Sport and recreation in the United States — страница 7

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player-owned cooperative clubs. The owners specifically restricted membership in their new National League to clubs that had clarified the role of players as employees. This league, which was the nucleus of today's major leagues, began with clubs in Philadelphia, Hartford, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, and New York. It had to struggle against rival leagues for the next thirty-nine years, vanquishing some (the Players' League and the Federal League) and merging with others (the American Association in 1891 and the Western, later American, League in 1903). The first few years of the new league were precarious ones, with cutthroat competition between the National League and its rivals. On September 29, 1879, the National League owners met and decided on the

strategy that eventually was their salvation, the reserve clause, a contract provision that gave a player's club the right to "reserve" his services for the next season. In effect it transformed a yearly contract into a lifetime indenture. Until 1883 only the top five players on each team were protected by the reserve clause, but these were precisely the players whose salaries were the greatest burden to the owners. As the clubs reserved more and more players, finally covering the entire roster, the players found that their salaries were declining and their working conditions worsening, and so in 1885 John Montgomery Ward, a standout shortstop for the Giants and later a lawyer, organized the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. Still not satisfied, the owners

drew up a player classification system in 1888 to stabilize and reduce salaries according to a standardized evaluation of a player's relative ability (something like today's free agent compensation pool). Ward was in Egypt on baseball's famous round-the-world tour when he found out about this. He immediately abandoned the tour and, together with most of the other National League stars, declared war on the owners by organizing their own "Players' League." Ward managed to enlist the support of almost all the star players and most of the sporting press, and he and the ball players spent the winter of 1889-90 promoting the new league in union halls, saloons, and wherever fans could be found. The 1890 season was really a war between the National League, led by A. G.

Spalding, and Ward's Players' League. At the end of the season the Players' League had surpassed the National League in attendance, but the total attendance had been spread too thin for anybody to make much money. The players also made some grievous mistakes. They spurned an appeal to join the American Federation of Labor and they refused to play Sunday ball, which was clearly suicidal. Worst of all, they placed too much power in the hands of their financial backers, relying on the investors to be fair to their ballplayer partners. At the end of the season all the Players' League teams had shown a profit, while most of the National League teams were on the verge of bankruptcy. It seemed as though the players had won. But when the National League offered to meet with

representatives of the American Association (a rival league organized on the usual investor-controlled basis) and a committee representing the Players' League capitalists, the money men met and sold the players out. They merged the three leagues in a way that left the investors firmly in control. This merger resulted (after dropping some weaker teams) in a twelve-team alignment: Baltimore, Washington, Cleveland, and Louisville (all of which eventually folded); Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. In 1892, with the National League's monopoly once again secure, the most hated features of the reserve clause were reinstated and salaries again were slashed. The players had lost all control over their game, and they would not regain

it until the reserve clause was finally thrown out in 1975. This clause, although grossly unfair to the players, undoubtedly contributed to the growing popularity of the game by ensuring the stability of the team rosters and by casting the players in roles with which blue collar fans could identify. The 1890s also saw another development that probably helped ensure the popularity of baseball. That was the enforcement of Jim Crow, which turned every major league baseball game into a ritual demonstration that America was a white man's country. During the 1890s blacks had to organize their own teams, and eventually a two-league system emerged, with a Negro National League in 1920, and a Negro Eastern League in 1921, both of which collapsed during the early Depression. A second Negro