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Exhibition Baseball Americana

The Business of Baseball

When professional players “whined” about their salaries prior to forming their own Players League in 1890, sportswriter O. P. Caylor targeted popular Ed Delahanty for criticism: “How hard was it to stand in left field on his two by nine foot piece of turf from 4 p.m. till supper time with only twenty-two hours to rest up? Talk of serfdom in Russia.” But pitcher, lawyer, and league founder John Montgomery Ward argued that “Players have been bought, sold and exchanged as though they were sheep instead of American citizens.” The business of baseball has regularly been in the news, almost as much as the game results, with the longest lasting and most consequential issue centered on the reserve clause and its legacy—free agency. At issue was liberty: in this most American of games, a century would pass before players could exercise the right to sell their services to the highest bidder.