“Baseball’s Power Shift” by Jon Krister Swanson
Baseball, history, labor
March 1, 2016
5 of 5 stars (excellent)
When baseball fans read about labor issues between the owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), some may lament about wanting the “good old days” when there was no talk of salary caps, free agency and competitive balance. This excellent book by Krister Swanson dispels that notion as there has been a long history of labor strife in the game that dates back to the nineteenth century.
The book covers the time frame from the first attempts by the players to unionize in the 1890’s to the player’s strike in 1981 that wiped out approximately one-third of the season. The topic is not as much the history of the issues and negotiations as it is about the manner in which both the owners (whom Swanson calls “magnates” throughout the book) and the players plead their case to the media and fans. tide shifted in the century covered in the book from the magnates holding all the power to the MLBPA becoming one of the most powerful unions in America.
Swanson writes in a style that is informative but very easy to read. The chapters on the working conditions before 1964 when the reserve clause was in effect and attempts to unionize such as the Brotherhood in the 1890’s and later a Fraternity in the early twentieth century (note the language here where Swanson does not call these “unions”). However, the best reading and research comes after Marvin Miller is named the executive director of the MLPBPA in 1964. It is here that many interesting details over the magnate’s attempts to save the reserve clause and not share television revenue are revealed. The union’s position and press relations are covered as well.
While reading the book, it felt that Swanson was covering both sides of all these issues in a fair manner. If there was any leaning toward one side or the other, it may have been critical toward the magnates but if it was, it was because their arguments over the issues never changed, no matter the era. Swanson repeats that fact frequently as well as illustrating how they would use these points to win over the views of the fans. That, just like the reserve clause, would eventually fail.
If a reader is interested in the history of labor relations or the business side of baseball, this is a book that he or she must read. It is one that certainly belongs on the shelf of that reader’s bookshelf.
I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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