Posted by: Namar | October 3, 2011

Baseball and business. Lives, labor and Rose Schneiderman.

The idea of selecting a Most Valuable Player was introduced by automobile maker Hugh Chalmers who offered a brand Chalmers Model 30 auto to the player with the highest batting average in each league, to be chosen by a select committee of baseball writers. 100 years later, the Chalmers brand is currently owned by Chrysler and the MVP in each league receives the Keensaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award (thought they would likely prefer a car).

In that same year, business owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris had a million-dollar-a-year business making shirts in a very competitive industry. But instead of promotion, they sought to increase business another way, demanding greater efficiency from their employees, and preventing any possibility of pilfering. A foreman monitored the largely female immigrant workforce during the day, inspected the women’s bags as they left for the night, and ordered the secondary exit door to be locked so nobody cold sneak out with a shirt.

In March 1911, one of the greatest industrial tragedies in U.S. history occurred  when 146 workers died in a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist company in New York City. The victims had been trapped by blocked exit doors and faulty fire escapes.

After the disaster Rose Schneiderman, a Polish-born former hat worker who had once led a strike at the Triangle factory, spoke:

I would be a traitor to those poor burned bodies, if I were to come here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public—and we have found you wanting.

The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today: the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch fire.

This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in this city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred! There are so many of us for one job, it matters little if 140-odd are burned to death.

We have tried you, citizens! We are trying you now and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers and brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable, the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.

Public officials have only words of warning for us—warning that we must be intensely orderly and must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back when we rise—back into the conditions that make life unbearable.

I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. And the only way is through a strong working-class movement.

That same year, a group of ballplayers, including the game’s biggest stars like Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson), formed the Fraternity of Professional Base Ball Players (FPBBP). Owners simply ignored the Fraternity and this disregard for players’ voices helped lead to the foundation of the Federal League in 1913.   To help drive out the Federal League, owners agreed to recognize the FPBBP and agreed to a few demands: owners now paid for uniforms, and outfield fences were painted green so batters could see the ball better and not get hit as often. Once the Federal League died out, owners began to ignore the players again, in many cases reverting their salaries back to pre-Federal League levels, and in some cases lowering them even further. The Federal League and the Fraternity flared out, and poor conditions continued.

The Major League Baseball Players Association was created in 1953. In 1968, Miller negotiated the first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the team owners, which raised the minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000 per year. MLBPA changed the landscape of professional sports forever, serving notice that highly skilled athletes would seek the same basic employment rights that people in other professions had long taken for granted.

Quotes on the Labor of Our National Game of Baseball

“The rights of the laboring man will be protected, and cared for, not by the labor agitator but by the Christian men to whom God has given control of the property interests in this country.” George Baer, Reading Railroad president, 1902.

“Professional baseball players are going to have to decide if they are common laborers or professional men. If they are going to be dealt as laborers then they should accept all the conditions of the laborer.  If they are going to be professional men who practice a special craft, they should travel on their individual merits… I cannot see a major league baseball player demeaning himself to the status of a unionized laborer.” Furman Bisher,  Atlanta Constitution.

Professional ballplayers are “highly paid parts of an activity which contributes nothing to the gross national product except popcorn sales, whose skills [are] not transferable to anything that mattered.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: