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December 2002, Vol. 125, No.12
Baseball negotiations: a new agreement
Paul D. Staudohar
T he modern history of collective bargaining in baseball is replete with work stoppages. Since 1972, every round of negotiations between Major League Baseball’s owners and players has produced either a strike or a lockout. That year’s baseball season began with a 13-day spring-training strike. The 1973 season saw an 18-day lockout, also during spring training. Problems continued in 1976 with a 17-game spring-training lockout, in 1980 with an 8-day spring-training strike, in 1981 with a 50-day midseason strike, in 1985 with a 2-day midseason strike, and in 1990 with a 32-day spring-training lockout. Then came the big 1994–95 strike, the longest ever in professional sports, lasting a total of 232 days. Exhibit 1 summarizes these events and the main issues that were in contention between the parties.
Prior to the 1972 strike, in 1966, Marvin Miller was hired as the first full-time director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. He came from the Steelworkers Union and brought a new approach to player negotiations. Instead of adopting the paternalism of the past, Miller used a more traditional trade union approach, confronting the owners with demands and backing them up with power.
Miller’s big breakthrough occurred on free agency. Since the late 19th century, a reserve clause in players’ contracts stipulated that the club to which a player belonged controlled the right to that player, unless he was sold, traded, or released. In what economists call a monopsony, there was only one buyer of a player’s services. This arrangement kept players’ salaries low.
In 1970, Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause after he was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies. He refused to report to the Phillies and filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball on antitrust grounds, claiming that his freedom in the labor market was restricted by the reserve clause. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Flood in 1972, because its earlier 1922 precedent gave baseball an exemption from the antitrust law. So Flood lost, but his lawsuit stirred the pot for future challenges.
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Baseball strike of 1994-95, The.—Mar. 1997.
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