Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Legion of Doom Nominee: Bowie Kuhn

While garden-variety insanity brought on by a tragic accident makes for an effective supervillian, one must not overlook that adage written on the refrigerator magnets of suburban housewives across the country, "money is the root of all evil," when considering the motivations and actions that make our villians oh so super.

Greed is a comfy theme in the world of sport, but typically in reference to lazy, shameful and non-team-playing athletes. Owners, for their part, are so busy trying to put a competitive product on the field that they would drive themselves to the poorhouse in search of a championship in one of the major sports (or in Bon Jovi's case, arena football).

But it wasn't always so. Before philathropists like Mark Cuban, Daniel Snyder and the old lady in the tracksuit (thanks, Badcock, some lines are worth repeating) took over, it seems that owners sought to maximize profits, and often at the expense of player salaries! To fully understand the next nomine's pure evil, you must first listen to an exciting tale of legislation, anti-competitive business maneuvers and an outdated contract mechanism known as the reserve clause. Buckle up.

In reference to promoting the federal antitrust laws, Senator John Sherman stated "if we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life." Really never intended to protect consumers but rather to prevent control over the marketplace, the Sherman Antitrust Act passed back in 1890 and remains the driving ethos behind antitrust policy.

In 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Sherman Antitrust Act would apply to baseball in the landmark case Federal Baseball Club v. National League, asserting that baseball did not affect interstate commerce and was therefore not regulable by the federal government. Since the intent of the Sherman Act was to foster competition, a large side effect of the exemption was to limit competition and enshrine Major League Baseball as the undisputed king of the sport of kings (which I believe is actually horseracing).

Another unintended side effect of the Sherman Act exemption was to quash free agency in baseball until 1975. You see, until 1975 all baseball contracts had a reserve clause that allowed teams to extend a signed contract by one year, effectively making players beholden to the team they intially signed with until death, or player suckiness, did they part. In conjunction, the Sherman Act exemption allowed Major League Baseball to engage in egregious anti-competitive maneuvers and prevented other baseball leagues from flourishing, keeping those who desired a career in baseball competing for spots in the Major League Baseball league.

If by some miracle you're still reading, you don't need me to explain how a lack of free agency served to depress player's wages while fattening the take of those who represent the real reason we watch sports (the owners, obviously).

So then, Bowie Kuhn. Well, he was the a-hole who made the last great stand against free agency. He was the guy who cut Curt Flood's career short and fought for a system so despicably one-sided that Curt Flood was comparing the reserve clause to slavery (in 1969, no less) and calling the Philadelphia fans racists (Flood unsuccessfully challenged the reserve clause when he fought his trade from St. Louis to Philadelphia, citing the racism of Philly fans as a reason for denying the trade).

Kuhn's attorney during Flood v. Kuhn alleged that Bowie acted the way he did "for the good of the game," birthing the continual hoax that owners of major sports teams are perpetually taken advantage of by greedy players while owners' sole motivation is akin to a young lad's first trip to the ol' ball park with dad. Oh, it is so sweet to see the new owner of a major league team score along in the program for the very first time: "mark it down as E1, son."

Bowie's evil legacy will forever be the last guy who fought for the ulimate symbol of owners' greed.

Oh yeah, he was also the prick who argued against the inclusion of Negro League baseball players into the Hall of Fame, and then tried to get their plaques placed in a separate wing of the Hall.


Garwood B. Jones said...

Hey law-talking guy: you're missing the word "not" in paragraph five. I believe the Supreme Court found that the Sherman Antitrust Act would not apply to baseball - or, to put it another way, that baseball was exempt from the provisions of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Between that gaffe and your tacit support for Flood's completely indefensible claim that sports fans in Philadephia are racist, your post has lost all effect on me. Philly fans are sugar and spice and everything nice. Now let's all move to a gumdrop house on lollipop lane.

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