Jackie Robinson is a national hero who baseball honors every April with a day named after him. He broke the major league color barrier that had been in place for over 60 years, doing so 15 years before the peak of the Civil Rights movement. There isn’t enough space to discuss him here – so I won’t try.
Leaders Off the Diamond
There is a guy from the old set that had a noteworthy impact on the game away from the diamond. John Montgomery Ward (often known as Monte Ward). First, he was a great player who pitched, hit and managed. Ward broke away from his semi-pro team in 1878 as a pitcher for the National League Providence Grays. The next year, he won 47 games and led the team to a first place finish. He pitched the first perfect game in baseball history the next year. After that, he hurt his arm and started playing more and more in the field. He still pitched from time to time – and holds a record for the longest shutout in history – an 18 inning, 1-0 win in 1882. The Grays thought he was on the decline, and sold him to the New York Gothams (Giants) in 1883.
He tought himself to throw left-handed so he could play outfield while his arm healed in 1884. He then became the team’s every day shortstop. Ward graduated from Columbia Law School in 1885, and then led the formation of the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players. The players had become frustrated with the reserve clause, which kept players from opening their services to multiple teams. This allowed owners to sign players to one year contracts without worry about moving teams. This clause would be the base of the struggle between owners and players for more than 80 years. They were initially successful – they gained the right to negotiate with other teams when their current team cut a players’ salary. He was a big part of Albert Spalding’s successful tour to promote the tour abroad in Hawaii, Australia, Egypt and Europe. While Spalding was gone with Ward and the rest of the star players, the other owners instituted a classification system and a salary cap of $2,500 per player. The owners refused to meet with Ward on this and they played the 1889 season under these rules. With negotiations going nowhere, Ward successfully created a new league called the Players’ League in 1890. He pulled over half of the National League players into the league, and the league had successful attendance numbers. But the profit-sharing system led to a revolt from the business owners, who sold many of their teams back to the National League. Ward went back to playing with the National League, retiring in 1894 to represent players in the coming years.