Baseball Money Now And Then This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   This season's lockout of the players has the baseball owners once again trying to assert their control over the game. Now, however, times are different: now the players can fight back. Beginning with the court ruling in 1976 that allowed free agents, and abolished the reserve clause that bound each player to the team he originally signed with, the players have been allowed more say in their careers. Although they have tried, the owners cannot break this law, as collusion rulings in previous years proved. Baseball used to be even more difficult for the player: not only were the owners greedy, but they could also get away with it. Take for example the 1919 season.

Salaries around baseball were lower than usual, since the owners, who had endured great economic loss in World War I, were wary of the first season after the Armistice. They tried to cut costs to decrease this loss by shortening the season, by reducing the player rosters from 25 to 21, and by cutting player salaries. Charles Comiskey, a notorious tightwad and owner of the Chicago White Sox, paid lower salaries than most. Comiskey was sometimes deceitful where money could be saved. When outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson was signing his first contract with the White Sox, Comiskey promised him $10,000, which was a fairly good salary. The trusting, but illiterate Jackson signed the contract; he did not find out until later that his contract was actually for $6,000. The season proved prosperous, as it had after every war since the beginning of organized baseball, and the White Sox won their division, but Comiskey's employees were left with the miserly salaries and no recourse.

The players decided to solve the problem through illegal means. A number of them accepted payment from gamblers to lose the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Details of the so-called "Black Sox Scandal" are not terribly clear. Gambling was common in the early twentieth century. (Those were the days when the spitball was legal.) Chick Gandil, the first baseman, who ended up so wealthy that he retired at the end of the season, is the one generally thought to have organized the deal that was supposed to pay each player $10,000. Some players, however, were paid far less than they were promised. Eight players were tried on charges of conspiracy. The eight were acquitted, but were banned from baseball by newly appointed Commissioner of Baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Third baseman Buck Weaver, who never admitted that he threw the World Series, batting .327 that fall, and never receiving money, repeatedly asked to be reinstated, but time and again was denied.

The scandal caused great disillusionment with the American public. The game was "The National Pastime." It was sacred, but its sanctity had been violated. The Series prompted the famous and naive demand of a boy to one of the White Sox' stars, Joe Jackson: "Say it ain't so, Joe." (No, it was not originally said to Robert Redford in "The Natural"!) The more exciting style of play, personified by slugger Babe Ruth and helped by the stricter rules that forbade spitballs and the like, lured people back to baseball.

Today, some aspects of the game remain the same. The owners still try to make as much money as they can at the expense of the players. The owners are doing well with television and radio contracts - why not spread the wealth? True, no one is starving, and the minimum salary in Major League baseball, $62,000, is still far above the national average, but why even try to tamper with the generous salaries the players are just beginning to enjoy: who knows what might happen if they are denied. Another scandal? Why even have a lockout? It certainly does not please the ones who ultimately pay the bills for both parties: the fan. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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