Looking Back: 1877/1902/1927/1952/1977

125 years ago: In 1877, the NL’s second season, the reserve rule had yet to surface...but the owners had plenty of other advantages. The standard player contract provided that the player assumed “all risk of accident or injury, in play or otherwise, and of illness from whatever cause,” and “had no claim for wages” for the period in which he couldn’t play. Each player was charged $30 for his uniform and required to keep it clean at his own expense -- and rather than receiving meal money while on the road, players had 50 cents/day deducted from their salaries to cover their board.

100 years ago: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court hands the Phillies a major victory in the AL-NL war, enjoining contract jumper Nap Lajoie from playing for the Philadelphia Athletics, or for anyone else except the Phillies. The victory proves short-lived, as the Athletics trade Lajoie to Cleveland, the Ohio courts refuse to enforce the Pennsylvania injunction, and other judges decline to follow the Lajoie precedent.

The always-volatile relationship between AL president Ban Johnson and Baltimore Orioles manager John McGraw explodes in midseason. On July 2, Johnson suspends McGraw and outfielder Joe Kelley, declaring, “These disturbers like Kelley and McGraw have got to learn to behave themselves on American League diamonds or every one of them will be put out of the game. . . . Rowdyism will not be tolerated in the American League, however, and the men who disregard the organization rules must suffer the consequences.”

Unwilling to suffer the consequences, McGraw jumps to the New York Giants, then tries to destroy the American League. Orioles owner John J. Mahon (Joe Kelley’s father-in-law) releases McGraw, accumulates more than half of the club’s shares, and sells control of the Orioles to Giants owner Andrew Freedman. Four Orioles, including Joe McGinnity and Roger Bresnahan, join McGraw in New York, while Kelley and Cy Seymour sign with Cincinnati. But Mahon, Freedman and McGraw overplay their hand – the Orioles are left with so few players that they can no longer field a team, which gives Johnson an excuse to declare the franchise forfeited to the American League. For 1903 the club becomes the New York Yankees.

75 years ago: Ban Johnson loses his final showdown with Commissioner Landis. After the 1926 season, Johnson quietly blacklists Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker after former pitcher Dutch Leonard implicates them, along with Joe Wood, in a plot to fix the September 25, 1919 Tigers-Indians game. Landis makes the evidence public and ultimately exonerates Cobb and Speaker. Within days after Johnson declares, “As long as I’m president of the American League, neither one of them will manage or play on our teams,” the AL owners back Landis, giving Johnson a leave of absence “for health reasons.” The owners had hoped Johnson would quietly fade away, but he returns, lasting only a few months before resigning under pressure.

Reacting to more charges of pre-1920 corruption and game-fixing, Landis establishes a statute of limitations on these offenses. His edict also sets penalties for future offenses: a one-year suspension for rewarding other organizations for wins or betting on baseball games in which the bettor does not have a duty to perform, and permanent ineligibility for betting on any game in which the bettor does have a duty to perform.

50 years ago: The Korean War leads to a government-imposed payroll cap. The Federal Wage Stabilization Board advises clubs that their total payroll for 1952, including players, managers and coaches, must not exceed the higher of the 1951 payroll, or 110% of the salary for the highest year from 1946 through 1950. Roy Mack of the Athletics notes that this rule prevents bad teams from improving themselves; he favors limiting all clubs to the highest salary paid by any club in the league.

25 years ago: In the February 12, 1977 TSN, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn opposes greater revenue sharing: “I think the present division is about right. You can’t penalize the hard-working club operator or destroy the incentive to field a good club. Network TV revenue is shared equally now and I see no reason to go further in that direction.”

Jim Emhoff and Chris Ritz of Wharton warn, "No team is immune from the spectre of bankruptcy" as a result of free agency and the likelihood that nonstars will also seek more money. They warn that salaries could soon triple, and recommend eight reforms: (1) higher ticket prices, (2) narrowing the split of gate receipts, (3) airing all games on pay TV, (4) reducing the number of teams, (5) eliminating the minor leagues, (6) installing buttons on each seat to allow fans to "manage," (7) filling rosters primarily with local players, (8) adding more divisions to keep more teams in contention.

Copyright © 2002 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Spring 2002 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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