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

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The History of Baseball Unionization: The Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players

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John Buck learned about Curt Flood, and made sure other players would, too

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Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees for a massive nine-year, $324 million deal that gave him the largest annual average payout of any deal in MLB. It’s the kind of contract that’s only possible because free agency, as an institution, exists: Cole was allowed to go into the open market, freed from the initial deal he inked when the Pirates drafted him in 2011 and then brought him to the majors in 2013, and agreed to sign with the team he wanted to, for the immense money they had to offer in order to show it wasn’t a one-way desire.

It feels like a given these days that this order of operations exists, but Cole didn’t forget that the existence of free agency is what brought him to this point, and during his press conference introducing him as a Yankee, he thanked the first Executive Director of the Players Association, Marvin Miller, and Curt Flood, who challenged MLB and its longstanding reserve clause, for what they did to allow the moment Cole was in to even exist. On its own, it was an excellent gesture, the kind of thing Miller himself said didn’t happen often enough in his own time guiding the players’ union, but the backstory makes it an even better moment.

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50 years ago today, Curt Flood challenged MLB’s reserve clause

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On December 24, 1969, Curt Flood sent a letter to then-MLB commissioner, Bowie Kuhn. The letter was to let Kuhn know that Flood did not believe he could be traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, that the rights the Cardinals had over Flood — rights he had agreed to by signing with them — should not immediately transfer over to the Phillies, a team he did not agree to play or relocate for.

It was the start of something significant, and also, in essence, the end for Flood in Major League Baseball. He knew that going in, though, knew that by sending this letter to Kuhn, and later fighting MLB in the courts over his right to free agency, that even if he won, he had lost something. Flood knew all of that — executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association Marvin Miller made sure, repeatedly, that Flood knew the score in this regard, and wrote at length about that in his memoir — and yet, he sent the letter and challenged MLB in the courts, anyway. We don’t talk about Curt Flood enough, you know.

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Marvin Miller is in the Hall of Fame… now what?

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Marvin Miller was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, an incredibly overdue honor for the one of the single most-important figures in the history of the sport. On the other hand, it’s not what the first-ever executive director of the MLB Players Association wanted: before his death, he had asked to be removed from the ballot, but his request was ignored. Per Murray Chass, here’s what Miller wrote to Jack O’Connell, the secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America, in 2008:

“Paradoxically, I’m writing to thank you and your associates for your part in nominating me for Hall of Fame consideration, and, at the same time, to ask that you not do this again,” Miller wrote to Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Miller added: “The antiunion bias of the powers who control the Hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining. As former executive director (retired since 1983) of the players’ union that negotiated these changes, I find myself unwilling to contemplate one more rigged veterans committee whose members are handpicked to reach a particular outcome while offering the pretense of a democratic vote. It is an insult to baseball fans, historians, sports writers and especially to those baseball players who sacrificed and brought the game into the 21st century. At the age of 91, I can do without farce.”

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25 years later, the 1994 strike is still the MLB owners’ fault

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The first strike in MLB (and pro sports) happened on this day in 1972

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Navigating the internet on April 1 is an annual nightmare, but worry not, this newsletter comes bearing facts only. This date is the anniversary of an important labor battle in MLB history: April 1, 1972 was the beginning of the first strike in MLB history, and in professional sports.

MLB’s owners were shocked to find out that the players were striking, even though their actions are what pushed the players into this historic moment in the first place. It was an easily avoidable strike, too, given the issue that the Major League Baseball Players Association and MLB were negotiating in the lead-up to it. The union wanted an increase to the owners’ contributions to the players’ pension, in light of the existence of things like “rising cost of healthcare” and “inflation” and “a four-year, $70 million television deal with NBC that injected massive quantities of cash into MLB, cash the players weren’t necessarily going to ever see in a pre-free agency world.” MLBPA Executive Director Marvin Miller even had a plan for this increase to be funded, without the owners having to spend any of their own money to do it: the existing pension fund created income just by being there, and Miller suggested using the surplus $500,000 to fund the players’ retirement benefits.

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Labor peace is a lie, pt. 6: MLB’s players are finally angry again

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Over the last few few weeks, I’ve been emailing out sections of a larger story, titled “Labor peace is a lie.” Here’s part six, the conclusion, on the players starting to get angry and get (re)organized. If you missed any of the other five parts, you can find them here.

The players are finally realizing their mistake

While enough fans don’t seem to care about present-day labor issues in MLB, the players certainly do. What has been a less and less effective union as time has gone on is now seemingly galvanized by consecutive horrible offseasons, to the point where players like Kenley Jansen and Adam Wainwright are openly talking about striking years before the MLBPA can legally stage one.*

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Labor peace is a lie, pt. 5: Rob Manfred and the rise of tanking

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing sections of a larger story, titled “Labor peace is a lie.” Here’s part five (of six), on Rob Manfred and fans choosing owners over players. If you missed any of the other five parts, you can find them here.

Rob Manfred takes control while the MLBPA loses it

Rob Manfred is the current commissioner of baseball, but like his predecessor Bud Selig, his early work came on the labor scene. He was outside counsel for MLB during the 1994-1995 labor battle, and by 1998, Manfred was the Executive Vice President of Economics and League Affairs. He negotiated the first drug-testing agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, and was MLB’s lead negotiator for the collective bargaining agreements of 2002, 2006, and 2011 before becoming COO in 2013. He was also the head of MLB’s Biogenesis investigation, which, if you remember your recent history, involved MLB maybe obstructing a federal investigation just so they could get enough (stolen) dirton Alex Rodriguez that Selig could extend his victory lap into his final year as MLB commissioner.

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