A Clever Base-Ballist
John Montgomery Ward pitched in the National League for six seasons, beginning in 1878, and played either the infield or the outfield for ten more before retiring after the 1894 season. He was sufficiently skilled as a player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.
It was his activities off the field, however, which made him a true notable in baseball history. Ward, a law school graduate, and therefore unusually well-educated for a ballplayer of his era, was articulate and thoughtful. Understanding the vagaries and uncertainty of a professional athlete’s career, he was committed to gaining more power for the players in their negotiations with management.
In 1885, Ward organized the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, the first baseball union. Five years later, he led a revolt of the players against the National League. He founded the short-lived Players National League, an attempt by the ballplayers to challenge the reserve clause and the owners’ control over the salaries and the careers of the players. This first major challenge to the power of the owners by players failed miserably. After one season, the Players League ceased functioning. Not for almost another century, with the coming of free agency, would the balance of bargaining power between player and management be tilted toward the player.
Bryan Di Salvatore provides a sprightly account of Ward’s life both inside and outside of baseball, and the history of the game itself. It is refreshing to have a biography of a baseball player which focuses less on the day-to-day activities on the field and more on the larger context of the sport in late-nineteenth century America.
This book provides an excellent entry into a often forgotten aspect of baseball history.