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Baseball A Paragon Of Labor Stability

Publication Date: 
November 16, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
John Shea

Professor Bill Gould gives his top three reasons on why unlike baseball, basketball can't figure out how to “peacefully divide the wealth” in the NBA lockout.

The NFL lockout lasted 136 days. The NBA lockout is in its 139th day. By contrast, Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 11, but a settlement through 2017 is expected soon.

That means MLB, which had eight strikes/lockouts from 1972 to 1995, now is envisioning 22 consecutive years of labor peace.

I asked Bill Gould, emeritus professor at Stanford Law School who was instrumental in ending baseball's 1994-95 strike, why basketball can't figure out, like baseball, how to peacefully divide the wealth.

Few know sports labor like Gould, whose new book, "Bargaining With Baseball: Labor Relations in an Age of Prosperous Turmoil," illustrates the law's impact on baseball history.

He pointed to three differences between the sports:

-- The baseball union has maintained more aggressive stances than the basketball union, "the lack of which in basketball led (Commissioner David) Stern, who's a lawyer, to believe he could push the union around. And he's been right, until now at least," Gould said. "Baseball owners learned they can't push these (players) around."

-- The NBA has more "marginal franchises with economically perilous circumstances" than MLB - including Sacramento, Toronto and Memphis. "I don't think baseball has any teams like that," Gould said. I mentioned the A's, and he called them "an aberration. They seem to be calculating that they can go elsewhere."

-- Race. "Look at who comes to NBA games and who has the money," Gould said. "Basketball has always had a problem because they're trying to appeal to a white fan base. The basketball union doesn't have as much leverage with fans as in baseball, but players generally don't have leverage with fans anyway."