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Copyright (c) 2013 Arizona State Law Journal
Arizona State Law Journal

ARTICLE: Explaining the Baseball Revolution

Winter, 2013

Arizona State Law Journal

45 Ariz. St. L.J. 1471


Christopher W. Schmidt*


Perhaps the most significant development in the legal history of modern professional sports took place when, in the 1970s, Major League Baseball players won from their club owners a dramatic redistribution of the game's operational control and revenues. Professional baseball players had been a uniquely disempowered workforce. Under baseball's century-old "reserve" system, team owners exercised near complete control over the players - for whom they played and how much they were paid. 1 By 1976, baseball was transformed. The old reserve system was gone, and the players had secured what amounted to shared control of the industry and its exploding revenue stream. The rise of player "free agency" ushered in the modern era of the game, and other professional sports leagues followed in baseball's footsteps. This era was characterized by players regularly moving between teams in search of new multi-million dollar, long-term contracts, by periodic strikes, and by owner-player collective bargaining as the game's primary policy-making mechanism. Even as this transformation was still unfolding, contemporaries described what was happening as the baseball "revolution." 2 In this Article, I offer a new interpretation of how and why the baseball revolution happened.

I argue that a key to the remarkable success of the baseball revolution can be found in the ways in which its leaders - starting with Marvin Miller, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to 1982 - leveraged the law and legal claims in their challenge to the reserve ...
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