Unless you’ve extended indefinitely your holiday break or decided to finally part with the material world, you’re by now well aware that the past two off-seasons have sparked a bit of contention between the players/MLBPA and the owners. The specificities of the brewing conflict can be quite difficult to fully grasp, particularly since the animosity among these parties stretches back over a century.
Since it is preposterous to assume every fan is familiar with labor history of Major League Baseball, this piece will provide somewhat of a crash course, condensing 100 years into ~500 words.
Let’s begin with one of the earliest attempts of MLB players to unionize, which took place in the early ‘20s. As you might expect, the efforts were not appreciated by everyone, and various figures attached to the sport mounted arguments against the necessity of a professional baseball union. Let’s take a look at some of the most widespread claims, in chronological order:
- “Baseball players are better off now than they ever were. What more could they want!” (August, 1912).
- “Baseball cannot be unionized because it is an art…if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have minor and major leagues. They would be the same. (January, 1917).
- “It would prejudice the average fan against his league” (February, 1921).
- “Players are classified with doctors, lawyers, and scientists, not wage earners” (March, 1922).
- “A baseball union…would carry the reputation of being set on foot by crooked players” (January, 1923).
Now let’s fast-forward to the years preceding the formation of the MLBPA, which occurred in 1966, amidst concerns about the decline in attendance and quality of play. Though ultimately successful, the idea, again, was not met with unbridled support. Here are the words of its detractors:
- “Professional baseball is different than an ordinary wage-earning job” (March, 1962).
- “Unionizing baseball would fundamentally change the game (it is a game) in the eyes of the fans. Such a thing cannot be tolerated” (February, 1963).
- “The lowest benchwarmer would get the same pay scale as Willie Mays” (April, 1964).
- “Players live the best of all possible lives––affluent, relaxed, secure and famous” (August, 1966).
A great deal changed between the ‘20s and ‘60s in order for the MLBPA to succeed, and its detractors were forced to adapt. Out went the old nonsense about baseball’s classification as an art, and in came the notion that…bench players are particularly greedy.
Now, over 40 years into the MLBPA’s existence, the question has no longer become whether the union should exist but rather how much individual athletes contribute to the game versus the owners. With this new development compared to the events of the ‘20s and ‘60s, it should not be surprising that the labor critics’ arguments are—
Glenn Borgmann, backup catcher of the 1978 Minnesota Twins, surveys the world before him and, finding no danger in his view, allows his mind to wander. He could be thinking of nothing, or he could be thinking of anything, possibly one of the below:
Why aren’t there any good television shows about baseball? Baseball would make a good sitcom. But not the actual baseball games. The whole show could take place on a bus. A Triple-A team bus, and each week the players would talk to each other about some new topic, something important in their lives. Plus you could rotate people out, call them up and send them down, vary up the cast. If the ratings got bad the bus could crash, I guess, and then it’d be about them recovering as a team… man, this is getting dark. I wish I could get just one base hit.
One day I’d like to build a baseball field, but instead of grass, I’d plant kudzu. I just want to see what it would be like to play in it. Trim it down to, I don’t know, six inches? Enough to run in, but enough for the ball to disappear. I don’t like grass. It’s too predictable, too plain. The ground needs more mystery in it, I think.
Do good-looking pitchers get more strike calls than ugly ones?
The word Borg, in German, is loosely translated as “castrated boar.” What does that mean? Why am I a borg man? Were my ancestors the ones who cut the balls off the boars? I sure as hell hope so. I know that if I won World Series MVP somehow, some game-winning walk or something, someone would interrupt the award ceremony to tell everyone what Borgmann means.
Maybe if I could get a new song stuck in my head, that would help me break out of this slump. I need to pick a song with the right tempo. Slow Ride isn’t helping. Maybe some disco.
If they made Pong into a TV show, and showed the players playing and kept track of wins and losses, would people watch it?
Am I a twin? Not in the baseball sense, but like, is there a version of me out there in the world? I hear people say we all have soul mates, and that seems fine, but in terms of probability it seems like it’d be just as likely for there to be an exact copy of me as there is an exact perfect match. I bet he goes by Glen with one N, just because of the butterfly effect. And if I did meet him, what would happen? What if my life were better than his, and he tried to murder me? What if his life were better than mine? Would I do the same?
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now