Baseball's Power Shift: How the Players Union, the Fans, and the Media Changed American Sports Culture

Baseball's Power Shift: How the Players Union, the Fans, and the Media Changed American Sports Culture

Baseball's Power Shift: How the Players Union, the Fans, and the Media Changed American Sports Culture

Baseball's Power Shift: How the Players Union, the Fans, and the Media Changed American Sports Culture

Synopsis

From Major League Baseball's inception in the 1880s through World War II, team owners enjoyed monopolistic control of the industry. Despite the players' desire to form a viable union, every attempt to do so failed. The labor consciousness of baseball players lagged behind that of workers in other industries, and the public was largely in the dark about labor practices in baseball. In the mid-1960s, star players Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale staged a joint holdout for multiyear contracts and much higher salaries. Their holdout quickly drew support from the public; for the first time, owners realized they could ill afford to alienate fans, their primary source of revenue.

Baseball's Power Shift chronicles the growth and development of the union movement in Major League Baseball and the key role of the press and public opinion in the players' successes and failures in labor-management relations. Swanson focuses on the most turbulent years, 1966 to 1981, which saw the birth of the Major League Baseball Players Association as well as three strikes, two lockouts, Curt Flood's challenge to the reserve clause in the Supreme Court, and the emergence of full free agency. To defeat the owners, the players' union needed support from the press, and perhaps more importantly, the public. With the public on their side, the players ushered in a new era in professional sports when salaries skyrocketed and fans began to care as much about the business dealings of their favorite team as they do about wins and losses.

Swanson shows how fans and the media became key players in baseball's labor wars and paved the way for the explosive growth in the American sports economy.


Excerpt

While professional baseball remains very popular in the United States today, it is easy to forget that the game held an even more prominent place in our nation’s everyday life from the late 1800s through the 1980s. It was truly our national pastime, and Americans from every ethnic background and walk of life shared a passion for the game. With its deep Yankee origins and traditions, the game introduced millions of new citizens to what it meant to be a true American. Baseball helped reinforce a shared sense of community in rapidly growing cities bursting at the seams with immigrants from all over Europe. It rode the wave of new media forms to even greater popularity, with radio stations like kmox in St. Louis turning an entire region of the nation into Cardinals fans and publications like the Sporting News prospering almost exclusively on the public demand for the latest information about the game and the heroic men who played it.

Baseball’s prominent place in American culture has led many historians to focus their work on the ways in which societal shifts brought about significant changes in the game. Over the course of the twentieth century, baseball’s history was interwoven with major developments in race relations, life on the home front during World War ii, and postwar expansion into the Sunbelt. These are all worthy topics, and many exceptional books explore them to the fullest. I share these historians’ intellectual interest in the relationship between baseball and society, but instead of focusing on one particular historical moment or theme, I chose to . . .

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