The Chambers Brothers anthem from the revolutionary (we thought) days of over a half century ago came to mind as I realized how Rob Manfred has accomplished what seemed to be the impossible: he makes Bud Selig, the steroid enabling Chevy salesman, look good. A man in his position ought to be able to at least appear to be sincere about coming to an agreement with the help as he works on his wealthy guy tan in Florida. What Manfred and the mostly faceless rich people he represents do not seem to realize is that the help is organized. Plus, even though things have changed a bit and a lot of baseball followers identify more with owners than with players, people don’t buy tickets or turn on their televisions or radios to follow the likes of Hank Steinbrenner as they count their money. They do those things to watch athletes play ball. We are missing Mike Trout, Max Scherzer, Brandon Crawford, and Luis Robert as we seek respite from war, famine, the virus pandemic, inflation. and Bill Gates.
The thought occurred as we heard the news that Derek Jeter, an all American hero if there ever was one, throw in the towel on his gig with the Miami Marlins. Jeter wasn’t specific about his reasons but it definitely seemed as though he soured on the whole mess. As sometimes happens when organizations are awash with excessive amounts of cash and real estate. the leadership has lost touch with why they have, despite themselves, succeeded. Baseball has always been a great game. It began to be called the national pastime because it was. Every town had teams and every place in all of the states across the country had people playing baseball at some level. That is no longer the case. The national pastime now is staring at screens while whining. Still, baseball can be saved. The thought that occurred was this: the time has come today for another Players’ League.
Professional baseball players have been organized long enough now that many of them have solid bank accounts. They are already much better organized than the owners and they apparently have much better business sense. There are many millionaire ballplayers. I know that billion is the new million but a million is still a big number. Only a billionaire could be arrogant enough to think that people in a country that has been wracked by one nasty reality after another are going to give two fried shits about their unpleasant, greedy attempt to squeeze even more out of their golden goose. The millionaires can solve this problem by starting a new league. It’s been done before
In 1890, the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players formed the Players’ League. It sprung out of the refusal by the National League, which formed and began in 1876, to change its stance on the salary ceiling. Sound familiar? John Ward led the players into forming their own league. Many star players were enticed into joining together with a plan to share gate receipts evenly between home teams and visitors, ditch the reserve clause that bound players to whatever team originally signed them forever, and purchase stock in their teams.
The National League responded in the traditional manner of smart business people. They declared war on the Players’ League. They bribed players to quit the new league. They lowered ticket prices. They initiated lawsuits over their golden goose, the reserve clause. They cajoled support from the press by threatening to withdraw advertising. They raided the American Association, a rival league, for players such as Billy Hamilton and Tommy Tucker.
The Players’ League won the battle for attendance in 1890 but all three leagues claimed to have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. After one season the Boston Reds were PL champs but the league disbanded after losing investors.
The difference now is that the players can be the investors. Obviously, they won’t have the dollars that the owners currently hold and ,you bet , there would again be war declared. But it would be a lot more fun and you could also bet that a nice TV contract would soon exist. And, best of all, there would be no place for stooges like Rob Manfred. There are things to realize.