Looking Back: 1876/1901/1926/1951/1976

125 years ago: The National League adopts its first constitution on February 2, 1876. Although William A. Hulbert of Chicago is the organizing force behind the league, Morgan Bulkeley of Hartford becomes the NL’s first president when his name is chosen by lot. Sixty years later, lazy historians wrongly credit Bulkeley with forming the league. Bulkeley is elected to the Hall of Fame in its second class, while Hulbert’s not inducted until 1995 – 113 years after his death.

100 years ago: Backed by Cleveland coal magnate Charles Somers, Ban Johnson’s American League drops clubs in Buffalo, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Minneapolis, invades Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, and begins signing away NL players. Of 46 players targeted by the AL, all but one – Honus Wagner – jump to the new major league.

Johnson ensures the loyalty of AL owners by requiring them to place 51% of their stock, as well as their ground leases, into escrow. By contrast, the NL owners are at one another’s throats, divided 4-4 over Giants owner Andrew Freedman’s proposal to reorganize the NL into a single entity, the National Baseball Trust. His Giants would own 30% of the stock, with Freedman’s allies in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Boston receiving 12% each. The four other owners would be diluted into powerlessness: Chicago and Philadelphia would each receive 10% of the new entity, Pittsburgh 8%, and Freedman’s enemies in Brooklyn just 6%.

The anti-Freedman forces unite behind Al Spalding, a pitcher turned sporting goods magnate, as their candidate for NL president. Spalding blasts Freedman as “the biggest fool that has ever broken into base ball ... [he] has done base ball more injury the past four years than any four evil influences combined have ever done to it in the entire history of the game." Freedman’s group favors incumbent Nick Young. At the NL’s annual meeting on Friday, December 13, 25 ballots for president fail to break the deadlock. When Freedman’s group leaves for the night at 1 AM without a formal motion to adjourn, Col. John Rogers of Pennsylvania declares “once a quorum, always a quorum,” and the remaining owners “elect” Spalding President. Two hours later, Spalding wakes Nick Young to demand the NL records. Young objects, but Spalding spirits them out of his hotel room.

Freedman’s group boycotts the NL meeting when it resumes at 2 PM, intending to deprive the others of a quorum. When Spalding spots a Giants executive in the doorway, he declares a quorum present, whereupon his four supporters divide the league’s committee assignments among themselves. Freedman obtains a restraining order to block Spalding’s election. The NL is left leaderless even as the AL reloads to continue the war.

75 years ago: Kenesaw Mountain Landis wins a second seven-year team as Commissioner, and receives a raise from $50,000 to $65,000. The AL establishes a one-game playoff to resolve ties for the pennant.

50 years ago: On January 31, 1951, a Sporting News editorial laments: "What will there be to celebrate 50 years from now? Ten years? NEXT year? How long can even the wealthiest clubs continue to pay $600,000 in player salaries, $400,000 for front office staffs and meet total expenditures up to $3,500,000 a season, the new peak reached this year? Where will the snowballing of expenses end, and how are they going to be met? How long can the plight confronting the minors be ignored?"

Sen. Edwin Johnson of Colorado, president of the Western League, pushes for federal legislation specifically endorsing the reserve clause: "Please do not broadcast the impression that I regard the contract and the reserve clause as illegal. It isn't that. Both are legal." But without a federal law, "[t]he door is open for every disgruntled player, every pipsqueak phony, every trouble maker, to go into court and attack the reserve clause in order to extract cash and other valuable considerations from baseball." Johnson's actions follow the Toolson case, in which a player sued after being placed on the ineligible list for refusing to accept a demotion. After it becomes clear that Commissioner Happy Chandler’s bid for a second term is backed by a majority of owners but not the required 3/4, Chandler resigns as Commissioner effective July 15. Soon thereafter, he tells Congress that he favors some form of salary arbitration for players. The owners spend two months debating a successor; at one point they settle on Air Force Major General Emmett “Rosey” O’Donnell, but President Truman refuses to release him from military duty. Leading contenders include NL president Ford Frick, Warren Giles of the Reds, General Douglas MacArthur, Gov. Frank Lausche of Ohio, former Postmaster General James A. Farley, and Milton Eisenhower. Ford Frick finally wins the job on the 16th ballot, defeating Warren Giles, who replaces him as NL president. Frick receives the same contract given to Judge Landis a quarter-century before: seven years at $65,000/year. At the winter meetings, Frick announces that when the owners split 8-8 on an issue, he won’t exercise his own judgment to break the tie, but will always vote to retain current policy.

25 years ago: Days after the Messersmith decision guts the reserve clause, the owners and players sit down to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. Although the post-Messersmith status quo allows any player to become a free agency by playing out his option year, the owners propose limiting free agency to players with eight years in the majors, and requiring a team which signs a free agent to compensate the player’s former club. To emphasize their resolve, the owners lock the players out of spring training. Bill Veeck of the White Sox and Ted Turner of the Braves object, but when threatened with a reported $500,000 fine for breaking rank, they settle for opening their camps to minor leaguers. Then Commissioner Kuhn unilaterally directs all owners to open the camps. Many hard-line owners never forgive Kuhn.

By summer, the parties negotiate a CBA, covering the 1976 through 1979 seasons. It grants players free agency after six years, with clubs losing a free agent to be compensated by a draft pick from the signing club. Each free agent will be allowed to negotiate with his own club and up to 12 others, with the clubs drafting negotiating rights. The minimum salary rises to $19,000 in 1976 and 1977, $21,000 in 1978 and 1979.

Oakland owner Charles O. Finley tries to sell his best players before the June 15 trading deadline rather than lose them to free agency after the season. The Red Sox buy Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers for $1 million each and the Yankees pay $1.5 million for Vida Blue, but Kuhn vetoes the sales as “not in the best interest of baseball.” Finley sues, but the courts uphold the Commissioner’s exercise of his “best interests” powers as within the authority granted to him by the owners.

Copyright © 2001 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Spring 2001 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

Back to Doug's Outside the Lines feature index

Back to Doug's Business of Baseball menu

To roadsidephotos.sabr.org home page