1911 baseball owners

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


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)

Nationals fire reigning Manager of the Year Matt Williams

Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams looks on from the dugout during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, May 2, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Matt Williams was voted the National League Manager of the Year on November 11, 2014, receiving 18 of 30 first-place votes from Baseball Writers Association of America members.

Today the Nationals fired him following a season full of disappointment, reports of clubhouse discontent, and Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper in the dugout.

Williams went 179-145 (.552) in two seasons in Washington, which is an excellent winning percentage, but when you take over a stacked team the expectations are extremely high and there was seemingly nothing anyone could point to about his actual managing that suggested he was doing a good job.

His in-game tactics and particularly his rigid bullpen usage patterns infuriated fans. His dealings with the local media became increasingly antagonistic. And even setting aside two players literally fighting in the dugout there’s ample evidence that Williams lost the clubhouse a long time ago.

Williams was far from the only thing wrong with the Nationals this season and he’s hardly the primary person to blame for their disappointing record, but it’s also hard to make a strong case for his sticking around–meaningless, beat writer-voted award or not–and general manager Mike Rizzo predictably acted quickly to move on.

Now we’ll see who gets to take the next crack at managing the Nationals to play up to expectations.

Dan Haren plans to retire after the playoffs are over

Dan Haren
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Dan Haren, who said two months ago that he was leaning toward retiring after the season, reiterated those plans following the Cubs’ regular season finale Sunday.

At age 34 he started 32 games for the Marlins and Cubs with a 3.60 ERA and 132/38 K/BB ratio in 187 innings, so Haren would have no problem finding work and a solid paycheck for 2016.

However, he’s not expected to part of the Cubs’ playoff roster and told Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago:

That was it for me. If I have to pitch in the postseason, I’ll be ready for sure. Happy the way the last few starts have gone. Being able to contribute to this amazing team. I’m just thankful to be a part of it. If I don’t pitch in the postseason, that’s it. It’s been fun. Hopefully there’s a lot more games to go. … If my name is called, I’ll be ready.

Injuries has lessened Haren’s overall effectiveness in recent years, but he’s remained a solid mid-rotation starter and has pitched 13 seasons in the big leagues with a 3.75 ERA in 2,419 innings. He made three All-Star teams and earned more than $80 million.