This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com
Though it took nearly 100 years, Curt Flood had a critical part in the ending of the Reserve Clause that essentially tied ballplayers to their original teams without any ability to negotiate. Though Flood is considered the player to force the end of the clause, he was actually a supporting cast member on a long fought battle.
Nearly eighty years before Major League Baseball included an organized player’s union, John Montgomery Ward established the very first player’s union. Though it was another eight decades before players had their voices heard, the eventual Hall of Famer Monte Ward left his impression on baseball history by challenging the Reserve Clause in 1885. It was just the beginning of a long fight for Ward to establish player’s rights.
Born on March 3rd, 1860 Monte Ward entered college at the age of 13 and started playing ball at Penn State University. Several years later, when he was trying to establish a career for himself, he signed with the Providence Grays of the National League. At age 18 in 1878, Ward won 22 games and led the league with a 1.71 ERA. In his first three season he notched 108 wins, but it was also the peak of his pitching career. Due to an arm injury he eventually switched to shortstop. In nine seasons as the every day shortstop, Ward hit .293 and swiped more than 500 bases.
Though a solid all around baseball player, Ward’s Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players and the subsequent Player’s League is what he is best remembered for. In the winter of 1888, the owners of the NL teams met and established a player ranking system that determined a player’s salary. The highest salary of a player was $2,500 and an owner’s sale of a player sparked outrage from Monte Ward.
Following the 1888 season, after Ward and the New York Giants won the World Series, the team elected to sell Ward to the Washington Nationals for a sum of $12,000. Ward refused and demanded a meeting with owners to garner a slice of the fee being exchanged. The owners shelved talks until the end of the 1889 season(which Ward’s Giants again won the World Series), hoping the put an end to the complaint.
In a May 1964 issue of Baseball Digest, Edward Pierce highlights “What They Wrote About Monte Ward”. Click here to check it out!
Instead, Monte Ward went ahead and used business contacts to set up the Player’s League, a league that comprised of eight teams with many star players that played in the National League the year before. The league was a moderate success in some cities, but struggled with owners that were cautious of the future of the league and the league lasted just one season. Major League Baseball officially recognized the PL as a major league during its one year stint, in 1968.
The attempt by Monte Ward to establish a new league without a Reserve Clause or player classifications is impressive on a number of levels. New professional leagues crop up throughout the years, but usually never with the star power that the Player’s League carried. Hall of Famers King Kelly, Old Hoss Radbourn, Buck Ewing, and Charles Comiskey among many others either played or managed in the PL. On the flip side, the failure of the PL set players back nearly 9 decades with regard to the Reserve Clause and other player’s rights.
Like the rest of his newly formed league, Ward returned to the National League and was a player/manager for the final four years of his career in the big leagues. After his playing days, Ward worked as a lawyer representing ballplayers and had a owner role with the Boston Braves before getting involved with the Federal League in 1914. In retirement he established the New York Golf Association as well as the Long Island Golf Association. Ward passed away on March 4th, 1925, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.
Also Born On This Day:
Hall of Famer Willie Keeler(b.1872) was a nineteen year veteran who spent the bulk of his career playing in New York with the Highlanders, Superbas and Giants. His .341 career batting average ranks 14th all time in Major League Baseball history. In 1897, Keeler led the league with a .424 average! He died in 1923 and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
Scott Radinsky(b.1962) played eleven seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers. His career was nearly derailed when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. He missed the entire 1994 season undergoing treatment and returned to form by 1996. After retirement following the 2001 season, Radinsky has worked as a coach in the minor leagues and off the field he’s a member of a punk rock band, “Pulley”.