Looking Back: 1878/1903/1928/1953/1978

125 years ago: Warning that the National League is operating at a collective loss, league officials counsel salary restraint. NL adopts a uniform player contract and advises teams not to advance salaries to players during the winter.

100 years ago: On January 10, 1903, representatives of the AL and NL sign a Peace Agreement ending the war between the leagues -- but not before the AL rejects a consolidation plan proposed by several NL clubs. The proposal would have created a single 12-club league, similar to the 1893-99 NL, with teams in Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. To consolidate, the AL team in Philadelphia would buy out the Phillies; Boston of the AL would move to Baltimore; Chicago NL and St. Louis AL would control the other formerly two-club cities; and the AL would abandon plans to place a team in New York. The AL refuses, and refuses to vacate New York, but agrees not to place a team in Pittsburgh if the player disputes can be settled. They are: a joint committee awards the AL nine of the 16 players claimed by both leagues, including future Hall of Famers Sam Crawford, George Davis, Ed Delahanty, Willie Keeler and Nap Lajoie.

The final piece of Organized Baseball's governance falls into place in September, with the adoption of a National Agreement by the majors and minors. The National Agreement establishes a three-member National Commission to govern Organized Baseball and formalizes the system which allows major league clubs to draft players from minor league rosters for a fixed, relatively low sum. The document solemnly declares: "The practice of farming is prohibited. All right or claim of a major league club to a player shall cease when such player becomes a member of a minor league club, and no arrangement between clubs for the loan or return of a player shall be binding between the parties to it or recognized by other clubs."

75 years ago: At the December 1928 NL meetings, league president John Heydler proposes allowing teams to designate a player to hit for the pitcher. The proposal is tabled in the face of unanimous AL opposition.

The December 20, 1928 Sporting News condemns a proposal by Braves owner Emil Fuchs:

"Judge Fuchs of the Boston Club wished to have suspended players granted a hearing. For some reason this seemed to escape the attention of the New York baseball men. It is one of the most extraordinary requests made by a major league official in a long time because almost all requests have been of a nature to make the rulings of suspension more binding. There is no other way in which players are to be kept in order. Once given a little leeway they will venture farther and farther upon forbidden ground until they are a law unto themselves as they have been in the past.

"It was finally decided that the president of the league would furnish a copy of the umpire's report to the club from which a player is suspended but it is safe to say that the average player who is removed for a ball game has been given cause before he is set down, and there should not be any loosening of the bonds of discipline. Any return to the conditions of former days would be disastrous.

50 years ago: The Supreme Court reaffirms Organized Baseball's antitrust exemption. Before the decision, Cubs owner Phil Wrigley predicted that the exemption would be overturned -- and that baseball would be better for the ruling. "The result will be chaos for a while, but I believe good will come of it in the end and that we will be better off eventually." Wrigley favors replacing farm systems with independent minor leagues, with major league clubs allowed to option a limited number of players to the minors.

25 years ago: Commissioner Bowie Kuhn appoints a 10-member commission to study the possibility of switching to a three-divisions-plus-wildcard format, and the possibility of interleague play. The AL generally favors both, with the NL opposed. Kuhn also testifies before Congress, apparently with a straight face, that a proposal to limit the deductibility of sports tickets and other entertainment could force baseball clubs to raise their ticket prices by as much as 50%.

In his December 1978 "State of the Game" message, Kuhn declares, "I am not very happy when I see stars like Luis Tiant and Tommy John signed by the world champion New York Yankees. The Yankees are fully within their legal rights, but this trend fulfills a prophecy some of us made that the star free agents would tend to sign with the best teams. It's inevitable that this process will lead to a group of elite teams controlling the sport. Already, five teams have signed 53 percent of the free agents during the first three years of the new system." Kuhn says he's "watching [the situation] to see if I should take any action," but Marvin Miller reminds him that because the issue has been collectively bargained, he's powerless to act. The Yankees obligingly moot the issue by finishing fourth in 1979, and don't win another Series for 18 years.

Copyright © 2003 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Spring 2003 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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