Labor History: Hardball and Handshakes

Greetings, teachers! We're pleased to announce that our Labor History curriculum will be undergoing an exciting transformation in 2012. We will be adding grade-level appropriate pre and post visit lessons for you to do in your classroom.

Please note that this unit is appropriate for grades 9–12.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is an ever-changing place, and we hope you will visit us or videoconference with us so that you can experience our unique collections and programs.

If you have further questions about this subject unit, please contact the Education Department at 607-547-0347.


Even in an era of free agency and million dollar agreements, baseball is more than money. Beyond the big salaries is a complex process of finding common ground individually and institutionally. As players and management organized themselves, the transition of our National Pastime from a social sport to a professional industry provides a unique lesson in free enterprise through the evolution of contracts and commerce.

Appropriate for students in high school, critical thinking and decision-making skills are engaged in this fascinating look at the relationship between employer and employee. How does baseball compare to other entities that utilize collective bargaining and contract negotiation? From the boardroom to the locker room, learn the answers in this study of competition and cooperation. Throughout American history, the teamwork to earn a voice and a seat at the table has forged an important, time-tested principle: labor is not a commodity.


In completing this lesson, students will:

  • Examine historical data from various perspectives, including museum and library collections, player contracts, labor agreements, organizational structures, artifacts and primary sources.
  • Compare and contrast models of resolving differences throughout the various player organizations in baseball's labor history - such as individual contracts, management philosophies, meet and confer, collective bargaining, mediation, and arbitration.
  • Understand through research, discussion, and role play: human and civil rights with responsibilities; the purpose and concept of organizing a labor union; the decision-making process that defines the employer-employee relationship, including negotiation, conflict resolution and contract enforcement.

In Advance of a Field Trip or Videoconference

Pre-Program Classroom Activities

  1. Research and acquire an historical understanding of baseball player organizations within the context of a broader labor movement, beginning in the 19th century. These should include:
    a) National Association of Baseball Players (1858)
    b) National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (1871)
    c) Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players (1885)
    d) Players' Protective Association (1900)
    e) Fraternity of Professional Baseball Players of America (1912)
    f) American Baseball Guild (1946)
    g) Major League Baseball Players Association (1952)
  2. Plot the location of major league teams in 1925. Given the constraints and realities of travel during that era, discuss the salary and working conditions a player might negotiate as a part of his annual contract. Other typically non-negotiable provisions might include, but would not be limited to: meal money, clothing, travel costs, lodging expenses, etc. These funds should be sufficient for the duration of a season. Project the same expenses forward to the present day.
    List other benefits and expenses the contemporary player might request that would be different from those of 1925.
  3. Discuss the concept of a major league baseball player. What distinguishes a professional from an amateur? How does the employer-employee relationship determine a player's responsibility to the team and vice a versa? What would happen if the players and owners did not have a performance agreement that binds them to certain standards and structures, including compensation and rules?
  4. Chart the organizational structure of Major League Baseball, including the commissioner's office, the owners, the players' association and the teams of incorporation. Explain the respective roles, responsibilities and interdependency of each.
  5. Research what laws and regulations govern labor relations in Major League Baseball. How is professional baseball subject to the National Labor Relations Act (the Wagner Act) and the National Labor Relations Board?
  6. As a class, research the structure and explain the governance of a professional baseball team. Compare and contrast this organization with other entities, such as the school, the community, a local business, the city or state government. Categorize these according to social, political or industrial organizations. Do they employ labor through an individual or collective agreement?
  7. Identify and list sources of revenue (e.g. ticket prices, concessions, television contracts, etc.) that influence the culture of labor in Major League Baseball and may affect the interaction of the team, the owner, the players and the fans. Role-play either actual or hypothetical negotiation issues involving these sources and portray the deliberation from each participant's perspective of the process.

Allocation of resources
Binding arbitration
Civil rights
Collective bargaining
Employer / employee
Employment at-will
Free agency
Free market
Indentured servant
Interstate commerce
Labor agreement
Labor as a commodity
Labor union
Major League Baseball
Reserve clause
Salary cap
Shop steward
Working conditions

Post-Experience Wrap-Up

Post-Program Classroom Activities

  1. Compare the salary, benefits and working conditions of minor league baseball players to those of major league players. Find examples of photos and primary source documents, as well as testimonials from local players and owners.
  2. Conduct a comparative analysis of employment conditions in Major League Baseball, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the Negro leagues and Minor League Baseball. Include such factors as contracts, compensation and working conditions.
  3. Research and role-play a panel discussion involving players from the major leagues, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and the Negro leagues. The characters should discuss labor issues related to their respective leagues and selected eras.
  4. Evaluate the implications and repercussions of a labor strike or lockout as a means of resolving conflicts and pressuring the other side to gain an advantage in the process of collective bargaining. Research and report on an actual labor strike, either in baseball or American history, including the economic, social, political and industrial impact of a work stoppage.
  5. Conduct a class debate on the role of a labor union in professional baseball. Do players of such status actually need to be represented in their contract negotiations? Choose both sides of the issue, discussing the pros and cons of player representation in collective bargaining.
  6. Examine the role of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in documenting baseball's labor history. What power or influence, if any, does the Hall of Fame have in representing the tradition of player representation and performance?
  7. Document the economic effect of player-owner relations in the history of well-known baseball controversies, such as the Black Sox scandal of 1919 or the joint holdout of Hall of Fame pitching greats, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, in 1966. How did labor-management conflicts lead to these predicaments?
  8. Compare the Major League Baseball Players Association with other professional labor unions, such as those representing teachers, autoworkers, electricians, etc.
  9. Consider the economic effects and labor implications of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947. To what extent were players and labor-management relations impacted by the advent of civil rights? How do current contracts protect civil rights and defend players against discrimination?
  10. Study well-known court cases involving baseball labor disputes. At the very least, include the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case, Flood vs. Kuhn. Report on the outcome of this and other judicial decisions affecting baseball and labor.
  11. Create a PowerPoint presentation that chronicles the history of labor-management relations in baseball, including some of its most successful figures and milestones. When appropriate, integrate photographs, statistics, graphs, primary source documents, text, audio or video files, and key vocabulary terms.
  12. Explore the extent to which support workers in baseball are unionized. These could include umpires, ticket takers, concession workers, ground crews, etc. The umpire strike of 1979 and the more recent demise of the umpire's union led by Richie Phillips are especially pertinent.

Relevant National Learning Standards

This unit meets National Learning Standards in History, Economics, Civics, and Language Arts. Contact us for information on specific standards: 607-547-0347. 

Participating in a Videoconference?

Click here for a copy of the Labor History Videoconference checklist and to view instructions for the materials listed below. 

Labor History Worksheet

Paul Cook Contract

Jerome Dean Contract

Joe DiMaggio Contract

Derek Jeter Contract

Richard Johnston Contract

Vivian Kellogg Contract

Walter Leonard Contract

John McGraw Contract

Charlie Radbourn Contract

Babe Ruth Contract

Warren Spahn Contract