Calcaterra: John Montgomery Ward, baseball’s original union activist

From Craig Calcaterra at The National Pastime Museum on October 30, 2016:

Last December baseball celebrated the 40th anniversary of player free agency. The legal case that cast asunder the reserve clause and marked the advent of free agency was a watershed moment in the history of the game, forever changing the relationship between baseball’s employees and employers. It likewise changed the relationship between the fans and the players for whom they root for a few years—before the players join another team in another city in multimillion dollar deals.

The story of free agency in baseball is well known even by casual fans of the game. It goes like this: in the 1960s the players hired Marvin Miller, a steelworkers union official, to head its then weak union. After a few minor skirmishes about pensions and the like, Miller rallied the players to take a strong stand against the owners regarding the conditions of their work, their pay, and their freedom to change, or not to change, teams as they so desired. Curt Flood filed a famous lawsuit that, while ultimately a loser, served as a high-profile and seemingly unprecedented example of a player taking on the Lords of Baseball. Later, Catfish Hunter famously left the Oakland Athletics and headed to the Yankees for a million-dollar contract following the 1974 season due to a contractual technicality. Finally, on December 23, 1975, following the hearing of a grievance brought by players Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, Major League Baseball arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that baseball’s infamous reserve clause did not allow a club to perpetually retain the services of the players it signed as amateurs or, later, drafted. Following a fruitless appeal by Major League Baseball, the decision was upheld and the league and the union entered into an agreement establishing the parameters of modern free agency.

While many baseball fans know that part of the story, they are almost wholly ignorant of the fact that Marvin Miller, Andy Messersmith, and Dave McNally were not the first men to challenge the owners with respect to the reserve clause, even if they were the first ones to succeed. Indeed, a strong and, at the time, well-publicized challenge was mounted nearly a century before. A challenge that has now been almost lost to history.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: October 31, 2016. Last Updated: October 31, 2016.