposing camps when it came to the return: the one led by Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley wanted to tackle this moment in time by not playing, and instead do what they could to help and bring attention to the Black Lives Matter protests. The other camp, led by LeBron James, was more in concert with the NBA, with a different vision of activism. One more corporately approved, the thinking behind which led to this graph from the New Republic pair:

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Changing sports teams’ racist names is a start

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A long-running National Football League issue seems to be nearing its end, and it looks like it’ll just be the first fallen domino. Washington’s football team is finally going to get a name change from its current slur against Native Americans to… something else that hasn’t been decided yet, pending an “investigation” into their current name. But pressure from sponsors, including FedEx, which has the naming rights to Washington’s stadium, finally got the organization and owner Dan Snyder to move on changing the clearly racist name.

It’s a shame, of course, that the threat of lost money from corporate sponsors is what will get this long-awaited change to actually happen, and not Native Americans saying the name is a problem, not activists and organizers who have been on this case for much longer than should have been necessary. But then again, FedEx and co. weren’t going to move on this unless that pressure was there, either, so the “shame” here is mostly just on Snyder, who was going to be unmoved by any argument that didn’t involve his own wallet. And since there were always going to be enough fans willing to go to games and buy the merch even if everyone uncomfortable with the name never contributed a dollar, he was never going to get this ball moving.

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Get Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ name off of the MVP trophy

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It certainly wouldn’t solve racism, but Major League Baseball needs to get Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ name off of their Most Valuable Player trophies. Just ask a number of former MVPs, both Black and white, as the Associated Press’ Ben Walker recently did:

Fact is, few fans realize Landis’ name is plastered all over the Most Valuable Player trophies. Most people just call it the MVP.

But there it is, prominently displayed on every American League and NL MVP plaque since 1944 — Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award, in shiny, gold letters literally twice as big as those of the winner.

With a sizable imprint of Landis’ face, too.

To some MVPs, it’s time for that 75-year run to end.

Maybe you aren’t familiar with Landis and his history. The short explanation is that MLB should not be able to celebrate both Landis, the first-ever commissioner of the game, and Jackie Robinson, who was the first Black man to play in what would become MLB since the previous century, because they… let’s say, as baseball historian John Thorn did, were diametrically opposed.

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The U.S. government would love to use MLB as a distraction, again

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A return to normalcy. It’s an empty promise when “normal” is so terrible for so many, when normalcy is what helped bring us to this moment in time where even more lives than usual are in danger, when profits are being placed above the welfare of people and their lives. It’s an old promise, though, and a time-tested one that’s effective in its messaging, even if what it promises is underwhelming or outright untrue.

“A return to normalcy” is basically all that’s powering the campaign of the assumed Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden, a campaign that’s hoping you’ll ignore that the “normalcy” it’s promising is what helped the current regime rise to power in the first place. It’s a card both the Dems and the Republicans can play to great effect, though, in terms of maintaining power and avoiding doing anything more than acknowledging the symptoms of some real issues. Just look at what Senate Majority Leader and Republican Mitch McConnell has been saying lately, about bringing Major League Baseball back:

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How did the MLB commissioner get the power to suspend player contracts?

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The History of Baseball Unionization: The Players Protective Association

While the occasional article is free for everyone, the vast majority of this content is restricted to my Patreon subscribers, whose support allows me to write all of this in the first place. Please consider becoming a subscriber! -Marc Normandin
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