Commish's history off, by just a little

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
10:28
PM ET
What's the perfect number of playoff teams? Of course it's impossible to say. But the Commissioner took a stab at it Thursday afternoon: "Eight is a very fair number, but so is 10."

Of course, Craig nailed this one about five minutes after it happened.

But Selig said something else that, while innocuous enough, was far more ridiculous. Are you sitting down? Here's Selig on the coming negotations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement:


    Both sides will be very intense and have things that they want, but when you think about what went on for years nobody could have ever dreamed that we'd have 16 years of labor peace, given that we had work stoppages in 1972, '76, '80, '81, '85, '90 and '94. In American labor history it's probably as bad a relationship as ever existed.


Yes, recently the Commissioner endorsed Abner Doubleday's place in baseball history. But, whatever. He was probably just signing a form letter that some flunky wrote. And it's just baseball, right?

American labor history -- I mean, real American labor history, the sort of stuff serious people write serious books about -- is about people's lives. It's about eating and breathing and suffering and fighting and living and dying from all sorts of terrible work-related illnesses.

In 1914, the Colorado National Guard attacked a tent colony of striking coal miners and their families. When the dust settled, 19 people were dead. Including a dozen children.

Have baseball's labor wars been worse than that?

In 1920, two miners, the town mayor, and seven corporate enforcers were killed in the Battle of Matewan, West Virginia.

A little more than a year later, again in West Virginia, another battle between coal miners and an "army" of police and strikebreakers resulted in the second-largest armed insurrection in U.S. history (the largest being a little affair some call The War Between the States).

It's been estimated that something like a million rounds of ammunition were fired in the Battle of Blair Mountain. There might have been 50 or 60 deaths; there might have been more than 100. Hundreds were injured, and the fighting didn't end until the U.S. Army arrived. In the aftermath, a number of miners were thrown into prison for years.

Have baseball's labor wars been worse than that?

In 1937, a number of leading United Auto Workers union leaders were asked to pose for a photo outside of Ford Motor Company's huge plant in Dearborn, Michigan. A few dozen Ford goons attacked. One union leader was repeatedly slammed to the concrete ground, thrown down a flight of stairs, and kicked down a second. Another union man's back was broken. Women handing out union pamphlets were beaten, as were reporters and photographers. The Battle of the Overpass, they called it.*

* One oddly related footnote ... Ford's people tried to confiscate all photo plates, but at least one photographer managed to sneak some plates off the premises, and this iconic photo inspired the Nobel Prize people to create an annual award for photography. It's been reported -- though I've never confirmed -- that Chicago Black Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte was one of Ford's enforcers, and appears in photos of the violence.

Have baseball's labor wars been worse than that?

Call me when someone actually gets killed. Or hurt badly. Or sprains a finger during a shoving match. Or when most of the best players break away and form their own league (which actually happened in 1890). I mean, something beyond a few frivolous arguments between millionaires.

I'm sort of a history buff, and I probably get more worked up about this stuff than I should. I love baseball, though, and more specifically I love Major League Baseball in all its glorious history and pageantry and artistry. So I would like to see Major League Baseball run by someone who seems serious, and treats us like we're adults.

When this Commissioner says eight teams is fair but so is 10, and Abner Doubleday invented the sport, and suggests that a few relatively minor battles between rich owners and rich players is worse than coal miners and their families terrorized and killed by management's goons ... Well, I'm sorry. I just can't let it go. And I just can't help looking forward to the next Commissioner.

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