Armour: The great Topps baseball card monopoly: Conflict

From SABR member Mark Armour at The National Pastime Museum on May 12, 2016:

The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) was formed in 1954 but was nothing more than a house union for the next dozen years. The way it operated was something like this: A couple of times a year, a few player representatives met with some owner representatives and made a few requests, like “the shower heads in Cincinnati aren’t putting out enough pressure.” The owners would come back in a few months having resolved some of the issues. The players had a pension, which mainly came from the TV rights to the All-Star Game, and little else.

In early 1966 the players hired Marvin Miller, a labor economist from United Steelworkers, to be their new executive director. In baseball, nothing else was ever the same again. Over the next several years, Miller and the players engaged in true collective bargaining, earning increased benefits, larger salaries, an impartial grievance procedure, and, ultimately, limited free agency.

In September 1966, the MLBPA created a group licensing program—allowing companies to make deals with the union to use players’ names and pictures to sell products. Of vital importance, the star players (who were often the only ones the company wanted to use) effectively signed over potential income to the union rather than trying to work out their own deals. Miller soon signed a contract with Coca-Cola to use player photos on the underside of bottle caps, netting $60,000 per year for two years. This deal helped keep the union afloat.

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Originally published: May 12, 2016. Last Updated: May 12, 2016.