Thorn: Spalding’s bluff: the game’s crucial moment

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on August 14, 2017:

There was a time,” wrote John Montgomery Ward in 1887, “when the National League stood for integrity and fair dealing. Today, it stands for dollars and cents. Once it looked to the elevation of the game and an honest exhibition of the sport; today, its eyes are on the turnstile…. Players have been bought, sold and exchanged as though they were sheep instead of American citizens.”

In describing the plight of a ballplayer Ward — who with a Giants teammate, pitcher Tim Keefe, had been the architect of the players’ “union” of the day, the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players — invoked the rhetoric of the Civil War, so recently concluded: “Like a fugitive slave law, the reserve clause denies him a harbor or a livelihood, and carries him back, bound and shackled, to the club from which he attempted to escape. We have, then, the curious result of a contract which on its face is for seven months being binding for life….”

The idea of a reserve clause that would bind a player to his team despite lack of agreement as to the next year’s terms was a way for owners to limit player mobility as well as to suppress salary.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: August 14, 2017. Last Updated: August 14, 2017.