Academic journal article Base Ball

The Magnates at Work

Academic journal article Base Ball

The Magnates at Work

Article excerpt

The Magnates at Work Review by Andrew Zimbalist Labor and Capital in Nineteenth Century Baseball, Robert Gelzheiser. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2006, 223 pp., $28.50 (paper).

Robert Gelzheiser competently tells a story that has been well described by Robert Burk (Never Just a Game) and others about the efforts of owners to gain control over the baseball industry during the 19th century. The basic tale is that during the 1850s baseball ceased to be the exclusive terrain of gentlemen's clubs and began to be a sport of the middle classes. As the game's appeal penetrated the masses, its popularity as a spectator sport grew.

Spectator interest led to commercialization, which, in turn, brought on gambling, alcohol, excess, and control problems. Baseball's entrepreneurs knew, as in other industries, that to succeed they had to wrest control over production. Gelzheiser details the various owner initiatives to dominate the game, culminating in the introduction of the reserve clause in 1879.

Gelzheiser primarily uses well known secondary sources to support his narrative until he comes to the crux of his book-the genesis, the operation, and the demise of the Players' League in 1890. Here Gelzheiser makes a considerable contribution in discussing the life of John Montgomery Ward, the emergence and turbulence of the Players' League, and the final cooptation of the Players' League and the American Association by Albert Spalding's clever manipulations and deceits. Gelzheiser's account of these events benefits significantly from primary sources, such as Sporting Life, The New York Times, and other newspapers of the era, as well as player files at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center in Cooperstown. For this material alone, Gelzheiser's book is worth the read.

But Gelzheiser's treatment also disappoints. He treats the growth of the sport as if the struggle between labor and capital were the only force driving its evolution. …

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