Historical Markers
John Montgomery Ward Historical Marker
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John Montgomery Ward

Valleys of the Susquehanna


Marker Location:
236 East Lamb St., Bellefonte

Dedication Date:
September 16, 2000

Behind the Marker

"Brains are as much a necessity in base ball as in any other profession. The best ball players are the most intelligent, though, of course, natural intelligence is here meant and not necessarily that which is derived from books."
  -John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward poses for a studio portrait in uniform.
John Montgomery Ward poses for a studio portrait in uniform

John Montgomery "Monty" Ward was a rare ballplayer for his day, or any day. His fierce, creative intelligence was a combination of natural talent, a good education, and the kind of curiosity that kept a book in his hand when his glove wasn't on it. At a time when few ball players got past high school, Ward graduated from one of the nation's most prestigious law schools, then used his knowledge of the law to fight baseball's economic stranglehold on its players.

If Ward wasn't the best player in his era - and a case could be made that he was among them - there was certainly no ballplayer more interesting or, over the long history of the game, more influential. Seeds that Ward planted in the nineteenth century continue to help define the game's complex and contentious labor relations even to this day.

John Montgomery Ward was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and, at age thirteen, left for the new Pennsylvania State College nearby. Despite his scrawniness, he starred as a pitcher on a college baseball team that played amateur clubs in such surrounding towns as Lock Haven, Boalsburg, and Williamsport.

After a brief minor league apprenticeship, an eighteen-year-old Ward began pitching for the Providence Grays of the National League. He won 22 games his first season, 47 his second, and 40 his third, including the second perfect game in league history. Already a team leader, he even managed the Grays for part of the 1880 season.

By then, however, he was essentially finished as a pitcher, blowing out his arm at the young age of twenty. So he reinvented himself as a smart, base-stealing outfielder. Sold to the New York Gothams, he transformed back and became the premier shortstop in the National League. In 1888 and 1889, he led the team, rechristened the Giants, to the pennants.

Monty Ward was the toast of the town. He married Helen Dauvray, one of New York's most popular actresses of the day, and their comings and goings made news the way Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe did many years later. Ward, wrote one of the New York papers, was "the most dashing, daring and winning player in a pinch the club ever had." He was also one of the most astute, forward-thinking, and incendiary. Racking up accolades on the field, he also found time to complete his law degree at Columbia University, then quickly rocked the foundations of the game.
Baseball card of  John M. Ward holding a bat.
John M. Ward baseball card.

In the 1880s professional baseball was a cutthroat industry run by owners who ran their clubs with an iron fist. In 1885, Ward organized and was elected first president of The Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, a union organized to give players some leverage against the owner's control. For his battle, Ward took on the reserve clause, a clause in contracts that effectively tied a player to his team forever. In a lengthy public diatribe, Ward compared it to sanctioned slavery. "Like the fugitive slave law," he wrote, "the reserve clause denies [the player] a harbor or a livelihood, and carries him back, bound and shackled, to the club from which he attempted to escape...[The result is] serfdom which gave one set of men a life-estate marker in the labor of another."

The reserve clause, Ward contended, ran counter to the principles of American law. But it would take that law almost a century to catch up to Ward's interpretation. Protected by baseball's unique anti-trust status, the reserve clause remained part of the standard player contract until it was struck down by arbitration in 1975.

Ward may have lost the battle over the reserve clause, but he was just getting started. In 1888, while he was on a world tour with a group of players that included Chicago pitcher and Brotherhood secretary markerJohn Tener, the owners imposed restrictive new pay structures. The Brotherhood protested. The owners wouldn't budge. "I am for war without quarter," Chicago owner Albert Spalding threatened. "I want to fight until one of us drops dead."

The ensuing battled almost killed professional baseball entirely. To break the owners' monopoly, Ward and the Brotherhood formed their own, aptly named Players League in time for the 1890 season, which economically left both sides in tatters. Though the upstart league folded after the season, its existence forced salary concessions from Spalding and the owners' block, and the revolutionaries came back into the fold in 1891.

Over the next several seasons, Ward played and managed first for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (precursors of the Dodgers) and then again for the Giants. He chose to retire in 1894 instead of bowing to the demands of the Giants' new owner, a boss from New York's infamously corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. Still, Ward's baseball days were hardly over.

As a wealthy corporate lawyer and respected member of New York society, Ward remained a thorn in the side of organized ball, regularly defending players in their battles against the league. At times, he even went up against John Tener, his old ally who had gone on to become National League president. Ward wrote several books and magazine pieces on the game, and for years was a ready and reliable source for reporters on questions of baseball economics. For a brief stint, he even ran and owned the Boston Braves.

In the last quarter century of his life, Ward's real sporting passion was golf. He won several championships around New York, played all over Europe, and competed regularly in the prestigious U.S. Amateur. Ever the organizer, he founded the Long Island Golf Association.

Ward died in 1925, and was elected to the Hall of Fame thirty-nine years later.
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