Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Rights Of Baseball Players

According to Judge Pershing, the base ball player is not a laborer within the meaning of the statutes giving laboreers a preference over other creditors in the distribution of an insolvent estate. There will be no disposition to find fault with this decision. The salaried base ball player is altogether too much of a professional man to share in the protection which the law extends to the manual laborer and mechanic.
-The North American, January 17, 1884

I thought this was really interesting and somewhat relevant to discussion at hand.

Lucas, when discussing the reserve rule and the decision to ignore it, talked about it in moral terms. He was essentially talking about the rights of man, broadly defined. He was talking about the right of a free man to ingage in free commerce and to sell or buy whatever property they had or were offered.

Just law defends and encourages these rights. While I don't know all the particulars about the case that's being discussed above, it doesn't appear that the law as applied was defending the rights of baseball players or their property. However, this does seem to fit right in with a hundred years of American jurisprudence which also failed to do so.


K.B. said...


I love the site. I've been using it frequently as I research the 1886 Little Rock club that played numerous St. Louis teams.

Elsewhere on the site, you state the that games played between Little Rock and the Maroons (if you can call them that) was the last ever played by St. Louis. Can you confirm this? This would add some small significance to the games played in Little Rock


Jeffrey Kittel said...

From everything I've seen, the three game series the Maroons played against Little Rock were the last games they ever played. The home season was suppossed to end on October 30 with a game between the Maroons and the Browns but that game got pushed back to the 31st because the Browns were late getting back from, coincidentally, Little Rock. The game was specifically described in the StL Globe-Democrat a couple of times as the last one of the season.

But then the Maroons went to Little Rock and played three games on November 2, 3 and 4. They lost the first game 3-2 but then won the second and third, 5-2 and 3-2, respectively. I haven't seen a record of any games played by the Maroons after that and given the late date, I wouldn't expect to. The season was traditionally over with by the end of October and the Maroons' November road trip is a bit odd.

I did, however, go back and rechecked the database for games in November 1886 and nothing shows up after the Maroons/Little Rock series. It's not conclusive but I'm comfortable describing the game on November 4th as the last one the Maroons ever played.

Appreciate the kind words about the website and if there's anything else I can help with, just let me know.

David Ball said...

Judge Pershing may have been utterly heedless of the legitimate interests of working men, or perhaps more probably phe was unfamiliar with the workings of the baseball business. However well they may have been paid, players were essentially in the same relation to clubs as any ordinary working person is to an employer, and not free agents comparable to the lawyers in relation to clients or physcians to patients. A player could earn money from only one club at a time, and while some of them worked during the offseason, baseball provided most of the income for all but a handful.

With individual exceptions, it's also no doubt generally true that players tended to be far more dependent on their pay than other creditors were on the money the club owed them. At least at major and top minor levels, players made quite good money by working class standards, but under the best circumstance their careers were brief, unstable and insecure, and that insecurity was aggravated by the tendency of clubs to fall behind on salaries or default altogether. It just doesn't seem right that players should not have been able to call on the utmost assistance the law could give in recovering pay they had fairly earned.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

One of the first things I thought of when I saw this article was the 1920 Supreme Court decision that concluded that baseball was a game and not a business. Players weren't workers and baseball wasn't a business; it was all part of the same legal tradition. I've always been surprised that some brilliant legal mind couldn't see that baseball was both game and business (and for most, it was more business than game.)

The other thing I thought of was that baseball in 1884 was on this inevitable course to the Players' Revolt. Nothing was going to stop that train. The owners were too short-sighted and intent on running things to their advantage while the players had no recourse. A man can only take so much before he fights back and the players were under the heel of the owners for a generation. The situation was untenable.

Frederic Bastiat wrote something along the lines that a law that allows one person to steal from another is unjust and nothing more than legal plunder. In many ways, the players found themselves oppressed by an unjust legal system that allowed the owners to essentially steal from them. The courts could have and should have stopped this early on but didn't.