The Players League existed for just one season, in 1890, but was developed in times like these.
Actually, in one aspect, baseball in the late 19th Century was healthier for fans — the antitrust exemption MLB now enjoys did not exist. The Players League was launched to compete with the National League and, to a lesser extent, the American Association (AA), then a major league.
Battles between players and management had existed formally at least back to 1879, when the National League owners silently adopted the Reserve Clause, which evolved quickly into a way for teams to claim ownership of a player for the life of his career.
A decade after its invention, the Reserve Clause had grown from a novelty “keeper league” concept to a way for NL teams to claim every player in the league as lifetime property. On top of that, both the NL and the AA had established an individual salary cap, preventing any player from earning more than the equivalent of $50,000 today.
Out of this onerous climate, the Players League was born. Eight teams (Chicago Pirates, Boston Reds, Brooklyn Wonders, New York Giants, Philadelphia Athletics, Pittsburgh Burghers, Cleveland Infants, Buffalo Bisons) debuted, packed with NL and AA talent. The on-field product was both top-quality and profitable.
Merger talks, which were constant and ongoing in the wildcat baseball days of the 1800s, began almost before Opening Day, but outmaneuvering by the NL and sheer bad luck saw the Players League fall to pieces after just one season. Six of its eight teams either merged with existing NL or AA city counterparts or outright joined the majors outside of the Players League.
Throughout CBA talks, dating to before the initial impasse last December, I’ve been dropping the #PlayersLeague tag in discussions of MLB’s monopoly and/or obfuscation. With a needless lockout and truly bad-faith bargaining in the duration, maybe this hashtag should grow wings.
Thus, we present a 2020s take on a 1890s brainstorm:
Adrian has modernized the original Players League logo, combining a modern batter with some classic flourishes.
Our Players League gear is available at our store, so check it out!