Awareness of Minor League Baseball’s history is critical to fully understanding and interpreting its contribution to the larger history of U.S. professional baseball as a transnational, global phenomenon.[1] Following the Civil War, baseball’s popularity rose in metropolitan centers (New York City, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, etc.), but the absence of television and radio broadcasting in the early twentieth century prompted smaller communities or regions to form amateur, semi-professional, and professional teams and leagues. Local businessmen and civic leaders fielded teams consisting of men from the local community who sought supplementary income and elevated social standing. In Minor League Baseball’s heyday, communities with populations as small as three thousand fielded their own MiLB teams.[2] Players frequently had extensive ties to the community, whether through family or vocation, giving credence to the belief that players on the field were integral members of the community.

The 1930s and 1940s dealt a series of blows to Minor League Baseball. The Great Depression made baseball equipment and travel costs excessive, and World War II depleted the number of available players. Labor disputes, expanded Major League television and radio markets, and competing sources of entertainment in mid-size urban markets in the years following World War II exacerbated Minor League Baseball’s lagging popularity and economic security.[3] Through a series of labor and organizational shifts, Minor League Baseball became a structured farm system for Major League franchises. During this period, Minor League Baseball has become a unique brand connecting over one hundred sixty communities across the United States, with teams populated by players from the United States and Latin America, as well as less-represented regions like Australia, Europe, and Asia.

Under the current organizational structure, each Major League team has a roster of players and related coaching personnel, and Major League franchises (as business organizations) execute Player Development Agreements with a number of Minor League teams each year (see Figure 2). In the 2016 season, more than 7,000 men on 244 teams were part of the MiLB system. Only 868 players appeared on rosters for Major League teams, constituting less than 10% of U.S. professional baseball’s entire labor force.

Figure 2. 2015 MiLB affiliates for MLB NL Central teams. Yellow, red, blue, and green added shapes illustrate league affiliations within MiLB levels of play.

However, scholarship on U.S. professional baseball labor tends to ignore how the collective bargaining agreements from the second half of the twentieth century shape Minor League Baseball—the significant majority of U.S. professional baseball labor—in significant ways that have implications for the ideological associations and cultural politics of the sport. Scholarship on U.S. professional baseball’s labor practices, even when it does mention Minor League Baseball, rarely gives equal weight or treatment to the impact of post-World War II labor practices and formal collective bargaining agreements on MiLB labor, as well as the broader ideological dimensions of baseball’s labor practices.

Labor practices and structures, while they are at one level about institutions and their economic potential and/or impact, also speak to questions of ideology, representation, and meaning.[4]

This section of the dissertation draws on MLB legal documents from post-World War II through the present to analyze how shifts in baseball’s labor practices have impacted or shaped Minor League Baseball, both in terms of discrete labor practices and institutional structures, as well as more qualitative questions about ideology and power. Specifically, this section of the dissertation draws on collective bargaining agreement documents and other textual sources, analyzing the linear development of these labor shifts to explore the following questions: (1) how did post-World War II shifts in baseball ownership and players’ labor rights shape Minor League Baseball’s development as an extension of the “business” of professional baseball? (2) How have shifts in MiLB and MLB labor structures and practices impacted or shaped the ways Minor League Baseball has existed as both a player development system and dynamic, contested site for the cultural significance of baseball in the U.S.?

This section focuses on the organizational structures that have shaped or created the labor conditions within which specific players have been part of the U.S. professional baseball apparatus. Unlike the third section that analyzes the branding and promotional strategies taken up to market Minor League Baseball, this first section of the dissertation focuses on the underlying institutional structures that have shaped or influenced MiLB teams’ access to their MLB counterparts’ revenue streams. This first section of the dissertation takes up the question of how post-World War II institutional shifts in U.S. professional baseball shaped the conditions of labor in which the MiLB system took root and developed.

 

[1] Mark S. Rosentraub, Major League Winners (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2010). Arthur Johnson, Minor League Baseball and Local Economic Development (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993). Jon Stott, Minor Leagues, Major Boom: Local Professional Baseball Revitalized (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2004).

[2] Charles C. Alexander, Breaking the Slump (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002); Neil Sullivan, The Minors (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990).

[3] Ibid; Rebecca S. Kraus, Minor League Baseball (New York, New York: The Haworth Press, 2003); V. Bellamy Robert, Jr. and R. Walker James, “Did Televised Baseball Kill the “Golden Age” of the Minor Leagues? A Reassessment.” Nine 13 (2004): 59-73; Alan Schwarz, “Not Just Peanuts: Minor-League Baseball is More Than Quaint Stadiums and Dancing Umpires,” Newsweek, May 9, 2005; Jon Stott, Minor Leagues, Major Boom: Local Professional Baseball Revitalized (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2004).

[4] David Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White, The Strange Journey from Ellis Island to the Suburbs (New York: Perseus Books, 2005).