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Of Balls And Strikes - William Gould's book, "Bargaining with Baseball"

Publication Date: 
November 11, 2011
Palo Alto Online
Gennady Sheyner

Professor Bill Gould's new book, "Bargaining with Baseball" is reviewed by Gennady Sheyner of Palo Alto Online. who breaks down several chapters of the book and key milestones in the history of the game.

Long before Barry Bonds earned his asterisk, Alex Rodriguez signed his quarter-billion dollar contract and Manny Ramirez shrugged off a playoff loss with the comment, "Who cares? There's always next season," the life of the typical baseball player was a brutal and thankless affair.

As recently as the first half of the 20th century, baseball players had no collective-bargaining rights, guaranteed contracts or six-digit signing bonuses. They shared hotel rooms, paid for their own rehabilitation and held second jobs to support their families.


A Stanford University law professor, avid Red Sox fan and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, Gould is more than a scholar of the national pastime. He was the central player in baseball's last major labor dispute. In 1995, he cast the deciding vote that ended baseball's strike — the last time a labor dispute interrupted the season. All three sides of his personality are on full display in "Bargaining Baseball."


Some chapters read like a college textbook: Gould catalogues antitrust cases, discusses the applicability of collective-bargaining agreements to international players, and painstakingly details the financial consequences of the 1994-95 strike he helped end.


What Gould does do exceptionally well is explain how players' salaries got to be where they are. (They have risen more than a hundredfold since 1969, he notes.) A true student of the game, Gould does a masterful job chronicling the legal battles between the players' union and team owners, whose once unassailable power over players gradually began to crumble in the second half of the 20th century. He takes us step by step through every major labor dispute, from the 1912 episode in which the legendary Detroit Tigers slugger Ty Cobb was disciplined for punching out a heckling fan, leading to a players' strike, to the 1972 dispute over pensions, to the "mother of all strikes" in 1994-5.


In the first eight years of Miller's tenure, which stretched from 1966 to 1980, the players' pensions more than tripled, the minimum salary rose from $6,000 to $16,000 and the average salary more than doubled (though at $40,956 it still seems paltry by today's standards), Gould writes.


Players prevailed in 1995 when Gould cast the deciding vote in a 3-2 labor board decision to authorize an injunction against the team owners, who were looking to reduce salaries and field minor-league replacement players to keep the season going.

Gould agreed with the board majority that owners did not bargain in "good faith" with the union before they declared an impasse and imposed new employment conditions that would have stripped some players of salary-arbitration rights.

Gould's stance isn't too surprising given his lifelong admiration of big leaguers. It doesn't help that the chapter on the 1994-5 strike features a signed photo of Baltimore's ironman shortstop Cal Ripken standing with the author. His description of the owners' bitter reaction to the injunction ("they "snarled angrily") also does little to foster a sense of objectivity. Still, his frenetic, play-by-play description of the labor board's frenzied negotiations amid heavy political pressure makes for a wildly entertaining read.

Throughout the book, Gould is never shy about criticizing current league policies, as when he excoriates interleague play — a system adopted in 1997 under which National League and American League teams square off during the regular season. The arguments are invariably passionate, though not always entirely convincing.