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Show Me the Money: Labor/Management Issues in Professional Baseball

Put the following quote on the board or on an overhead projector:

Babe Ruth, told that his offered salary was more than President Herbert Hoover's (1929-1933):

I had a better year than he did.

Ask students if it is "fair" that a baseball player should earn more than the President of the United States. Student opinion will vary on the issue of "fairness." Some students will talk about the President's job being more important, therefore worth more money. Some students will disagree, and will talk about the difficulty of hitting a baseball and the value of this skill. A five minute discussion on this topic will lead to the next part of the lesson. (By the way, you can tell students that the Presidental salary is currently $400,000 and the average baseball salary in 2002 was $2.4 million. In fact, the major league minimum salary is currently $300,000.)

Ask students if baseball players have always earned a lot of money. Have a brief discussion. Many students will know that many years ago baseball players were not so well-off.

Hand out Worksheet 1: Baseball Salary Comparison. Ask students to complete the worksheet in class. It should take about 10 minutes.
Discuss the worksheet results with students. It may be helpful to make an overhead using the worksheet so that you can complete the worksheet together and so that students can see the results.

This worksheet is a natural lead-in to the next part of the lesson. You can say, "Like many other workers of the late 19th century, baseball players felt that they were being taken advantage of by money hungry owners whose only desire was to make a buck. We are going to read the actual statements of both sides of this debate so that you can make your own decision."

At this point, divide the class in half. Give one side the primary source reading called marker "The Brotherhood Manifesto" and give the other side the primary source reading called marker "The NL Responds to the Manifesto". Tell students to read their document and to answer the questions at the end of their document. (Note: you may wish to have students work in pairs so that they can help each other to understand the document.)

Label one board "Player Grievances" and one board "Owner Accomplishments." First, ask each side of the class who the target audience was for these documents (the American public). Second, ask each side to give one grievance or one accomplishment based on the answers from their worksheets. Alternate back and forth between sides. (Note: you may want to ask two students to help you write these on the board) Here are some of the answers students may provide:

Players" Grievances

  • Abuse of the reserve clause by the managers

    • Misuse of managers" unlimited power

    • An infringement of individual or natural rights

    • Players are being forced to relocate after disbandment or retirement of a club

  • Driving motivation of management is greed

  • The League's lack of diplomacy or concern by putting off the Brotherhood's request for a hearing

  • Arbitrary, mercenary, and "un-American" actions of management

Owner Accomplishments

  • Untarnished record for fourteen years.

  • Sponsor for the honesty and integrity of baseball

  • Restored dignity of the profession

  • Guaranteed players generous salary

  • Rescued game from corruption and disgrace

  • Abolished pool-selling and open betting

  • Prohibited games on Sunday

  • Prohibited sale of liquors

  • Strict enforcers of these moral rules

  • Initiated "reserve clause" to help out weaker teams and provide financial stability for game. According to the NL response (1889), since the reserve clause went into effect the following accomplishments were obtained:

    • Salaries of players trebled since reserve clause was initiated

    • Higher degree of skill is maintained

    • The game increased in popularity

After you have made a complete list of grievances and accomplishments ask students to evaluate the lists. Which side, owners or players, made the more convincing argument?

Finish discussing the remainder of the questions with students.

Tell students that the players formed their own league in 1889, but that it only lasted one season (1890) because of financial difficulties.

Ask students to guess, based on their salary worksheet, when baseball's reserve clause was finally eliminated. (Baseball's reserve clause ended in 1975, but only after the courageous stand of Curt Flood, a St. Louis outfielder who in 1970 refused to be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. He lost a Supreme Court case but opened the door for future ballplayers.)

Student assignment:

Using information from Income by Occupation students are to complete the assignment in Worksheet 4: Student Assignment: Does Union Membership Pay? This assignment requires students to compare two different occupations of their choosing, a primarily union dominated occupation and a primarily non-union occupation, and to make some assumptions/generalizations based on a small amount of research.

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