By West Coast Craig
Matewan — itâ€™s Labor Day, unofficially the last weekend of summer. The kids are heading back to school tomorrow, coolers are packed for one last trip to the beach, BBQs are fired up everywhere. You probably arenâ€™t at work, so once again, if youâ€™re reading this itâ€™s on your own precious timeâ€¦so, thanks!
Back in the unofficial beginning of the summer, whilst wondering what to write about, I just went with the timely theme of Memorial Day and the fighting men who played baseball when we werenâ€™t at war. Bookending the theme, letâ€™s talk about Labor Day todayâ€¦a holiday inspired by Canadian celebrations of their protection of unions in 1872. Grover Cleveland was singing the blues over his decision to bust up the Pullman Strike and destroy the rail workers union when the rail company, reeling from an economic downturn, slashed salaries but still made their employees pay full rent for their company-owned apartments. Clevelandâ€™s actions made the railroad barons happy, but the general populace tends to frown on this sort of thing, so in order to win back votes, what better way than to invent a national holiday in which nobody has to work? Genius! And thus, today, while we drink beers at ten in the morning (thatâ€™s when the first game of the big Yankee double header with the Rays starts out here), weâ€™re reaping the benefits.
So, in honor of todayâ€™s Labor Day, letâ€™s look back at some of the things that got us here:
The Late Sixties and Early Seventies: Baseball stars eagerly went on shows like Home Run Derby and The Brady Bunch to augment their tiny salariesâ€”great for ESPN Classic, but not so great for themâ€”while the Reserve Clause pretty much made them all indentured servants. Marvin Miller got players to challenge this by not signing any more of these contracts, and ushered in the unheard of era of arbitration and this strange concept of free agency. Nobody could really figure out how it all worked, feelings were hurt on both sides, and then cameâ€¦
1981 MLB strike: It truncated the season into strange halves, then stranger play-offs, and then stranger still, the Yankees losing the World Series to the Dodgersâ€™ teams they owned a few years earlier (thank you very much, Dave Winfield!). The strike didnâ€™t really effect muchâ€¦and thirty years later, most teams and players are still trying to figure out how free agency works, and Scott Boras makes a lot of money.
1982 NFL Playerâ€™s Strike: The NFL is the ultimate copycat league, and here they copied the MLB. The sport had boomed in the late seventies, but playersâ€™ salaries didnâ€™t boom with it, and whatâ€™s more, talking about what you made was verboten and tabooâ€¦until the NFLPA used a court ruling to openly publish all the playersâ€™ salaries and suddenly some starters saw that they were making less than the locker room towel boy. Salary negotiations changed overnight, revenues had to be accounted for, and suddenly the season was truncated to nine games and television audiences had to watch Div. III college games and the CFL (leading one to conclude that the Canadians started this whole labor day thing just get more exposure for their league). For the first time, the NFLPA showed good solidarity, but it didnâ€™t really gain them much in the way of bigger salaries untilâ€¦
1987 NFL Playerâ€™s Strike: â€¦when free agency again went on the table. Again, this was a copy cat move (MLB had a strike the year before, but it only lasted a couple of days), and again, the NFLPA tried to get free agency to do for their salaries what it had done for baseball and basketball salaries. It didnâ€™t work, free agency just doesnâ€™t seem to mean the same in footballâ€¦and what did come out of this was all these strange supplemental draft pick clauses that come with free agents signing elsewhere. Nevertheless, for three games, the owners turned to scabs to keep the game goingâ€¦which ironically showed that NFL players are worth every penny they get, and yet this helped break the unionâ€™s resolveâ€¦along with the defending Superbowl Champ New York Giantsâ€™ hopes of repeating, as their scabs lost all three of their games.
1994 MLB Lockout: Trying to copy their NFL brethren for a change and actually win one of these things, Bud Selig leads the whine that small market teams canâ€™t compete with the big city folk without a salary capâ€¦this after the five previous World Series were won by Toronto (twice, thanks for nothing Dave Winfield!), Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Oakland. The World Series was cancelled, and taking a page out of the NFLâ€™s book, the MLB turned to scabs as wellâ€¦once again clearly showing why professional baseball players are worth every penny. Neither side really wins, and the American Public surely loses. The owners get a kind of luxury tax, stating that the Yankees have to pay for all the other ownersâ€™ yachts.
1998-99 NBA Lockout: Fearing a world without Michael Jordan, owners decided to even the playing field by keeping all of their players from taking the court. When a collective bargaining agreement was finally reached, the shortened season allowed the Knicks to come closer to sniffing a championship than they ever have since.
2004-2005 NHL Lockout: An entire season cancelled, and as punishment, the league is relegated to being shown on Versus Network. Canada now doesnâ€™t look so smart for starting this whole Labor Day thing.
So there you have it, something to think about as you stand over your hot grill today, thanking your forefathersâ€”and the Canadiansâ€”for your day off. By the way, as I laze about, Iâ€™ll expect nothing by hard work by Derek Jeter today, as he becomes the Yankeesâ€™ all time hit leader.