While Alex Rodriquez may be off the front pages for the moment, this hiatus will give him the opportunity to study up on the history of labor relations in the national pastime. He has railed against the labor arbitration process and the man who ran the process in his case, distinguished labor arbitrator Federic Horowitz. A-Rod is understandably upset about the prospect of losing the opportunity to earn $25 million for playing this coming season.
But how did A-Rod arrive in the position to be able to earn those mega-dollars? He certainly was a brilliant talent long before he may (or may not) have indulged in using performance-enhancing drugs. He was always much better than the average ballplayer of the 1950s or 1960s who earned $10–15,000 a year for a career that lasted only a few years at the Major League level. That was the state of baseball work life before the advent of the Major League Baseball Players Association and the arrival of player free agency.
How did this revolution occur? Now ballplayers earn a minimum of $490,000 a season and free agents can earn as much as A-Rod or even more. (The Dodgers just signed a seven-year contract with pitcher Clayton Kershaw for more than $30 million a year.) Did A-Rod’s riches come through the federal court — the place where he wants his complaint to be heard by a “fair” judge? Federal courts were historically hostile to labor unions in general and to baseball players in particular. In 1922, the United States Supreme Court in a unanimous opinion by Justice Holmes ruled that baseball was a state and local matter that did not affect interstate commerce. Therefore, baseball’s pernicious personnel system did not have to comply with the antitrust laws. Although the decision was preposterous — even in 1922 the interstate character of the game was evident — it remained the law for almost 80 years until Congress clarified the reach of the antitrust laws.