Baseball Union

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BASEBALL UNION. For almost a century, baseball's reserve system bound players to their clubs for life or until the club decided to trade or release them. In the decade following April 1966, the Major League Baseball Players Association changed that, altering the economic structure of baseball in a way that would have an impact on all professional team sports. The start of the process was the decision of the players to hire Marvin J. Miller, an executive with the United Steelworkers of America, as their first full-time executive director. The defining moment for the future of the union was the solidarity that allowed it to prevail during its first strike in 1972.

The basis for all of the union's future success was in 1968, when it negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with the owners that included an impartial grievance procedure. In 1970, Curt Flood sued to overturn the reserve system on antitrust grounds but lost at trial and before the Supreme Court in 1972. In 1975, two players challenged the contractual basis of the reserve system. The arbitrator, Peter Seitz, upheld their grievance, declaring them to be free agents. The impact was both immediate and far-reaching. In 1966, the minimum salary was $6,000, and the average was $19,000. By 1981 these figures were $32,500 and $185,651, and by 2000, $200,000 and $1,398,830.

Salary increases were not the only consequences. There were work stoppages in 1972, 1976, 1981, 1985, 1990, and 1994–1995. Free agent movement, length of contracts, and the size of salaries became as important as the statistics normally associated with the sport. The attitude of the public toward athletes and sports was altered forever. And every other professional team sport had to create systems to deal with the new aspirations of their players to emulate the success of the major league baseball players.


Burk, Robert F. Much More Than a Game: Players, Owners and Baseball Since 1921. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Koppett, Leonard. Koppett's Concise History of Major League Baseball. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

Korr, Charles. The End of Baseball As We Knew It: The Players Union, 1960–1981. With Foreword by Bob Costas. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Lowenfish, Lee. The Imperfect Diamond: A History of Baseball's Labor Wars. Rev. ed. New York: De Capo Press, 1991.

Miller, Marvin. A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and the Business of Baseball. New York: Birch Lane Press, 1991.

Charles P.Korr