The Standard Player Contract, 1881

If you have ever wondered why baseball players have such a strong union, it is because before they had the union they had this shit:

The new document places the period of engagement from April 1 to Oct. 31. In the working of it—it is a printed contract—the player under contract concedes the right to the manager or captain to assign him to any position; that the Association has a right to establish rules for governing him, at home and abroad, and that these powers shall not be limited to cases of dishonest play or open insubordination, but for carelessness, indifference, or such conduct as may be regarded as prejudicial in its interests in any respect; the player assumes all risk of accident or injury, in play or otherwise, and of illness from whatever cause, and of the effect of all accidents, injuries or illness occurring to him during the period of his employment; the Association has the right to suspend him by reason of any illness or injury incurred, or by reason of any insubordination or deterioration of skill on his part, and he must submit himself to medical examination and treatment by a regular physician or surgeon in good standing, to be selected by the association, and such examination and treatment being at the expense of the player; and suspension from play which may result from disqualification from playing with the requisite skill, without regard to the result of the medical examination, can be made by the association, and the player shall have no claim for wages during the period of suspension; the Association agrees to give a player twenty days’ notice of its option and intention to terminate the contract, at the expiration of which time all liability and obligations shall at once cease and terminate. Source: New York Clipper October 22, 1881


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5 thoughts on “The Standard Player Contract, 1881

  1. The earliest version of the reserve system had been instituted in 1879, but at this point it was still merely collusion among the owners. They agreed that each could designate five players who the others would not sign. They claimed that the selected players considered this an honor, reflecting as it did on their playing skills. Many modern writers take this claim at face value, which tells you something about the credulousness of many modern writers.

    These were all attempts at reducing expenses. There was a defensible argument in the late 1870s that something had to be done. The country was in a depression and nobody, except possibly Chicago, was making money. But by October of 1881 the economy was clearly in recovery and baseball was in a general revival.

    I have argued in the past that the reserve system, or something like it, was and is necessary in professional team sports. But this 1881 contract includes dickishness for its own sake.


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