Looking Back: 1900/1925/1950/1975

100 years ago: The NL contracts from 12 teams to eight by buying out Louisville, Cleveland, Baltimore and Washington. Louisville receives $10,000 to drop out; Cleveland, $10,000 plus $15,000 for its plant and players, if not sold within a reasonable time; Washington, $39,000 for franchise, plant and players; Baltimore, $30,000 for franchise and plant, retaining the right to dispose of its players. The money comes from a 5% tax on gate receipts in 1900 and 1901.

Seeing an opportunity, two potential rivals jockey for position. Francis Richter of Sporting Life promotes a new American Association, with Cap Anson at its head and John McGraw to run the Baltimore franchise. Unable to secure sufficient backing in the East, the Association collapses in February. Meanwhile, Ban Johnson's Western Association changes its name to the American League, takes over the NL's abandoned Cleveland site, and is allowed to place a team on the South Side of Chicago in return for letting the Cubs draft two AL players at the end of the season.

After losing a third of their jobs in the off-season and hearing widespread rumors of salary reductions in their future, the players unionize. At a July 29 meeting, the new Players Protective Association hires former player Harry Taylor, now a Buffalo attorney, to represent their interests. The NL tries to ignore the Association, but after the AL effectively declares itself a major by refusing to renew its membership in the National Association and withdrawing its players from the draft, the NL grudgingly agrees to let Taylor address an owners' committee at the December annual meeting.

In his address, Taylor asks that the reserve be limited to 3-5 years; that limits be placed on the number of players subject to the reserve; and that players not be sold, traded or farmed without their consent. When NL owners ask Taylor to put his proposals in writing, he infuriates them by adding additional demands. In response, the NL rejects Taylor's requests on the spot, a move that will backfire when the AL accepts the no-farming clause. The battle for players is about to begin.

75 years ago: In January 1925, a plan for federal control of baseball is briefly floated. Under the scheme, MLB would be governed by a three-man commission appointed by the President. All clubs, players, managers and umpires would be licensed; all trades and player sales would have to be approved by majority vote of all clubs. Player salaries would be strictly tied to seniority, except that each club could pay a bonus to its best hitter, pitcher and fielder. Although the plan dies a quick death, the following month New York Congressman Fiorello LaGuardia proposes a 90% tax on all player sales for more than $5,000 unless the player himself receives the money.

50 years ago: Two national networks begin "Game of the Day" radio markets in non-major-league cities. Mutual Broadcasting's 350-station network airs an AL Game of the Day from Monday through Saturday, reaching all or part of 31 states; Liberty Broadcasting's NL Game of the Day is carried on 250-300 stations. The minors howl in protest.

Less than a month after a front-page Sporting News headline proclaims, "New Seven-Year Chandler Contract Assured," Commissioner Happy Chandler is denied re-election when only nine of the required 12 clubs support him. The opposition to Chandler is led by the Yankees and Cardinals, backed by the Braves, Phillies, Browns, Red Sox and White Sox. The owners then unanimously vote to start the search for a new Commissioner, while Chandler refuses to resign.

25 years ago: Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally win the grievance which establishes a player's right to free agency. Messersmith and McNally play the entire season without signing 1975 contracts. The reserve clause in their 1974 contracts states: "If prior to March 1, the Player and the Club have not agreed on the terms of the contract, then on or before 10 days after said March 1, the Club shall have the right by written notice to the player to renew this contract for a period of one year." Backed by the MLBPA, the pair ask Peter Seitz, MLB's neutral arbitrator, to interpret this clause: does it create a one-year renewal right followed by free agency, or does "renewal of this contract" automatically renew the reserve clause, too, thereby creating a perpetual reserve?

In December, Seitz rules in favor of Messersmith and McNally. After pausing just long enough to fire Seitz, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn surveys the future with his usual prescience: "I think you could expect bankruptcies, sharp retrenchment of franchises and great dissatisfaction among the players themselves as the money gravitates to the top -- to the super stars -- at the expense of the majority of the players."

Copyright © 2000 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Spring 2000 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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