September 11, 2009

Book Review: Lords of the Realm

I've been so lazy about reviewing these books that I've gone and reread the book already. It's especially egregious in this case, as this is one of my favorite books that I've ever read - certainly the best baseball book. It's written by John Helyar, who was one of the co-authors of Barbarians at the Gate (which I also read this summer).

The book is basically a history of the owners of baseball (the so-called Lords), and by extension the business of baseball. The blurb on the back describes several of the colorful characters in the history of the game, but the real meat of the book lies in its history of owner-player relations, especially the rise of the players' union from the early 60s up until the 94 strike. A lot of it focuses on the players battles with the reserve clause (Flood, Hunter, Messersmith, McNally), but one thing it points out was that salary arbitration arguable became the best victory the players had against the owners.

I must say, after reading this book I have HUGE respect for Marvin Miller, and all the player leaders of that era. Suddenly I'm a much bigger fan of Joe Torre, Phil Garner, and (gasp) Tim McCarver. Miller was their leader, but he did a great job in those days in making sure that everyone was involved. He educated the player-leaders about labor relations and they took the lead in negotiating several CBAs, with Miller only as a consultant. I don't remember who mentioned it, but when Kuhn was recently elected into the HOF while Miller was snubbed, it was just a 40 years-delayed 'fuck you' from the Lords to their old enemy. It's a travesty that a bumbling idiot like Kuhn is there and Miller is not.

The other, related story, is of course about the owners themselves and their inability to agree on what to have for lunch, let alone what is in the best interests of their businesses. It shows how much money baseball was losing (or projected to lose) that they were able to keep collusion going for 2 years in the late 80s. If any commissioner has had a real impact on the game it's probably Ueberroth, since he was the one who dragged baseball into modern business (especially with regards to TV), though collusion poisoned labor relations for years afterwords. The book ends with the rise of Bud Selig's clique and a precursor of the large vs small market battles that have dominated recent baseball history. Fun bonus: we get to see a pre-political George W. Bush running around as owner of the Rangers.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys baseball