The Great Baseball Revolt: The Rise and Fall of the 1890 Players League

The Great Baseball Revolt: The Rise and Fall of the 1890 Players League

The Great Baseball Revolt: The Rise and Fall of the 1890 Players League

The Great Baseball Revolt: The Rise and Fall of the 1890 Players League

Synopsis

First and only player-led challenge to a pro sports league.

The Players League, formed in 1890, was a short-lived professional baseball league controlled and owned in part by the players themselves, a response to the National League's salary cap and "reserve rule," which bound players for life to one particular team. Led by John Montgomery Ward, the Players League was a star-studded group that included most of the best players of the National League, who bolted not only to gain control of their wages but also to share ownership of the teams.
Lasting only a year, the league impacted both the professional sports and the labor politics of athletes and non athletes alike. The Great Baseball Revolt is a historic overview of the rise and fall of the Players League, which fielded teams in Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Though it marketeditself as a working-class league, the players were underfunded and had to turn to wealthy capitalists for much of their startup costs, including the new ballparks. It was in this context that the league intersected with the organized labor movement, and in many ways challenged its claim to be by and for the people.
In its only season, the Players League outdrew the National League infan attendance. But when the National League overinflated its numbers and profits, the Players League backers pulled out. The Great Baseball Revolt brings to life a compelling cast of characters and a mostly forgotten but important time in professional sports when labor politics affected both athletes and nonathletes.

Excerpt

The celebrity trial of the year began with great anticipation on the morning of January 9, 1890. At the Supreme Court of New York on Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan, hundreds of baseball fans and reporters crowded in and around the second courtroom. the New York Giants, of the National League, were suing their star shortstop, John Ward, for allegedly violating the so-called reserve clause of his contract. Ward was refusing to play for the Giants in the upcoming 1890 season, choosing instead to play for a new Brooklyn team, in a league that he and several other members of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players were forming themselves. the Players League, as it was to be called, would challenge the National League for dominance over the newly expanding markets for professional baseball. Unlike the National League, which featured an autocratic style of governance by team owners over their players, the Players League would be at least partially owned and controlled by the players themselves. Most significantly, the rival league would abolish the reserve rule, which inextricably bound nearly all players, not just Ward, to their respective clubs for the duration of their playing careers. “The movement,” Ward had explained, “is an experiment on our part to have the men who do the work participate in the profits of the pastime.”

After Ward was seated, accompanied by his friend and fellow ballplayer Ned Hanlon and his lawyer, John Howland, the Giants’ chief . . .

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