Fears that New York teams will sign all the free agents — in 1912

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In 1912, there was a startup third major league called the United States Baseball League. It had eight teams. It played for about a month before it collapsed. It happens.

A unique aspect of the USBL: the league approached the players as if they weren’t chattel. No reserve clause in the contracts. Multi-year deals. Annual free agency for those who signed for only one.  This did not go over very well with the baseball establishment.

You’d figure that the National and American Leagues would hate it, but the media was just as scornful.  We get a great glimpse into that today courtesy of Dan Lee, who posts a link to a Sporting Life newspaper article about this “outlaw league” over at Baseball Think Factory today. The thing has to be read in full to be appreciated, but this is fun stuff:

President William Abbott Witman, of the United States League, is out with a statement in which he says the new league will abandon slavery in base ball. there will be no reserve clause in the contracts…so that it will be possible for [players] to go where they please at the end of every season. Beautiful dream that …Its no-slavery platform and no-slavery stuff is great in the abstract, but the bunk elsewhere. Cut the reserve rule, and Cobb, Johnson, Lajoie, and such other players…would all be in New York, where the chances for biggest money are, while their present owners would be doing the best they could.

Imagine, all of the big free agents gravitating to the big market clubs. It would probably kill baseball as we know it!

The article continues to heap scorn on the USBL, especially its idea of multi-year deals. Noting — correctly, because the idea of guaranteed contracts did not appear to have been conceived — that no player would want to sign a multi-year deal. He’d go year-to-year if he had any confidence in himself, knowing that he could make more money via serial free agency if he was playing well. And knowing that if he played poorly, a guy on a multi-year deal would be released more quickly than a guy only there for a few more months.

The article ends by extolling the virtues of the reserve rule, and how baseball simply could not function unless the owners had complete control over their players.  It’s a mindset that the players weren’t able to defeat for another 64 years.  The owners, through collusion, refused to accept the idea for another 76 years. To put in perspective just how non-antiquated that mindset was among owners in shockingly recent days, understand this: the ideas espoused in that 1912 article led directly to the creation of the Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays.

The prescience of the big city teams signing big name free agents notwithstanding, it’s pretty amazing to look at a document like this and think about just how non-critically its authors thought about the institutions on which they were reporting.  And it makes you wonder how critical modern reporters are of the institutions they cover, and whether we’re accepting things the way they are now simply because it hasn’t occurred to us to question them.

 

(Photo: American League Baseball Owners, 1911, from the Library of Congress Flickr page)

Chris Archer on joining Bruce Maxwell’s protest: “I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me at this time.”

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Rays pitcher Chris Archer doesn’t see himself joining Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest any time soon, Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY Sports reports. Archer said, “From the feedback that I’ve gotten from my teammates, I don’t think it would be the best thing to do for me, at this time. I agree with the message. I believe in equality.”

Archer continued, “I don’t want to offend anybody. No matter how you explain it or justify it, some people just can’t get past the military element of it and it’s not something I want to do, is ruffle my teammates’ feathers on my personal views that have nothing to do with baseball.”

Archer did express admiration for the way Maxwell handled his situation. The right-hander said, “The way he went about it was totally, I think, as respectful as possible, just letting everybody know that this doesn’t have anything to do with the military, first and foremost, noting that he has family members that are in the military. It’s a little bit tougher for baseball players to make that leap, but I think he was the right person to do it.”

Maxwell recently became the first baseball player to kneel as the national anthem was sung, a method of protest popularized by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As Craig explained yesterday, baseball’s hierarchical culture has proven to be a strong deterrent for players to express their unpopular opinions. We can certainly see that in Archer’s justification. Archer was one of 62 African Americans on the Opening Day roster across 30 major league clubs (750 total players, 8.3%).

Major League Baseball issues a statement on Trump’s latest travel ban order

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Last night the Trump Administration announced a new batch of restrictions on people traveling from foreign countries, following up on its previous travel ban on persons from six predominately Muslim countries. The latest restriction could potentially touch on Major League Baseball, however, as it includes Venezuela.

The restriction for Venezuela is far narrower than the others, only blocking visas for government officials on business or tourist travel from Venezuela. There has been considerable uncertainty about the scope and enforcement mechanisms for the previous travel ban, however, and the entire matter is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. With that uncertainty, many around Major League Baseball have asked how and if the league or the union might respond to an order that, while seemingly not facially impacting baseball personnel or their families, could impact them in practice.

To that end, Major League Baseball issued a statement this afternoon, saying “MLB is aware of the travel ban that involves Venezuela and we have contacted the appropriate government officials to confirm that it will not have an effect on our players traveling to the U.S.” It is not clear whether it has, in fact, received such confirmation or if its an ongoing dialog or what.

Again: the ban shouldn’t impact baseball players or their families based on its terms. But based on what we saw with the enforcement of the previous one — and based the unexpected consequences many major leaguers faced when international travel restrictions were tightened following the 9/11 attacks — it’s only prudent for Major League Baseball to make such inquiries and get whatever assurances it can well in advance of next February when players from Venezuela will be coming back to the United States for spring training.